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beverly has been at work for what feels like fucking days. she hasn't been, not really -- she's only clocked in six or so hours today, but her legs are fucking aching and her head is pounding. kay has been begging her to go home for the past hour and a half, telling her she's got things under control, that she shouldn't overwork herself like this, but she has to. it's got to be perfect.

she's got a new line coming out. fashion line. an androgynous clothing line for androgynous, gender non-conforming people who want to wear things like dresses and skirts but don't want to feel overtly feminine while doing it. she hasn't come up with a name yet, but she's still got a few more weeks to go, so it’s not a crucial issue. all of the designs center around this sort of campy sort of functional design that's good for daily wear just as much as it's good for formal wear. everything, of course, has pockets.  deep ones, not those sad little bags people consider ‘pockets’ that they put on women’s pants.

the designs are coming out nicely. not as nice as she'd like, but they certainly work. that's not the problem; not today. today's problem was that the first batch of fabrics that came in this morning had the wrong texture. when bev had gotten kay to head back and check what was wrong with the shipment, they sent them back a whole package of fabrics that had the right texture, but the wrong set of colors. beverly kind of feels like she’s going fucking crazy. it’s not a huge misstep in theory, but bev knows it could send them weeks behind schedule, and she really doesn't have the heart or energy to do that right now.

"honey, please head home," kay says, offering a cup of coffee in her general direction. bev takes a sip without even questioning; it's hot and sugary, which isn't exactly what she wanted, but it'll do for now. the caramel flavor sticks to her tongue like slime. "we have time, i'll sort this out. you can come back tomorrow and we'll have all the right fabrics and i'll, fucking, i don't know. organize your files or something. you're going to kill yourself at this rate."

"i don't really care," bev says. it's not exactly true, she would like to survive at least until her line drops, but if the line's the thing that takes her down... there are worse ways to go. she survived a fucking clown from outer space and all the consequences of that. she can survive a few stressful days. she can feel kay shift around from where she’s standing and move closer to the desk, creating this feeling of privacy just for the two of them. "i'll be fine."

"beverly," kay says, voice stern. bev looks up from her designs and makes eye contact for the first time in hours. kay looks almost just as tired; individual braids pulled back into a complicated looking bun, eyes puffy with deep, dark eye bags underneath, normally neat and attractive clothes sort of out of sorts and wrinkled in all the wrong places. she’s got a coffee stain on the upper right collar of her blouse. the expression on her face is tired, too, but she's holding her ground. "go home."

bev sighs, "fine. but if you need me for anything," kay makes a face, and beverly points an accusatory finger in her direction, "anything, kay, you call me. i will be here as soon as i can."

"whatever you say, bev," kay says, face shifting from determination into a more relaxed smile. the lines on her face are much more prominent than they were a few years ago, but beverly thinks it makes her more beautiful. her laugh lines are deep, full of happy memories that beverly should ask her about, one day. "get some sleep. tell audra i said hello."

"i'll tell audra something," she mumbles, but it doesn't really mean anything. kay claps a hand on her back and exits the room, shuffling the folders she's carrying into a different order. that private corner from earlier shifts back into the large, open office. it’s almost suffocating, how much space she has -- which shouldn’t make sense, but bev has always worked better in cramped environments. 

she should give kay a raise. it kind of feels like she gives kay a raise once a week, now, but there's no one more deserving of it. she can see her making small talk with someone outside the office now, flailing her arms in a gesture that seems exasperated. probably beverly’s fault, if she’s being honest with herself.

beverly packs up her desk, though it's more like tossing papers into a drawer and praying she'll know where they are in the morning, and heads out. she drops the empty coffee cup in the trashcan by the elevator. calls audra when the doors close and the floor number starts ticking down. she picks up on the second ring, like she always does, and her voice comes through the speaker tinny but warm.

"beverly!" audra says, and beverly loves her. the way she says beverly's name, in the almost-british (she’s lost it a bit, after living in the states for so long) accent she's come to know so well, is one of the best sounds she's ever heard. beverly can hear the radio on in the background, gentle poppy music to accompany whatever script audra's working on at the time. beverly's been so exhausted lately she hasn't even had the chance to ask. she knows, though, that it's something bill and richie have been working on for a while. a dramatic comedy about coming out and being yourself. no matter how busy she is, she can't avoid the family group chat for more than fifteen minutes; the losers have become a little codependent since their last circus show.

"hey, auds," beverly says, and she smiles for the first time in a while. audra shuffles something around on the other end, possibly closing a script or settling on the couch, before she responds.

