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baby, they're tumbling down

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When Sterling walks up to April’s cubicle with that look on her face, April knows she’s in for an eventful day.

It’s weird, or maybe what’s weird is that it isn’t weird; working with Sterling. The first day April saw Sterling sitting in the lobby of the law firm, Sterling’s little portfolio held carefully in her hands and a nervous smile tugging at her mouth, “Are you fucking kidding me?” was the only phrase April found herself capable of forming.

They hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, and here was Sterling Wesley, interviewing at April’s law firm. 

(Well, not April’s. She’s only a third-year associate, after all. But all of the partners love her, and she’s gotten to be first-chair on two different cases, and she was just offered a raise last quarter, so. She’s on her way.)

“Is this a joke?” was the second thing April managed to say, though Sterling was already startling to her feet and pulling April into a not-entirely-unwilling hug.

Sterling had no right to smell so good.

“I should tell you,” April murmured after the interview, which she had agreed to sit in on before knowing who, exactly, they’d be interviewing, “that I know her."

Carmen—April’s favorite partner, a woman who can pull off neon pantsuits and also manages to refer to herself as April’s “mentor” without it feeling patronizing—lifted an eyebrow. 

“Do tell.”

And a few years ago April might have offered something vague, but in that moment she found herself telling Carmen everything, which maybe wasn’t appropriate considering that Carmen is her boss, but they work at a queer law firm; intense coming out stories are basically small-talk.

Carmen had blinked in response, muttering something about this sounding like the first act of a romcom, before asking April if Sterling was a hard worker.

“Absolutely,” April replied without hesitation, and that’s how the firm acquired its new investigator.

The thing is, working with Sterling probably should be awkward. The last time they spoke to one another, Sterling was trying to share some kind of moment with April at graduation, to which April had flounced off, willing herself not to feel anything at the way Sterling’s face fell.

April was a ball of hurt back then, lashing out at everyone and everything, but Sterling was in a lot of pain, too, a thing that April only learned the extent of when she randomly ran into Blair several years ago and they ended up grabbing a drink.

“You’re paying,” Blair said, “considering you broke my sister’s heart.”

And April had gone through a lot of therapy at that point, enough to know that forgiving herself is a necessary part of the healing process, but still she winced. By the end of their first round, Blair had revealed the other things that Sterling was going through during junior and senior year, things that made April’s chest ache a little (“I’m only telling you this because I know Sterling would want you to know,” Blair explained). By the end of their second round, Blair announced, “She still talks about you, you know.”

That admission meant way too much to April, so much that when Blair handed over Sterling’s number April stared at it for a week before deciding not to call. Her emotions were too big, when it came to Sterling, too likely to end with one or both of them hurt. 

Best to let sleeping dogs lie.

But that was years ago, and now she and Sterling are colleagues. 

Well, not just colleagues. Because a few months back, after winning a case against an airline that was enforcing an incredibly outdated policy that discriminated against trans people, the rest of the third-years plus Sterling ended up at a gay bar to celebrate. April started dancing with Sterling, which turned into her grinding with Sterling, which turned into her dragging Sterling into the bathroom and enthusiastically encouraging Sterling to rock against her thigh all the way to an orgasm.

“Wow,” Sterling panted into the crook of April’s sweaty neck. “In all the time I’ve spent thinking about us doing that, I never imagined it’d happen in a gay bar bathroom.”

And April had swallowed hard at that easy admission, pushing past the emotion it threatened to bring to the surface and pulling Sterling into a messy kiss. Sterling was laughing a little when they broke apart, a soft, private noise that somehow felt more intimate than the act they’d just participated in, and April really should have known then that she was a goner.

But instead, they’ve been doing this sort of coworkers-with-benefits thing, which has been pretty damn successful in terms of frequent orgasms and April waking up with a smile each day, though perhaps a little less successful in terms of April’s determination to let nothing distract her from the path to becoming partner.

Today, though, as Sterling perches on the edge of her desk with that look, nothing really seems to matter as much as her smile.

“What is it?” April prompts, absently wondering if she should be worried that she recognizes what all of Sterling’s expressions mean.

