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sugar, we're going down swinging

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“You’ve really never hooked up with a woman?”

Ava doesn’t mean to sound so surprised. She just - well, is. She’s also a little drunk, and blood pounds in her ears because she’s had her legs slung over the back of the couch in Deborah’s bedroom for nearly five minutes now. Her head hangs upside down off the cushions, dangling somewhere around Deborah’s knee - Deborah, who’s sitting like a human being, and who has apparently never slept with a woman.

She doesn’t know why it’s such a shock. Deborah’s certainly never talked about sleeping with women except in the hypothetical, and her many lesbian jokes are tired and sound like they came from Jay Leno’s reject pile the week Ellen came out. Maybe it’s the sheer number of them she’s told over the years - like, yes, Ava makes a lot of queer jokes, but then, she is queer. None of Deborah’s sound like they’re coming from someone who’s actually fucked a woman, but Deborah’s spent over thirty years telling jokes about a fire she didn’t set, so Ava takes it all with a grain of salt.

Maybe that’s it. Up until six months ago Deborah never told the truth on stage, so it’s less of a shock now to learn that something Ava thought was true isn’t than it is to unravel some new layer of Deborah’s actual history. The more time they spend together, the more Ava sees herself in Deborah - in the stories she tells, the way they see the world. They just express it differently, in large part because Ava’s able to express herself in ways that Deborah just wasn’t at her age.

So maybe it’s not surprising that on some level, Ava thought this was like that. That this was another way they were alike, or could have been.

Ava can’t see her face from her position - actually, she can only really see black spots blinking in and out of her vision - but she can picture it, that familiar pinch of annoyance that is sometimes fond and sometimes really, really not. “Why is that so shocking?” Deborah asks, and yeah, she’s definitely annoyed but also, Ava thinks, genuinely perplexed. “I know all the kids are a little gay today -” at that, Ava lifts her head and raises herself up, curled like a comma to glare at Deborah, but she realizes immediately that she’s vastly overestimated her ab strength. Her stomach muscles burn as she holds the position as best she can and watches Deborah roll her eyes.

This particular monosexist barb, Ava decides, is designed to get a rise out of her and she chooses to rise above it instead. Plus, she’s realizing that she does, in fact, have ab muscles, even if they’re invisible, because they’re trembling. She gives up then and flops back off the edge of the couch; the blood rushes back to her head and she feels dizzy again, especially when Deborah knocks her knee against her skull.

“- but I’m straight,” Deborah finishes emphatically. “Always have been.” She goes quiet for a moment - Ava wishes she could still see her face, see whether she’s frowning or contemplating or looking back at the TV where Love It Or List It is still playing at low volume. She must be thinking something, though, because after a moment she adds offhandedly, “I mean, I fooled around with Carrie Fisher in the 80s, but who didn’t?”

And - okay, this conversation has definitely taken a turn that Ava feels she should be sitting up for. She contorts herself into an upright position - with tremendous grace, if the snort she hears from Deborah is any indication - and situates herself back on the couch with her legs crossed. She’s dizzy again as the blood rushes downwards, this time, until her face is back to what she assumes is her usual anemic shade.

The room reorients itself. It’s nearly 2:00 AM, according to the clock by Deborah’s bed. They’d stumbled in late in the evening after five days away, and bid each other a tired goodnight at the top of the stairs. Ava had barely dropped her bags in her room before she was heading back towards Deborah’s, knocking on the door even as she pushed it open - “Dee, if we cut the colonoscopy and bring back Josefina’s 50th -”

She’d nearly collided with Deborah. “The shrimp,” Deborah finished for her, stepping back to allow Ava in. “Cut the crap, bring back the shrimp, and we can segue straight into Ricky Martin’s boating license.” She’d nodded, satisfied, and Ava had grinned right back as Deborah pulled her ratty notebook back out of her bag and moved towards the couch, not even having to look back at Ava to know that she'd follow.

That was three hours ago. Ava’s head is fuzzy with exhaustion, and the fact that her boss has apparently partied with Carrie Fisher isn’t helping her think straight.

