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“I don’t know,” Ava sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose, acutely aware of the furrow in her brow. “I think we need a change of scenery. We’ve been in this house for a week straight and it kind of feels like we’re just writing the same joke over and over.” 

 

Her suggestion is met with silence, and she assumes Deborah’s either ignoring her on purpose, or she stopped listening twenty minutes ago. 

 

She grunts, and stretches, calling it a fucking day. If she’s not gonna make overtime for this shit, she’ll at least set firmer boundaries with work/life balance. A job is just a job, even when ( especially when ) you’re kind of in love with your boss. 

 

(It’s not like, a thing . Deborah is just currently the most important person in Ava’s life, and she’s unfortunately still very hot, so, inconvenient romantic/sexual feelings. They happen! The fact that this crush has stuck around for over a year is embarrassing , sure, but at this point, Ava’s a fucking pro at keeping the pining to a minimum. Jokes!) 

 

“You’re right,” Deborah murmurs, not looking up from the disorganized notebooks and post-its before her. “I’ve got a cabin in Vermont I bought when DJ attempted East Coast Rehab. We can head there on Monday for a writing retreat.” 

 

“Deborah, if you want to kill me, I’m sure you could just do it here and save yourself the trip. You’re practically guaranteed an acquittal with a Vegas jury.” 

 

“Oh, but a good old-fashioned woodsy ax murder is so much more fun ,” Deborah coos, batting her lashes and playing along. “Besides, I heard you complaining about missing ‘ actual seasons ’ last week.” 

 

“So what, you’re just going to make everyone fly out to New England for a week with no notice? Because I wanted to see the leaves change? Aw, you are a romantic!” 

 

Ava clasps her hands to her chest, feigning a swoon. 

 

“No, smartass, I’m flying you out to New England because everything you’ve pitched today has been awful . It’s a last resort; if you don’t shape up I’ll just leave you there to work in the Maple Syrup industry.” 

 

“So Marcus and Damien—”

 

“— will be staying here. Barry and Cara will come with, of course—”

 

“— do they have cute lil sweaters? I feel like they could pull off the J. Crew look—”

 

Deborah glares at her. 

 

“Go home, Ava. Take the weekend off. Try to remember how to be funny.” 

 

So Ava does. 

 

In an admission of defeat (or declaration of undying love; some days she doesn’t think there’s much difference between the two), Ava had sold her place in LA and bought a house in Vegas at the end of the year. She’d signed the closing papers the day Deborah’s new special began streaming, which feels either poetic or tragic, depending on what kind of day she’s having. 

 

Still, it’s nice to have a place that actually feels like her own at the end of the day; Luna loves her porch swing and Kiki had helped her decorate, so in a lot of ways, it’s an upgrade from her prior townhouse, even if legally becoming a permanent Las Vegas resident feels very much like giving up on her former dreams.

 

She had contemplated inviting Deborah over for some sort of housewarming occasion before deciding against it. It may be a step up from the squalor of her hotel room, but it’s still not up to Deborah’s standards. DJ, however, had declared the back deck “fucking SICK ” and immediately roped in Aidan as grillmaster. It’s weirdly cool having her as a friend; behind the thick, thick layers of dysfunction, DJ is almost as funny as her mother, and more of a “ real one ” than the vast majority of people Ava has had in her social circle. Always there for her in a D’Jam. 

 

She FaceTimes Kiki as she packs. 

 

“Shouldn’t you be working? You didn’t almost get fired again, did you?” Kiki pouts. “Because, honestly, Luna is really benefiting from the stability of having you in her life and it would be a real developmental setback if you moved back to LA suddenly.” 

 

“Nah, not getting fired,” Ava assures her, as she digs through her closet for her extremely underused cold-weather clothes. “Deborah decided we should like, fly to Vermont because I told her writing at her mansion was feeling stale?” 

 

“Ooooh, romantic ,” Kiki gushes. “And now you need a cute but seasonally-appropriate outfit to make her see you in a different light, away from your routine?” 

 

“Ugh, I can’t believe you still haven’t let go the sex dream thing. It’s been literally a year. But yeah, if you could help me pick which flannels I should take, that would be great.” 

 

“Okay, honestly, you do dress like Bernie Sanders most of the time, anyway, so I feel like you’re good to go? But I’m always up for being your hype woman.” 

 

“It’s weird, right? Like, Deborah drags me along to a lot of her shit but she specifically told me she was doing this for me,” Ava frowns, holding up her olive green Carhartt jacket against the khaki one. 

 

“Go for the green,” Kiki nods. “Contrasts with your coloring better. Deborah does shit for other people all the time! She flew me and Luna to Disneyland for her last birthday and hooked her up with breakfast with all the princesses. And then Luna called Mulan ugly, which was pretty fucked up.” 

 

“You’re still unpacking those internalized western beauty standards?” 

 

“Well, she actually said ‘ Mulan ugly, Luna pretty ,’ so I think she was just gunning for her job?” 

 

“Okay, well tell her Disney is notorious for exploiting its workers and she deserves better. But like, Deborah didn’t go with you, did she?” Ava sprays wrinkle release on a crumpled pair of corduroy overalls that have seen better days. 

 

“Nah, but she ain’t trying to bone me, babe.” 

 

“Oh my god, I am going to move back to LA, just to get away from you.” 

 

“You know you love it,” Kiki does her best duck face. “But seriously, a little autumnal getaway in the middle of nowhere is like, so hot ? Not for me , you know I don’t go anywhere I can’t wear a tube top, but I seriously love it for you. But also can Luna stay with you tomorrow night since you’re just gonna be panicking about being alone with Deborah for a week? I’ve got a date.” 

 

“Sure,” Ava sighs, knowing full and well she doesn’t have any other plans until Monday. “I’ve been wanting to finish the season of Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures, anyway. Skipper’s character development in this story arc has been surprisingly rewarding.” 

 

“Omg yes! Luna, say ‘ thank you, Aunt Ava !’” 

 

Luna pops her face onscreen and shouts an approximation of Kiki’s request. 

 

“You let her hear all that?” Ava grimaces. To beanie, or not to beanie?  

 

“Please, she has eyes. I didn’t say anything she didn’t already know.” 

 

“I ship it!” Luna squeaks, looking up from playing with her new Barbies (which, yes, were a gift from Ava so they can re-enact their Dreamhouse Adventures headcanons together).

 

So, tell me about your date,”  Ava redirects, and Kiki launches into praising the hot tattoo artist with incredible eyebrows and surprisingly soft hands. 

 

Ava survives her sleepover with Luna with minimal blows to her self-esteem (and honestly, Luna kind of is right, orange is totally not her color; she flew too close to the sun with that dress up choice) and spending the weekend keeping a toddler alive is a pretty great distraction from the whole I’m about to be trapped in the wilderness with my hot boss who keeps doing that tongue-in-cheek thing that isn’t sexual but feels so. sexual. deal. 

 

“Thanks,” Ava hugs Kiki, when she comes to pick up Luna on Sunday morning, still wearing her dress from last night ( stride of pride, baby). 

 

“You did me the favor! I didn’t realize watching your Barbie show was so important,” Kiki laughs. 

 

“Well, in watching Barbie and Skipper put aside their differences, I realized that I’m kind of my own worst enemy, and I should let some shit go, you know?” 

 

“You’re just now realizing that?” Kiki deadpans, before squeezing Ava’s hand reassuringly. “Look, I know we joke about your thing for Deborah, but like, who says you’re not worth it?” 