"hi, how are you! i miss you."

"i'm coming home early," beverly says, and braces for impact. she’s not sure what she’s expecting -- an attack, maybe? audra being angry that she overworked herself, or telling her she hasn’t worked enough.  audra telling her to turn around and get her ass back in there, make her dreams really count, no matter how sick she feels. though, when nothing comes but a gentle humming noise from the other end, she continues on, "kay's convinced i'm going to kill myself if i keep working like this. she might be right, honestly, but i'm having a lot of trouble..."

"taking a break," audra finishes, and hums again. beverly can hear the radio turn off, their only background noise shifting into the white noise of the receiver. the elevator doors open again and beverly steps out into the lobby of her building. flashes her id at the doorman before she exits to the street. the cold air of fall hits her fast and hard, and she grapples to wrap her coat around herself before continuing down the street. it's always cold in new york this time of year. she'll have to take the subway home -- there's no way she's standing around and waiting for a taxi in this weather. "you've always had a lot of trouble with that, i think. always running in and thinking of others before yourself." 

audra's voice is kind. she's not scolding, just making an observation. beverly thinks, kind of strangely, that listening to audra's voice is like being wrapped up in a hug. it's like coming home after a long day and falling into a warm, comforting bed, where a glass of wine is already poured and ready on your bedside table. it's like knowing someone loves you, even when you feel like you can't be loved like that. "yeah, i guess," beverly says, smiling. audra laughs a little through the phone, barely audible. 

"we'll order takeout tonight. get chinese, or something. we'll spend the night in and do whatever you want.” another rustle of papers comes from the other end. beverly has a clearer image now of audra; she must be pacing, walking back and forth like she does when a line delivery really stumps her. she’s probably still waving the script around in her hands as she speaks to beverly, always dedicated to her craft.

"honestly, babe, i kind of just want to sleep," beverly pulls her phone away from her ear to look at the time. it's only 4, shockingly, despite how long it feels like she's been working today. she swipes her ride card and enters the subway with minimal issue, stepping over a few pieces of gum smashed into the ground as she makes her way. "i'm getting on the subway."

"you can nap, we'll still be able to get dinner," audra says, and beverly can hear the smile in her voice. "i'll see you soon, okay?"

"yeah, of course. love you."

"love you too, songbird," audra says. beverly clicks the phone off and climbs into the subway car that will take her home. she even gets a seat. 

beverly absolutely does not fall asleep on the subway, no matter how close she gets to it. the gentle bouncing of the train car lulled her just enough that her eyes slipped shut, but she didn't really lose consciousness. just a short rest. still, when the robotic woman's voice announces that the next stop is hers, she startles a little bit. she has to hold on to one of the poles to stand up straight without losing her balance. her heels are digging into the back of her ankles so badly she must be bleeding.

her and audra's apartment isn't far from the stop, so she climbs back out onto the street and makes her way over there. taps through her phone and weaves through people until she gets to the front door of her building. she lets herself in and climbs into another elevator in a half-asleep kind of haze, trying not to hard to step in the way that makes her ankles hurt the most. it's amazing she's even able to stick her key in the lock. the exhaustion hits its peak, however, when she swings open the door to her apartment and sees audra waiting for her, bundled in blankets and drinking a cup of tea on the couch. there's another cup sitting on the table, steam wafting out of the top. beverly could cry.

"hi," beverly says, and audra turns to smile at her. there's a moment where concern appears on her features, where her brows furrow and her smile downturns, but it's gone as quickly as it appears. she pushes the blankets around and makes space for beverly to lie down on the couch. beverly takes the invitation with no hesitation.

"welcome home."

she pulls her jacket off first, hanging it up on the coat hanger before she toes off her heels. her height drops a few inches when she steps out of them, though the relief she feels in her ankles is godlike. she bends over to pick them up and put them on the shoe rack. the entire time, audra is sort of sing-songing an improvisation about how much she wants beverly to stop stalling and come over to lay down with her. she's in the middle of a line about beverly's hair and the way it falls over her shoulders when beverly groans and pulls her bra off through her dress, making audra stumble through her words, give up, and laugh.