Deborah isn’t done. She’d managed to exchange her long blazer for a soft-looking sweater before Ava had barged in; she pulls it tighter around her now, looking into her nearly-empty tumbler and not at Ava as she continues. “And you know, there were - bits, here and there. Parties, whatever. But it was never real,” she stresses. “It was always just - part of the show.”

Ava nods thoughtfully, trying not to dwell too much on yet another example of how Deborah's been putting on one performance or another her entire fucking life. She considers Deborah, who finally looks up at her - she still has her readers on and stares Ava down over the top of them, and goddamn, but it’s hot.

She shifts on the couch to face Deborah more fully. “I just want you to know,” she begins, taking one of Deborah’s hands with both of hers and tilting her head earnestly - Deborah looks wary now, unsure where this is going - “I think it’s really brave of you to say that. I mean, wow.”

Deborah snatches her hand away, smacking Ava’s knee as she does so, and Ava lets the shit-eating grin take control of her face. “Like, yeah, I’ve met straight people before, but the way you just own your identity? It’s inspiring, man.” She nods firmly, patting Deborah’s arm. “I respect it.”

“Fuck off,” Deborah snaps halfheartedly, but her lips are pursed the way they always are when she’s trying not to smile. Ava, still grinning herself, uncrosses her legs and lets her bare feet land on the floor as she reaches for the little bowl of peanuts Deborah had brought upstairs an hour ago right when Ava was thinking she could use something salty.

They’d still been working then. It’s grueling, this tour - it’s doing exactly what they need it to, the show gets sharper and lands harder each week - but it’s exhausting, and it’s been eye-opening for both of them. Not much has changed over the years, according to Deborah. At just about every club there’s at least one person who makes a pointed comment about how they’d seen the video from Sacramento and you know, I can think of someone here you could make a check out to! He’d blow that 1.69 in five minutes, wouldn’t that be funny? Deborah’s perfected the polite little laugh but it’s always high and fake, masking the thin strain of frustration that Ava doesn’t bother to disguise. “The more things change,” Deborah had sighed in St. Louis as the emcee pulled a redhead from the crowd onstage for a bit that made Ava’s blood boil; she’d looked distant in that moment, lost in a memory that tightened the lines around her lips.

So yes, most of it’s the same. The drugs have new names but the same effects, they’ve found used condoms in at least three green rooms, and the energy of the crowd is lukewarm on a bad night but electric when it clicks, like it’s starting to more and more.

But the other sets, the ones they sit through before Deborah closes the show - Ava’s started a list on her phone, making notes of the jokes that furrow Deborah’s brow or elicit a blank stare. She’s vindicated, absolutely, to see her own kind of humor crush it onstage - to know that Deborah is seeing it, is feeling it when she tells a joke that Ava wrote and it lands just right - but it’s difficult for Deborah, uncomfortable in a way Ava can tell she wasn’t really ready for. This isn’t Vegas anymore. This is the world she grew up in, but she’s been gone a long, long time.

It’s been nice, watching her find her place in it again.

They haven’t even been pretending to work at least a half hour, though. Trashy reality shows on TV have become kind of a staple for them as they swing from one hotel to another - it’s a way to come down from the high of a good show, turn their brains off after hours of needing them sharp. even if more often than not the show itself ends up as background noise as their snarky commentary turns to snarkier conversation, like tonight. Ava thinks they’re winding down, now, though, and as much as she wants to hear more about Carrie Fisher she isn’t able to stifle the massive yawn that creeps up on her. She’s not surprised when Deborah plucks her glasses off and sets them on the side table, followed by her nearly empty glass of scotch.

She is surprised when Deborah leans back, arms crossed against her own chest, and says, “Besides, it’s not like it matters at this point.”

She pauses. Ava runs her tongue along her teeth, trying to dislodge the bit of peanut shell she can feel lodged against her gum, and tries not to be too obvious in assessing Deborah’s face to make sure she’s still talking about what she thinks she’s talking about.

