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The Exigency

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“Good afternoon, Miss Ocean.”

“Hi.”

“As you know, parole is a privilege, and one of the restrictions on any parolee is to avoid the company of any person who has a criminal record of any kind.” There was a pause, and Debbie said nothing. She kept her face pleasant and impassive. “That would include most of your extended family.”

“Yeah,” Debbie agreed, “that’s…obviously not something I’m proud of.”

“Would this pose an impossible challenge for you?” The parole board officer had a calm monotone voice that reminded Debbie of a computer. He was flanked by two other officers, a man on his left and a woman on his right, both of whom were looking at him rather than at Debbie.

“No,” Debbie replied. “No, I don’t want that life. I never wanted that life. My brother—” She swallowed hard. “—may he rest in peace – was a criminal. I loved him…” Debbie knew that was the truest thing she would say today. She did love Danny, and she hoped that the parole board would see that truth because it probably made her seem a bit more human. “He was a conman,” she went on. “It was in his blood.”

“And it’s not in your blood?”

“No,” Debbie said quickly. “No, sir…uh…” She made a show of her hesitation, trying to demonstrate that this was something difficult for her to discuss, as if the shame of her actions was still eating at her after all these years, which – she reflected – it was, but not for the reasons they thought. “I fell for the wrong person.” Well, that was true. Sort of. “It was a mistake…” She half-smirked, trying to draw them into a sense of her humanity. “…but it…happened, and…” She paused as if she was choosing her words carefully.

The parole board officer said nothing. He stared back at her, pen poised over the pad of paper in front of him, eyebrows raised. The woman on his right clicked her tongue and made a tiny note on the paper in front of her before turning back to stare at the man in the center. 

“…and if I were to be released, I would…uh…” Debbie let the tears gather in her eyes right on cue. “Sorry,” she said thickly, a slight crack in her voice. “Wow, just saying that…” She sighed heavily and shook her head in feigned amazement at her own emotion. “If I were to be released…” She cleared her throat. Each action was calculated and precise, and she could see a crease on the brow of the officer that told her that her crocodile tears were convincing. “…I would just want the simple life. I just want to…hold down a job, make some friends, go for a walk after work in the fresh air, and pay my bills.” Debbie finished speaking and sniffed quietly, blinking quickly to remind everyone watching of the tears in her eyes.

“Right,” the officer said finally. His eyes dropped from her face to his notes. In her peripheral vision, Debbie saw a guard lean forward to pass her a tissue.

“Thanks,” she said quietly, dabbing at her eyes and shooting the guard a strained smile.

“Miss Ocean,” the parole board officer continued. Debbie focused her eyes back on him.

“Yes, sir,” she said politely.

“You will be escorted back to your cell while we deliberate,” he said, still in that blank monotone that she actually found somewhat impressive. He gave a tiny nod toward each of his fellow officers. The man on his left twitched slightly as though he had been staring off into space thinking about his dinner and not paying attention to anything that was said. The woman on his right pursed her lips. Neither of them looked at Debbie.  

“Uh…okay,” Debbie said with a small, nervous smile. Her face might be contorted into a show of meek anxiety, but the pounding of her heart told a different story. Her own true feelings were tortuously loud, born of the yearning ache to just be free of this place, to get out and run the most glamorous and glorious con of her life, to find Lou.

Lou…

Debbie was barely aware of standing up to follow two guards back to her cell. The unchanging cinder blocks passed by in a blur of dull familiarity. There was no reason to think that her parole wouldn’t be granted. She had an almost spotless behavioral record, and she was well liked by guards and inmates alike. True, her entire family was comprised of criminals, but most of them were dead now, even Danny, which hurt more than she could describe. Her friends were criminals, too, but hardly any of them had ever been caught, so there wasn’t a lot tying her to anyone suspicious. There wasn’t a lot tying her to anyone at all. There was Claude, of course; her stomach churned at the thought of him. But if her plan worked, he would end up in a cell just like hers, and she wouldn’t ever have to worry about him again.

And there was Lou.

Debbie lay on her bed, listening to the noise drifting in from the corridor. A fight had broken out in a cell down the hall. She winced at the unmistakable sound of a skull bouncing off cinderblock. There was a yell from a guard and the click of a taser gun. The quieter sounds that followed seemed to roar in Debbie’s head: the muffled sounds of two guards talking and the rustle of movement as unconscious bodies were born on stretchers towards the infirmary. Debbie bit down on the inside of her cheek and breathed slowly through her nose, willing the nausea in her stomach to pass. She didn’t like the sound of conflict. She had thought she would get used to it in here, but she hadn’t. At last, the sounds faded, and there was silence but for the humming white noise of the fluorescent lights. Debbie’s stomach unclenched just a little – just enough for her to think.

She thought about the job, and she thought about Lou.      

Her cellmate was on a work assignment, and it seemed almost unnaturally quiet, a bit like being back in solitary. Today, Debbie appreciated the time to reflect as she waited for the parole board’s verdict. She had calculated every possible contingency, and practically every single one worked out in her favor. Debbie itched to put her newest con into motion. She could feel the tension in her body as though she were poised at the start of a race, waiting for Lou to swoop in and grab her hand so they could begin. Because she wasn’t going to do it without her, that was for sure. They would be in it together. Together. Tonight – or perhaps tomorrow night, depending on how she felt once she stepped outside – Debbie hoped to fall asleep wrapped around Lou, between eight-hundred thread-count sheets.

Debbie shivered at the thought and turned onto her side to face the wall. The last time she saw Lou had been almost three years ago. They had an unspoken agreement that too many visits might draw unwanted attention. Lou had smuggled her a contraband cell phone two years ago, but Debbie hadn’t even turned it on. Every so often, she told herself she would, but she thought it might be too painful. Their relationship – whatever they were – had always been a very physical, tactile phenomenon. It was Lou tucking a piece of hair behind Debbie’s ear. It was Debbie swiping her thumb across Lou’s cheekbone. It was late-night, post-heist adrenaline manifested in flushed skin and desperate breaths. Debbie closed her eyes against the images floating before her eyes – so close she could almost taste them, and yet…

“Ocean?”

Debbie turned over. “Hey, Dina,” she said as she caught sight of the guard.

“They’re calling you back in.”

Debbie sat up. “They made a decision?”

“Yup. Let’s go.”

Debbie walked one step in front of Dina down the long corridor towards the parole board offices. “You know yet?” Debbie asked. She had a partnership-of-sorts with Dina built on contraband cigarettes and mutual respect. She trusted her, knew she was one of the few guards who was actually a good person and not just in it for the false sense of power.

“Nah,” Dina said, “I’m sure I’ll hear later. I better see you on your way out, okay?”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah.”

Dina knocked on the door of the parole board office before opening it. Debbie stepped inside and heard the door click shut behind her. She fixed the impassive, pleasant expression back on her face and settled onto the cold metal of the folding chair. There was a different parole board officer across from her this time, but he had the same, unfeeling expression. God, everything here was so fucking bland except for the bright orange color of the jumpsuits. Debbie hated it.

“Miss Ocean,” the officer began, “we have reviewed your request and have made the decision to deny your parole.”

Debbie blinked, though her insides were suddenly in knots. Denied. She hadn’t really planned for that. This was her last opportunity for parole. The first of June would mark the end of her sentence, but that was almost a month after the Met Gala. The Met Gala…

The man cleared his throat. “Given the recent passing of your brother under…suspicious circumstances, there’s just too much of a chance for relapse into destructive behaviors.”

Destructive behaviors? Seriously? Debbie thought. I’m in here for art fraud, that’s literally the opposite of destruction. She stayed silent, letting her eyes fall to her hands. Reading between the lines of the parole officer’s words, Debbie knew their real fear was that she had somehow inherited the formidable Ocean empire via Danny’s death. They weren’t exactly wrong, but even so, it stung. 

“We do have some options for grief counseling,” the officer continued after a moment. “And we recommend that you take advantage of those resources during the remainder of your sentence, which will end on or near the first of June.”

Debbie swallowed hard, feeling real tears burn behind her eyes. She blinked slowly and clenched her jaw to ensure that no one noticed. Pulling herself together, she fixed a look of numb disappointment onto her face.

“Do you have any questions?” the officer asked.

Debbie liked plans, liked situations where she knew exactly what was going to happen. She liked a thrill – that’s where the criminality came in – but she preferred it in the context of the long game. Improvisation made her nervous. She cleared her throat but didn’t say anything. Would it be better to cry? To fight the decision with logic? To plead for an exception to be made? Debbie thought of her plan, her most delicious, beautiful plan – the jewelry heist of the century…

“If you don’t have any questions,” the officer said finally, clearly bored by her silence. “You’ll be escorted back to your cell.”

Debbie glanced up from her lap and met the man’s eyes for a fleeting moment. “Couldn’t I do the grief counseling as part of my parole? I mean,” she sighed, “I think it’s a good idea…” She choked back a sob that was only half-feigned this time. “…I…Danny—”

“The board’s decision is final, Miss Ocean,” the officer said coolly, already packing up his things. “Unless you have a question about something we can actually—”

“Can I get an unsupervised visit?”

The officer stopped midway through reaching for his briefcase and looked skeptically at her. Her clicked the ballpoint pen in his hand nervously several times. Another officer glanced at him in some surprise. Unsupervised visits were generally reserved for spouses, immediate family, and lawyers. Debbie had none of those. “With who?” the officer asked somewhat exasperatedly. It was nearing mid-afternoon now, and Debbie suspected that she was his last appointment of the day. He wanted to get this over with. 

“My…well…” Debbie thought of how much Lou would laugh at what she was about to say. “…well, my…partner…she…” Debbie stammered herself towards a blush that she felt creeping up her cheeks and down over her collarbones. She averted her eyes from the men in front of her in an embarrassed sort of way, partially to hide her own amusement. “We would have gotten married…I was going to ask her on her birthday in May if I was paroled, I…” The lie settled onto her shoulders like a familiar woolen blanket – soft and warm.

The parole board officer looked at her blankly, nonplussed.

Debbie’s brain was working almost too quickly for her to catch up. There was still a way that her plan might work, but she had to talk to Lou. She had to see Lou. “Please,” Debbie said, looking up at the men in front of her with purposefully watery eyes. “It would mean a lot for me to see her, and I know my behavioral record is clear, so…” She trailed off as if she were losing her nerve, giving the officers the chance to swoop in and see themselves as saviors.

“Uh…,” the officer began. He glanced sideways at the man on his left, who nodded once without any change in his impassive expression. “Uh…yeah. We can arrange an unsupervised visit for tomorrow. What’s the name?”

“Louise Miller,” Debbie said firmly. There was no point using fake names at this point; they had to seem legit. “She owns a club called Anchorline, in Brooklyn.”

“Right,” the officer said, scribbling Lou’s name and information on a bright turquoise Post-it note. “Admin will give her a call.”

“Thank you,” Debbie said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “I…appreciate it.”

 

**

 

The cell door closed behind Debbie with a familiar clang that she barely heard. She stood frozen in the middle of the small room, staring at her bed without really seeing it. She had been so, so sure that her parole would be granted. She had hung everything on that. It hadn’t occurred to her that Danny’s death would change anything regarding her release. If anything, taking him out of the equation meant one less criminal for her to contact. Destructive behaviors, destructive behaviors…The words turned over and over in her mind. They didn’t make any sense, but then, they didn’t have to. The men who ran this place could bullshit any excuse they wanted to keep someone here.

If Lou agreed, the job could still work. Running it with one less person meant putting a little more on each of their plates to make sure everything went smoothly. It could work, and Debbie admitted (grudgingly) that there was something poetic about pulling a con from behind bars. The revenge would be a little less sweet, perhaps, without Claude catching a glimpse of her face. However, as long as he ended up with a longer sentence than her own, Debbie would be satisfied. Debbie’s mind ticked through her plan, running each element as she had a thousand times, but this time without herself in the picture. It still worked. Perfectly. Like clockwork. Debbie managed a small smile. Lou could do it. They could do it.

Still, Debbie’s body felt heavy with sadness. She wasn’t disappointed about not being present for the Met Gala – that was the least of her worries, really. As long as the job worked and she had an alibi, that was all that mattered. She wasn’t sad about Danny, either – not at the moment, anyway. If he was really dead, she would mourn him once the heist was over. If he wasn’t dead, well, then she just had to wait. There was no use worrying about it now. No, the reason for the tears now pricking at the corners of Debbie’s eyes was that the denial of her parole meant another three months without Lou.

Debbie missed Lou more than she had missed anything in her life. It had been ten years since they had last shared a bed, shared a kiss. Debbie wondered if she would be able to prevent herself from simply melting into Lou’s embrace tomorrow during the unsupervised visit. Even though she wasn’t entirely sure what their partnership would look like during the Met Job and afterwards, Debbie was certain that Lou would be there. They had made promises to each other before Lou left ten years ago, and those promises had been implicitly renewed on the day before Debbie’s sentencing when she finally plucked up the courage to call her again. In many ways, Lou was the reason Debbie had come up with the Met Gala Heist in the first place; Lou and the Met Museum itself were the two constants in every version of Debbie’s plan.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted with Lou once this was all over, once the heist was complete and she was out of jail. Debbie wasn’t good at putting words to feelings. However, she did know that her skin felt different without Lou brushing up against her – different in a prickly, uncomfortable way. Lou’s sharp angles, her platinum blonde hair, her leather – it all fit against the edges of Debbie’s shadowy silhouette. It just…worked. They worked, and that was all Debbie needed to know for now.

Stirred into motion by thoughts of Lou, Debbie walked across to her bed and sank onto it, rooting around under the shitty, plastic mattress cover until she felt the hard corner of the contraband cellphone Lou had sent her (via Dina) two years ago. She pulled out the phone and turned it over a few times in her hand. Lou deserved some warning before the prison called her. Debbie wasn’t sure what to say, knew it had to be cryptic and short – nothing that would raise any red flags. Debbie sank onto her side on the bed, facing the wall as the phone powered on. There were two contacts: Lou and Danny. Debbie smiled sadly at Danny’s name as she touched the MESSAGE icon next to Lou’s information.

Parole denied. Private visit tmrw. Debbie typed out the words and then stared at them. Somehow, it made the situation much more real to actually see it written out so succinctly. It was cold and banal, but she couldn’t manage anything else right now. If she started probing her feelings, she was sure her texts would run into paragraphs. It was better to be blunt, to make sure Lou knew that Debbie was okay. Debbie thought about adding a ‘plz’ to the end, but that seemed a bit desperate. She pressed send with a finger that shook slightly, made sure the volume was completely turned off in case Lou responded, and curled into a ball with her eyes squeezed shut. She ran the new version of the heist over and over in her head for uncounted seconds, minutes, hours. There were a few minor snags, but she fixed each one diligently, trying not to clutch the phone too tightly. After what felt like days, the device finally vibrated in her hand. Debbie jumped as though someone had shouted in her ear, and fumbled with the screen to turn it on.

Unsupervised? Lou’s question wasn’t entirely unexpected. One of the factors that had kept her visits few and far between was the discomfort of the supervised visiting room.

Yes, Debbie responded immediately.

I’ll be there, Jailbird.