"audra," beverly laughs, and tosses her bra over the recliner in their living room. audra gives up her singing but continues to hum along to the tune as beverly climbs over the couch and into her arms. she snuggles in close to audra's chest and audra wraps the blanket around her back, cocooning her fully where she lays. "thank you," she says. with audra's hand rubbing a comforting circle into the back of her skull, tangling her fingers through the knots in her hair and loosening them, she falls asleep. she does not dream.

she hasn't dreamed, not really, since they defeated the clown. before then it had all been nightmares. people dying, her friends dying, children being ripped from their parents and torn to pieces. ropes, bathtubs, pills. everything that she was afraid of happening to her friends when she was thirteen happening over and over again. her father, too, sometimes, as a shadowy figure only half-recognizable in the dark. 

now, there's fragments of things, memories that she'll feel when she wakes up but they're never something she can really grasp. audra will sometimes sit with her over breakfast and explain her own dreams; always dramatic and overwhelming, sometimes nightmares but usually something nice. beverly remembers one in particular; one where audra had dreamed that she and beverly had met in college, both studying acting, and they had fallen in love under the moonlight illuminating their shared dorm room. they were accompanied by a talking cat that sounded particularly like bill, which audra thought was one of the funniest things in the world for several weeks. beverly listened, smiling the whole way, but when audra had asked what she dreamt about, she had said 'oh, nothing i can remember,' and moved on. it wasn't a bad thing, the lack of dreams. it was some of the best sleep she'd gotten in years.

"darling," audra says, softly, just as beverly's starting to regain consciousness, and it's the gentle pull she needs to really wake up. the world around her still feels like a dream, cloudy and sort of unreal. the only grounding sensation is audra’s hand in her hair, still making the same comforting motions. something beverly thinks is probably the tv is playing, audio coming across as something very quiet but clearly exciting. "beverly, baby, it's time to wake up."

beverly makes a sort of indignant "mmph" noise into audra's collarbone and presses in closer, drops a gentle kiss right where the fabric ends and audra's skin begins. she smells sort of like cinnamon. audra laughs at the feeling, breathy and quiet. beverly kisses her again. audra's hand in her hair tightens the smallest amount.

"beverly," she laughs again, louder and genuine now, "come on. let's order dinner, you must be starving."

audra pushes her off just enough to grab her phone from the coffee table. beverly does her best to bend along with the movement. she turns to the tv and pauses whatever she was watching -- something on netflix, evidently, but beverly's eyes are still too blurry to read what the title says, and then taps in the number to the east asian fusion place they like and waits for the ringing to stop. when the woman asks what they want, she orders beverly's favorite without even asking; sweet and sour chicken with crab rangoon, miso soup on the side because she's feeling a little tired. beverly could cry. audra orders a complicated sushi dish for herself and says "thank you, have a good night!" when she hangs up the phone, and beverly wraps her arms around audra's back and hugs her close.

"i'm assuming that's alright," audra says, and beverly drops her head face down on audra's stomach and does her best to nod. "yeah, okay," she chuckles, "i love you."

"love you too," beverly says, muffled by the fabric of audra's shirt. they stay like that for a few minutes, maybe more, if beverly drifts off again, until audra speaks up. 

"do you want to talk about it?" she says, and beverly shakes her head no. audra sighs, "ok, do you want me to talk about my day, then?"

"yes, please."

"you don't have to say please," audra says, and then she starts to talk in the cadence that beverly really loves; the cadence that she has when she's telling a story she really wants to tell, when her eyes get all bright and you can tell that she's genuinely invested. if beverly had just a little more energy she would look up just to see that expression on audra's face, but she can imagine it well enough. "well, stan called. richie was supposed to, but apparently directing a big name movie is more time-intensive than he originally thought."

"sounds like richie," bev says.

"yes, he certainly is predictable," audra says, and beverly can hear the smile in her voice, "patricia says hello, by the way. apparently there were some changes to the script that were desperately urgent..." and she keeps talking, explaining the new scenes she'll have to learn and the mishaps on set that she wasn't really there for, but heard from a friend of a friend that maybe they happened, so she can't really give up that type of gossip. beverly can feel every word she says from where she's laying, feel her chest moving up and down with breaths and the way it shakes when she laughs. beverly wants to bottle that feeling, tie it around her neck like a memento so she'll have it wherever she goes. she wants to hold audra close and keep her there forever; stay in this bubble that they've created because it's safe and good and she's warm, all wrapped up in blankets and audra's grasp, and maybe if they stay right here the world won't be able to hurt them anymore. the doorbell rings.