 

“Oh my god, please don’t let Luna hear that we did karaoke to that song literally twenty times last night, you’re giving me flashbacks.” 

 

But alas, from the kitchen, around a mouth full of Fruit Loops a tiny voice belts “ na na na na na na na na na na na na na. ” 

_

 

Deborah insists on picking up Ava on her way to the airport. 

 

(“I’m not about to reimburse your parking for a week ,” she’d frowned, when Ava had protested that it really wasn’t necessary, she could drive herself.) 

 

The jet feels weirdly empty without Marcus and Damien’s steady bickering. There’s ample room for everyone to sprawl out, but Ava takes her hard-won seat with Barry in her lap, snoring contentedly. 

 

“I still can’t believe he let you pull that shit,” Deborah scoffs, eyeing Cara on her undisturbed throne. 

 

“What can I say,” Ava scratches behind his ears and is rewarded with a sleepy lil woof , “Barry here is an excellent judge of character. And laps.” 

 

Deborah gives her a cryptic look before returning to her newspaper. 

 

“Looks like there might be snow midweek. Can’t imagine it’ll be more than a dusting, this early, but still, the scene change you asked for, huh?” 

 

“Let me guess— you’ve got a full fleet of snowmobiles and a private skating rink out back?” 

 

“Please,” Deborah scoffs, “Snowmobiles are so tacky. ” 

 

“Says the woman who made jokes about how a snowblower is more necessary in Vegas than Colorado—”

 

“— because of all the cocaine, ” Deborah finishes, sliding back into her delivery from twenty years ago like it’s nothing. 

 

“What’s the ridiculous wealth flex at this remote location, then?” Ava rolls her eyes. 

 

“Range Rover,” Deborah deadpans. “So I can drive down the mountain in the snow and leave your ass on the side of the road.” 

 

“And deprive Barry of his warm seat? You’d never .” 

 

Deborah narrows her eyes before regarding Barry fondly. 

 

“You’d get over it, wouldn’t you, baby?” 

 

Ava has much more faith in the dog than herself, that’s for damn sure. 

 

When they land, Deborah bids the pilot farewell, telling him to enjoy apple picking in New Hampshire for the week, and ushers the dogs and Ava to the aforementioned waiting Range Rover. The amount of invisible labor that exists for every decision Deborah makes is staggering. Granted, she generally at least knows the names and faces of the people who put in the effort to make things effortless, but it’s still a fucking lot. Another reason why she should let this infatuation die already. Mark Ruffalo would like, cycle across the country to go write in a Vermont cabin. And his place would probably have solar panels and a compostable toilet. 

 

Having a moral compass is exhausting

 

“Do you need me to like, pull up the address on Waze?” Ava offers. 

 

“Good luck getting reception once we’re in the mountains,” Deborah dismisses. “There should be a map in the glove compartment, though. Believe it or not, people once managed to travel around the world without cell phones.” 

 

“Okay, jokes like that? Not making the new hour. And I totally fuck with maps. I was in the geography club in seventh grade.” 

 

“Ah, so that’s why you became a comedian.” 

 

“Yeah, way too much romantic attention for knowing the capitals of every country in the world. Had to find something a little more niche, you know, really make them earn it.” 

The rest of the drive is fairly quiet, with Ava’s minimal cartographical skills and Deborah’s latent muscle memory getting them to their destination with minimal hiccups. 

 

“Mount Ellen? I hardly know her!” Ava quips, as they see signs for the ski area. 

 

“Her resort? Sugarbush ,” Deborah smirks, making a turn onto an almost-hidden gravel drive that takes them away from the tourist traffic. 

 

The “cabin” is more like a chalet. 

 

Holy shit , I was expecting a fucking hunting lodge, not an alpine chateau,” Ava blinks. 

 

“The bedspreads are flannel. It’s practically camping .” 

 

They climb out of the car and the dogs stop every few feet to sniff the new environment, presumably picking up the scent of deer and rabbits and bears. Ava wonders if Deborah has a shotgun up here. She has no doubt that she’d know how to use it. 

 

They finally make it inside and Ava takes a moment to admire the grandiose fireplace and sturdy white pine bannisters of a wide open room that can’t be cheap to heat. It’s like a remix of her childhood, winters spent on the local ski hill with her dad, staying in actual cabins that always smelled a little bit like wet socks and vienna sausages. The familiarity makes it more unsettling than Deborah’s Vegas excesses, and it takes Ava a moment to shake herself out of her stupor. 

 

“You know we can’t actually write jokes if you can’t bring yourself to talk,” Deborah grimaces, guiding Ava to a couch that looks better suited to makeouts than to punchlines. 

 

Well. 

 

This should be cozy.  

_

 

“I can’t believe you don’t have wi-fi here. That’s like, gotta be a violation of the Geneva Convention.” 

 

Deborah rolls her eyes. 

 

“Really, Ava, comparing yourself to a prisoner of war? Aren’t you afraid you’ll get cancelled?” 

 

Ava sticks out her tongue. 

 

“Without the internet? Good luck with that.” 

 

Deborah shrugs. 

 

“I still have a landline… I make a few calls and it’ll eventually reach the Tik Tok teens, trust me.” 

 

“I hate that I ever introduced you to that terminology.” Ava looks out the window to the increasingly thick clouds. “If I had wi-fi I’d confirm with my radar app, but that doesn’t look like we’re going to get a dusting. That’s like, 2-feet of snow, minimum, sky shit.” 

 

“Sky shit? Is that the official meteorological term?” 

 

“We should probably make a grocery run to be safe.” Ava’s uncharacteristically serious, matter-of-fact. It’s… strangely alluring.

 

“I had the pantry restocked this weekend. You’re lucky that kombucha has finally made its way to the Green Mountains.” 

 

“I think you severely underestimate the hippie presence here,” Ava retorts, “but, uh, thank you for taking care of all that stuff. You’ve pulled a lot of strings to make this happen, so let’s make it worthwhile.” 

 

“I highly doubt you came up with anything on the plane, unless you want to add in a bit about drooling in sync with a corgi.” 

 

Ava ignores her. 

 

“Okay, so the last special was like, your take on the past, right? All the stories no one’s ever heard. And there’s definitely enough material we didn’t use round one that we could continue to mine, but I don’t know… I think it might be cool to go, like, very current.” 

 

“Nothing political,” Deborah dismisses. “I used up every potential Trump punchline by 1993. Shame the public didn’t listen to me,” she frowns. 

 

“People from Florida always let you down in the end,” Ava sighs. “I don’t know, I think we can do some really good stuff about the digital age, without it being too ‘ boomer versus millennial .’

 

“Without wifi?” Deborah grins wickedly. “Give me your worst.”  

 

After two hours of workshopping a surprisingly promising cryptocurrency bit, Ava’s stomach audibly grumbles. 

 

“Dinner break?” Deborah looks pointedly at the offending abdomen. 

 

“Sure,” Ava shrugs. “I’m guessing they don’t have postmates out here?” 

 

“Not only do they not have postmates, you’re lucky to find anything on the menu that’s not venison,” Deborah deadpans. “But I’m happy to cook. Can you live with primavera?” 

 

“If you can accept that I’m going to cover my plate in parmesan like a toddler, absolutely.” 

 

Deborah chuckles in spite of herself, and ambles to the kitchen, as Ava begins to meander around the living room (if it can be called that), opening every door or closet she can find. 

 

“It’s like this place has been untouched for twenty years,” she mutters, pantomiming wiping dust off of the TV stand. (There is no dust; just because Deborah doesn’t visit this property often doesn’t mean it’s slovenly. ) “I guess I get not having internet, rural retreat or whatever, but why does the movie collection consist solely of VHS tapes of Evita and A League of Their Own ?” 