“Depends. Are you busy?”

“Sterling, I’m a third-year. I’m always busy.”

Sterling crosses one leg over the other, which she has to know isn’t fair. “You look stressed. Want me to eat you out in the gender neutral bathroom?”

“Is that why you came over here?”

Sterling shakes her head. “Not initially. But I can be very…” She leans forward until her mouth is pressed against the shell of April’s ear, “Flexible.”

April clears her throat, refusing to be flustered. Or at least to show Sterling that she is. “I have paperwork to finish.”

Sterling straightens back up, suddenly all business. “And I have a possible case.”

“Really?”

“Rumor has it a fertility clinic downtown is running fake tests on lesbian couples telling them that they’re unable to conceive to prevent them from getting pregnant.”

April’s been in this work for a long time, but her blood still starts to boil. “That’s incredibly fucked up.”

“I know. Four of the couples want to sue. They paid a bunch of money for phony tests, not to mention the emotional duress of thinking they couldn’t have a kid.”

April narrows her eyes. “And how do you know all of this?”

Sterling smirks, a thing she’s gotten better at through the years. “I have my ways.”

“Illegal ways?”

“April Stevens,” Sterling gasps, voice dripping with faux outrage. “Are you accusing me of committing a crime?”

“Should I be?”

Sterling shrugs. “Not today, at least. Anyway, wanna go undercover with me? I made an appointment for us for tomorrow.”

April arches an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. We’re married and finally ready to expand our family.”

And something must be wrong with April, because her heart actually feels a little tight at that idea.

Fuck, she needs to get a grip.

“Who’s carrying the baby?” she asks, and Sterling grins in response, clearly pleased to have gotten her way.

--

This isn’t the first time they’ve pretended to be a couple.

The actual first time, it had been sort of a fluke. They were investigating an apartment complex that was allegedly refusing to rent to queer couples, and the landlord showed up in the middle of their interview with one of the tenants, so Sterling had thought fast, grabbing April around the middle and announcing that they were interested in renting an apartment.

It turned out, queer couples were being discriminated against. 

It also turned out that Sterling and April were really good at the fake couple routine.

“It’s hard to fake chemistry,” Carmen had said mildly after telling April that she and Sterling might want to consider this strategy in other cases.

“Don’t say whatever it is you’re thinking.”

“What am I thinking, chica? I’m not telling you how to live your life. You and Sterling are a believable couple. Use it.”

So they’ve used it. Not a lot, though April can’t deny that acting still gives her a little thrill, and while Sterling isn’t a great liar she’s good at committing to something. Especially, it seems, when the “something” in question is being April’s partner.

April’s not an idiot. She knows that the fact that they pretend to be a couple some days at work, that they’re extremely compatible colleagues in other ways, that their nights usually end in one or the other’s bed…well, all of those pieces are pretty dang close to adding up to a relationship.

But it’s one thing to flirt with the idea, to tiptoe around it. It’s quite another to put a name to what they’re doing, to call Sterling her girlfriend or let herself examine her actual feelings.

Still, when she and Sterling are sitting in a fertility clinic, and Sterling is monologuing about their love story in a voice that sounds just a little too genuine, the lines start to feel more than a little blurry.

“It wasn’t love at first sight,” Sterling is saying, her thumb stroking April’s, “but I think we grew into loving each other.”

Distantly April is aware that they probably don’t need to sell this so hard; they’re trying to suss out some potentially homophobic doctors, not applying for a green card marriage.

Yet she finds herself leaning into Sterling’s side, quickly picking up the story by adding, “We loved each other for a long time before we even realized it. But at a certain point, we couldn’t deny the truth.”

“That’s right. The heart wants what it wants.”

Sterling is on the verge of going overboard, but the doctor is totally buying it, or at least pretending to, booking April for an exam the following week.

“Maybe we should do a little private exam of our own,” Sterling suggests as they leave the office, still hand-in-hand.

April wrinkles her nose. “Okay, don’t try to turn a sketchy-as-fuck peek at my uterus into something sexy.”

“I can’t help it! I’m horny!”