"oh, goodness," audra says, and beverly groans as audra slides out from underneath her and maneuvers to a standing position. she's mumbling apologies the whole way, so maybe beverly will forgive her just this once. audra comes back to the living room a minute or two later with the bag of their food in one hand, smiling wide and waving with the other. beverly, now flipped on her back and propped up against the armrest of the couch, offers back her own little wave.

they eat in relative silence. beverly's exhaustion is still deep in her bones, an aching feeling that makes her movements slow and her head hurt, but the food is helping astronomically. she doesn't remember if she even had lunch, too wrapped up in her work to realize that she was skipping over necessities. audra, never one to let a silence dwell on too long, hums along to the song she made up earlier. beverly chuckles.

"what, you don't like it?" audra asks, eyes shining. for all of her acting skills, whenever audra attempts to hold back a laugh she does a terrible job. her eyes give her away, her smile always quirks up just a little higher than it normally should, and her eyebrows shoot straight up to her forehead; it's a look that says 'i'm getting away with this,' even when she's clearly not. she swings the chopsticks around in her hands, not pointing at beverly but gesturing in her vague direction, and the movement jostles some of her hair into her face. "you don't like my song?"

"i love you," beverly says, not for the first time that night. and she means it. she reaches up and brushes the loose hair behind audra’s ear, sliding her hand down to her cheek in a gentle embrace. audra leans into the touch, grinning.

"your honor, she's avoiding the question."

bev coughs out a startled laugh, "you hang out with richie too much." she pulls her hand off audra's cheek and audra whines at the loss. "eat your food."

"i am," audra says, and takes a spiteful bite of her sushi to prove it. they finish their meals next to each other, half in flowing conversation and half not. the silence isn't discomforting, just a lack of noise between them. when audra takes her last bite and tosses the plastic of the box on the table, beverly moves to clean it up. she's stopped by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"leave it. you're tired."

beverly scoffs, "i'm not so tired i can't do the dishes, auds."

"i'm not saying that," audra says, and furrows her brow. beverly sits back down with a huff, but audra doesn't seem to want that either. "no, hey, baby? come here," she says, and then stands up. she motions for beverly to hold her hand and beverly listens, tangling their fingers together the moment she can make contact. audra's hand is soft. it always is.

"where are we...?" bev starts, but she doesn't get to finish, because audra drops a kiss on her lips before she can even start the last word. dazed, she smiles back when audra grins at her, and they make their way through the hallways of their shared apartment together.

audra and bev had started out as post-divorce roommates. eddie and bev had originally this whole plan. they would both get divorced, for starters. once bev knew it was safe enough to move out, safe enough to come out and say 'yes, i'm living with a man', even if it's platonic, they would live together. they would, to her understanding, have all the freedom of being divorced and none of the loneliness of those sad little post-divorce apartments people get. all she wanted was to have someone to come home to but no commitment required -- it was foolproof. 

but then, after all that planning, eddie's divorce proceedings had taken too long, and eddie had moved in with richie because he was closer, and then eddie and richie...

well, you get the picture. but it left bev pretty listless. there were offers, of course, from other losers (even richie and eddie, though bev has certain self-preservation instincts she cannot override), but all of them were too far away for bev to keep working where she wanted to, and she didn't want to give that up. she didn't really want to leave kay, either, to hold up a company almost demolished by divorce proceedings and assault charges.

she had explained this to bill of all people, in a panicked rush where she really thought, for a good hour or two, that she'd be homeless. calmly, without stuttering once, he had told bev that one, audra actually had a spare apartment down where bev worked, and two, she's probably staying there to 'get away' from bill. she'd love to have her, if that's what bev wanted to do. "okay," bev had said. "that sounds good, actually."

and the rest is history. quiet confessions on set and kisses shared under rainy skies. loving audra is one of the best things that's ever happened to her.

"take your clothes off," audra says. they've made it to the bathroom, now, but beverly is still kind of awkwardly hovering in the doorway. she startles when audra tells her what to do, taken aback.

"what?" she chokes out.

"no, no! no, we're not -- i mean, gosh, baby, you're too tired. i'm gonna run you a bath, is that okay?" audra says, and then laughs a little. her attention shifts to the tub. a large, circular thing that she clearly paid out the ass for. she's always been a sucker for luxury, not that bev's complaining. their shared soaps are precariously balanced in the back corner, though audra's got many more products than beverly does. beverly's never once made fun of her for it. she’s even stolen them a few times, indulging herself with odd flowery scents and products she’s not even sure of the purpose. audra turns on the faucet and sticks her hand under. while the water gets warm, bev undresses.

"you want candles? i can get candles," audra says, not looking up. beverly folds her clothes and places them on the sink counter. 