 

“DJ was in a big Madonna phase at the time,” Deborah answers in between chopping vegetables. 

 

“I haven’t seen either.” 

 

“Of course you haven’t,” Deborah sighs. Could be worse— at least Ava knows who Madonna is.  

 

“So. Which is it gonna be?” Ava holds up the two boxes, waggling her brows. 

 

A League of Their Own. I refuse to suffer through Andrew Lloyd Webber without Patti Lupone. And even then, that’s an awfully big ask.” 

 

“So… women’s baseball… is this a gay movie?” Ava’s face is clearly aiming for lasciviousness, but it just makes her look even younger than she already is. Christ.  

 

“Do you even know how to work a VCR?” 

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, have you forgotten the literally hundreds of hours I spent digitizing your old tapes? Do I know how to work a VCR …” She splutters, aggressively rewinding the tape until the screen lights up, blue and shaky. 

_

 

“Do you think Dottie dropped the ball on purpose?” Ava yawns, absentmindedly petting Cara, who’s fallen asleep at her feet after unsuccessfully begging for scraps. (Why she wants pasta when Deborah’s just cooked her filet mignon is a question for the  dog psychologists of the world.) 

 

“It doesn’t matter if she did or not. She would’ve been willing to.” 

 

“Hmmm.” 

 

Deborah doesn’t know if Ava’s contemplative or just sleepy (some days she’s convinced Ava’s iPhone is the only thing that keeps her awake; if she looks away for more than 5 minutes she’ll pass out or something), but she expounds on her thesis nonetheless. 

 

“I mean, imagine , being that fucking talented and just walking away? For what , a husband and a couple of kids? A dairy farm ?” 

 

“I didn’t realize you had such a vendetta against Dottie Hinson,” Ava whistles. 

 

“Nothing infuriates me more than someone refusing to be great when they have every right to be.” 

 

She’s not talking about the film anymore, and they both know it. Ava’s insistence on staying around for special number two, of hitching her professional cart to Deborah for any longer than the brief memory of the industry to forget her fuckup is a source of mutual frustration. 

 

(The fact that Deborah can’t bring herself to fire Ava is the only reason they’ve never actually had it out on whether Ava is squandering her creative potential by remaining in her employ.) 

 

“So… Rosie was good, right?” Ava breaks the silence. “And Marla Hooch! What a gal .” 

 

Deborah takes the offered olive branch.

 

“Now, Penny Marshall, there was a woman who did the damn work. Hell of a poker player, too.” 

 

Ava stands up to go rewind the tape, knocking her bag off the sofa as she does and spilling what appears to be a menagerie of sex toys on the floor. 

 

“And here you were complaining about a lack of entertainment,” Deborah raises an eyebrow, resolutely fighting a blush. 

 

“Fuck,” Ava turns on her heel, scrambling to shove the offending items back into their respective pouch. “This was the bag I took to LA last time, I just forgot to unpack it. I’m not, like, planning to use this trip as a, uh, self-care getaway.” 

 

“Needed to be prepared in case you hooked up with your ex? Your generation can’t do anything without a technological assist,” Deborah sneers, unable to keep the scorn out of her tone. 

 

“Actually,” Ava laughs, “I brought the toys to help me resist temptation, and not hook up with her.” She glares at Deborah. “Not that that’s any of your fucking business.” 

 

“You’re right,” Deborah stares at her nails, annoyed with how the cold air already has her skin feeling dry and fragile. “If you want to spend your entire paycheck on… butt plugs, who am I to stop you?” 

 

“A woman only has so many hands,” Ava smirks, refusing to back down to the challenge.

 

 (Deborah hates and loves this about her in equal measure. It’s going to destroy them both.) 

 

“Well, by all means, have at it. I’m going to bed.” 

 

The dogs, sensing that the rules are different here, follow Ava to her room, which, if nothing else, means she probably won’t use the toys, given Cara’s propensity for chewing on brightly colored silicone. 

 

Deborah doesn’t know whether she’s relieved or disappointed to be alone, after an utterly exhausting day. 

 

She listens to the wind in the trees and falls asleep before she can obsess over what Ava Daniels thinks about when she touches herself. 

 

She dreams of sliding into home base, colliding with Ava. 

 

(She would be the catcher, with those hands. Even her subconscious is a fucking hack.) 

_

 

Deborah wakes at 6 to an eerie quiet that unsettles her, before she remembers where she is. She pads downstairs and peeks out the window, realizing the silence isn’t just their remote location, but the muffling effect of a substantial snowfall. 

 

Panic and anger seize her body in equal measure, and she yells “ Ava! ” with zero consideration for whether or not she’s still asleep. 

 

When she doesn’t answer, Deborah stomps back upstairs and flings Ava’s door open. 

 

Barry reacts first, raising his head off of Ava’s knee and looking at her with utter disdain, as if to say “ how dare you disturb our gentle repose? ”  

 

“Ava!” Deborah shouts again, shaking Ava’s shoulder and pulling away the covers (it’s weird that she sleeps in a bra, but in this moment Deborah’s grateful for one less thing to freak out about) so that the chill wakes her. 

 

“Jesus, Deborah, who died?” 

 

“Well, we might. There’s so much snow— we’re basically trapped, and I knew you said you thought it would be bad but — it’s taller than the dogs, how are they going to go out?” 

 

Ava shakes the sleep out of her eyes and props herself up on her elbows. 

 

“I once dug a parking spot out of a 7 foot snow drift using nothing but a soup pot and a ladle. We’re gonna be fine. Where’s the shovel?” 

 

“How the hell would I know?” Deborah feels herself shouting, knows she looks like a fucking maniac, but she can’t stop. She always has an out, no matter what situation she’s in, and choosing to be somewhere is very different from Mother Nature making that decision for her. 

 

“Alright, We’ll figure it out.” Ava stretches, throwing on sweatpants and a flannel and beckoning the dogs to follow her as Deborah trails behind, training her eyes on Ava’s backside as a method of quelling the unease she feels. 

 

(It’s important to draw one’s focus in order to center in times of panic; if meditating on what Ava’s ass looks like underneath her hideous athleisure keeps Deborah from having a meltdown, who is she to rebuff the universe?) 

 

Ava rummages around in a storage closet and quickly finds a snow shovel, grabbing mittens and an garishly practical parka and putting them on. 

 

“What. Are Those?” Deborah gestures to the monstrosities on Ava’s feet. 

 

“Listen, Deb, the Sk8-Hi MTE combines a timeless sneaker silhouette with practical weather-resistant features.” Ava’s incisors gleam when she smiles. 

 

“They look like clown shoes,” Deborah frowns. 

 

“Clown shoes that are gonna give your sweet little babies a safe place to shit.” Ava zips up her jacket and throws the hood over her head, gesturing towards the stove. “Make us coffee, and I’ll be back before you know it.” 

 

Deborah busies herself, using the old hand grinder on the beans she finds in the pantry (fair trade and with carbon offsets, because Ava’s influence has her thinking about the global impacts of her consumption practices) and lighting the stove to boil a kettle of water. 

 

She hears Ava grunting outside, but the absence of curses or crashes bodes well. 

 

The chemex is full by the time Ava returns indoors, cheeks flushed and sweaty. 

 

“Barry, Cara, for the love of God come outside before I have to shovel again.” 

 

The dogs come bounding at the sound of her voice, and Deborah starts heating up oil in a skillet so she can make them eggs for breakfast. 