“When are you not?”

“That skirt does things to me, April. We’ve talked about this.”

They have. Which is precisely why April is wearing it. 

And twenty minutes later, when April is bent over her kitchen island with Sterling pressed up right behind her, three fingers deep inside of April while the skirt in question is bunched at April’s hips, April couldn’t be happier about her choice.

“Do you know how hard it was for me to keep my hands off you all day?” Sterling asks roughly, pulling April’s hair so she can whisper right against her ear.

April could point out that Sterling had held her hand for the majority of the afternoon, and that she also found plenty of reasons to touch April throughout the day—as she always does—but right now all of April’s mental energy is being used to keep her body from collapsing, to remind her lungs to take in air, as Sterling’s fingers curl just right inside her.

“I love you like this, baby,” Sterling whispers.

(Pet names are exclusively used during sex, which makes April savor them even more, her mouth letting out an involuntary whimper whenever Sterling calls her baby.)

Another twist of Sterling’s wrist and April is coming with a wail of Sterling’s name, fingers gripping uselessly at the smooth countertop as Sterling keeps driving into her.

“That was really hot,” April remarks when she can breathe again, flipping them as soon as the feeling starts coming back into her legs, before immediately dropping to her knees.

“Oh fuck,” Sterling lets out.

And April could just dive right in, putting her lips and tongue exactly where she knows Sterling wants them, but instead she kisses lightly at Sterling’s hipbone, strokes gently along her inner thighs, and when she looks up Sterling is staring down at her like she hung the goddamn moon.

A pattern starts to emerge, after that. Every time they “have” to fake being a couple, they end up having truly incredible sex. Not that the sex isn’t always incredible—it has been since that first time in the bar bathroom—but it starts to take on this other layer of affection and care. It’s not just fucking, but something else, something intimate.

One evening Sterling takes a shower at April’s place, coming out of the bathroom with dripping hair and wearing an oversized t-shirt of April’s, and when she flops down on the bed April has the sudden, terrifying thought that she doesn’t want Sterling to go home.

Huh.

The fertility clinic buries them in paperwork, naturally, leading to lots of long nights at the office combing through files. And April knows that this is a well-worn tactic to get them to drop the case, one that she hates because it brings up so many issues around privilege and time and money, but settling onto the floor with Sterling by her side and several giant stacks of paper around them, April feels almost content.

Especially when Sterling scoots behind her and starts working her hands into the tough muscles of April’s neck, a touch that isn’t about anything other than April relaxing.

April keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Sterling to announce that she’s met someone less complicated, or for her own penchant for self-sabotage to rear its ugly head and make her push Sterling away.

But spending time with Sterling feels too good, too natural, for April’s fears to fully get in the way. It’s easy to start ordering dinner when Sterling is already over, to bring her coffee in the morning, to let her spend the night so she can wake up in Sterling’s arms and they can commute to work together, sharing shy little smiles as they hold hands the entire train ride.

April knows it can’t go on forever. Sterling is the definition of a relationship person, and she deserves to know where they stand, deserves to know where April’s head is at. But every time April opens her mouth to say, “Hey, maybe we should talk about us,” the sentence gets caught in her throat.

Because what if Sterling doesn’t want more? Or worse, what if she does, and April isn’t able to give it to her?

The fertility clinic case is about to go to court when Sterling’s grandmother dies. It’s Anderson’s mom, who Sterling hasn’t seen in years and doesn’t have much of a relationship with, but she still calls April in tears, and April heads over without a moment’s thought.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she blubbers into April’s shoulder. “That woman was kind of terrible.”

“Okay, first of all, you cry at dog food commercials,” April says softly into Sterling’s hair.

“I just like knowing they’re getting a healthy diet!”

“I know, Sterl. But also, yeah, your dad’s family isn’t great, but they’ve also been the one constant of your extended family. When everything fell apart on your mom’s side, at least your dad’s stayed the same. They might have been terrible, but they were also reliable. So losing a piece of that… I’ve got to imagine that it hurts.”