“The last man I slept with,” Deborah says, “kicked me out of my theater the next day, and the only other men lining up are more invested in my wardrobe than my pussy.” She rolls her eyes towards the ceiling, not quite looking at Ava, who can’t look at anything else but Deborah. “It’s fine. Sex is - it’s fine, even great, sometimes, but nine times out of ten it’s not worth the effort. The morning after, the NDAs - three years ago Colin Farrell fucked up my shower settings -” she emphasizes that point with more heat than anything else she’s said thus far - “and for what? A mediocre orgasm?”

She does look at Ava then, a strange, defiant expression on her face. Deborah’s hard to read at the best of times but moments like this - the quiet, late night moments that punctuate the endless ribbing and one-up-manship and laughing so hard their chests hurt - it’s somehow both harder and easier, mostly because Ava thinks this is Deborah at her most honest. She doesn’t think anyone sees that often enough to really get a read on it.

Ava reaches for her still-full water glass on the table. She’s only a little tipsy at this point, but she kind of feels like she should be as sober as possible for this conversation.

“So, not to shame you or anything,” she says carefully, “but - are you serious?” Deborah shifts next to her, pulling her sweater more tightly across her chest before seeming to realize how vulnerable the act is; she drops her hands to her lap instead. “I mean, I know the whole tired heterosex bit lands with the Floridian demographic, but you do know there’s more to sex than a single mediocre orgasm, right?”

At that, Deborah sighs exasperatedly. “Jesus Christ,” she says, sounding more like herself, “you have to be old enough to know that not every sexual encounter has to be emotionally fulfilling - ” her voice goes syrupy at the last words, high and mocking.

“No, that’s not - look, the night before I flew out here for the first time I fucked my Postmate and he was more turned on by my Vitamex than by me.” Deborah snorts, and Ava relaxes a little. This is touchy territory, she’s not an idiot, but she really kind of needs Deborah to hear her on this and that’s going to be easier if they find their rhythm again. “That’s not the point, though. I just mean that basically the only tradeoff cisgender women get for the biological hellscape that is our reproductive system is multiple orgasms. It’s not all about the climax -”

“- you’ve made that very clear -”

“- but Jesus, you shouldn’t be settling for a single mediocre orgasm, and any chump that’s made his way into your bed should be working a hell of a lot harder if that’s your takeaway!” Ava says heatedly. She’s on a roll, her blood moving again, wide awake now, and she can’t help it - the question she’s been swallowing ever since she saw Deborah laughing next to Marty at DJ’s birthday finally bursts free. “Who the hell are you sleeping with, anyway?”

“No one!” Deborah exclaims, grabbing one of the stupid decorative pillows and fingering a tassel. “That’s the point! I can take care of myself well enough, hell, better than any pill-popping pensioner has in years, and it’s just easier that way.” She waves her free hand vaguely, like she’s emphasizing a point that Ava doesn’t quite understand. She’s still a little drunk, Ava thinks - they wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise. “It’s not like the itch needs scratching that often at my age anyway,” Deborah continues, “and I’m well past the stage of multiple orgasms.”

At that, Ava turns incredulous. “Deborah, you are a woman well into your sexual prime!”

Deborah scoffs. “Oh, thanks -”

“- and anyway that age stuff is bullshit,” Ava continues passionately. “Like, I hooked up with a 47 year old a few years back and let me tell you, she taught me a thing or two. I think we had like ten orgasms between us that night.” She goes a little hazy at the memory, which Deborah notices - she stares just as incredulously at Ava as Ava had at her. “Not my personal best,” Ava is quick to add, “that honor goes to Lindsay Morgan the night Skrillex DJ’d at The Mayan, I got her off seven times before she tapped out. But -”

Seven times?” Deborah drops the pillow, staring at Ava in disbelief. “Oh fuck off, Ava, even if those basketball hands were battery operated you couldn’t -”

“Okay so first of all,” Ava interrupts, raising one finger right in front of Deborah’s face, “I have a lot more tools at my disposal than my freakishly long fingers, which, by the way, no one has ever complained about.” She’s struck by a suicidal urge to poke Deborah right in the cheek but decides that this conversation itself is enough of a riptide, she doesn’t need Deborah to hold her down and fully drown her. “And second -” she raises another finger - “I may be a disaster in 95% of my life but I will not accept this sort of slander when it comes to my ability to make women come. I have that shit down.”