 

Ava flashes a confident grin at Deborah before shuffling into the elements with the dogs. 

 

When they return, less than two minutes later, Deborah’s regained the ability to breathe, and she grabs a towel to wipe the snow from the dogs’ paws, promising them a hot breakfast and lots of cuddles to make up for their hardship. 

 

Ava unzips her jacket, and throws it over the back of the couch (the coat hooks are right there), exhaling dramatically. 

 

“I’m gonna be sore as fuck tomorrow, but I’ve still got it. You can take the girl out of Mass, but you can’t take the Mass out of the girl.” 

 

Deborah hands her a mug of coffee, giving her a once-over as she does. 

 

Ava is, objectively, a mess. Her hair clings to her forehead with sweat, and her pants are soaked through with snow. She literally looks like something the cat dragged in. 

 

And Deborah wants her

 

It shocks her so much she almost stumbles backwards. 

 

She can’t remember the last time she’s desired someone on her own terms, not as a response to their interest or as a way of assuaging her own ego. But Ava and her goddamn pheromones and competence have Deborah literally weak in the knees. 

 

“You know, you could say thank you instead of making fun of my outfit,” Ava frowns. 

 

“I didn’t say anything about those mittens, even though they make you look like Grimace.” 

 

“Well if you knew anything about cold weather, you’d understand that mittens are far superior to gloves when it comes to retaining warmth,” Ava rolls her eyes, reaching for one of the plates of eggs. 

 

“Not for you,” Deborah scolds, setting it on the ground for Cara. “I grew up in California, Ava. I never had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow without any shoes.” 

 

“Well, lucky I’m here,” Ava huffs, drinking the coffee and looking down at the dogs, who’ve cleared their plates. “ Now , can I have eggs?” 

 

“You can make them yourself,” Deborah smirks. “ After you get a shower. Jesus Christ, you smell like a high school wrestling team.” 

 

(She doesn’t. She smells like soap and skin and sweat, but in a way that makes Deborah want to know in what other ways her hands might be strong and confident. Ava’s tanktop clings to her upper chest, and Deborah briefly imagines licking the perspiration from the cleft between Ava’s  breasts before shaking herself back to the present.)

 

Ava sniffs under her arm self-consciously and looks a little confused, but walks upstairs, yelling behind her, “Don’t be mad when the hot water runs out; you did this!” 

_

 

It figures Deborah would have a nicer shower at her never used mountain lodge than literally any place Ava has ever lived. She takes advantage of the fluffy bathrobe and joins Deborah back downstairs, where a plate of breakfast awaits her on the kitchen table. 

 

“Wow, you do love me,” Ava sing-songs, shoveling eggs in her mouth before Deborah can inform her that actually, this is Barry’s mid-morning snack. 

 

“Oh, feeding you is purely pragmatic. The snow is still falling and the firewood isn’t going to chop itself.” 

 

“Seriously? You don’t have, like, a firewood guy for that?” 

 

Deborah shakes her head, faux-apologetic. 

 

“I believe in you, Paul Bunyan.” 

 

“Maybe the middle ten can be about how you conned your writing partner into performing manual labor.” 

 

You made the mistake of proving your competence. I’d be a fool not to take advantage,” Deborah shrugs. 

 

“Because you were having a panic attack about being stuck in a fucking vacation cabin that’s big enough to house the fucking Swiss Family Robinson— who says you’re the only one that’s hurting , Deborah?” 

 

“What?” 

 

Ava sighs. “You know what, fine, I’ll chop the firewood. Catch me up on where we are with the bluetooth vibrator bit when I’m done?”

 

Ava gets dressed (again),  finds the axe in the closet where the shovel was, and forces her way back outside to where the firewood waits, covered in a tarp. The snow is still falling, and the wind gets more and more threatening by the hour; it’s a true Nor’easter, first weekend of October be damned. The nostalgia of the cold quickly loses its charm, and Ava is longing for Vegas’s searing heat by the time she has an adequate amount of wood to keep the fireplace going for the next few days. 

 

“I’m not getting another shower,” Ava grumbles, carrying the wood in over the course of three trips before toweling up the puddle of melting snow behind her. 

 

“Fine,” Deborah huffs, poring over legal pads and sticky notes that have quickly occupied the rest of the couch. 

 

“You know, people regularly have heart attacks from shoveling snow? Because it’s so fucking hard?” 

 

Thank you ,” Deborah groans, before clearing a spot for her, which is as good an apology as any. 

 

Ava gulps down a couple of glasses of water and changes into yet another dry pair of jeans before joining her. 

 

“So, should we start with the apps-for-orgasms thing or go back to the story about you making Elon Musk cry in a sweetgreen ?” 

 

“Let’s do the smart fridge/coffeemaker/dildo combination setup. Once we figure out the timing, it’s gonna kill.” 

 

The workflow is better today, since they haven’t been traveling. Deborah seems a little distracted, but whatever it is, she pushes it aside as soon as they get into the jokes. 

 

The weather , however, is much worse. As they work, the faint whistle of the wind becomes a roar, and by noon, the lights are flickering. 

 

“Good thing I chopped that wood, huh?” Ava glances towards the fireplace. 

 

Shit ,” Deborah hisses. 

 

“Hey, don’t blame me, blame catastrophic climate change. Although the private jet really doesn’t help—”

 

“Just. Shut up . For one moment, Ava,” Deborah huffs, walking over towards the phone and dialing a number by heart. 

 

(Ava doesn’t think she has any phone numbers memorized; maybe that’s an idea for another bit, once Deborah is through wanting to murder her for climatic conditions beyond her control.) 

 

“Marcus, hey.” Deborah nods as Marcus yells at her about the weather, judging by the timbre of his voice drifting out of the receiver. “No, we’re fine, but it looks like we’re going to lose power any moment, and the phone lines might not be far behind, so I just wanted to check in. Can you make sure everything is squared away for our flight back? Make it Friday instead of Thursday. Yeah. Thanks.”  A pause, then. “No, she’s surprisingly good in a crisis. I know, who knew?” Deborah glances at her out of the corner of her eye, conspiratorial. “I’m just saying, I think I’d rather have her on a desert island than you, so revise that contingency plan. Mmmhm. Okay, give my love to everyone, thanks.” 

 

Once she hangs up the phone, Deborah immediately shifts back from cool-and-collected to stressed and annoyed. 

 

The lights give a final flicker, and the room is plunged into darkness, despite the afternoon hour. 

 

“I hope you saved that word doc.” 

 

“I did,” Ava reassures her, “and it’s a laptop , which means we probably have another two hours of battery power, at least. Technology has actually advanced since your days running ENIAC in the war,” Ava mutters, exporting the file to her hard drive again just in case.  

 

(She knows her comments aren’t helpful , but Jesus , neither is Deborah acting like a mild-to-moderate blizzard is the end of the world. The fact it’s happening before Halloween might be, but that’s like, more of a long term issue.) 

 

“Will you go put your fucking Girl Scout skills to use and light a fire? I’m going to go find candles.” 

 

Ava does as she’s told, using her phone’s flashlight to guide her. (Deborah would be furious— not to mention possibly triggered— at the lint left in the dryer, but right now it’s a godsend, catching immediately.) 

 

Beneath the scent of smoke and burning wood she catches whiffs of what can only be described as “fancy” and she turns to see that Deborah has used the bougiest of candles for an unintended utilitarian purpose. 

 

“Really, Le Labo? You don’t have a good old fashioned tea light lying around?” 

 

“It’s all we had. Are you really complaining?”