In a fit of romance, Debbie pressed her lips to the screen of the phone and felt tears behind her eyes once more. Thx, Lou, she typed, once she had mentally shaken herself.  

There was a pause before Lou’s next text, and Debbie buried the side of her head in the pillow, keeping one eye trained on the screen and the phone well-hidden in her hand. Finally, the device buzzed again: I’m sorry.

Debbie pressed her lips into a thin line as she typed a hasty response. Me too. They’ll call u @ the club to set up the visit.

K, Lou replied immediately, U need anything?

No, I’m OK. See u tmrw.

See u, Debs.

There was something about the perfunctory ending of their conversation that made yet another wave of emotion to crash over Debbie. She wasn’t usually prone to tears; she preferred lying in a blank stupor staring up at an even blanker ceiling. But this…this was different. The four years between when Lou had left and the date of her arrest had been full of a similar, uncontrollable level of emotion. Debbie had felt herself spiraling as each of her solo jobs went wrong. It wasn’t as if everything had gone perfectly with Lou. It hadn’t, not at the end – that was part of why they had separated, but there was still a comfort to it that Debbie hadn’t recognized until it was gone; until Lou was gone. Eventually, she had given up on the solo gigs and teamed up with Danny, but his team didn’t really value her skills. That’s when she had started things with Claude. It had been a dull, though lucrative, way to get back on her feet – until it wasn’t. Until he had framed her for art fraud and gotten her thrown in prison. Six years with a chance for parole. A chance for parole. A chance…That chance had flickered and died. All the strength and all the hope that Debbie had cultivated in prison seemed very fragile now. She clutched the rough blankets of her bunk tightly in her fists, imagining them to be the only two things she could count on: in her left hand was the perfection of her Met Gala plan, and in her right hand was Lou. The job and Lou, Debbie told herself. The job and Lou. Tomorrow. The job…and Lou…Lou…Lou.

“Didn’t expect to see you back here, Ocean.” A sympathetic voice cut through Debbie’s repetitive thoughts.

Debbie turned over to face the middle of the room. She hadn’t heard the door of the cell open and close, but her cellmate had clearly just returned from dinner. Mercifully, Debbie had been allowed to skip the meal tonight. She suspected that Dina had pulled some strings. “Hey, Marcia,” Debbie said, trying to sound normal. 

Marcia winced at the look on her face. “That bad, huh?”

Debbie grimaced. “Not good.”

“Denied?” Marcia asked, sinking onto her own bed and looking across the narrow cell at Debbie.

“Yeah,” Debbie replied, tilting her neck to each side until it cracked and surreptitiously turning off the contraband phone while keeping it hidden under her pillow.

“Fuck ‘em.”

“Yes,” Debbie agreed. They sat in silence for several minutes. Debbie liked Marcia. She was down-to-Earth and quiet, and she didn’t take anybody’s bullshit. She hadn’t been here as long as Debbie, but they’d been placed together in a double cell well over a year ago. It had been a better year than the first few by far.

“I really thought you’d get it,” Marcia said eventually, shaking her head. “Let’s face it, you’re pretty and white, and it’s your first time in here.” She gestured vaguely at her own dark skin. “I mean, there’s no way they’d ever let me out early, but you…I thought you had a decent shot. They say why?”

“Danny.” It was all Debbie could say. Marcia didn’t know that Debbie’s family were criminals, but she knew Danny had died. She had been there when Dina brought Debbie the news, and she had stayed awake all night to make sure Debbie was alright. Debbie hadn’t quite worked through the gratitude she felt for that, but it really had meant something. 

“What, they think you’ll fuck up some more paintings ‘cause your brother died?”

“Something like that.” Debbie met Marcia’s eyes and managed a half-smile.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Debbie said with a sigh, repeating the same words she had texted Lou. She was sorry. It put a serious wrench in her plans, and Debbie didn’t like wrenches in her plans.

“How long you got left now?”

“Three months.”

“Shit,” Marcia let her breath out in a hiss, propping her elbows on her knees and resting her chin on her entwined fingers. 

“Mm hmm. It’ll be a long few months.” Debbie uncrossed her legs and set both feet on the floor. She ran her hands down her shins and stretched her back. “I got an unsupervised visit, though,” Debbie added after a moment.

“With that rock-chick Australian girlfriend of yours?” Marcia asked, eyebrows raised. Marcia had seen the Polaroid photo that Lou had sent two years ago when she had been going through some old boxes: Debbie and Lou in Paris twelve years ago.

“She’s not my—”

“Yes, she is,” Marcia interrupted her firmly.

Debbie shook her head and smirked, but she didn’t argue the point. It was…nice to think of Lou that way.

“What’d you say to make that happen?” Marcia asked.

Debbie felt herself blush very slightly. “Told them I wanted to marry her.”

“See? What I tell you?”

“It’s not…” Debbie trailed off. She had been meaning to say that it wasn’t true, but that didn’t feel quite right. Maybe she hadn’t actually planned to ask Lou to be her wife, but she didn’t not want to marry her. Debbie hadn’t ever considered it before, not really, not beyond a few jokes here and there over the years. But now they could actually get married, what if…what if

Marcia raised her eyebrows at the expression on Debbie’s face and sighed. “Oh, you’ve got it hard for that girl.”

Debbie shrugged. “Maybe a little,” she said with dignity.

Marcia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, let me know how you feel after the visit tomorrow.”

Debbie sighed and shook her head. “I really thought…”

“I know.”

Debbie lay back down on her bed and fell silent. Marcia took the hint that the conversation was over and settled onto her own bunk, pulling out a long letter from her husband from under her pillow. Debbie watched her eyes soften as she read it, and she wondered if that happened to her own eyes when she looked at her photo of Lou. Now she thought of it, she wasn’t even sure where the picture had gotten to. The last time she had looked at it, one of the more threatening guards had interrupted her, storming into her cell to berate her about a wardrobe violation that she was quite sure was fake. She had blindly shoved the photograph into the first book that came to hand, not bothering to look at the cover and far too preoccupied with trying to avoid the guard’s wandering hands to identify the book by feel. By the time the guard left, Debbie hadn’t been able to bring herself to do anything other than curl into a ball and stare at the wall.  

Now, desperate for something to do with her hands, Debbie slid off the bed and went to her stack of books in the corner. She knew it wasn’t in Sherlock Holmes; she read that far too often to keep anything in its pages. She picked up an old edition of The Norton Anthology of Western Music that she had stolen from the prison library and shook out the leaves. Nothing fell out, so she turned to the next book and the next. Most of them she had never opened. They were gifts from Tammy, and they weren’t really her style, though she appreciated the thought.

“It’s in your Shakespeare,” Marcia said through a sigh.

“What?”

“The picture of Lou?”

Debbie looked over her shoulder and blinked in surprise. Marcia smiled and rolled her eyes.

“It’s in your Shakespeare,” Marcia said again, pointing to the large, green tome. “I noticed it sticking out the other day…thought you put it in there on purpose – marked something in Romeo & Juliet or some romantic shit like that.”

Debbie pulled the book towards herself and saw the bent corner of the photo sticking out of the side. The picture fell out onto her lap as she shook out the leaves. She checked the page from where it had come. “No, it was Henry V,” she said with a deadpan glance at Marcia.

Marcia snorted with laughter. “Whatever floats your boat, Ocean.”

Debbie smirked and re-stacked the books in the corner before picking up the photo and returning to her bed to study it. She and Lou both looked a little different than they did now, but it was still them. They looked happy. Their bodies were turned towards each other. Lou’s left arm was wrapped around Debbie’s waist and her right hand was resting over Debbie’s upper stomach and ribs. It was a possessive gesture that had only ever felt right with Lou. Debbie had one arm around Lou’s back. Her other arm hung loosely at her side, hand clutched around the top of a bag full of pastries. Lou was dressed in black leather pants, a matching vest, and her usual tangle of necklaces. Debbie was wearing a denim sundress that buttoned all the way down the front to the hem just above her knees. She had undone the top few buttons for Lou’s benefit, and the edge of her white, lacy bra peeked through just enough to tantalize.

Looking closely at the photo, Debbie found that she could almost feel the heat of the Paris summer, could almost smell the stolen Armani perfume on both of their necks, could almost feel Lou’s hand resting just below her breasts. Debbie stared at the image and willed it to fill her mind. It was all she had, but it was never enough. She should have been back with Lou tonight, should have been sitting across the table from her sharing Chinese food and wearing lingerie. Instead she was stuck in this horrible, nylon jumpsuit with her stomach growling and churning.

The harsh clang of a buzzer sounded outside in the corridor, and Debbie slid the photo under her pillow. She swung her legs off the bed as Marcia did the same, picked up her toothbrush, and followed her cellmate out into the corridor to the bathroom. Debbie counted her steps, counted the other inmates, counted the cracks in the poor excuse for a mirror above the sink. She thought of nothing but numbers until she crawled back into her bed fifteen minutes later wearing her prison-issued cotton pajamas and hand-knitted socks from Tammy’s Christmas package. Debbie didn’t look at the photo of Lou, but she kept her palm over it as she closed her eyes and buried her face in her pillow. She thought of Lou’s hands resting against her ribs, her waist, her hips. She thought of Lou’s lips pressed softly against the sensitive skin just under her ear. She thought of Lou’s eyes gazing into hers, and eventually, Debbie slept.

Chapter Text

The next morning passed very, very slowly. Debbie went about her normal routine, running on autopilot and trying not to watch the clocks ticking at a snail’s pace. She had awoken at least an hour before Marcia and turned on the phone under her pillow to find a text from Lou confirming that she had heard from the prison. 2pm, Jailbird, said the message. It was only 11 am now, and Debbie knew that the next three hours were likely to feel nearly as long as the next three months. She also knew that the hour with Lou would probably feel like nothing more than the blink of an eye. Time was a nuisance. Debbie made her way to the gym for the hour before lunch. She needed to think and to sweat. A few people stared at her; practically everyone had expected her parole to be approved. Most people made a point of not meeting her eyes, but Debbie caught a flash of fear as they looked away. If Debbie Ocean’s parole could be denied with hardly any cause, so could theirs.

Wrapping her knuckles carefully, Debbie claimed one of the punching bags and started in on her normal routine. Her rhythms had gotten faster over the past five years, eight months, and thirteen days. She had always maintained some level of athleticism because it was good to be able to run faster than most people when a job went wrong, but in prison, working out had become far more essential for her mental health rather than her physical health. The ache in her muscles, the burn in her knuckles – it kept her mind sharp. Moreover, prison offered very little by way of control over one’s body, and the gym was a tiny reprieve from that oppression. Even today, with a thousand emotions coursing through her bloodstream, Debbie lost track of time as she swung her fists methodically into the faux-leather casing of the old punching bag. When she finally stopped, her whole body felt lighter, and her mind was clear. She knew exactly what Lou needed to do to make this job work, and – more importantly – she knew exactly what to say to Lou to get her on board.

 

**

 

Lunch was as bland as usual. It tasted worse today somehow, knowing that she should have been out in the real world eating her fill of food-cart hot dogs and sushi. Marcia smiled sympathetically at her over her own plate as Debbie pushed the food around with her fork.

“You should eat, Ocean,” she said kindly. “You’ll need your strength for that unsupervised visit.” She cocked an eyebrow suggestively.

Debbie scoffed, but the humor did make her feel slightly better. She took a bite of mashed potatoes and peas. “I don’t think there’ll be any…activities,” she said thickly around her food.

Marcia wrinkled her nose. “You have a seriously bad habit of talking with your mouth full.” She pointed an accusatory forkful of food in Debbie’s direction.

Debbie swallowed and sipped from her glass of water. “God, those potatoes are dry. Anyway, I don’t think there’ll be any of…that.”

“Hey, don’t rule it out,” Marcia said.

“No, I am ruling it out,” Debbie shot back. “Lou and I have waited ten years. I think we can wait another three months for an actual bed. Besides this…” She tugged at the collar of her jumpsuit. “…is not sexy.”

“Fuck off, Ocean,” Marcia said, with another pointed gesture with her fork. “You’re hot as shit, and you know it.”

Debbie rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair with her arms crossed. She felt herself smiling, though. Somehow the knowledge that she wanted Lou to see her, even like this, was highly comforting.

“I better be invited to your wedding,” Marcia said, nudging Debbie’s shin under the table with her toe.

Debbie scoffed again. “There’s no actual wedding…I’m not…We’re not…”

“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Marcia shook her head in disbelief at Debbie’s coyness. “Tell me this, Ocean,” she said, leaning forward with her elbows on the table. “If she asked you, what would you say?”

“She’s not going to ask me.”

If she asked y—”

“Fine. I’d say yes,” Debbie said, throwing her hands up in a sign of surrender. “I’d. Say. Yes. Happy?”

Marcia shot her a very smug look as she slowly chewed another bite of food.

Debbie blushed and let her hands drop to her lap. “I’d say yes,” she said again softly, “But I know she won’t ask…at least, not…not yet.” She looked back up at Marcia. “It’s been ten years, you know?”

Marcia nodded at Debbie, serious now. “I know. You’ve got some shit to work out.”

Debbie nodded pensively and finished her glass of water.

“Just promise me you’ll actually try to admit your feelings?”

“Yeah,” Debbie said. “You got it.”

 

**

 

Debbie requested the opportunity to shower and change into a fresh uniform before her visit with Lou, and – somewhat to her surprise – the request was granted. Once again, she had a feeling Dina may have been involved because when she arrived in the showers, she found a bottle of rose-scented 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner that was certainly not prison-issued. It felt luxurious to actually wash her hair with something half-way decent even though the water only stayed hot for three minutes. The showers always made her a bit nervous. She had been shivved a year into her sentence by someone Danny had told her to avoid. Every time Debbie looked at the damp, tile floor, she couldn’t help but remember the way her blood pooled in the water. She felt safe now, especially with Dina keeping an eye out and far fewer enemies of the Oceans nearby. Still, almost dying wasn't something that anyone easily forgot.

She had been told to return to her cell after cleaning up to wait for her escort to the visiting chamber. Marcia was on work assignment again, so Debbie hid her contraband phone behind one of the books from Tammy. She still had about forty-five minutes to wait, but there was plenty she could do in that amount of time. She wanted to make sure that Lou’s visit wasn’t entirely taken up with business matters, so she began the rather painstaking task of translating her coded plan into a different coded plan that Lou would be able to follow. The first step stayed the same: “Be FF?” Debbie fiddled with the rest of the steps until they seemed both innocuous and comprehensible, added a caption that simply said “next,” and sent the message. She knew Lou was probably driving here by now (and that thought made Debbie’s stomach flip pleasurably), but the point was that the list would be in Lou’s phone when they needed it. She turned off the phone as soon as the message sent and lay back on the bed to wait. Her whole body felt like a lightning rod, unsure what she would feel when she saw Lou. Would she fall apart? Would she play it cool? There was no way to know until she saw her, and the anticipation felt like a very slow death.