Deborah is still staring at her. Ava reaches for her water again, gulping down several long sips - it’s better than swallowing her own saliva and potentially choking on it, which kind of feels like it could be a possibility if Deborah keeps looking at her like that.

“It’s just physiologically absurd,” Deborah finally says, then looks away from Ava and reaches again for her own drink. She downs the last dregs of the disgusting scotch that Ava had taken a single sip of and then spit out. “And Jesus," she adds a moment later, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, "talk about excessive. Even if I believed you - which I’m not saying I do - it sounds more exhausting than fun.”

“Spoken like a woman who’s never made another woman come.” And man, Ava fucking means it. She’s not lying about her experience, and she is absurdly proud of the fact that she once made an actress on the first show she’d written for come so hard that her foot cramped for nearly two hours afterwards - in the final cut of that afternoon’s scene, anyone who knew where to look could actually see her limping. But Ava’s only that good at it because she fucking loves it. Face first in pussy, trembling thighs clenched around her head or her hand, the ache in her wrist - Ava firmly believes that everyone with a vagina deserves the experience of being eaten out by someone who knows what they’re doing, but she also kind of thinks that more women should make the journey south themselves. There’s nothing like it.

Deborah rolls her eyes so hard Ava can nearly hear them hit the back of her skull. It shakes her out of her dreamy reverie.

“I meant for me! I’m not goddamn Marty, Ava, it’s not like I roll over and fall asleep in twenty seconds, but even at your age I’d be done after two, three times tops.”

That takes Ava a second. When it registers her heart rate triples, but she keeps her face blank and her voice steady. “So just to be clear,” she says, “in this scenario you’re the one I’m getting off?” A muscle in Deborah’s cheek twitches and she moves, just a little, to angle herself away from Ava, who hurries to continue before Deborah can spook. “Because yeah, I know you’re not 25, but if those progesterone packets work half as well as you say they do in those bullshit QVC ads, I could get you to five, easy.” Her cheeks are pink, she can feel it, but she doesn’t break Deborah’s gaze. If she did - if she looked down - she has a feeling she’d see the same signs of a blush on Deborah’s face, maybe even down the top of her chest, the delicate-looking skin that Ava’s seen a lot of tonight thanks to the low cut of the camisole Deborah’s wearing under the cozy-looking sweater that Ava desperately wants to smooth her fingers over -

She clears her throat. Determinedly keeps her eyes fixed on Deborah’s as she says, with as much bravado as she can muster (quite a lot, it turns out), “And you’d be thanking me.”

Deborah’s the one who looks away at that. She looks down into her empty glass before thumping the tumbler back down on the coaster with a little more force than necessary, and now that Ava looks, yeah, she can see it - the rosy flush of her cheeks that could just be the drinks and the laughter they’ve shared, the very slight trembling of her hand that could just be fatigue -

Fuck, Ava realizes, they’re in it now. Whatever the fuck this is, they’re in it.

Deborah huffs out a laugh, surprising Ava. It’s a real one, too, even if there’s a tiny strain of something else- something unidentifiable - layered in. “That’s rich,” she says, “coming from someone who threatened to call an OSHA inspector when I tried to teach you how to swim -”

“You pushed me in,” Ava exclaims, slapping her palm down onto the couch between them and trying very, very hard to sound upset about it. “And then you told me I shouldn’t bother with a bra with boobs this small! But you’re right,” she backtracks. “You’re right, this is - my bad.” Of course now would be the moment that Deborah suddenly cares about boss/employee boundaries, but she’s not wrong, and given that they’ve been drinking and it’s late and though Deborah is many things to Ava at the end of the day she is Ava’s boss, it’s probably good that one of them is remembering those things. This conversation passed the threshold of what’s appropriate even for them and the work they do.