 

“Nah, I just think it’s like, peak Deborah Vance to use $80 candles when the lights go out.” 

 

“Well, I was about to go make Hershey’s Hot Cocoa for the perfect high-low snowed-in experience, but by all means , continue mocking me,” Deborah scowls. 

 

Ava relents sheepishly. 

 

“Can you make mine with oat milk?” 

_

 

They sip the hot chocolate as they use the remainder of Ava’s battery to solidify the closing callback for the new set, and Deborah is absolutely correct; the combination of childhood nostalgia with the olfactory ambience of Santal 26 is a perfect combination. 

 

(It kind of sucks how often she’s right about pretty much everything. It’s like, give a girl a win every once in a while!

 

When the laptop dies, silence descends, and they watch the flames flicker. 

 

Or rather; Deborah watches them, and Ava watches Deborah, marveling at the way the firelight makes her look soft and ageless. 

 

(She wonders, sometimes, what it would be like. If Deborah had been born 40 years later, or she a few decades earlier. If this wouldn’t all be so hard and sad, and spark between them would’ve combusted into something different, and sooner.) 

 

Deborah doesn’t acknowledge her staring (pining, really, she’s physically exhausted after having more of a workout today than probably the past two years combined, and she can’t be bothered to look at Deborah in any way that’s short of yearning ), but she does break the silence. 

 

“Why are you here, Ava?” 

 

“Well, you see, there’s this blizzard, and large as my hands may be, I don’t know how to swim, even in snow—” 

 

“I’ve seen your spec scripts and your new pilot. Why are you still here , working for me ?” 

 

“Did you go snooping through my stuff, because wow, talk about a violation of privacy—” 

 

“— Jimmy sent them to me after you kept cancelling on the meetings he booked, with my blessing , mind you.” 

 

Ava freezes. She knows that she had Deborah’s permission to take whatever Jimmy sent her way, even though Deborah herself has never said anything because, at the end of the day, they’re both selfish and petty and possessive to a fault, and to admit otherwise would be to surrender. 

 

(To what , she’s not quite sure: each other? The will of the universe? The power of Love ? It’s all ultimately bullshit.) 

 

“I was in middle school when the ‘08 crash happened and my dad lost his job, and my family was still in the fucking hole when he died, so sue me for keeping a steady fucking job in an industry that’s shaky at best .” 

 

“You’re too fucking good to take the safe bet! And frankly, it’s insulting to both of us that you would,” Deborah spits, the fire reflecting in her eyes, a little too obvious to really land as a punchline. 

 

“I’m not Geena Fucking Davis in A League of Their Own ,” Ava feels her voice raise, feels the memory of Deborah’s hand on her cheek, sharp and stinging, except this time she’s only disparaging herself. “I’m not turning away from fucking greatness , or whatever the fuck it is you were on your soapbox about. Bills don’t care about your dreams, actually!” 

 

“Yes. You are, ” Deborah growls. “Do you have any idea how ageist Hollywood is? You could be a showrunner by 30, but no , you want to sit backstage in midtier comedy clubs with a woman old enough to be your eccentric great aunt. I mean, Jesus , you don’t even have the excuse of paying your dues onstage. Why? ” 

 

It’s a demand, not a question, and Ava blanches, the energy of the argument suddenly dissipates, leaving her defeated. 

 

“Don’t make me say it,” Ava whispers. “You clearly already have it all figured out.” 

 

“I’m not worth it,” Deborah insists. “Whatever it is you think you want, I promise you that your career is more important.” 

 

Please. 

 

“This is my career! It’s going fine, in case you didn’t notice. I don’t think you understand how many comedy writers my age would kill not to be waiting tables.” 

 

“You need to be honest with yourself about what you really want, Ava,” Deborah warns, before abandoning her for the kitchen. 

_

 

Deborah finds a gas range superior to an electric stove in most respects, and in this moment it’s a godsend, the ability to focus all her energy on perfecting the sear on these pork chops, simmering them just so in the white wine. 

 

She grounds herself in the sensory experience, the smell of rosemary in the castiron and the rhythmic scrape of the potato peeler as her hands move of their own accord. 

 

(It would make sense to ask Ava to do the prep work that’s beyond fucking up, but if Deborah spends another moment next to her right now, she’ll either slap her again, or worse , kiss her.) 

 

Ava ignores her, studiously flipping through an old UsWeekly that’s somehow survived two decades here, undisturbed by the more outdoorsy members of Deborah’s inner circle who are more than happy to take advantage of her generosity for a ski weekend or a hunting trip. 

 

Deborah herself hates this place; it reminds her of her worst failures as a mother, trying desperately to show DJ how much she loved her, how much she wanted her to get better. And she and DJ— they’re well, not quite good, now, but they’re better, their relationship is better, but being here makes her feel raw and exposed in a way that, combined with Ava’s presence, and sans the buffer of Marcus or Damien, is a dangerous combination. 

 

Ava’s lovesick puppy dog schtick is (and has long been) obvious, but Deborah’s used to people falling in love with her, or at least falling in love with the idea of her. And from anyone else, she might not even care that they were shooting themselves in the foot to work for her— after all, loyalty is the one trait she values most in her employees. 

 

But Ava’s differen t, because Ava’s talent is so much bigger than the small world Deborah has created for herself. 

 

(Ava’s different, because Deborah wants her back . Deborah wants her so much she’s practically pushing her out the door to freeze in the cold.) 

 

She serves the food in silence, taking the effort to make the plates look beautiful because even in a blizzard, the eyes eat first. 

 

Ava joins her at the table, the candlelight parodying a romantic dinner. 

 

They eat in a tense quiet, punctuated by Ava’s intermittent grunts of approval and the scrape of silverware against porcelain. 

 

“So, you talked to Marcus this morning?” 

 

“You were there,” Deborah arches an eyebrow, punishing Ava for the sin of daring to try to make small talk. 

 

“Sorry. Um, I just wanted to make sure your schedule didn’t get messed up by us being here an extra day.” 

 

Deborah sighs. Fine , she can play nice. For the sake of the dogs (Barry’s always been sensitive to interpersonal conflict, and she really can’t deal with him having anxiety shits in this weather). 

 

“I’ll have to miss Marty’s bullshit gala, but he’ll survive. Rita Rudner could use the gig, anyway.” 

 

Ava gets a far-off look in her eye, tongue behind her teeth as she considers her next question. 

 

“When you laugh at Marty, do you mean it?” 

 

She’s as transparent now as she was the day she sat on Deborah’s chaise longue and lied about knowing her work. 

 

“You want me to tell you you're the best I ever had , no one makes me laugh like you do?” 

 

Ava’s cheeks redden but she doesn’t avert her gaze. Ever bold, in the face of her shame. 

 

(The look on her face makes Deborah’s heart leap to her throat and her stomach drop through the floor, as if the rest of her body needed to make more room for the desire that swells up within her.) 

 

“Well.. Am I?” 

 

It’s a challenge more than a question. 

 

“I don’t, actually, fake it with Marty,” Deborah drawls. “But he always makes the obvious jokes. He doesn’t surprise me.” 

 

Ava nods slowly, satisfied for the moment. 

 

Deborah clears their plates and Ava dons her hideous coat again. 

 

“Alright, babies, let’s get you another poop chute dug out.” 

 

“They deserve more dignity than that,” Deborah calls over her shoulder. Ava flips her off, although her middle finger is obscured by the mittens (she’ll have to remember to put that in the win column for gloves in the great hand warming debate). 