"this is nice."

audra hums. "i'm going to get candles." she stands up and gives bev quite the obvious once over, smiles, and pushes past her to leave the room. 

bev shuffles back and forth on her feet for a moment, now completely naked and standing alone in the bathroom, before she decides to step in. the water is warm. comfortable. it's exactly the temperature she'd want it to be. funny, how love makes you know these things about people. little details that would seem arbitrary to anyone else.

audra comes back, candles in hand. she smiles at bev, now standing in the bathtub, and moves to set them down, "they're, um, well --" she says, and then picks up the candle to read the label, "i don't actually think these names are real, but they smell really nice. like a homey log cabin in the woods." the candles clink against the porcelain when audra sets them down. bev lowers herself slowly into the tub, aching muscles relaxing almost immediately. it's like a damn blessing. when she says so, audra laughs.

"well, i'd hope so. that's the whole point," she says, and then leans over bev to grab one of the shampoo bottles. lavender, it says, and it's apparently very hydrating. "here, close your eyes, lean back."

beverly does as she says with no fight. audra clicks open the bottle, pours purple shampoo into her palms, and runs her fingers gently through beverly's hair. she starts with the ends; bev's hair has never gone past her shoulders, not since she was a child, but it's still long enough that she can feel the gentle brush of audra's hand on the back of her neck. audra moves, scratches gently up the back of bev's head and up to her scalp. she massages her head slowly, careful not to squeeze too hard. 

"ok, rinse," audra says, and presses beverly's head down into the water. it's not forceful, she places a hand on bev's forehead and leads her there, waits for her to be ready to move before anything else. bev lets her do as she pleases. floats on the water while audra runs her hands through the strands again, rinsing out any of the remaining soap. audra cradles her there, her face above water but the rest below. she rubs a comforting thumb across her cheekbone.

"come back up, baby," she says, and beverly does. audra repeats the process again with the conditioner, a gentle, loving embrace of her head and a soothing pattern of something almost like petting. fingers tangled through her hair, pulling out knots slowly enough that it doesn't even hurt, just adds a little pressure. "open your eyes," she mumbles, when beverly is coming up the second time.

"hi," says beverly.

"hello," says audra, with a smile. she kisses beverly again, and bev sighs into it. the warmth of the bath combined with the movement of their mouths is making her sleepy. like clockwork, as soon as the exhaustion becomes palpable, she's unable to control the yawn she breathes directly into audra's mouth. audra laughs, low, and pulls back. 

"'m sorry," bev says, eyelids heavy. 

"nonsense," audra mumbles, lips pressed against beverly's forehead. beverly leans into the touch; forces herself to sit up a little more in the water. her limbs, earlier heavy from overwork, now feel heavy from something that feels more like sleep. the way arms and legs feel after a long night's rest, comfortable to stay in the warmth of the blankets surrounding them forever.

audra pulls away from beverly wordlessly. lets her drift back down and lay there again, her legs bent up a little awkwardly but still trapped in that floating, sleeping feeling. beverly must drift off, because she's brought back when the water is drained and a thick fabric is being wrapped around her. audra's murmuring to herself, but bev's brain feels like goo. 

the towel she's chosen is one of their best -- beverly had insisted, when they were shopping for beverly's addition to audra's apartment, that they're just towels. as long as they dry her it's fine, right? but it was another one of audra's pet peeves that she just couldn't let go -- it's a light, tannish sort of pink color, and it's soft against beverly's skin.

"let's go to bed," audra says, and it's music to bev's ears. the world feels like jam around her; thick and slow, but audra's hand guiding her is clear. landing in bed feels like taking her first breath after almost drowning. a relief. the mattress bounces underneath her.

beverly maneuvers herself to sit at the edge of the bed. she lets her body go lack as audra pulls the towel off of her and pulls a large sleep shirt on, fabric loose and cold against her skin. 

"ok, lay down," audra says, punctuated with another kiss on beverly's forehead. they sit together, for a minute or two, smiling at each other. audra brushes some hair off of beverly's forehead. "sleep, baby."

beverly hums. lets herself fall on her side and curl up in the blankets, pillow soft underneath her head. her eyes are closed by the time audra pulls the comforter up on top of her, cocooning her with gentle presses of the fabric underneath her. a minute or two passes before her weight shifts, audra's arm wraps around her chest above the blanket from behind her. audra presses a kiss, almost unnoticeable with how subtle it is, against the back of her neck. 

she drifts off, safe in the cocoon of blankets and audra's arm, snuggled tight with her back against audra's chest, and feels safe in a way she has not for a long time.