The words tumble out of April with relative ease, probably because she believes them whole-heartedly and has actually spent a good deal of time thinking about Sterling’s family situation since Blair explained it to her years ago.

But she doesn’t really consider the significance of them until Sterling pulls back from her shoulder, eyes still wet but filled with a bit of awe in addition to the sadness.

“Sorry,” April adds quickly, “I didn’t mean to go full-therapist there, that’s probably not what you need right now—”

Sterling cuts her off with a kiss. 

You’re what I need right now,” she whispers, and April has never in her life felt like swooning, but right now she thinks she probably could.

She licks her lips, trying to focus as she asks, “Do you want to start looking at flights home?”

“April, you don’t have to help me book my flight.”

“Well, since I’ll be coming with you, I’d like some say in the matter.” Sterling blinks at her, and April falters. “I mean, provided you want me to—”

“The case starts on Monday.”

“Leah can take over. She knows it inside and out.”

“But it’s your case!”

“It’s our case. And this is more important.”

“It is?” Sterling asks.

Oh fuck, April realizes. It is.

She can only nod at that, and then she curls up with Sterling on the couch and lets her cry some more. Sterling doesn’t want to have sex, which is of course fine, but April still stays the night, stroking a hand through Sterling’s hair until her breathing evens out.

“Leah’s going to take over the fertility case,” April tells Carmen the next morning. She and Sterling fly out that afternoon. “At least for several days. I’ll be out of town with Sterling.”

Carmen gives her a certified Look. “Is that so?”

April can feel the blush creep up her cheeks, like she’s in freaking middle school. “She’s having a family emergency.”

“And you are her family,” Carmen says simply, “so you should be there.”

April doesn’t bother arguing. Carmen is a more experienced lawyer than her, anyway.

April knows that people grieve in different ways, but Sterling suggesting they join the Mile High Club still takes her by surprise. Still, this hardly seems like the time to deny Sterling what she’s asking for, even if sex in an airplane bathroom leaves a little to be desired.

“Just once, I’d like us to hook up in a public place where I’m not staring at a toilet when I come,” April quips, and she means it as a joke but Sterling’s eyes go wide.

“Noted,” Sterling says softly, before sucking the fingers that were just inside of April into her mouth, and Jesus, Sterling shouldn’t be allowed to look so hot in such an objectively gross place.

They only have two days here, not enough time to do anything but attend Anderson’s mother’s funeral and have a a couple of meals with the Wesleys. April isn’t exactly sure what Sterling has told her family about who April is to her these days, but weirdly, that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

“I’m just glad that you can be there for Sterling,” Debbie tells her before the service. “Y’know, I used to worry about her in the big city, but not any more.”

Anderson gives a eulogy that Sterling positively sobs through, clutching Blair’s hand on one side of her and April’s on the other. She throws her arms around Anderson when he rejoins their pew, and while part of April thinks that it’s sort of strange for her to be so intimately involved in the Wesley family’s grieving process, she’s also sort of glad to witness this.

Blair drags them outside the Wesley house during the reception, producing a joint and a lighter from somewhere inside her bra. 

Blair,” Sterling hisses. “We are not getting high at our grandmother’s funeral!”

“I think that’s the perfect place to get high,” Blair replies, not hesitating to take a deep drag off the joint before passing it to April.

April shakes her head, marveling at how high school this all feels, despite nothing about this scenario resembling her high school experience at all. 

“C’mon, Stevens, live a little!” Blair teases, eyes already a little glassy.

“One of us has to be responsible,” April declares. “And I’d say that Sterling needs it more than I do.” She nudges Sterling’s shoulder. “Go ahead, I’ll take care of you guys.”

“Right on!” Blair cheers, offering April a fist bump. “You heard the woman,” she directs to Sterling, waving the joint in her face.

Sterling sighs, accepting the joint. “I cannot believe I’m being peer-pressured into getting high  by my sister and my girlfriend,” she grumbles, and she doesn’t seem to realize what she said until she’s coughing a plume of smoke out of her lungs.

“Don’t worry about it,” April murmurs, even though her heart is hammering in her chest at Sterling’s casual use of girlfriend.