_

 

Ava feels like a fucking Game of Thrones character when she returns from the cold to candles and firelight. Or, at least she’s pretty sure that’s an appropriate analogy. The only time she watched that show was for a hot guy in her dorm, and they started hooking up halfway through the episode. The lighting was like, super dark, though, so that feels right. 

 

Deborah is boiling water when she and the dogs return, whisky on the counter. 

 

“Hot Toddy?” 

 

“Fuck it, why not?” 

 

Ava reaches for one of the steaming mugs. 

 

“That’s chicken broth for the dogs.” 

 

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be ?” Ava rolls her eyes, rubbing her hands together. “I’m gonna go put on dry clothes. The couch folds out into a sleeper sofa, right? We should probably stay in here with the fireplace, since the heat isn’t working.” 

 

“I’m not going to sleep on a fucking pullout couch,” Deborah’s nostrils flare. 

 

“Suit yourself,” Ava shrugs, stoking the fire and trying to figure out how the fuck the couch actually unfolds. 

 

When she returns from changing upstairs, Deborah brings their mugs over, pointedly sitting on one of the rocking chairs in the room, not the monstrosity of saggy foam and flannel sheets that’s still bigger than Ava’s bed at home. 

 

The drink warms her up, doing something to ease all the tension that’s been in her body all day (she’s still going to be sore tomorrow, but she at least might not sleep like a tightly wound rubber band). 

 

“Uh, do you want to try to hammer some more jokes out in longhand?” 

 

Deborah grunts noncommittally. 

 

“Okay, look, I know you’re not thrilled at being stuck here, but this was actually your idea, so if you could stop treating me like every single random thing that happens is my fault that would be great, thanks.” 

 

Deborah downs the rest of her drink in one pull, refilling the mug with straight whisky. 

 

“There’s nothing else to be done until we get it in front of an audience.” 

 

“Fine,” Ava sighs. “So we’re just trapped here for three more days… hangin’ out.” 

 

“I don’t think you should go on the road with me this time.” 

 

“I got food poisoning one time, and it’s pretty unfair to blacklist me for that—” 

 

“— Ava.”  Deborah’s eyes are dark and serious (and, Ava thinks, more than a little sad). 

 

“Can we just… not do this right now?” Ava knows she sounds petulant, but she prefers to have her breakdowns in the privacy of her own home. Which is in fucking Vegas, so losing this job would kind of fuck that whole situation up. 

 

“Suit yourself,” Deborah mocks, standing up on slightly shaky legs (a coffee mug full of straight liquor will do that to a person, Ava supposes). “I’m going to bed.” 

 

“I’ll leave you a space when you get cold,” Ava mutters to herself, wishing she had an Instagram feed to scroll through until she stopped having emotions. 

 

The dogs go with Deborah tonight (they really are empathetic little fuckers, huh?), and Ava watches the fireplace, thinking back to ski trips with her dad. They were nothing like Deborah’s jaunts to Aspen, celebrities decked out in head-to-toe North Face and Patagonia they put on in a cosplay of outdoorsiness. The winters of her working class New England youth were peppered with weekend jaunts to the local ski hill in jeans waterproofed with Scotch Guard, or worse, holidays with forced cross country skiing with her grandparents across flat farmland. She’d complained relentlessly at the time. Now she’d give anything to slog across a field with her dad’s voice chirping forced optimism at the majesty of the great outdoors. 

 

He’d get a kick out of this place, the hot tub and ostentatious stag heads on the wall (which, yikes ). Her mom would probably spend her whole visit here worrying that someone was going to slip on ice and break their leg (which was why ski trips were always a dad/daughter tradition). 

 

Ava’s just about to fall asleep (she has no idea what time it is; her phone finally died hours ago and who has a watch anymore?) when she hears Deborah shuffling downstairs. 

 

“You’re right, it’s fucking freezing,” Deborah grumbles, throwing the comforter from her bed onto the couch. 

 

Ava shifts over, pulling back the sheets and moving one of the pillows to the left side of the bed (it’s a bit of a stretch to call it that, but needs must). 

 

“Climb on in, bud.” 

 

The fact that Deborah doesn’t gripe at her for the nickname is proof that she really has been suffering in the cold. Deborah cautiously settles into the bed, leaving as much space between them as possible. 

 

Fuck that

 

Ava scoots closer, wrapping her arms around Deborah (well, as much as she can with two corgis between them) and grabbing her hands, which are cold as ice. 

 

“One thing about my giant hands— they make great hand warmers.” 

 

“Since when did you become an optimist?” 

 

“My dad’s influence,” Ava shrugs. “Hey, look on the bright side, if we were in a tent or something we’d have to get naked and share a sleeping bag to survive.” 

 

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you ?” Deborah groans. 

 

“Nah,” Ava yawns, too tired to really commit to the bit. “I need room to move around to really do my best work. A bigger canvas, as it were.” 

 

“Hmmph,” Deborah grumbles, freeing her hands, now that they’re marginally warmed, but staying close enough to Ava that they’re still practically spooning. 

 

Ava doesn’t push anymore, just listens to Deborah’s breathing, inhaling the scent of her perfume and her skin... and also the faint smell of wet dog (honestly, good for Barry putting a pin in the borderline creepy sniffing Deborah thing). At some point, though she couldn’t say when, they all fall asleep.

 

 

Deborah wakes in the early hours to use the restroom (the discomfort from sleeping on the couch doesn’t help, but she’s not about to admit to that on top of everything else), and when she returns, Ava has snuggled into her side of the bed, face buried in her pillow, a relaxed smile on her face. 

 

She’s breathtaking

 

Deborah crawls back into the space beside her and reaches out to push an errant strand of hair behind her ear, too half-asleep to control her impulses, and Ava leans into the touch, humming contentedly. 

 

“Ava?” 

 

She opens her eyes, looking at Deborah like she’d trust her with anything. 

 

“What is it?”

 

“If you… got it out of your system— got me out of your system— would you start taking those fucking meetings?” 

 

“I don’t think I could,” Ava admits. 

 

“Please, you’re the biggest bullshitter I know. You could kill any general with zero preparation.” 

 

“No, Deborah,” Ava’s fingers loosely grasp Deborah’s wrist, stilling her absentminded stroking of Ava’s cheek. “I don’t think I could get you out of my system.” 

 

Deborah swallows, feeling her eyes water as she meets Ava’s brutally honest gaze. 

 

“This is me offering to let you try.” 

 

It’s an eerie callback to Ava’s first sex-ish dream about Deborah, the way she leans closer in this soft light, cupping her cheek and pulling her in for a slow kiss. 

 

Except in reality, Deborah immediately pulls away, grimacing and trying to spit out a bad taste in her mouth. “What is that?” 

 

Ava is about to be really offended (she definitely brushed her teeth, okay?), before she realizes the culprit. 

 

“Oh, shit, yeah, that’s definitely Carmex. Really sends you for a loop if you’re not expecting it.” 

 

“Why are you wearing crude oil on your lips, Ava?” 

 

“Uh, because I’ve been out in the elements making sure we don’t freeze to death in here? Like, sorry it’s not your fancy artisanal lip scrub but when your lips are chapped as fuck you need petroleum products.” 

 

“Well, Jesus , can you get rid of it before I lose whatever inkling I had to kiss you? You’ve got a very narrow window of opportunity here, before we never acknowledge this again.” 

 

Deborah looks away, almost shy, and fuck, Ava’s never wiped her mouth with as much fervence. 

 

(She uses the sleeve of her shirt to do so, so naturally it needs to come off, too. Don’t want Deborah smelling anything untoward.) 