The clang of her cell door alerted Debbie to the presence of two guards, neither of whom was particularly familiar to her. She felt detached from her body as they led her through the corridors to an unfamiliar visiting area. She had never had an unsupervised visit before. The room was a bit friendlier than she anticipated. There was a couch against one wall with horrible floral upholstery. The fabric appeared to have been clawed by a cat at some point in the distant past. Debbie suspected it had come from a garage sale. A decades-old television sat on a rickety stand on the other side of the room. A few DVDs of cartoons lay next to it – Arthur (she recognized it from her last visit to Tammy’s house nearly seven years ago), and something about a tiger that Debbie didn’t recognize because it had probably come out after the start of her sentence. Tammy would probably recognize that as well – probably all too well. Clearly this was mostly used for children’s visits with their parents. Marcia had probably been here before to see her daughter and husband. Debbie had expected something like the cold cell-like room where Lou had visited before. The fact that they wouldn’t have to sit with a table between them made her feel calmer. The guards stood just inside the door. Debbie wished they would leave before Lou’s arrival, just so she would have a moment of solitude to prepare herself, but she knew they wouldn’t. One of the guards gestured to a hard chair next to the couch, and she sat in it, hoping against hope that Lou wouldn’t be late.

Barely a minute later, the door on the opposite side of the room opened and Lou walked in, accompanied by an administrative employee wearing a well-tailored, navy skirt-suit. Debbie stood up from her chair, feeling a desperate need to seem steady and calm until she was sure they were alone. They stared at each other awkwardly as Debbie heard the guards behind her turn to leave and watched the woman behind Lou shut the door behind her. 

“You have an hour, Miss Ocean,” one of the guards muttered just before the door slammed shut, but she barely heard him. Her entire mind was focused on Lou. She looked good. Three years ago, Lou had been thin – almost emaciated – and worn around the edges. Debbie knew that Lou had taken her incarceration hard, and the last time Debbie had seen her had been mere weeks after Lou had cleaned up her act. Now, she was more put together, more professional. She wore a band T-shirt under a gray blazer, and her plum leather pants would have looked garish on almost anyone else. Debbie barely had time to give her a once-over before Lou had crossed the space between them and enveloped Debbie in a crushing hug that squeezed all of the breath out of her lungs.

“Hey, hey, take it easy!” Debbie pretended to protest. Her voice was muffled in Lou’s collarbone. “I’m still in the slammer.”

Lou only clung tighter. “You shouldn’t be,” she said.

Debbie felt the words vibrate against her temple. Lou was wearing heels (as usual), and that meant she was a good six inches taller than Debbie today. It was a stupid, frivolous thing, but it made Debbie miss the real world and its infinite variety of shoes. She took a deep breath of Lou’s perfume, and nuzzled her face deeper into Lou’s neck. “No, baby,” Debbie agreed at last through a sigh. “I shouldn’t be.”

Debbie couldn’t remember the last time she had been held like this. They had managed a brief hug during Lou’s previous visit, but this was deeper than that. It was almost too much, to be wrapped in Lou so completely after so many years apart. Debbie felt lightheaded and overwhelmed, but she made no effort to remove herself from Lou’s arms. She hadn’t been this warm in ten years. Eventually, Lou pulled away just enough to pull Debbie to the tattered couch. Debbie tried to smile at her, but she got a bit lost in Lou’s eyes, which were now piercing her with their usual intensity.

Debbie cleared her throat. She wasn’t quite ready to talk about them yet, so it was better to get the business out of the way. “Did you get the credit line?”

“Not yet,” Lou said softly, tucking a piece of hair behind Debbie’s ear.

“Why not?” Debbie asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Because I don’t know what it’s for,” Lou said with a half-smile that Debbie wanted to taste. She didn’t, though. She could wait. Instead, she scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“I sent you a message,” Debbie said. She wasn’t sure to what extent these rooms were monitored, and she wasn’t going to take any chances by speaking more plainly.

Lou looked confused. “Debbie…”

“You can do it,” Debbie said firmly. She slid two newspaper articles from her jumpsuit pocket. Each one was carefully folded to ensure that neither headline was eye-catching. The first one was a short, bland story about the history of Cartier from an issue of the New York Times style section four years ago. The second was a much more recent article detailing the plans for this year’s Met Ball. Debbie trusted Lou to put two-and-two together. Everything else was coded in her text.

Lou shook her head. “See, this is what you do…”

“What?” Debbie asked innocently.

“You give me hints, and then I’m interested, and then you think because I’m interested that I want to d—”

“Shh.” Debbie raised a finger to Lou’s lips. “Given the circumstances, you don’t have to give me an answer right away. In fact, I’d rather…talk about something else. Just…think about it?” She traced Lou’s bottom lip with the tip of her finger and then trailed it along her jawline.

Lou shrugged noncommittally, but she took the articles and slid them both into her bra. Debbie found it difficult to look away from the place where they had disappeared. Her mouth had gone very dry, and she had to clear her throat and blink rapidly to pull herself back together.

“Let me know by tonight,” she said. “Okay?”

Lou sighed and gave her a hard look. “Okay.”

“I didn’t want it to be this way, you know?” Debbie said after a moment. She reached out and took Lou’s hand.

“What, you didn’t want to…do anything from in here?” Lou gestured at the eggshell-colored cinderblocks surrounding them.

“Well, no, I didn’t,” Debbie said with a smile and a squeeze of Lou’s hand, “but I wasn’t talking about…work. I meant…seeing you. I…” She trailed off and dropped her gaze to their entwined fingers.

“It was supposed to be different?”

“Yeah.”

Lou nodded and angled her body into Debbie’s on the couch, playing with Debbie’s fingers. “So…” she said.

“So.” Debbie’s eyes found Lou’s once more. She saw Lou’s gaze drop to her lips, and she felt herself lean forward. She didn’t know how much time they had left, but she didn’t much care – not when Lou was looking at her like that. Lou disentangled her fingers from Debbie’s and passed her hands gently up her arms and over her shoulders, finally coming to rest cupping Debbie’s jaw. Debbie felt her heart racing out of control, and she knew Lou could feel it, too. Lou licked her lips, and Debbie’s focus zeroed in on her mouth.

“May I…?” Lou asked. Debbie sensed caution that mirrored her own in the question. Would it make their inevitable parting too unbearable if they closed the gap between them? Whether it did or not, Debbie was willing to find out. She knew that if she didn’t, she would spend the next three months wishing that she had.

“God, yes,” Debbie murmured, her lips already brushing against Lou’s.

Debbie had thought that her memories of kissing Lou had been fairly accurate, but it took less than ten seconds for her to realize that even the most vivid of her daydreams were nothing compared to the real thing. It started warm and soft, a reacquaintance with something achingly familiar. Lou’s lips tasted like mint gum and cigarettes, and the flavor felt like a drug, something Debbie had forgotten she was addicted to. Lou’s hands strayed to the back of Debbie’s neck, pulling her closer, and Debbie felt herself melting. She surrendered completely under Lou’s hands and mouth, willingly letting go of all control for the first time in ten years. Dimly, Debbie was aware of soft noises issuing from her own throat – whimpers and moans that Lou swallowed like air. Her hands tangled in Lou’s necklaces, tugging her even closer.

“Fuck,” Lou breathed shakily when they finally broke for air a few minutes later.

Debbie couldn’t speak. She leaned her forehead into Lou’s and felt hot tears behind her eyes. For the first time in her life, she found that she didn’t much care whether they fell or not; she didn’t care if Lou saw her cry. Lou’s skin was warm and solid under her wandering fingers and against her forehead, but Debbie’s mind was struggling to stay in the moment. Ten years, she thought. Ten years. How could we have possibly…?

“You okay, honey?” Lou asked softly, running her fingers through Debbie’s hair.

“Yeah, I’m…” Debbie began, but she realized it was a lie, and she didn’t want to lie to Lou. She shook her head. “No,” she breathed against Lou’s cheek, pulling back enough to look into her eyes. “No, baby, I’m not okay. I will be okay, but I…” Lou kept moving her fingers, stroking over Debbie’s scalp and sending tingles down her spine. “I…forgot how much…” Debbie started again. She squeezed her eyes shut against the brilliance that was staring back at her.

“I missed you, too, Jailbird,” Lou said, tilting Debbie’s head forward to place a kiss on her forehead. “I missed you.”

“How much…?” Debbie’s voice cracked, and she cleared her throat before continuing. “How much time do we have?”

Lou glanced down at her watch. “Half an hour.”

Debbie sighed shakily and leaned further into Lou, resting her head on her shoulder.

“I could break you out, you know,” Lou said casually.

Debbie smiled against Lou’s skin but said nothing.

“I just heard about an amazing hacker, and—”

“No,” Debbie said, interrupting her. “Don’t tempt me. I don’t want to be on the run when I get out. You don’t deserve that.”

“Does that mean you’re planning to stick around?”

“I should ask you the same thing.”

Lou hummed a laugh. “Touché.”

Debbie wrapped her arms around Lou’s waist and traced patterns on her back under her blazer. “I…I want you to stay,” she admitted quietly. 

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

Lou was silent for long time, but Debbie felt her smile against the side of her head. “Why do you need to do it?”  Lou asked. “The job.” Her voice was practically inaudible and her lips moved against the shell of Debbie’s ear.

Debbie sat up and looked her dead in the eye, keeping her arms locked tight around her waist. “Because it’s what I’m good at.”

“Yeah…” Lou said, narrowing her eyes and waiting for Debbie to explain.

“Look,” Debbie said, “I know it’ll work.” She had run the job a thousand times in her head, fixed every snag. It ran like clockwork, but only if…Debbie swallowed, very aware of how crucial Lou’s answer was going to be. “I promise it’ll work” she reiterated, “but only if you’re there with me every step of the way.”

“Oh, honey, is this a proposal?” Lou asked with a mischievous grin and a cocked eyebrow.

“Baby, I don’t have a diamond yet,” Debbie shot back. She leaned forward slowly until her lips brushed the skin just below Lou’s ear. She felt Lou shiver. “You think you can get some for me?” she asked in a sing-song murmur.

“I guess we’ll see,” Lou replied with a wink as Debbie pulled away once more to look at her. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Debbie smiled and nodded slowly. “By tonight?”

“By tonight,” Lou agreed. “And I didn’t get you that phone for nothing, you know,” Lou went on. “You better start using it.”

“Count on it.” Debbie sighed. The minutes were ticking by, and she didn’t want to waste any more time talking about the job. Lou was far more important than that. She toyed with the lapel of Lou’s blazer, trying to think of something to say, but it was Lou who broke the silence. 

“Are you…okay in here, Debbie?” she asked hesitantly. “I mean, I know it’s different now, because you should be out, but—”

“I’m okay, Lou,” Debbie said firmly, meeting her eyes to convey her honesty. “I am. Yesterday was rough, and it was hard in the beginning…” She swallowed, deciding not to tell Lou about getting stabbed in the showers. That could wait until she was out. She didn’t want Lou to worry, and she didn’t want to mar this time together. “…it was hard, but the last year or so hasn’t been too bad. My cellmate is decent – more than decent really.”

Lou raised her eyebrows suggestively, and her mouth twitched.

Debbie rolled her eyes. “Not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter. We tried to fuck once and ended up crying together over the people we actually wanted to be with. I told her about you; she told me about her husband. It was…nice. We have each other’s backs.”

Lou smiled, averting her gaze from Debbie’s as a faint blush arose on her cheeks. “What’d you say about me, Jailbird?” she asked, teasing and gentle.

Debbie rolled her head back and grinned at the ceiling. “Well, I said we were business partners…”

Lou snorted.

“…and I said we were…together. I showed her the picture of us in Paris, and now she calls you my rock-chick Australian girlfriend.”

“Ah, so you mentioned how sexy you find my accent?” 

Debbie frowned good-naturedly. “It…might have come up.” She was glad Lou had chosen not to comment on the term girlfriend; it didn’t quite describe them after all.

Lou laughed softly and shook her head. “Never thought you’d admit to crying over me, Debs.”

“Yeah, well, it was one or two very small tears, and prison is weird. I probably wouldn’t have even told you if I’d been paroled.”

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, I think we would have been too busy with other things, don’t you?” Debbie tilted her head as she spoke, eyes darting over Lou’s face. “There wouldn’t have been much time for sentiment.”

Lou hummed her agreement as she leaned forward to kiss Debbie once more. Debbie nibbled her lower lip, and slipped her tongue into Lou’s mouth, taking more control than she had the first time. After a moment, Lou’s hands fell to Debbie’s hips, thumbs digging into sensitive skin. Debbie gasped, and Lou took the opportunity to tilt her head and leave a trail of wet kisses down Debbie’s neck.

“Oh, fuck, Lou…” Debbie muttered as Lou pulled the collar of her jumpsuit to the side and sucked hard at the join between her neck and shoulder.

“Just a souvenir,” Lou said innocently between kisses as she made her way back to Debbie’s mouth.

“As if I could forget…” Debbie replied breathlessly.

Lou kissed her more tenderly now, letting the heat between them soften. Debbie didn’t want her to ever stop. In that moment, Debbie would have gladly foregone the job if she could only leave here with Lou. It was a fleeting sensation, and barely a minute passed before her Ocean spirit took hold again and reminded her of her brilliant plan that couldn’t go to waste. Still, it was good to know that she could – at times – feel something more…human? primal? visceral? romantic? than the call of a good job.

“How much time do we have?” Debbie asked when they came up for air.

“Twenty minutes,” Lou replied.

Debbie furrowed her brow. “It can’t have been only ten minutes since I last asked.”

“It wasn’t,” Lou informed her, matter-of-factly. “I lied the first time, said there was less time than there was so that it would feel like we had extra time at the end.”

Debbie stared at her, slightly impressed. “You…conned me.”

“Yeah, I did,” Lou said, somewhat smugly, settling her back against the couch cushions and pulling Debbie against her.

Debbie buried her face in the crook of Lou’s neck, breathing steadily and deeply, willing the next twenty minutes to pass slowly. Lou wrapped her arms around Debbie’s shoulders and held her tightly. There wasn’t really anything more to be said, not until Lou made her decision about the job. Debbie was about ninety-five percent sure she would be on board, once her questions were answered. It was comforting to know that the smuggled phone was waiting for her back in her cell. Even though it had been there for years, it hadn’t really meant anything before now.

“Can you arrange another visit?” Lou asked softly, almost tentatively.

“Not sure,” Debbie mumbled against her neck. “I got this one out of a sob story about wanting to ask you to marry me.”

“Nice. Glad they fell for it.”

“Me too.” Debbie sighed as Lou rubbed slow, soothing circles on her back. 

“You’re my girl, Debs,” Lou murmured, turning her head so her lips brushed Debbie’s hairline. Debbie tensed for a moment. It hadn’t really been said before; not like that. They hadn’t ever thought to define their relationship, but now – with ten years of separation behind them and the sharp denial of Debbie’s parole fresh in their minds – there was no use pretending any more. 

“Yeah,” Debbie said, fully relaxing once more into Lou’s warmth. “I am.” It made her heart swell to admit it at last.

“No matter what, okay?” Lou said. “Even if I hate the job.”

Debbie smiled against Lou’s skin. “Okay…but you won’t. I know you won’t.”

Lou chuckled fondly at the surety of Debbie’s tone. “We can make it three months, Jailbird,” she said after a moment.

“Yeah, we can.”

“I’ll miss you, though, Debs. Every day.”