There are no lines in comedy - Deborah has taught her that - but Ava’s pretty sure that whatever this conversation falls under, there is a line, and they’ve crossed it. She should wrap it up.

She pauses for a long moment, considering. When she finally opens her mouth what comes out is, “You can probably afford some really awesome lube, though. I’m just saying.”

There’s a sly little smirk on Deborah’s face now. She seems to have made a decision too: she crosses her legs, rests her right arm on the armrest next to her and leans back - her whole body is open to Ava, now, and Ava fully gulps. “Didn’t you get a press kit from Netflix a few years ago?” she asks, voice only slightly higher than normal.

Deborah snorts. “That yam shit from Lily Tomlin? Please, no. I haven’t had vegetables near my cunt since I was twelve and tried a cucumber.”

Ava blacks out for a moment. “Okay, well, we’re coming back to that later,” she manages, “but -”

There’s still amusement in Deborah’s eyes but they’re darker than usual, and her lips are slightly parted. Ava hesitates - just for a second - before she pulls her legs back up onto the couch, tucking her knees under her and resting her arm along the top of the couch. If Deborah leaned back even a little, Ava’s fingers would be touching the wig Deborah hadn’t had the chance to remove before Ava came barreling into her room three hours ago. She really wants to pull it off.

“If you don’t want me to prove my point that’s fine,” she tells her, and thinks she does a decent job of concealing the fact that at this point it absolutely would not be fine. “But the fact is that you’re a total smokeshow and I could find a dozen ladies who’d be more than happy to try to beat my record in, like, five minutes. Although if you take me up on that you’re not allowed to make fun of these bad girls anymore.” She raises her hand in front of Deborah’s face and waggles her fingers a little too manically. “Can’t knock ‘em till you’ve tried ‘em.”

Deborah ignores her absurdly flapping hand - Ava drops it limply back into her lap - and schools her expression into something more frozen. It’s a look that usually terrifies Ava.

It terrifies her now.

When Deborah replies, her voice is as carefully neutral as her face. “If I didn’t know better,” she says quietly, “I’d say you were trying to get me into bed.”

And - yeah, that’s exactly what Ava’s trying to do, it turns out. The weight of nine months plus weeks on the road, a handful of sex-ish dreams (and a few more full-on sex dreams, nothing -ish about them), and above all, nights like this - nights that stretch out like taffy and warm Ava from the inside out - coalesce all at once. It all comes together right as whatever higher power has it in for her takes a hammer and knocks her hard on the head with about seventeen different realizations all at once, and takes down the damn mountain of denials and justifications that have piled up these last months with it.

The thing is, though, that Ava’s something of an expert at blowing up her own life, and doubling down almost always makes it worse but it’s still a well-honed instinct. Her brain is pretty much exploding both with the realization that she wants Deborah and with how fucking much she wants Deborah now that she knows it, and she’s sitting on this stupid couch in this bedroom that’s bigger than her first three apartments combined, with the only person who has actually helped her rebuild something from the wreckage she leaves in her wake. And maybe she’s out of her mind (she is absolutely out of her mind) but she’s gonna fucking go for it.

“I have a reputation to maintain,” she says, trying for the same bravado she’d pulled off earlier but instead just sounding a little desperate. Deborah raises an eyebrow, and Ava drops the pretense entirely - if she’s doing this she’s gonna commit, and something about the absolute fucking insanity of this situation actually does give her a little more confidence as she confesses, “And it’s not like I haven’t thought about it.”

Deborah blinks slowly, her eyes hooded. Ava watches the lines of her throat as she swallows. She wants to trace her tongue along them.

“It’s a bad idea,” Deborah says, but her voice is pitched low and she doesn’t move a muscle. Her position is still relaxed but Ava can tell how tightly she’s holding that position in place, how much effort goes into her effortless exterior. Then she shifts, shaking her head like she’s trying to clear it, and clears her throat too so that she sounds much more like herself when she repeats, “It’s a bad idea. For one -” she reaches for her tumbler again, remembers it’s empty, and grabs Ava’s glass instead - “what did you say, five? It’s just not possible. You’re setting yourself up for failure.”