 

Ava caresses Deborah’s jaw, turns her gaze back towards her until their eyes meet. Deborah nods, and Ava fucking goes for it

 

Kissing Deborah goes from tender to filthy in about five seconds, when Deborah’s hand slides over her bra and her tongue slips into Ava’s mouth. Ava moans loudly enough that the dogs both shake awake, give her the evil eye, and promptly hop off of the bed to lie in front of the fireplace and pretend this isn’t happening. 

 

Shit,”   Ava hisses, when Deborah starts kissing down her neck, covering her chest and shoulders with faint glossy lip prints (touché on the whole Carmex thing, whatever she’s wearing really classes up the scenario). It’s fucking great, but also, she’s not about to use her one possible chance with Deborah to let her do the fucking. That would be rude. 

 

Ava twists away so that she can push up on her palms, hovering over Deborah, who’s lying on her back with a look of shock on her face. 

 

“You said I surprised you,” Ava grins, gripping Deborah’s hip through her silk pajamas (which are kind of too slippery to properly feel someone up, but hey, she likes a challenge). 

 

Deborah gives her a quizzical look, as if her wanting to pleasure Deborah made no sense. 

 

“You’re not on your period, are you?” 

 

“No, are you?” Ava deadpans.

 

Deborah’s uncontrolled bark of laughter makes her nipples hard as fucking diamonds, and that’s definitely not an incredibly physical metaphor for their attraction or anything. 

 

Ava starts pulling the sheets down so she has more to work with. 

 

“What are you doing?” 

 

“Uh, trying to eat you out? Is that a problem?” 

 

“It is if you keep calling it that.” 

 

Ava rolls her eyes. 

 

“Fine. Can I please fuck you with my tongue until you come all over my face?” 

 

May I,” Deborah scoffs, while still lifting her hips to help Ava slide her pajama pants down her legs. 

 

“Yeah, sure, you can have your turn when I’m done.” Ava gives her her best shit-eating grin. 

 

“You better get under those covers like we’re in a PG-13 movie. It’s too cold in here to be naked.” 

 

Ava can’t argue with that; she’s more than happy to let her other senses guide her, kissing from the inside of Deborah’s knee up her thighs (they could easily crush a watermelon, which Ava’s pretty sure has never been a kink of hers, but also? She would very much like to see it). She feels Deborah hold her breath when she hits a particularly sensitive spot, then release it in a shaky exhale. 

 

Deborah is warm and wet beneath her lips and tongue, and Ava hears her stifled moans, muffled further by the sheets around her head. It’s sensory overload, everything hitting at once, but she grounds herself, reminding herself that this is, in fact, happening, and she’s not having the world’s wildest out-of-body experience. She is very much in her body, feeling Deborah’s body, more specifically feeling Deborah grind her cunt against her chin. 

 

“Fuck, D, you taste so good,” Ava pulls back enough for the sheets to fall behind her head, circling Deborah’s clit with her thumb as she makes eye contact. 

 

Deborah doesn’t complain about the nickname now; judging by the arch in her back and the jagged edge to her breath she’d have difficulty saying much of anything. 

 

“You close, baby? You gonna come for me?” 

 

That’s enough to annoy her into words (which was her goal all along, if Ava’s being honest). 

 

“I would if you’d stop talking and find a better use for your mouth.” 

 

“Hey, you’re the boss,” Ava smirks (in retrospect, is a little too on the nose), diving back in and reaching her free hand up to palm Deborah’s breasts. 

 

Deborah comes with a choked cry, fisting a hand in Ava’s hair to stop her (perhaps overly enthusiastic) movements and squeezing her thighs of steel around her head. 

 

Oh, to be a watermelon. 

 

“So,” Ava hums, once she’s extricated herself from the leg lock and crawled back up the bed, leaning back on her elbows because her gut tells her Deborah is not a post-coital cuddler, “uh, that was fun?” 

 

Deborah opens her eyes lazily, satisfaction radiating across her face. 

 

“It was, wasn’t it?” 

 

“Do you want to go again? Because I haven’t even used my hands, I mean, clearly you’ve got a thing for them…” 

 

Ava’s far from a service top, but when this all goes tits-up, she’d rather have Deborah remember her as a giving lover than like, a failed detour into lesbianism. 

 

No ,” Deborah states, and Ava thinks she’s about to roll over and fall back asleep (Deborah’s spurned people more openly on a good day), but instead she pushes the pillows behind her and props herself up into a seated position. 

 

Ava looks at her in confusion. 

 

“Would you take off your pants and straddle me, already?” 

 

She can do that. She can definitely do that. 

 

Ava kicks off her sweats, undoing her bra and tossing it aside for good measure (her tits are her best feature, and she’s not above admitting that). That she only half-way trips while doing so is a small miracle. 

 

Ava crawls back on the bed and does as she’s asked, knees on either side of those magnificent thighs (she’s definitely more into legs than she realized. Self-discovery! ) . 

 

Deborah runs her fingers from Ava’s sternum, down her stomach, until she reaches the juncture of her legs. Ava’s been so focused on Deborah that she hadn’t even realized how fucking turned on she is until this moment, as her hips cant towards Deborah’s touch. 

 

“It’s a shame you wear all those unflattering silhouettes,” Deborah murmurs, purposefully blasé. “But then again, I suppose I’m fortunate not everyone realizes how utterly fuckable you are.” 

 

She pinches one of Ava’s nipples to punctuate her statement, and if Ava lasts more than five minutes, it’s gonna be a goddamn miracle. 

 

Talking, when done well, is Ava’s weakness, and considering just how good the talking is with Deborah when they’ve got all their clothes on… 

 

“Maybe I don’t want them to know. Maybe I only want you to know,” Ava gasps, and yeah she’s giving away the whole game, but isn’t this always how it was gonna end? Missing the out that would win the whole thing?

 

“You’re good when you want to be, aren’t you?” Deborah husks, taking her other nipple in her mouth, tugging just so with her teeth, drawing her hand lower to dip into Ava’s wetness. 

 

“For you,” Ava moans, fully aware that she’s the hack in this moment, a breathy stereotype of female pleasure. 

 

(Sometimes, it just fucking works to hit the expected notes. Clichés exist for a goddamn reason .) 

 

Deborah continues to caress her, teasing her with light touches, never as firm or direct as she’d like. 

 

“What do you want, Ava?” 

 

Everything .” Ava grinds against Deborah’s thigh, desperate for relief. 

 

Deborah tsks disapprovingly (and the fact that that’s doing more for her than the praise is something to work through in therapy, probably). 

 

Focused ambition, Ava,” she tuts. “Now tell me: what do you want ?” 

 

“I want you inside me.” Ava meets Deborah’s eyes this time, daring her to fuck her. 

 

Deborah gives her that look, approval and amusement, and what she now fully recognizes as lust , before pushing a finger into Ava, crooking it just-so. 

 

Ava bears down with her hips, drawing her in deeper. 

 

“I want,” Deborah answers, voice gravelly with desire and not near-enough sleep (will they chalk this up to insomnia, later?), “to ruin you for anyone else.” 

 

She slips in a second finger, and Ava can hear how wet she is. 

 

“I want you to think about me fucking you every time you touch yourself, everytime someone else fucks you,” Deborah continues, her voice calm but her eyes anything but, ravenous and consuming. 

 

She slips a third finger between Ava’s ass cheeks, pressing just enough that Ava tenses up. 

 

“Too much?” 

 

Deborah pauses, watches Ava carefully, to make sure whatever answer she gives is true. 