“I’ll miss you, too.”

It was silent again. Debbie felt a lump rise in her throat, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to cry this late in their visit because she knew it would be too hard to stop. The gentle rise and fall of Lou’s chest against her own felt like a promise. Lou’s heart beat a steady, steady rhythm, and Debbie tried to memorize it. She needed something to hold onto for the next three months. All too soon, the door opened on the prison side of the room, and two guards entered. Debbie was pleased that one of them was Dina, but it was hard to peel herself away from Lou.

“It’s okay, Debbie,” Lou said softly.

Debbie nodded. They stood up together, and Debbie wrapped her arms once more around Lou’s waist.

“Hey, I’ll see you soon, alright?” Lou whispered, stoking her hair. Debbie could feel tension in Lou’s muscles and hear a slight tremor in her voice. She was grateful that Lou was trying to keep herself together for her sake, but she ached for her nonetheless.

“I’m sorry,” Debbie muttered, though she wasn’t entirely sure what she apologizing for: Claude Becker? Going to prison? The next three months?

“No, Debs,” Lou said gently, as they pulled apart. “Not that, alright. I’m okay.” She sighed and cupped Debbie’s cheek. “I’m glad I could…see you. Really. It…helps.”

Debbie nodded and leaned up to kiss Lou one last time.

“Come on, Ocean,” Dina said in a kind, though authoritative, voice.

Debbie took a few steps back from Lou, clutching her hand until she couldn’t reach it anymore. She tried not to blink, tried to keep her eyes fixed on Lou’s, which were overly bright with unshed tears. “Drive safe, okay?” Debbie said casually, managing a wink and a small wave.

“Always,” Lou said through a strained smile. “Always.”

The door slammed closed, and Debbie was back to the familiar, loathsome corridors of the prison, following Dina back to her cell. She felt exhausted as the aching sensation in her chest grew more present. This felt wrong; walking away from Lou felt so, so wrong. She hadn’t actually said good-bye, and she wished she had. She hadn’t told her she loved her, and she did. She did. Debbie almost stopped walking as that realization washed over her. It wasn’t the sort of thing she could say in a cryptic text message, not for the first time. No, that would have to wait.

“Normal routine starts back up tomorrow,” Dina said as they reached Debbie’s cell. She waited for the other guard to walk away. “You can relax the rest of the evening; already got you approved,” she went on once there was no one else in ear shot.

“Thanks,” Debbie said blankly.

“She’ll be there when you get out.”

“I know.”

Debbie sank down on her bed as Dina walked away. Marcia was still on work assignment, just as she had been yesterday around this same time when Debbie had sat and waited for the question of her parole to be decided. Everything had seemed so certain then. She felt like it had been days since her conversation with Marcia at lunch. Just promise me you’ll actually try to admit your feelings, Marcia had said. Debbie shook her head and rolled her eyes at herself. She had taken Marcia’s advice, had finally admitted (only to herself, but still…) that she was in love with Lou. It was the first step, Debbie supposed, something to ensure she didn’t fuck this up again once she got out.

She turned on the phone and held it in her hand under the pillow, knowing Lou wouldn’t keep her waiting once she had time to put together the pieces of the plan. Debbie fell in and out of daydreams, thinking of Lou, trying to pin down exactly when it was that she fell in love with her all those years ago. How could she not have realized?

Was it ten years ago when they were short on cash and rigging Bingo in New Jersey? Debbie had fought the flu on and off for two months, and Lou had been there to force Tylenol down her throat and steal cough drops from CVS. Was it on the trip to Paris after Tammy retired? It had been just the two of them for a fortnight, stealing perfume and wine, kissing in the dark by the Seine with Lou’s hand up her skirt. Was it the first time Debbie spent the night in Lou’s tiny apartment in the Bronx? They had just run their first job together, but the sweet taste of success was nothing to the taste of Bourbon on Lou’s tongue. That first night together…Debbie dug her fingernails into her palms, remembering Lou guiding her hand between her legs and whispering “I’ve never wanted anyone inside me before you.” Was that the moment? Nineteen years ago, Debbie thought. Nineteen years.

Debbie kept her breathing steady, but she felt a few tears slide from her eyes to the pillow, dampening the cheap fabric. Eventually, the phone buzzed, and Debbie’s pulse raced as she unlocked the screen.

Be FF? Be FF. I’m in jlbrd. <3

Chapter Text

It took Lou several weeks to gather everything and everyone they needed. It felt strange to be running a full-on, Ocean-level con without an actual Ocean physically present. Debbie made herself known through little flourishes she insisted would pay off later. Lou didn’t understand most of them. Debbie had a head for numbers, and if she said that Rose Weil (whose name and information Lou had found within two days) had to be approached exactly thirteen minutes into her disastrous show at the TWA Lounge, then Lou believed her. Of the two of them, Lou had always been better with people. That was mostly because she actually viewed them as people, rather than as vehicles for brains that could – with skill and a little luck – be manipulated to fit one’s needs. Lou could talk anyone off a ledge without prior planning; Debbie practically needed a script.

Through her list and a few additional cryptic text messages, Debbie passed Lou the contact information for Amita and explained how to get Daphne Kluger [inadvertently] on board. Lou was responsible for finding Rose, in addition to a pick-pocket, a hacker, and a fence. She knew Debbie trusted her though. Truthfully, she wasn’t even sure that trust was the right word – the understanding between them was far more profound than that, but Lou wished she could sit across from Debbie and run the names of Russian hackers by her one by one, wished she was walking beside her as she strode through Queens to find Constance, whom she had only met once. Sometimes at the end of the day she imagined coming home to find Debbie waiting for her, ready to compare notes before starting on the next stage of the plan.

Finally, there was only one open position left on her list, and Lou was relieved that – even though the only person she really wanted to see wouldn’t be there – at least the loft wouldn’t be so goddamn quiet by tomorrow afternoon. Taking advantage of the gradually warming spring weather, Lou took her bike up to Tammy’s house in Westchester County. The drive was pleasant, but it was hard to stop her mind from imagining the feeling of Debbie’s thighs around her hips and her helmeted head digging into Lou’s back. She had missed Debbie for ten years, but now it felt different: better and worse at the same time. It was better because she knew how to handle it after so many years, and she knew that Debbie really was coming home soon. It was worse because soon just wasn’t quite soon enough.

Lou parked at the elementary school a block away from Tammy’s and locked her gear inside the bike’s small storage compartment. She felt distinctly out of place walking down the quiet suburban street, her heeled boots clacking on the perfectly maintained cement. Tammy’s garage was easy to get into – well, easy for Lou, or for Debbie, if she had been there – Lou felt another pang in her chest at the thought of her. Lou could hear the sound of a blender from inside the house. She looked around at the stacks and stacks of boxes and grinned nostalgically. Tammy had always had a knack for flying under the radar, but the fact that she had hid all this was impressive even by her standards. Lou pulled out her phone and checked her messages. There was a brief one from Debbie: try flirting with her. Lou rolled her eyes as she swiped the messaging screen away and pulled up Tammy’s contact information. The phone rang twice before Tammy picked up.

“Lou, what’s up? Can’t really talk right now. I’m—”

“I’m in your garage.”

“…What? Why?

Lou hung up the phone and waited. She pulled a lollipop out of an enormous container full of them, unwrapped it, and stuck it in her cheek. She wanted a cigarette, but smoking in Tammy’s garage would all but ensure Tammy’s refusal. Tammy emerged a few minutes later, wiping her hands on her jeans.

“Lou, what the fuck?” Tammy said harshly, as she came around a corner in the rows of boxes. “What are you doing out here?”

“And hello to you, too,” Lou said sweetly, turning away from examining a shelf of Louis Vuitton suitcases.

Tammy rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Seriously, what are you doing? Wasn’t Debbie supposed to be getting out on par—?”

“She didn’t,” Lou said sharply, giving Tammy a hard look.

“Oh.” Tammy looked both concerned and relieved.

Lou smirked internally. She let her gaze travel over the boxes around them. “Look at all this,” she mused. “I thought you retired.”

“I did,” Tammy said defensively.

“Not as exciting as hijacking trucks that are smuggling dishwashers from Canada, right?” Lou leaned against the wall of suitcases and reached up a hand to toy with a luggage tag. She sucked her lollipop with a knowing smile.

“Yeah, well, I don’t do that anymore,” Tammy said firmly.

“But you were so very good at it—”

“Okay, stop,” Tammy said, holding up her hands. “Those are Debbie’s words. You’re working for her again, aren’t you?”

Lou frowned over-exaggeratedly. “More like with—”

“Seriously? You’re going to play this game with me?”

Lou grimaced. Tammy was right. Lou owed her. Tammy had helped her get her life back together after she spent three years destroying it in the wake of Debbie’s imprisonment. “Fine,” Lou said, holding up her hands in surrender and speaking around the lollipop in her mouth. “Sorry.”

Tammy sighed. “What do you want? Or…” Tammy paused and tilted her head somewhat mockingly. “…what does Debbie want?”

Lou pushed herself away from the shelf of suitcases and crossed the short distance between them to lean against a stack of boxes beside Tammy. “We need a fence,” Lou said simply.

“I told you – I told Debbie – that I don’t do that anymore. I’m out, Lou.” There was the slightest hint of wistfulness in her tone, and Lou smiled internally.

“It’s a big job,” she said in a tantalizing tone, shifting her shoulders so as not to tower over Tammy.

“I don’t care,” Tammy replied, matching her sing-song voice. Lou scoffed and looked away. It was silent for a moment. She could almost feel Tammy’s pulse quickening.

“You want me to tell you how big the job is?”

“No,” Tammy answered far too quickly. “No, I really don’t.”

Lou shrugged. “I think I’m gonna tell y—”

Lou,” Tammy cautioned in her sweetest suburban-housewife voice, “if you keep using Debbie Ocean’s scripts on me I will force you to babysit my children.”

Lou groaned and threw her head back against the boxes. “You’re good, Tim-Tam.”

“I am, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out when it’s Debbie talking with your mouth.” Tammy jabbed a finger towards her lips, which were once again wrapped around the lollipop. 

Lou pulled the candy out of her mouth with a loud *pop*. “Sixteen million,” Lou said, jumping right to the chase and dropping her act. “At least,” she added for good measure. If they got the crown jewels too, then the payout could easily be more than twice that, but she couldn’t tell Tammy about that yet. 

“What?” Tammy asked, taken aback.

Lou picked at her thumbnail absentmindedly. “You heard m—”

“Mommy, when’s dinner ready?” The voice of Tammy’s daughter rang through the garage.

“Shit,” Tammy whispered. Lou bent her knees to ensure that she was completely hidden behind the boxes. “Uh…sweetheart,” Tammy called to her daughter, “I’ll be right there. I’m so sorry. Mommy will be right there.”

Lou stifled a laugh at Tammy’s baby talk. Tammy made to put a hand over Lou’s mouth, but Lou dodged it with a grin.

“But I’m hungry,” the little girl insisted. 

“I know, sweetheart,” Tammy said. “I promise, I’ll be right there.”

Lou rolled her eyes.

“Thanks a lot,” Tammy said sarcastically as they heard soft footsteps tread their way back indoors.

“She sounds sweet,” Lou said with a shrug.

“Well, you would know that she is sweet if you ever bothered to accept my dinner invitations.”

Lou gave her a small smile. “This isn’t really my scene, Tim-Tam. You know that.”

“Yeah, I suppose not,” Tammy shifted so she was facing Lou, giving her a searching look. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

Lou ran her bottom lip between her teeth, thinking about when she had asked Debbie a similar question. “I…love her, Tammy,” she answered finally.

“Hm.” Tammy furrowed her brow. “That’s not exactly an answer to my question.” She paused. “Tell me you know what you’re doing.”

Lou shook her head once, looking away from Tammy and staring unseeingly at a pile of SodaStream boxes. “I never know what I’m doing,” she replied at last. “That’s why we work.” She turned back to Tammy, who was still searching her face for answers. “That’s why Debbie and I are…” She trailed off. 

“Are you ever going to be able to finish that sentence?” Tammy asked pointedly, eyebrows raised.

Lou considered the question. She thought about the way Debbie had clung to her during her unsupervised visit. Warmth spread through her, and a lump rose in her throat. “Yeah, after this – when Debbie’s back – I…I think I will,” Lou said seriously, almost taking herself by surprise at how sure she felt.

Tammy nodded slowly, not breaking eye contact.

“So,” Lou began when Tammy showed no signs of speaking. “Are you in?”

Tammy sighed. “I’m in,” she said finally, “but it’s for myself, not for you or for Debbie. I’m bored as hell.”

“Thought so,” Lou said with a grin. She pointed her lollipop at Tammy. “I’ll see you tomorrow at my place – one o’clock?”

“I’ll be there.”

 

**

 

April passed swiftly as each piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Nine Ball seemed to have no trouble assembling the necessary equipment to hack into the Met system, Tammy infiltrated Vogue with an ease that only came with experience, Amita spent almost all of her time forging zirconium replacement jewels in one of the backrooms of the warehouse, Constance memorized everything so quickly that Lou suspected she had a photographic memory, and Lou explained each piece of the plan with Ocean-inspired precision. Rose was the only weak point. Lou liked her, but the woman was more anxious than she looked and with her two sets of glasses, frazzled hair, and copious consumption of Nutella, that was really saying something. It was becoming clear that Debbie’s plan B, which involved bringing Daphne Kluger in on the plan shortly after the Gala, would probably need to be pulled out and brushed off. Still, everything was running more or less according to plan, and Lou was pleased.

Lou was also lonely. She had thought that having the loft full of people would provide an adequate distraction from her preoccupation with Debbie. When it came down to it however, stepping into Debbie’s limelight to explain the plan and coach everyone through their parts in it only made Lou miss her more. She updated Debbie with every new development, keeping her texts brief and coded, but it was so impersonal that she almost stopped.

Watching Nine Ball clean their footprint in preparation for hacking the Met security system was one of the most impressive feats Lou had ever seen, but it also gave her an idea.

“Hey,” Lou said, walking over to Nine’s perch on the couch in the corner next to Lou’s Polaroid collage. Most of the photos were of her and Debbie, and looking at them sent another pang of loneliness through her chest. 

Nine looked up at her through a haze of smoke and raised her eyebrows. She gestured to the seat beside her. Lou sat down, and Nine passed her the blunt.

Lou took a hit and sank into the cushions, blowing smoke up towards the low ceiling. “Can you secure the connection between my and Debbie’s phones?” she asked in a quiet voice. Everyone else was scattered around, working hard on their various tasks. She didn’t want to disturb them.

Nine Ball nodded slowly as she took the blunt back from Lou. “Yeah, no problem. Can I see your phone?” 

Lou handed it over and watched carefully as Nine popped out the SIM card and hooked it up to her computer. She leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. 

“Here,” Nine said, handing the blunt back to Lou without taking her eyes from her computer screen. “Help yourself. This’ll take a second.”

Lou watched, fascinated by the speed at which Nine’s fingers moved over the keyboard.

A few minutes later, Nine replaced the SIM card in Lou’s phone and handed it back to her. “It’s the same number and everythin’. I hacked into boss lady’s phone through yours. Hers is all taken care of too. The only person who can see what you send is me, and that’s only if I want to…which I don’t.”