She’s speaking much faster than usual. It calms Ava, somehow.

“Maybe,” she concedes, deciding not to be offended at Deborah’s lack of confidence. “Could be fun anyway, though.” Deborah drains the glass in a single gulp, chasing the last drops like it’s vodka and not just lukewarm water. “Don’t get me wrong, the multiple orgasms are great, but sleeping with women is just a whole new level overall.”

Ava feels like she’s pitching something she’s proud of, something she really doesn’t want Deborah to reject out of hand. That’s basically what’s happening, she realizes, and that fills her with even more confidence because she’s gotten damn good at broadening Deborah’s horizons. She dares to reach for Deborah’s hand as she pulls it back towards her after setting the empty glass on the table.

Deborah looks at her sharply but doesn’t pull away. “It doesn’t have to be all about the main event,” Ava continues in a rush, babbling a little now - this is how it goes, she just has to ease Deborah into it and not give her the chance to run, scared. “Or, you know. Events. It’s -

“Oh that’s right,” Deborah mocks her, “you keep a record of how many times you can make a woman come, but it’s not all about the climax -”

“Hey, I’m not pressuring you!” Ava interjects, and she’s the one who lets go of Deborah, then. She takes a deep breath, trying to calm both her mind and her libido. Deborah hadn’t been wrong - this is fucked up on many, many levels and just because Ava’s willing to see what’s waiting for her at the bottom of the cliff, she can’t be the one to push Deborah off it. “Seriously.”

She wants this. She’s pretty sure Deborah does, too, if the way she keeps looking at Ava’s lips and twisting her hands in her own lap is any indication, but Ava’s the one who’s pushed them to this point and if they’re going to go any further Deborah needs to set the direction.

If she points them the way Ava hopes she does, she's perfectly willing to take the wheel.

“You’re drunk,” Deborah says.

Ava shrugs. “Not really. A little tipsy, but I’m good. Are you?”

“A little,” Deborah echoes. Her expression is frozen again, and a little vacant, like she’s so focused on whatever’s happening in her head that she’s not quite able to take in anything else. Not even Ava, whose face is just a few inches from hers, now.

Ava takes Deborah’s hands again - wraps her own giant palm around both of Deborah’s where they lay tangled in her lap - and squeezes reassuringly. Deborah’s breath hitches and Ava tries to sound calm and soothing when she says, “Look - “

“Okay,” Deborah says suddenly.

Ava blinks. “Okay what?”

Okay,” Deborah repeats emphatically. There’s color high on her cheeks and her eyes look a little glazed, a little wild, but they’re fixed straight on Ava’s face and she’s not looking away.

Ava can barely breathe, her brain short-circuiting entirely as Deborah slowly pulls one hand free. She rests her arm on the back of the couch and leans forward, closer to Ava, even as she turns the palm still caught in Ava’s so that their fingers twine together and then strokes her thumb along Ava’s skin just like she had all those months ago, sitting next to her just like this (nothing like this) on Ava’s childhood bed. Nerves Ava didn’t even know she had spark to life under this touch, spreading inwards and out until her whole body feels like she’s swallowed lightning.

“You want to do this?” Deborah asks, only it’s not a question so much as it is a challenge and her voice is pitched low, rich and husky and damn it, Ava is fucked -

“Yeah,” she says anyway, and in one swift move straddles Deborah’s lap. She feels like she’s outside of her body, almost, as Deborah inhales sharply through her nose and grasps instinctively at the cushions Ava’s kneeling on.

She breathes out shakily but the jut of her chin is defiant - she’s daring Ava, daring Ava to make her come, and Ava has no idea how they got here, knows all too well how badly this could all blow up -

But if she’s already fucked, she sure as hell is going to fuck Deborah too.

“All right,” Deborah says. There’s a ghost of a smile on her face as she slides her palms along Ava’s knees; Ava squeezes them more tightly against Deborah’s thighs and leans down, her hair falling around her face, and she can feel the whisper of Deborah’s words against her cheek as she says, roughly, “Let’s do this.”