The rest of the reception is oddly entertaining, with April running interference between an inappropriately giggly Sterling and Blair and their various family members, then eventually sneaking little snacks into the bathroom when they finish the joint and discover they’ve crossed the threshold into too high.

“You’re so much fucking cooler than I ever knew,” Blair says with a wide smile from her spot in the bathtub, chest covered in muffin crumbs. “Hey, why didn’t you use Sterling’s number that time I gave it to you?”

“My number?” Sterling echoes. She’s sitting on the cool floor tile, having pulled a few of Debbie’s nice towels into her lap and petting them like a dog. April shouldn’t find it as adorable as she does.

April rolls her eyes, cheeks warming a little. “Thank you for that, Blair. Though I’m shocked you hadn’t told her.”

“I kept waiting for you to use it and then for me to be the big damn hero for reuniting Sterling with the girl she’d holding a torch for for, like, ever! But then you never did, and I didn’t want to hurt Sterl’s feelings by telling her you apparently weren’t interested!”

April picks at a thread on her skirt, suddenly finding herself much less amused by her current situation.

“You weren’t interested?” Sterling asks as seriously as she can manage right now.

April sighs. “It wasn’t that,” she admits, not able to muster a lie in this moment. “I was too interested.”

Sterling’s eyes are so shiny, obviously from the pot but also because she’s Sterling; so earnest and curious and good.

“I’ve always been too interested when it comes to you, Sterl,” April hears herself saying.

“Not too,” Sterling argues gently. “Just right.”

April feels herself grinning, despite the anxiety rattling in her chest, despite the very high probability that Sterling won’t remember this conversation in the morning.

But Sterling is grinning back, which sort of feels like the only thing that matters.

“Oh my god,” Blair groans. “Y’all are truly ridiculous. Also, I want cheese fries.”

So somehow the night of Anderson’s mother’s funeral ends with April driving the Wesley twins to get cheese fries and milkshakes, and by the time they go to bed Sterling isn’t too high anymore but she is extremely horny, somehow sneaking down to the guest room without getting caught and announcing to April that emotional honesty is super hot.

April makes her come twice with her fingers, muffling Sterling’s moans with her other hand, her own desire nearly suffocating her when Sterling whispers, “God, I’ve wanted you to fuck me in this house for so long.”

April has felt the words getting closer to the surface this whole weekend, and she just manages to restrain herself from saying them that night when Sterling goes down on her. 

But the next day when they’re at the airport and Sterling suggests they switch seats since April’s ticket puts her in the middle and Sterling knows she gets anxious on planes without the added stress of sitting next to a stranger, April blurts out, “I love you.”

Those weren’t even the words she thought she was working up to; she really honestly planned on having a measured, logical conversation about the state of their relationship when they got back to New York.

But Sterling’s whole face lights up at that, her expression immediately so bright that April doesn’t even have a second to consider if she made the wrong choice.

“I love you, too,” Sterling replies, easy as breathing, as she links her hands together. “Also, I think we should move in together.”

April chokes on her spit. “What?!”

“Well, your apartment is a lot nicer than mine, and that way we could commute to work every day together, and obviously I’d pay for my share of the rent, so it’s kind of a win-win.”

“But… we’re not even… we haven’t even had the relationship conversation!”

Sterling lifts an eyebrow at her. “April, we spend all of our time together, we have mind-blowing sex, and you just accompanied me to my grandma’s funeral. I think it’s safe to say that we’re in a relationship.”

And April doesn’t know why she was so scared, because hearing Sterling say that makes her entire body feel like its glowing.

“Okay,” she agrees, “let’s move in together.”

Sterling kisses the back of her knuckles. “I can’t wait.”

April sort of can’t believe it, that within the span of about two minutes she went from not knowing where she and Sterling stood to being Sterling’s girlfriend. Who she loves. Who she’s going to live and work with.

It could feel like too much, but somehow it doesn’t; somehow it feels just right.

Who knew.

“C’mon,” Sterling says, “I think our section is boarding.”

April shakes her head, unable to contain her smile, and lets Sterling lead them toward home.