Lou raised her eyebrows, impressed. She handed the blunt back to Nine and twirled her phone between her fingers. “Thanks,” she said.

“Just keep the nudes to a minimum, okay? Photos take up a lot of storage space.”

Lou felt heat rise in her cheeks. “This is strictly professional,” she insisted as she stood up.

“Whatever you say,” Nine replied, shaking her head and turning back to her computer.

Lou slipped upstairs to her bedroom without speaking to anyone else. Her heart was beating hard in her throat, and her fingers shook slightly as she pulled up Debbie’s message thread. She ran her fingers through her hair, twisting a few strands absentmindedly as she sat down on the edge of the bed. Debbie wasn’t generally sentimental or romantic. She was affectionate and flirtatious, but her air of being above human emotion was part of her charm. All of that meant that trying to have a serious personal conversation with her over text messaging (or even through a phone call) was sometimes difficult. Touch was Debbie’s language, and without physical proximity, Lou knew that Debbie might seem cold. Nevertheless, she was willing to risk a somewhat harsh version of Debbie if it meant being able to talk about something other than the job.

Lou checked the time and saw that Debbie would be back in her cell for the night. It was the only time they could be guaranteed an actual conversation without being interrupted. Debbie had assured her that her cellmate wouldn’t rat her out, and Lou trusted her. Taking a deep breath, Lou began to type:

9 got the phone line secured, jlbrd. We can speak freely, and she said she won't read the messages. Lou laid back against the pillows at the head of her bed to wait for Debbie’s reply, feeling relieved that she had at least gotten up the courage to say something.

Good. I was running out of code ideas. Lou sensed true relief in Debbie’s response. She smiled softly to herself.

She said no photos tho. Too much storage space.

That’s a shame. Debbie’s reply was quick, and it made Lou’s blood sing.

She debated whether or not to tug on the thread Debbie had pulled loose. She decided she couldn’t let it sit there. Why’s that? she wrote.

The prison pjs r very flattering.

Really?

No.

Lou hummed a quiet laugh to the empty room. Debbie seemed to be in a good mood. Maybe she had needed this just as much as Lou.

I’ll miss ur pics tho, Debbie continued.

Lou’s mouth went slightly dry. This wasn’t really the direction she expected the conversation to take, not when they hadn’t actually slept together for ten years. She turned over onto her stomach as she thought of a reply. I am skilled in that area, she typed coyly.

I’ll just have to use my imagination.

Lou squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ignore the images flashing before her eyes. She wasn’t sure if Debbie was teasing her or if there was some truth hidden beneath the words. Remembering what Debbie had told her about trying to fuck Marcia and crying with her about who she actually wanted to be with – crying about Lou – made Lou think that Debbie was being at least somewhat serious. Do u do that a lot? Lou asked.

Think abt u? Every. Time.

Lou didn’t have an immediate response for that. Finally, she typed, I think abt u too, and pressed send holding her breath.

Obviously.

Debbie’s confidence made Lou laugh. The sound seemed to hang in the air, and the fact that Debbie was still out of reach sent a fresh wave of sadness through Lou. Her laughter died quickly. Wish you were here, honey, she typed.

Wish I was too. Want u, baby.

I know. Soon. Lou tried to think of something reassuring, but there really wasn’t any getting around the fact that the next six weeks were going to go by very slowly, especially after the Met Gala was over. Lou dreaded the day that she wouldn’t have the distraction of the job.  

6 wks. Lou could almost hear the exasperation and impatience in Debbie’s words.

I want u too. So much, Lou wrote. Her chest ached with wanting her. She wanted to tell Debbie she loved her, but it wasn’t right to do that over a text message for the first time. Debbie deserved a goddamn fanfare rather than the dull buzzing of a cheap phone.

Think about me tonight, ok? ;)

I always think about u, Lou responded before her brain had time to catch up to the suggestive nature of Debbie’s text.

Louuuu, Debbie reprimanded.

Yeah ok sounds good.

I’ll think about u too. ;) ;) 

Lou groaned into her pillow, imagining Debbie’s fingers slipping silently under the waistband of her cotton prison pajamas. She wondered if Debbie was already wet just considering it. Should we set a time? Lou joked, trying not to think about the heat coiling between her own thighs. 

Sap.

Lou smiled and then yawned. It was getting late, and she needed to be up early tomorrow to bring the fake Banksy painting to the Met.

Don’t u have a big day tmrw? Debbie asked as if she had read Lou’s mind.

Thanks to u.

Talk tmrw night?

Of course. Lou’s heart leapt at the idea of having something to look forward to. It made saying good-bye just a little easier.

Miss u, baby.

God, I miss u so much. Lou let the depth of her feelings bleed through just a little. She felt a burning behind her eyes and blinked rapidly. A tear fell onto her pillow.

Again, ur a sap, Debbie shot back immediately.

A noise that was half-way between a sob and a laugh fought its way out of Lou’s throat.

Goodnight, Lou xoxo, Debbie added after a moment.

Sleep well, Debs <3.

 

**

 

Somehow it was easier for Lou to breathe now that she knew she could talk to Debbie in the evenings. It wasn’t the same as having her home – far from it, but it helped her remember that they really were pulling off this job together, that they were a team. Lou could see her own improved mood rubbing off on everyone else, too. She wished Debbie could see them all. Lou had told her about them, had given her full descriptions of everyone, coded of course, long before the preliminary team meeting, but she would have paid good money to see Debbie try to have a conversation with Constance.

Some nights Lou would text with Debbie until she fell asleep, and the next morning she would awake to drool on her phone screen and garbled messages that she had attempted to type while drifting off. Debbie always said goodnight to her anyway, even if it was clear that Lou wouldn’t respond. On other nights, they would say their farewells, and Lou would lie awake for hours thinking about Debbie – her voice, her eyes, the bow of her lips. More than once she dragged herself out of bed and into the shower, imagining that her own fingers were Debbie’s and letting Debbie’s name fall noisily from her lips into the rushing water. Most nights, she stayed in her bed and made herself keep quiet by biting her knuckles, drawing blood sometimes when she came hard on her other hand. Some nights, Lou cried. As Debbie reminded her, it wasn’t how it should be.

“You look exhausted,” Tammy said less than a week before the Met Ball as she arrived in the loft after the Chairman’s Dinner.

Lou shrugged as she pulled a beer from the fridge. She had given up on trying to sleep around midnight, thoughts of Debbie dancing through her mind. She didn’t feel sexy tonight; she felt sad, and she didn’t want to talk about it.

“Seriously, Lou,” Tammy persisted, coming up to her and trying to meet her eyes. “What’s going on?” She brushed Lou’s fringe to the side. Lou closed her eyes and turned her face away from her. “You’ve been crying,” Tammy concluded.

Lou shrugged again and took a few steps away from Tammy to get the bottle opener out of a drawer. “Everyone cries sometimes, Tim-Tam,” Lou said, trying to keep her voice light.

“Bullshit,” Tammy said. “The only person who cries less than you is Debbie.”

Lou couldn’t help wincing at the sound of Debbie’s name. She sipped her beer slowly. It felt soothing on her aching throat.

“Debbie?” Tammy asked, sitting down on a stool by the counter and looking across at Lou where she was leaning by the fridge.

Lou didn’t say anything; she knew Tammy had already read the truth on her face.

“Lou, she misses you,” Tammy said firmly.

“I…know,” Lou said softly. She did know. Debbie told her almost every night, and most nights it made her feel good. Some nights – like tonight – it just hurt. “I just…wish she was here,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” Tammy said.

“We’ve been talking,” Lou muttered, not entirely sure why she was saying anything at all. Tammy had a knack for drawing things out of people.

“You and Deb?”

Lou nodded. She picked at the corner of the label on her beer bottle, not looking at Tammy.

“And?” Tammy asked.

“Most nights it’s…really nice,” Lou said, smiling a little. “It’s the best part of my day.” She glanced up and briefly met Tammy’s eyes. “It’s just sometimes, I…”

“You miss her a lot,” Tammy finished her sentence for her. “You’ve missed her for ten years, Lou. I think it’s pretty much par for the course that you’re going to shed some tears once in a while.”

“I love her, Tammy.” Lou’s voice broke as she said it, and she rubbed her sleeve across her face.

Tammy knit her brow. “Yeah, you mentioned that back in my garage. I…take it you haven’t told her?”

Lou shook her head. “Not a texting conversation.”

“You could go s—”

“It’s not a prison conversation, either,” Lou interrupted firmly.

Tammy nodded understandingly. Silence fell between them.

“I’m going to tell her when she gets out,” Lou said, “the day she gets out.”

“God, you’d better. You two have been driving me crazy for fifteen years.” Tammy smiled at her and reached across the counter for the bottle of beer Lou had set down. Lou felt better. Just saying the words aloud seemed to help.                   

I love her, she repeated to herself. I’m going to tell her I love her.

“How did it go tonight?” Lou asked after a few moments of comfortable silence. She was starting to feel a little sleepy, but she was still interested to hear about Tammy’s infiltration of Vogue.

“Smoothly,” Tammy said at once. “Daphne is doing everything we need her to do, and nobody batted an eye at the extra people I chose for tonight. They’re all Ocean-approved. I’ll show you the completed seating chart in the morning.” Tammy yawned as she finished speaking. 

Lou nodded and took a final swig of beer before handing the bottle to Tammy. “Here, you can have the rest,” she said. “You’ve earned it. I’m going to try to sleep.”

“Thanks,” Tammy said, “and Lou?”

Lou turned to look back over her shoulder, eyebrows raised.

“I’m glad you’re talking to Deb.” Tammy’s smile reached all the way to her eyes, and it made Lou grin a bit wistfully. The sadness had passed for now.

“I’m glad, too,” she said. “Even when I’m fucking crying over her.” Lou swept up the stairs, feeling eternally grateful to Tammy, who had always been more emotionally savvy than herself and Debbie combined.

 

**

 

Lou awoke the next morning feeling remarkably refreshed despite only having slept for about four hours. She hummed tunelessly as she dressed, and she chose shoes that made her happy – shiny, purple ankle boots that she had found in a thrift store last Autumn. She could hear Tammy moving around in the kitchen downstairs, talking softly to someone else (probably Rose, who never seemed to really sleep). There was coffee and hot water for tea by the time she made it to the kitchen. She stirred milk into her tea and joined Tammy by Nine’s computer monitor where she was bringing up the updated seating chart.

Claude Becker’s name didn’t register in her brain for a second, but when it did, Lou felt her hands immediately begin to shake. She put her tea down on the end table by the sofa and tried to make sense of the emotions swirling in her chest. She took several steps away from the screen, and then turned towards the door, walking as quickly as she could out into the grey morning light. She reached the road before the tears began to prick her eyes once more. The low cinderblock wall by the water was cold against her back as Lou leaned against it, feeling smaller than she ever had in her life.

She knew better than anyone that trusting Debbie Ocean came at a price, that there was usually some part of the plan that Debbie kept to herself, just because she could. But this…Lou shook her head and kicked at the loose gravel of the beach with the toe of her boot. This was more than just a part of the job; this was playing with fire, and that had never gone well. Revenge plots and one-upmanship…Fuck that, Lou thought. Too risky. And why was Debbie so hung up on Claude anyway? Why hadn’t she told Lou that he was part of the plan? She knew you wouldn’t like it, a voice in Lou’s head told her. She knew. She knew, and she did it anyway.  

Lou buried her face in her hands.

Chapter Text

Lou jumped as a soft hand settled on her back. She looked sideways to see Tammy’s big brown eyes staring back at her, full of confusion and concern. Lou shrugged off her hand and turned away, her eyes blurring with unshed tears as she looked out at the water. 

“Debbie didn’t tell you about Claude?” Tammy asked softly.

Lou grimaced and kicked a stone towards the water. “Neither did you,” she said harshly.

“Honestly, I thought you knew,” Tammy said bluntly.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t.”

“Lou…” Tammy reached out for her, but Lou side-stepped away from her along the cinderblock wall.

“What was it about him?” Lou asked, voice low and rough, almost speaking to herself rather than to Tammy.

“He framed her.”

“I know, but this feels…different. This feels like when she was trying to impress Danny, when every job was just as much about showing off as it was about the money. It destroyed her, Tammy.” Lou turned her head towards Tammy at last.

Tammy looked a little anxious now. She was chewing the inside of her cheek and fidgeting with the hem of her sweater. “What are you saying?” she asked.

“Why didn’t Debbie tell me? What is it about…about him that meant she couldn’t tell me the whole plan?”

Tammy knit her brow, clearly struggling to follow Lou’s train of thought. “I…don’t know.”

“Did she…did she love him, Tammy?”

Tammy pressed her fingers against her temples with a tortured expression. “I don’t know, Lou. I—” 

“You were there, Tammy. Back when she was seeing him, working with him, you were there,” Lou said angrily. She crossed her arms protectively over her chest.

Tammy sighed. “I was pregnant, Lou, and then I had an infant. Debbie was the least of my problems.”

Lou scoffed. She couldn’t help herself. 

“Oh, as if you were there,” Tammy said sarcastically.

The words were harsh, and Lou felt she deserved them. This situation was Debbie’s fault and no one else’s. “Sorry,” she said quietly.

Tammy acknowledged her apology with a nod and straightened the sleeve of her sweater. “I…wish Debbie had been one of my problems. I wish we had stayed in touch more often. But…” She trailed off with a sigh.

“I told her to,” Lou said with a half-smile and an apologetic glance towards Tammy.

“Point is,” Tammy said bracingly, stepping towards Lou, “I know Claude hurt her. Somehow. When she mentioned him as a mark, I could see it in her face.”

“She’s a very good actress,” Lou warned.

“You know better than I do that she has a tell when she’s being honest.”

Lou grimaced, but she didn’t move away when Tammy drew close to her this time. She knew what Tammy was talking about. Debbie’s jaw always tightened in a very specific way when she was being sincere. “But why not just…let it go? Doesn’t this seem risky to you?”

Tammy shrugged. “It’s risky anyway, Lou,” she reasoned. “Never thought I’d say it, but maybe we should be glad she’s running this job from inside. Who knows what she would do if she were out? Probably march right up to his gallery and threaten him with a shiv.” 

Lou snorted in spite of herself and stared out at the bay, watching the waves and the occasional boat making its way towards the mouth of the Hudson River. Tammy was silent, leaning next to her against the rough cinderblocks. She felt calmer, and if Claude had hurt Debbie, then Lou understood why she wanted him locked up. Still, there was a prickling at the back of her neck that told her to walk away from the job, to walk away from Debbie. She felt overwhelmingly ashamed for even considering it. 

“You’re still not convinced, are you?” Tammy asked knowingly.

Lou winced. “I’m…not. She knew I wouldn’t like this, not without an explanation. She knew I would question it, but she did it anyway.”

“She should have told you,” Tammy said simply.

“Yeah.”

“You should go see her, Lou. Today.”

Lou shook her head, but she was uncertain. Seeing Debbie would doubtlessly lead to one of two outcomes: either Lou would leave feeling both stupid and completely prepared to follow through with the job, or she would leave knowing that it was all over – her and the job, her and Debbie.