 

“No, it’s just, uh, I wanted to make sure you meant to do that. Accidents happen.”

 

“Are you telling me the buttplug was just for show? Because ever since I saw it, I’ve been thinking about your tight little ass squeezing around me.” 

 

Ava pushes against her, seeking more pressure, more stimulation, more anything

 

“That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Me filling both of your holes?” 

 

“Fuck. Yes. You got me, guilty as charged,” Ava hisses, trying not to come from the sheer sensory processing of everything happening right now. Her legs are shaking, and she leans back on her hands to keep from tumbling forward. 

 

Deborah angles her palm upward so Ava’s clit is rubbing against it, and Ava feels herself spasm around Deborah’s fingers (all of them) in response. 

 

“Let me see you,” Deborah commands, and the severity of her stare, coupled with a truly outstanding level of neural input sends Ava into an orgasm so intense she hears her blood pounding in her ears. 

 

Deborah withdraws her fingers slowly, and Ava manages to roll to the side so she doesn’t slump on top of Deborah, but beside her. 

 

“Tell me why you got to keep the covers on, but I had to be naked and freezing?” Ava mumbles into Deborah’s shoulder, slinging her knee across her waist. 

 

“I’m sorry, are you really complaining right now?”

 

No, ” Ava beams, before falling fast asleep. 

 

It’s late morning by the time they rouse, circadian rhythm fully fucked. Ava wakes sore and stiff, with a hankering for pancakes. 

 

As she’s flipping the first batch on the griddle, she notices Deborah setting down puppy pads for the corgis. 

 

“Deborah, what the fuck ? You made me shovel snow and almost have a fucking heart attack I’m so out of shape, and you had those the whole time?” 

 

“In my defense, I didn’t know I had them until last night. And the whole survivalist thing was strangely attractive on you, so…” 

 

Ava’s jaw drops. “You’re saying I got laid for fulfilling your lumberjack fantasies?” 

 

Deborah smirks. 

 

“It certainly didn’t hurt your case.” 

 

“I don’t know whether to be angry or smug right now,” Ava frowns, sliding two pancakes apiece on plates and rummaging around for maple syrup. “Don’t tell me you don’t want the extra calories— when in Vermont…” 

 

Deborah sighs, before acquiescing, and joining her in taking a bite over the stove. 

 

“Fuck, that’s good.” 

 

“That’s what she said.” 

 

“You’re lucky I have plans to burn these carbs off.” 

 

“Oh? You’re gonna shovel the snow today? Great, can’t wait.” 

 

“Smartass.” 

 

The dogs don’t look too betrayed by the psychological trauma Ava inflicted on them last night, which she thinks is an auspicious sign for her greater prospects. The pancakes she slides to them under the table help matters. 

 

As they’re eating, the lights flicker back on. 

 

“Hmm, power’s back, so I guess we can write more once my laptop’s charged?” 

 

“Seriously?” Deborah stares at her, dumbfounded. 

 

Ava blushes. 

 

“Giving you an out, if you want it.” 

 

“I’ll let you know if I want an out ,” Deborah warns. “No need to give it. Now, about those sex toys of yours…” 

 

“Oh, you’re finally ready to embrace the latest advancements in vibrator technology?” 

 

“No,” Deborah wrenches her face in disgust. “But I would like to watch you embrace them. On my actual bed with an actual mattress, now that the heat’s working.” 

 

Ava practically skips upstairs. 

 

“And you said you weren’t a performer,” Deborah scoffs, following behind her at an excruciatingly slow pace. 

 

For someone who’s built a career on telling jokes about how little she enjoyed sex, Deborah is remarkably good at spending the next two days doing little else. Which, considering Ava had resigned herself to hoping for, at best, a chaste kiss and acknowledgement of the romantic nature of her feelings, is a very welcome surprise. 

 

It’s weird how not weird it is, finding out all the ways Deborah likes to fuck and be fucked, how shameless Deborah actually is when she’s not poking fun at the loose morals of Ava’s generation. 

 

Even so, Ava feels like she’s gonna throw up as they start the long descent down the mountain back towards the airport on Friday morning. 

 

“You know, even though we got kind of side-tracked on the whole writing thing, there’s still some good stuff in there,” Ava reassures herself, more than Deborah. 

 

“This doesn’t change the fact that I’m not taking you on the road to work it out.” Deborah looks straight ahead at the road, not acknowledging the way Ava’s face burns with embarrassment (and more than a little anger). 

 

“That’s it, then? You got it out of your system, so now it’s finally time to get rid of me?” 

 

“I’m not sure the headline ‘Deborah Vance cavorts on the road with known bisexual Ava Daniels’ is going to give you the leg-up in Hollywood you think it is.” 

 

“Wow! Known bisexual — you’re right, maybe if I work hard enough I’ll eventually rise to the ranks of noted queer—”

 

Deborah cuts her off, plowing right on through her offense. 

 

“You’re going to stay behind while I workshop this set in clubs, and you’re going to take meetings. Get in a writers room again, move back to LA. New York, if you have to, although that’s less ideal.” 

 

Ava is too stunned to argue right now, so she lets herself fume for a moment more. 

 

When I come back , “ Deborah continues, her tone brooking no argument, “I can make time to be… wherever you end up, when you’re not working.” 

 

Ava’s starting to get it, but honestly, she’s still pissed. 

 

“So what? You just unilaterally decide the terms of our relationship?” 

 

“You’re too good to be trapped in this codependent bullshit, Ava.” Deborah reaches behind them to scratch Cara’s forehead in the backseat. Ava wishes she’d reach for her instead, while knowing full well that she’d only push her hand away.

 

“I’m old enough to make my own decisions,” Ava huffs, fully aware of just how childish that makes her sound. 

 

Deborah laughs, but it’s heavy this time, sorrowful. 

 

“There’s no happy ending here, Ava. You’re not going to get a wedding, or, more than a couple good years. Five if we’re both luckier and more magnanimous than we’ve ever shown ourselves to be, Your career will almost certainly last longer than whatever we have, if you’d stop shooting yourself in the foot professionally. I love you too much to let you keep this job.” 

 

The crunch of the tires against icy snow is the only sound for a full two minutes. 

 

Fuck .” 

 

“Yeah,” Deborah sighs, weary. “You don’t need the work anymore, Ava. And I don’t think you need me. But if you want me— “ 

 

“I’ll take the meetings. But if nothing pans out—”

 

“—it will—”

 

“Will you come see me in my shitty little house before I have to sell it?” 

 

Deborah’s cackle warms the air enough that Ava doesn’t mind when she has to get out of the car and put cat litter under the tires to get them back onto the main road. 

 

“Thank you,” Deborah whispers, kissing Ava’s freezing fingers. If Ava tears up, it’s only the brutal New England wind. 

 

“Did you know Grimace is supposed to be a taste bud? How fucked up is that?” 

_

 

Deborah slides Kiki a stack of bills at their Monday Blackjack game. 

 

“Oh, shit, thanks, Deb! Is it time for holiday bonuses already?” 

 

“You know damn well what that’s for,” Deborah crinkles her nose. “I can’t believe I ever let you make that bet.” 

 

Kiki shrugs, shuffling the deck.

 

“I’m a hustler, babe. And I got a feeling you’re actually not mad that I won. Fucking a twenty-something looks good on you,” she winks. It’s strangely validating. 



“It does, doesn’t it?” Deborah grins, smug as fucking hell.

 

“So, do you wanna hear what the Mayor did at Marty’s party? Total shitshow.” 

 

“Do I ever…”