“You have to give her a chance to explain, to apologize,” Tammy insisted.

Lou tried to scoff, but then she remembered the quiet “I’m sorry” that Debbie had whispered against Lou’s chest the last time she saw her. Absentmindedly, she moved her right hand to the edge of her jacket, worrying the fabric over the spot where Debbie’s mouth had brushed her skin. They weren’t dealing with quite the same Debbie Ocean that she had known before, not if Debbie were willing to actually voice an apology. Lou hesitated.

“I think…,” Tammy began before Lou could gather her thoughts. “I think if you walked, Debbie would give up this job. I think…” Tammy took a deep breath. “I think she would give anything for you, Lou.”

Lou took in the honesty on Tammy’s face in some surprise. Tammy was being serious, and Lou wasn’t sure how to handle the version of Debbie she was describing. She narrowed her eyes at Tammy. “What makes you say that?”

“Debbie’s mysterious as ever,” Tammy said. “That hasn’t changed, but…” She shook her head and looked out towards the water. Lou watched her, waiting. Her heart beat violently in her chest. Finally, Tammy turned back to her. “Her face lights up when she asks about you – it always has. Deb just…” Tammy shrugged. “She loves you. Even if she did love…love him…”

Lou grimaced and opened her mouth to protest. She didn’t want to think about that.

Tammy held up a hand to silence her. “Even if she did,” she said patiently, “I don’t think she ever stopped loving you.” 

Lou clenched her jaw against the sob that was threatening to choke her breath. She wanted to believe that Tammy was right, that Debbie loved her, had always loved her. However, … “She lied to me, Tammy…by omission, but still…”

“She didn’t want to hurt you. You’re right; she knew you wouldn’t like bringing Claude into it. She didn’t want you to worry. Maybe it’s her weird way of showing she cares.” Tammy looked hard into Lou’s eyes as she spoke.

Lou had to admit that did sound like Debbie. She managed a strained smile in response to Tammy’s words.

“Look, I said that she loves you not that she’s good at it, you know?” Tammy added before Lou could respond. “She’s never been great at feelings.” 

Lou winced. “Yeah. Fair point,” she conceded. She rubbed her temples roughly, noticing a dull, pounding caffeine headache thanks to the undrunk cup of tea that she had left behind. “You really think I should see her?”

“Yes, I do,” Tammy said.

Lou pushed herself away from the wall and waved her arms a bit aimlessly in a gesture of surrender. “Okay,” she agreed.

Tammy flung an arm around her shoulders as they made their way back inside.

 

**

 

The receptionist at the prison was the same one as before. Today she was wearing a brown suit that was exactly the same cut as the navy one Lou had seen previously. Lou had to admit the style was flattering on her, but she didn’t envy anyone who wore the same boring clothes every day.

“I’m here to see Debbie Ocean,” Lou said. “We had an unsupervised visit before, but I don’t know whether…”

“You should be on the list, then,” the receptionist said in a bored tone. “Name?”

“Uh…Louise Miller.”

The woman nodded. “Yup, you’re on here. I’ll page someone to bring her over. You can wait over there.” She gestured to a hard metal bench in the corner.

“Thanks,” Lou said, taking a seat.

She watched the woman dial a number on her desk phone and speak quietly to someone on the other end of the line. Lou caught the word “Ocean” and shivered. It wasn’t right that these people had control over Debbie; it made her entire body prickle uncomfortably. She stared around the boring waiting room until the woman got up from her desk.

“This way, Miss Miller.” Lou got up without a word and followed her to the same door as the last time. She took a deep breath as the woman pushed it open.

Debbie looked the same, as if time hadn’t passed for her at all since Lou had last been here nearly two months ago. Lou felt blank and sad as she looked across the room at her, almost wanting to ask for a supervised visit this time, just for a buffer between herself and whatever mean and half-formed diatribes might pour from her own mouth. Even if Debbie deserved to be challenged, she didn’t deserve to be hurt, and Lou didn’t quite trust herself. Debbie stared back at her with wide, calm eyes that gave nothing away.

As soon as both doors closed, Debbie took a step forward, but Lou didn’t move. “We…need to talk,” Lou said in lieu of moving. She crossed her arms protectively over her chest.

Debbie froze and kept staring at Lou, now with a hint of concerned curiosity in her gaze. “What?” she asked. Lou felt her insides clench at the innocence of her voice.

“You better tell me this is not what I think it is.” Lou tried to reel in the bitterness in her tone, but she was finding it exceedingly difficult. “Claude Becker,” she spat.

The contents of Lou’s stomach turned to ice as Debbie actually cracked a small smile and closed the gap between them, stepping into Lou’s space as if she had been invited. “I didn’t do that,” Debbie said. She was almost laughing.

Was Debbie actually trying to blame Tammy for bringing in Claude? Lou’s hands shook with anger. Her gaze flitted to the side, to Debbie’s hair, to her shoulder – anywhere but her eyes. This wasn’t going well. “I’m not a croupier,” Lou began.

Debbie gave her head the tiniest of shakes in acknowledgement of Lou’s words.

“…or a tourist with a bucket of quarters,” Lou went on. “Don’t con me.” She leaned close to Debbie, aware that this room might be monitored. “You do not run a job in a job,” she hissed, breath ghosting over Debbie’s ear. She saw goosebumps rise on Debbie’s neck.

Debbie swallowed hard. “It’s not going to matter,” she said firmly, trying to meet Lou’s gaze.

Lou allowed her eyes to find Debbie’s, just for a second. Debbie’s eyes were still calm and certain. Couldn’t she see the hurt in Lou’s? Why didn't that unsettle her? “We are going to get caught,” Lou said fiercely, whispering the words through gritted teeth, an inch from Debbie’s ear.

Debbie almost rolled her eyes; Lou watched her catch herself. “Stop it,” Debbie said. “We’re not. You’re not.”

Lou scoffed and turned away, taking two strides to the ugly couch against the wall and slumping onto it with her elbows on her knees, her left leg jiggling uncontrollably. She glanced up at Debbie, who hadn’t moved. “Why do you do this?” Lou asked, almost pleadingly. “Why can’t you just…Why does there always have to be an asterisk?”

Debbie shrugged, a smile tugging at her lips once more.

“You frame him, I walk.” Lou said the words before she had wrapped her mind around them. She regretted it immediately, wanted to explain that it wasn’t that simple.

Debbie did roll her eyes this time. “Stop,” she said patronizingly.

“This is just like last time.” Lou let her head hang between her shoulders, remembering how Debbie had always tried to show off, to pull jobs for Danny’s attention, to beat him at a competition that was all her own creation.

“Lou,” Debbie said sharply.

Lou heard her move a few steps towards the couch.

“Lou,” Debbie said again, more quietly this time.

Lou felt the couch dip next to her, felt Debbie’s warmth, achingly close. She didn’t look up.

“Lou,” Debbie said a third time, and this time her hand found Lou’s, tentative and soft.

Lou tilted her head up and turned towards her, surprised by the sudden candor in Debbie’s gaze.

“He’s the reason I’m here, and you…” Debbie cupped Lou’s cheek with her other hand. Lou felt it tremble slightly. “…you have no idea what it’s like.” There was a wild freneticism in Debbie’s eyes that made Lou feel a bit sick. What had happened inside to make her this desperate? Generally speaking, Oceans were encouraged to be unphased by minor detours such as prison.   

“He’ll figure it out,” Lou warned, careful to keep her voice as low as possible. Her anger was ebbing now, replaced by the urge to plead.

Debbie shook her head and stroked Lou’s cheek.

“He’s going to figure it out, Debs,” Lou insisted. “He’s going to send you right back here.”

“No, he’s not,” Debbie said. “He’s not.” She smiled again, but this time it seemed more reassuring than mocking.

Lou sighed. She closed her eyes and leaned into Debbie’s hand against her cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked after a moment, not opening her eyes.

“I knew you wouldn’t like it,” Debbie replied. Her voice was almost tender – not a tone Lou was used to hearing. “It was stupid, I know. I was going to tell you, but when Tammy came by last week I realized that she could work him into it without telling you, and it was just…easier.” She sighed. “It’s what I need to do, Lou,” she added fiercely, “but I…” She trailed off. 

Lou remembered what Tammy had said about Debbie loving her but not being particularly good at it. Debbie’s words seemed to fit with Tammy’s perspective, but they still made her blood run cold. “Promise me one thing, Jailbird,” Lou said, her voice low and icy – probably more than a little forbidding to anyone other than Debbie Ocean. “Promise me that when this is over, you won’t do this again. If you want me to be…” Lou paused, unsure of how to continue because they still hadn’t really said what they were. “If you…want me back,” Lou said finally, “you—”

“I do want you back, baby,” Debbie interrupted her. “Oh, God, more than anything.”

Lou looked at her with some surprise. More than the job? Lou wondered. “You’ll have to be honest with me, Ocean. One hundred percent. This shit can’t happen again.”

Debbie let her fingers slide from Lou’s cheek, and she brought Lou’s hand to her lips cradled in both of her own. “I promise,” she said, eyes cold and piercing, jaw tightening with sincerity. Lou felt the words against her knuckles, sending warmth through her whole body.  

Lou sat up straight and nodded. “Okay, honey, I…” She felt the urge to apologize for saying she would walk, but she caught herself. It hadn’t been a lie, and she shouldn’t regret the truth of it, even if it wasn’t what she felt now. “I…forgive you,” she said instead. She felt awkward saying it; she wanted to show Debbie, not just tell her, but the visiting room of a prison wasn’t exactly the place to do that.

Debbie blushed slightly. “Thanks, Lou,” she said softly, squeezing Lou’s hand once more. “I’m glad you’re here,” she added after a moment. “I…I’ve been…thinking about you a lot.”

Lou felt a swooping sensation in her stomach. “Me too, honey,” Lou said. “That phone line is saving my life.”

“Just one more month, baby,” Debbie said with a sigh, leaning her head on Lou’s shoulder. “One more.” It was hard to think about where they would be in a month’s time. Hopefully – at the very least – they would both be several million dollars richer. Lou wondered what Debbie would think of the loft, of the club. She wanted so badly to bring Debbie into her life. Lou wrapped her arms around Debbie’s shoulders and pressed kisses into her hair.

“Debbie?” Lou said when a thought nudged her after a few minutes of silence.

“Mm hmm?”

“Tammy said Claude hurt you.”

“Tammy’s very perceptive,” Debbie murmured matter-of-factly into Lou’s collarbone.

“So, he did,” said Lou a bit dangerously. “He hurt you.” Did he break your heart? Lou almost asked her, but she held her tongue because she couldn’t handle Debbie’s answer no matter what it was. Not yet.

“It’s complicated,” Debbie said through a sigh.

“Will you talk to me about it?” Lou wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but she sensed that Debbie hadn’t processed much about Claude, and Lou knew first-hand what that could do to a person.

“One day,” Debbie said. She tilted her head to brush her lips against Lou’s jaw. 

Lou nodded. It was enough, for now. She turned her head and met Debbie’s mouth with her own, trying to put everything she couldn’t yet say into the movement of her lips against Debbie’s. How was it possible that, after ten years, the feel and taste of Debbie was still home? Debbie pressed into Lou’s chest, as though she were trying to climb right into her. Lou was lightheaded with want, buzzing heat settling low in her stomach. Her limbs felt heavy. She traced circles on Debbie’s cheek with the fingers of her left hand as her right settled on Debbie’s hip, tugging her closer on the couch. Lou felt Debbie’s fingers in her hair, sending shivers through her body. The words of a familiar song echoed in Lou’s head:

I feel renewed

I feel disabled

By these bonfires in my spine

I don’t know who the arsonist was

Which incendiary soul

But all I ever wanted

Was just to come in from the cold…  

She held Debbie even tighter – her mastermind, her arsonist, her Ocean…her girl. 

 

**

 

The following Tuesday, Lou awoke to the empty loft and to the knowledge that she would soon be many millions of dollars richer. The morning was grey and dim, and she realized that she couldn’t have slept more than three or four hours. Her green sequined jumpsuit lay haphazardly across the armchair by her bedroom window. Not for the first time, Lou wondered what Debbie would have worn to the Gala – something amazing, no doubt. Lou smiled sadly to herself and leaned over to pick up her phone, noticing a slew of text messages from Debbie that must have come in after she fell asleep. She had only managed a few words of success and congratulations before she passed out the night before, but Debbie had kept messaging into the early hours of the morning, clearly ecstatic and seemingly unconcerned by Lou’s lack of response. Lou grinned as she scrolled through the messages. 

John Frazier will be in NYC by tmrw. He’ll talk to Cartier first. Call him tonight. 

Then: U think Daphne knows? If so, get her on board ASAP.

Later: How’s Yen?

And finally: Do u think off-shore accounts are more secure in Singapore or Rio? Heard about the Panama Papers. We should probably do both.

From there, the theme changed: Baby, I miss u.

I wish I were there.

I want u.

Miss ur hands, ur mouth.

Lou groaned and bit down on her slightly shaking knuckles as she read the words.

So proud of u, baby. Proud of us.

I fking miss u.

Lou tossed the phone aside and lay back on her pillows, closing her eyes and imagining that her own hands were Debbie’s as they traveled down her body. She could remember the heady thrill of the sex that followed every successful job they pulled. It was a high like no other. Lou palmed her own breast, squeezing hard enough to bruise. Her right hand passed into wet heat between her thighs, and she arched against it. A whimper fell from her lips as she slipped two fingers inside herself. Debbie’s eyes shone in Lou’s imagination, dark and full of promises. She tugged on her nipple none too gently, relishing the sting that burned like a fuse wire to her center. The loft was empty, and Lou made no attempt to muffle the sounds that escaped from her throat – moans and curses and, perhaps, a sob.

For a long time after, Lou lay still, mesmerized by the sound of her own breaths and the slick heat coating her fingers. She kept her eyes closed, picturing Debbie bare and sated beside her with wild hair and soft eyes. The memory of Debbie’s lips against hers jolted Lou back to reality, and Debbie was gone. Lou rolled out of bed, pulling her cigarettes and lighter from her bedside table. She crossed to the window, cracked it open, and folded herself into the armchair, blowing smoke out into the misty spring morning. She reached for her phone and unlocked it, reading through Debbie’s messages once more, and feeling warmth and sadness in equal measure flowing in her blood.

I fking miss u too, jlbrd, Lou wrote. I’m waiting.

 

**

 

The next few weeks proved two things to be true. First, Debbie’s plan was a masterpiece in every detail, and the money flowed into their accounts as easily as water once everything was in place. Second, Daphne Kluger, while not a “total fricking idiot,” was the most obnoxious person Lou had ever met. Day by day, Lou became more and more anxious for the job to finish just so Daphne could go back to being nothing but a face on the tabloid magazines Lou saw when she shoplifted gum from the grocery store.

“So, this is your place?” Daphne asked on the day that the charges against Claude had finally been processed.

“Yes,” Lou replied without looking up from her laptop where she was calculating Amita’s estimates on the soon-to-be liquidated crown jewels in preparation for the reveal of their final cuts.

“Huh,” Daphne said.

Lou looked up momentarily just to glare at her.

“I mean, you really could do a lot with the right interior designer. I know a guy. I mean, he was able to give me exactly what I wanted for my beach house on Martha’s Vineyard – like, really…” Daphne’s gaze darted somewhat distastefully over Lou’s flea market furniture.

“Is that right?” Lou said, eyes fixed on her spreadsheet.

Yeah. I can give you his card.” Daphne actually clapped her hands together and bounced on the spot.

Lou cringed internally and pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose.

“Oh, he’ll be thrilled,” Daphne went on, pivoting on her stiletto heel. “He’ll get all of this taken care of.”

“I’m not interested,” Lou said in a bored voice. “I like it how it is.” She scribbled an illegible (to anyone else) number on a Post-It note and pushed her chair back from the poker table. “Okay, everybody,” she called to the loft at large. “I think a toast is in order.”

Daphne followed her somewhat dejectedly into the kitchen, and everyone else crowded in around them, glasses and bottles in hand. Lou found herself feeling overwhelmingly fond of them all – even Daphne, at least theoretically. They had trusted her, and it had paid off. They had trusted Debbie, someone most of them didn’t know, and that meant everything. Looking around at their faces, Lou kept expecting to find Debbie’s sharp gaze meeting her own. Oh, she missed her.

“Mr. Becker,” Lou began once everyone was more or less quiet, “has been charged with insurance fraud and grand theft.” She delivered the news matter-of-factly. “He is expected to plead guilty at least to the insurance fraud, but it’ll be a while before the trial. That doesn’t matter. The point is, we’re clean.”

There was a collective sigh. Rose raised her bottle of wine. “To Carl—”

Claude,” everyone corrected her.

“—Becker,” Rose finished. “May he rest in peace in prison.”

Lou grinned and drank. She felt both triumphant and wistful, unable to shake Debbie from her mind especially as she launched into the story of the crown jewels. She knew Tammy could sense the lack of excitement in her voice, but she was fairly sure that no one else could. She had learned from the very best how to disguise her emotions. Debbie should have been the one revealing the larger plan. Debbie should have been here to tell everyone their cuts. Lou hadn’t been prepared for how wrong it felt, and by the time the number fell from her lips, she was fighting back tears behind an icy façade. The shock and surprise on everyone’s faces turned into jubilant delight, and before long, Lou was gratefully blending into the background. She leaned on a chair by the turntable, changing the record every so often and trying not to feel too sorry for herself.

“Hey,” Amita said, coming over to her and snapping Lou out of a daydream where Debbie appeared in their midst and pulled Lou into a swooning kiss, like a scene right out of one of Daphne Kluger’s cheesy rom-coms.

“Hey,” Lou said, “thanks for all your extra work.”

“You okay?” Amita asked, brushing off Lou’s gratitude.

Lou shrugged and sipped her beer. “Never better. Always nice to see a job well done.”

“You’re allowed to miss her, you know,” Amita said casually as she thumbed through Lou’s record collection.

Lou stayed silent. Had she been that obvious?

“Look, I don’t really know you,” Amita went on with a shrug of her own, “but the look on your face, well…” She paused and gave Lou a quick, searching glance. “It’s how Debbie looked on the first few jobs I ran with her and Danny.”

“When was that?” Lou asked.

Amita looked thoughtful. “It would’ve been…2009? Maybe? Almost ten years ago now,” she mused.

Lou gave a brief, humorless laugh. “Yeah. Makes sense.”

“You left her,” Amita said bluntly. It wasn’t an accusation; it was a simple truth.

“I did. Ten years ago.”

“She missed you.” 

“I know.”

Amita sighed and half-smiled at Lou. “I knew who you were,” she said, “as soon as you tracked me down at my mother’s shop, even though we hadn’t met. You and Debbie…” She trailed off, seemingly searching for the right words. “…you fit, you know?”

Lou sighed. “I like to think we do.”

Amita nodded pensively. “Anyway,” she said, “you’re allowed to miss her.”

A lump rose in Lou’s throat, and she blinked away another round of tears. She wasn’t as successful this time, and Amita passed her a napkin to dab at her eyes. Lou sniffed and turned towards the wall to hide her tears from everyone else. Somehow though, she didn’t mind if Amita saw.

“I’m sorry she wasn’t out for this,” Amita said softly. “It was a good one. She did well.”

Lou nodded and managed a watery smile. “She did, but she couldn’t have managed it without you and everyone else.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amita said, once more avoiding the compliments. “Thirty-eight million is more than enough gratitude for me.”

Lou looked sideways at her. “Can I ask for one more favor?”

“Of course.”

Lou took a deep breath and spoke in a whisper. “I’m not sure when, but…” She caught Amita’s gaze and held it, tacitly communicating the complete secrecy of her request. “I’m going to need a ring.”

Amita grinned and clinked her drink against Lou’s. “Cheers to that,” she said. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Chapter Text

“So…”

“Uh…hi. Ocean…right?”

“Right.” Debbie narrowed her eyes and glared across the table in the crowded, cafeteria-style visiting room.

“Yeah…uh…I’m Constance.”

“Uh huh.” Debbie crossed her arms more tightly over her chest. She trusted Lou implicitly with her choice of a pick-pocket – and it was far too late now to change anything – but Constance wasn’t what Debbie had expected. For one thing, she expected someone older and more experienced. Debbie wished it was Lou sitting across from her to give her the final update before the Met Ball, but they had both agreed it would be better for Lou to stay away from the prison this close to the heist. Instead, Lou had decided to send Constance as a courier, insisting to Debbie that there was no one better for the task. Debbie – as of yet – was unconvinced. 

Constance shot her a toothy smile across the table. “Hey, thanks for the job, fam!”

Debbie gave a tiny shake of her head. Fam? she asked herself. “Uh…you’re welcome?” she said. “Got everything covered?”

“Oh, yeah, we’re good. We’re good.”

“How’d Lou find you?”

“I, uh…I do card tricks…three-card-Monty, all that, ya know? Make a little…extra here and there.” Constance shot Debbie a look, and Debbie smirked her understanding. “Anyway, she saw me. Got me in on a minor job last year, just some assholes at her club—”

“She put marks on assholes at her club?”

“Yeah, it was good, it was good. Made bank, but then I had to spend it on a plane ticket for some family shit, and I was back in the park when she found me a few weeks ago. Said there was a job.”

“Mm. And what do you think of it?”

Constance shrugged. “I’m in, aren’t I? Besides, Dad knows her shit.”

“Dad?”

“Uh…Lou.”

“Oh, okay.” Debbie nodded as if she understood, but internally she was battling bemusement. She watched Constance’s leg jump nervously under the table. Constance blushed.

“Don’t worry…about the ‘dad’ thing. It’s not a sex…uh…thing,” Constance said in a rush.

Debbie raised her eyebrows. “Didn’t think it was. You’re not really Lou’s type.”

“You sure ‘bout that?” Constance asked, leaning forward across the table and imitating Debbie’s raised eyebrows. Debbie appreciated the young woman’s nerve and stared at her unblinkingly until Constance blushed and sat back in her chair. “You…oh…you and Lou…okay, I can see it, I can see it.” Constance’s expression flickered between bashful and amused. Debbie smirked. Constance opened and closed her mouth a few times and then said, “I…didn’t realize it was more than just a friends thing, but…she…uh…Lou really misses you. She doesn’t say much, but—”

“I know.” Debbie couldn’t prevent a softened expression from momentarily flitting across her face. She leaned forward on her elbows to study Constance’s face. Now she looked closer, she expected that Constance was older than she looked. There was something in her eyes that reminded Debbie of Lou when they had first met in a seedy club almost twenty years ago. Constance might act twitchy and awkward, but underneath that exterior, Debbie knew she was looking at someone who could calculate and scheme almost as well as she or Lou could. No wonder Lou had chosen her. Constance blinked back at Debbie nervously. Debbie sighed. “Lou says you have the best hands she’s ever seen,” Debbie told her.

Constance smiled awkwardly and blushed again. “Yeah…uh…thanks.” She chewed on her thumbnail subconsciously.

“Prove it,” Debbie said with a wink.

Constance flashed her toothy grin once more and leaned forward across the table, bringing her face an inch from Debbie’s. “Already did.” 

Debbie shifted her foot and felt a piece of paper move inside her pantleg, scratching her skin. Constance must have planted it many minutes ago on the pretense of tying her shoe, and Debbie hadn’t noticed, which either meant that Debbie was losing her touch (impossible) or that Constance really was the perfect woman for the job. Debbie sat up straight once more and nodded slowly across the table at her, finally completely satisfied. “Not bad,” she muttered, almost to herself. “You’re fascinating.”

Constance furrowed her brow at her. “Uh…okay.” A buzzer rang through the room, announcing the end of the visiting period. Constance and Debbie both stood.

“Nice to meet you, Constance. Good luck tomorrow. Give this to Lou, will you?” Debbie slid a folded piece of paper across the table, and Constance pocketed it at once.

“You got it, boss-lady.”

“That’s not a sex thing either, is it?”

“Nah, fam.”

Debbie shot Constance a brief, genuine smile over her shoulder as she was led towards the door. She watched as Constance gave a small wave and then turned on her heel to dart between other departing visitors. Debbie surreptitiously adjusted the piece of paper inside her pantleg, scratching her ankle to excuse the movement. The game is afoot, she thought, and her heart beat excitedly in her chest. 

Back in her cell for the evening, Debbie slid the piece of paper out of her pantleg and looked over it. As she had suspected, it was a brief, coded, step-by-step plan for tomorrow. She lay on her stomach on her bed and tapped her fingers against the crisp paper, smiling at the doodle of a motorcycle in the upper right corner of the page. The list was short:

  1. Glamor cattle
  2. Snow White
  3. Child’s play
  4. Tea and biscuits
  5. Go Fish!
  6. Tuxedo tango

Debbie’s finger lingered next to the final step. With a pang, she imagined Constance having to slip the final piece of the Toussaint into Claude’s jacket, and suddenly wished that she had been a bit warmer during their visit. As far as Debbie was concerned, the best part about running this job from the inside was that she wouldn’t have to be anywhere near Claude. Satisfied with Lou’s list, Debbie folded the paper carefully and pulled her phone out from under her sheet.

Looking gd, dad, Debbie typed with a smirk.

Lou’s response came through rapidly, as always. I didn’t start that, I’ll have u know.

Oh?

She had a date 2 wks ago. I told her to use protection.

Ah. Say no more. Does that make me mom? Debbie asked. She felt like she was playing with fire. After all, she hadn’t really apologized for working Claude Becker into the plan without Lou’s knowledge. Still, flirting had always been her M.O., and if Lou was willingly working Claude into tomorrow’s plan, then…  

Proposing again, honey? Lou replied, interrupting Debbie’s preoccupations. Debbie’s pulse raced.

Still waiting on those diamonds but it looks like tmrw should change that. ;)

Glad u think so. And no. I think Cons finds u far too intimidating for nicknames.

She called me boss-lady.

I stand corrected.    

Good luck tmrw baby! Xoxo

Thx. I miss u. Sweet dreams Debs.

U too <3 Debbie turned off the phone as soon as the message had sent and shoved it away. She turned the plan over and over in her mind in a cyclic mantra, picturing each step behind her eyelids as though it were inscribed there in bright technicolor and sequins. Glamor cattle…Snow White…child’s play…tea and biscuits…Go fish!...tuxedo tango. Glamor cattle…Snow White…child’s play…By the time she dropped off, it felt to Debbie as though the heist had already succeeded.     

 

**

 

Later, looking back, Debbie wouldn’t be able to remember much of May 7, 2018 – not what she was actually doing, anyway. Her brain swirled, and she pictured herself as a puppet controlling the strings of those carrying out the most formidable jewelry heist in modern history. She didn’t hold Lou’s strings, though. Instead, she pictured Lou beside her, her ultimate equal, calculating and controlling at least as much as Debbie was. It hit her all at once, around lunchtime, that Lou was the only person she had ever trusted so completely. Danny had been her rock – in his way, at times – but she had never been able to trust him the way she trusted Lou. Because Lou would never take liberties with a job. Lou would never push something to be bigger, flashier, riskier. Lou was temperance, and Lou was balance. It was so obvious, really, that Debbie laughed as the realization hit her, stifling the sound in a hand clamped over her mouth in the middle of the crowded prison corridor. Everything was going to work…because of Lou.

Debbie was drifting in and out of sleep at 11 pm when Lou’s text came through: U did it. We did it, honey!

Suddenly wide awake, Debbie smiled and pulled her blanket over her head to hide the light of the phone screen. Her fingers flew across the screen, closing loopholes and tying loose strings. She knew Lou was asleep, tried not to picture her peaceful face as she had seen it on a thousand nights, after a thousand successful jobs. Debbie chewed the inside of her cheek. But no matter how hard she tried, her thoughts, which had been fixed on completing the job, turned towards Lou instead.

Baby, I miss u, Debbie wrote, and with that – not bothering to ask her permission – Debbie’s heart took over from her head. And if that had ever happened before tonight, Debbie couldn’t remember it. 

I wish I were there, she said next.  

Then: I want u. Debbie felt herself teetering on the edge of a cliff. The depth of her emotion felt raw and dangerous in the wee hours of the morning as Marcia breathed in the bed across from her. Debbie strove with herself, willing herself to something honest.

Miss ur hands, ur mouth, she wrote.

So proud of u, baby. Proud of us.

I fking miss u.

 

**

 

I fking miss u too, jlbrd. I’m waiting.

Debbie read the words over and over again in her mind long after she had stashed her phone in her mattress once more on Tuesday morning. She felt her lip quiver but couldn’t quite pin down the emotion that was causing the urge to cry. The success of the heist had Debbie floating on a cloud for about twelve hours, and she still felt high with the thrill of it several days later. Even her work assignment cleaning the equipment in the gym seemed more pleasant than usual. In contrast, her longing for Lou was becoming more and more profound. Debbie was still kicking herself for not telling Lou about Claude, and – no matter what Lou said in her texts – Debbie worried about the apologies that needed to be made before they began a future together.

She was still overwhelmed by the idea that she loved Lou. Debbie had never been so sure of anything in her life, and yet the fact that she loved anyone was so far outside her image of herself that it made her feel unsteady and confused. “Debbie Ocean” was the name of a calculating and cold criminal mastermind, and being in love – hopelessly, overwhelmingly, ridiculously in love – didn’t fit that persona. Debbie was almost grateful for the distance from Lou so that she could sort through her feelings. Almost. Mostly, she cursed everything that still kept them irrevocably apart. 

I’m waiting, Lou had said. 

Debbie tried not to spend too much time picturing her; it hurt. But as she mindlessly scrubbed the free weights in the gym with bleach and warm water a week after the Met Gala, she couldn’t prevent her thoughts from wandering over images of Lou: Lou smoking a cigarette; Lou chewing gum; Lou on her motorcycle; Lou in the green Armani jumpsuit she had worn at the Met—Tammy had brought Debbie a photo of the design. And then Lou’s smile and Lou’s eyes; Lou sleeping next to her in their bed with her bare skin glowing; Lou pushing Debbie’s thighs apart and settling between her legs.

Debbie’s hands shook slightly as she tried to ignore the swooping in her stomach. Lou’s birthday, Debbie thought suddenly, immediately wishing she hadn’t remembered.  

“Fuck,” Debbie swore as she dripped bleach on her shoe. Focus on something else, she told herself. By the time the buzzer went off for dinner, Debbie had run through every U.S. area code and its corresponding location and recited the first two acts of Shakespeare’s Pericles in her head. She still missed Lou; it was becoming more and more difficult to distract herself.

Back in April, Debbie had finally told Marcia about her secret phone, and though Marcia had grasped Debbie by the shoulders and shaken her when she heard that Debbie had let the phone lie unused for two years, Marcia had also promised not to tell anyone and to do anything she could to cover for Debbie when she messaged with Lou in the evenings. Debbie was already sorting through ideas on how to get Marcia out on early parole, maybe as early as January. Debbie owed Marcia more than Debbie could ever tell her. She had a feeling that Lou’s hacker might be able to help.

There was a text from Lou when Debbie turned on the phone that evening: We’re so close jlbrd.

Debbie sighed as she read it and then squeezed her eyes shut. This was the only time of day that she really, truly allowed herself to think of Lou. It was the only time that thinking of Lou was exciting rather than heartbreaking. It still hurt – her skin burned, her heart raced, and the ache in her chest was ever-present – but it felt right. She could lean into the discomfort and fully believe that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that Lou really was waiting for her on the outside. What’s left? Debbie texted back after taking several deep breaths.

Claude. Waiting on charges.

Debbie smashed the side of her face into her pillow and narrowed her eyes at the three dots indicating Lou was still typing. Even now, the thought of him made her feel wretched, and her heart was suddenly racing for entirely unpleasant reasons.

And then it’s just liquidating the crown jewels. Amita’s on it. Should have an est cut by this time nxt wk.

Debbie took another deep breath, relieved that the subject of Claude had passed for now. Good job baby, Debbie wrote.

Come home Debs, came Lou’s response. She could hear the plea in Lou’s words. Debbie covered her mouth with her hand.

Soon, she replied, wishing she could offer some reassurance that didn’t sound so empty.

I want u.

The words they wrote back and forth were the same as they had been for a month now, but they still sent thrills through Debbie’s blood. She felt sweat beading along her hairline, and the fabric of her cotton pajamas seemed to prickle, making her squirm. Clenching and unclenching her left fist in an attempt to relieve some of the built-up tension in her body, Debbie used her right hand to respond to Lou: Want u too. So bad.

It’s been too long. Can’t remember ur taste anymore.

Debbie almost moaned, but she caught herself at the last moment by biting down on her knuckles. Want u to taste me, she wrote with trembling fingers.  

I will.

I know. Soon baby. Soon.

Sleep well, honey. I miss u.

Happy Birthday Lou. Sweet dreams xoxo. Debbie turned off the phone and shoved it under the sheet. She stayed on her side, facing the wall and not moving. She was exhausted, but her mind whirred deliriously, flashing images of Lou and herself, herself and Lou. Even in the last two and a half months since her parole hearing, Debbie hadn’t allowed herself to cry very often. The trouble was that once the tears began to fall, it was very difficult to make them stop. She stared blankly at the dimly lit wall next to her bed, counting the cracks in the paint and swallowing around the lump in her throat. Tonight, the tears came no matter how hard she tried to stop them, blurring her vision until Debbie could no longer focus on the wall in front of her. She curled in on herself in frustration, burying her face and keeping her body completely rigid. She should have been out with Lou in a fancy dress and too-tall stilettos, stealing Chanel perfume and slipping it into Lou’s hand with a brush of lips to her cheek. Debbie had missed eleven of Lou’s birthdays now, but this was by far the worst, because she should have been there. She should have. 

There was a rustle of blankets on the other side of the cell. “Hey, you okay, Ocean?” Marcia asked.

Debbie said nothing. She heard Marcia sigh and stand up from her bed.

“Ocean,” Marcia said firmly, “you gotta stay strong, girl.”

Debbie swallowed hard as Marcia sat down on the edge of her bed and laid a hand on her head.

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t cry, you know?”

Debbie sniffed and kept her eyes squeezed shut.

“What’s the first thing you gonna do when you get out?” Marcia stroked Debbie’s hair, and Debbie tried to let herself be comforted.

She cleared her throat. “Danny,” she said hoarsely. “I’ll go see Danny.”

“And then your girl?”

“Yeah, and then,” Debbie swallowed hard once more. “And then Lou.” Her voice broke on Lou’s name, and she pressed her mouth against the side of her hand.

“You gonna tell her you love her?” Marcia asked casually.

“Yes,” Debbie replied at once, surprised at how clear her voice sounded this time.

“You fucking better, Ocean,” Marcia said with a gentle pat to Debbie’s shoulder. She got up and returned to her own bed. “You fucking better.”

Debbie smiled to herself and allowed her tears to fall.

 

**

 

Debbie was awoken by the intercom. “Ocean, please proceed to Officer Price’s office before breakfast.”

Dina, Debbie thought. What now?

“What she want with you?” Marcia grumbled sleepily.

Debbie shrugged as she got up hastily to change into her hideously orange day uniform. “Could be anything. Maybe Lou was late on her cut for the cigarettes yesterday.” Five minutes later, the cell door clicked to indicate Debbie was free to leave to see Dina. “See you later,” she said with a wave to Marcia. Marcia grunted a sleepy response as the door shut behind Debbie.

The corridors were quiet this early in the morning. There were a few guards patrolling here and there and one or two other prisoners who, like Debbie, had been summoned to an appointment. It was as close to peaceful as a place like this could get. Debbie took a deep breath before she knocked on the door of Dina’s office, relishing the relative silence that broke as her knuckles met wood.

“You wanted to see me?” Debbie asked.

“Take a seat,” Dina said, looking up from a file in front of her. She sipped her coffee as Debbie sat down. “We have a situation,” Dina began.

Debbie narrowed her eyes and said nothing, waiting for an explanation.

“Claude Becker has been taken into custody,” Dina said.

“Yeah, Lou told me,” Debbie said, casually. Dina knew about her phone after all.

“Figured she would,” Dina said with a nod. “That’s not the problem. This…” She slid the folder across the desk towards Debbie. “…is the problem.”

Debbie flipped open the folder and was met with the photo of a woman’s face clipped to a job application. The woman had dark hair and hazel eyes, but was otherwise unremarkable. Debbie flipped to the application and scanned the heading: Employment Application – Corrections Officer. Next to that was the logo for the prison and the seal of the State of New York.

“Look at the name,” Dina said impatiently.

Debbie’s eyes dropped lower, and “Allison Becker” jumped out at her. Her heart beat quickly. “His sister?” she asked calmly, sliding the file back across the desk.

“Cousin,” Dina said. “American. Lives in the Bronx.”

Debbie tried to remember if Claude had ever mentioned having any American family. Then again, their entire partnership (relationship, whatever) had been based on a complex web of lies and games. “And?” Debbie asked. Dina wouldn’t have called her here for something unimportant.

And she’s just been hired to work here. I tried to stop it, cited conflict of interest since she’s family of your accuser, but she’s not a close enough relative.”

Debbie nodded. “Is she close with…with him?” she asked.

That’s the problem,” Dina said, sitting back in her chair. “It seems like she is, and we already know she…doesn’t like you. Didn’t like Danny either, apparently. He must have tried to go after Claude after your sentence?”

“Sounds like him,” Debbie said fondly.

Anyway,” Dina went on pointing a finger at Debbie, “you’re in danger, and it’s not from other inmates this time. It’s from a guard, and that’s, well…” Dina cleared her throat but didn’t continue.

“It’s not good,” Debbie said frankly.

“You’ve already been roughed up once, Ocean, and—”

“Roughed up?” Debbie interrupted with a hint of an incredulous laugh. “I was fucking stabbed, Dina.”

“Exactly.” Dina gave Debbie a hard look. “With another guard there’s…well, there’s only so much I can do.”

“Okay,” Debbie said in a business-like tone. “How much do I need?”

Dina shook her head. “You can’t buy your way out of it, Ocean. Not this time.”

“I pay you.

Dina rolled her eyes and leaned forward with her elbows on her desk. “Look. I know this place is a shithole and that the American prison system is fucked. I’m not above some harmless bribery to make your sentence less of a living hell, but there are some…” She tapped her finger on Allison Becker’s file. “…that actually think prisons and justice can fit in the same sentence.”

“Ah, so, she doesn’t know that her dear cousin is a criminal?” Debbie asked, crossing her legs and sitting back in her chair with her arms folded casually across her chest.

“She believed his testimony against you, cited it as a reason that she wanted to go into law enforcement.”

Debbie made a noise of disgust. “And how about now? Isn’t he being held by NYPD?”

Dina shrugged. “I’m sure she’ll think he’s been falsely accused by none other than John Frazier, and it’s no secret Frazier’s connected to the Ocean name.”

Debbie grimaced, thinking hard. “What do I need to do?” she asked. 

“You need to stay the fuck away from her for the next two weeks until you’re released. Her first day on the clock is tomorrow.”

“How do I do that?” Debbie hated having to ask so many questions, preferred to know that she was about to command a room before she even entered it. In prison, she preferred to know exactly how to act at all times to get exactly what she wanted.

“Be an Ocean, Deborah,” Dina replied with a wink. “It’s what you’re best at.” 

Debbie cracked a smile as she got up to leave and thanked Dina on the way out the door. Out in the hallway, Debbie leaned against the wall for a moment to gather her wits. Be an Ocean, Dina had said. Debbie knew what that meant: hide in plain sight, know where the cameras are, lose yourself in crowds, don’t provoke. Survive. It was going to be a tough few weeks, but on the other end of it, Lou was waiting for her. And for Lou, Debbie would gladly pass through any hell that Allison Becker created for her. 

 

**

 

For the next fourteen days, Debbie became a shadow. She slid from one area of the prison to another in the midst of her fellow inmates, keeping her eyes down and letting her hair fall into her face. The advantage of being a master of disguise was that Debbie knew how to adjust her posture and her stride to make her seem like an entirely different person. However, hiding from one specific person in a sea of people who already knew her was a challenge, and by the end of Allison Becker’s first week on the job, Debbie was exhausted. She barely had enough energy to respond to Lou’s texts in the evening, and her eyes often fluttered closed before she could say goodnight. She knew Lou would notice the change, but couldn’t bear to tell her what was going on. They were so close now, just days away from seeing one another, from being together. Debbie wouldn’t – couldn’t – mar that for anything. One week after Debbie’s meeting with Dina, Lou passed her the news of Claude’s charges along with the exact number of their final cut. The next day, after sending an all too perfunctory message to Lou (over and out baby. see you 6/1 xoxo), Debbie stopped by Dina’s office and turned over the phone.

“It’s not worth the risk anymore,” Debbie told her. “Can’t have her going through my shit and getting me more time in here.”

Dina grimaced at her and took the phone without question.  

Debbie’s emotions were tumultuous. She missed Lou even more without the ability to text her in the evenings, and yet she was simultaneously ecstatic about the success of the Met Job. Nevertheless, she pushed all her feelings – both good and bad – deep down inside her, slumping her shoulders and keeping her eyes on the floor as she walked from meals to work assignments, from her cell to the gym. On the final Sunday of her sentence, five days before her release, Debbie was almost back to her cell after dinner when someone grabbed her shoulder and pulled her aside. Before she knew what was happening, a door had closed between her and the corridor, and she was staring into a pair of hazel eyes that showed nothing but hatred.

“Ocean,” the woman spat.

Debbie didn’t flinch. She flicked her gaze to the wall of the storage closet over Allison Becker’s shoulder and steeled herself not to react.

“So, you’re the slutty dyke who tried to frame my cousin. Gotta admit, I thought you’d be younger.”

Debbie didn’t even blink at the slurs or the weak insults. She stood still and dug her fingernails into her palms. He’s been charged, he’s been charged, she kept telling herself over and over as words and fears from more than six years ago threatened to choke her. He’s going to prison. He can’t get to you.

“And now you’re getting out,” Officer Becker went on, walking around Debbie in the cramped space. “Friday, right?”

Debbie didn’t acknowledge the question. She had a feeling she knew what was coming. Sure enough, she heard a whoosh of air and the sharp crunch of knuckles hitting flesh before pain seared through her ribs. She stumbled sideways but righted herself quickly, still refusing to look at Allison Becker’s face. Another blow hit her in the stomach, and she gagged as her feeble dinner threatened to make a reappearance. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes, willing it to stop. Debbie wanted to fight back, knew that her many hours in the gym were probably enough to land a few good punches, but fighting a guard was a sure way to get an extension on her sentence. She wasn’t going to give anyone that satisfaction, least of all someone connected to Claude. Lou, Lou, Lou, Debbie thought wildly. Oh, God, Lou. Five days, five days.

Officer Becker’s knee found Debbie’s diaphragm, and Debbie was suddenly on the ground with no memory of having fallen. All the air had left her lungs, and black dots popped at the corners of her eyes as pain seared through her chest. She gasped for breath and watched a pair of heavy boots move towards her. There was a pause, and then the sharp toe of one boot slammed into Debbie’s ribs. An involuntary cry fell from her lips. It seemed that was what Allison Becker had been waiting for. Debbie heard her sigh and watched the boots walk towards the door. 

“Just a little reminder,” a calm, cold voice said as the door opened and shut, and Debbie was alone on the floor of the storage closet.

She took a deep shuddering breath that made her ribs protest painfully. There were tears on her cheeks, and she wiped them hastily away as she pushed herself into a seated position. Five days, Lou, she thought again. Five days. She took a minute to breathe deeply, teaching herself quickly how to prevent a wince with every breath. The place where Allison Becker’s boot had connected with her ribs felt like fire. Debbie slipped her fingers under her uniform and prodded at herself, checking for broken bones. Thankfully, everything seemed to be in place, but Debbie knew the bruises would be formidable by tomorrow.

Debbie used a nearby shelf to pull herself to her feet and took a few shaky steps around the storage closet, making sure she could walk without limping. She couldn’t bear to step back out into the corridor with any sign of weakness. Satisfied with her own acting, Debbie opened the door and slipped into the crowd of prisoners, still making their way back from dinner. She kept her eyes on the floor all the way back to her cell and didn’t even look at Marcia as she sat gingerly on her bed.

“She got you, huh?”

Debbie nodded. She had told Marcia about Allison Becker because she knew that anyone associated with her would be at risk, too.

“How bad?” 

“It’ll bruise,” Debbie said, moving stiffly to lie down on her mattress, “but nothing’s broken.”

Marcia let her breath out in a sympathetic hiss. “Five days, Ocean.”

“Yeah,” Debbie said, gritting her teeth against the throbbing pain. “Five days.”

 

**

 

Five days later, Debbie stood in the prison parking lot in the short, sequined evening dress and six-inch stilettos in which she had been arrested with her wool coat and purse slung over her arm.

She turned her phone, which Dina had kept until her release, over and over in her hand, thinking hard. She could ask Lou to come get her, but she wanted – needed – a little time with Danny to herself. Still, she didn’t want to wait long before she saw her; she needed Lou as much as she needed to burn these clothes that still reminded her of Claude.

Debbie pulled up Lou’s contact information and wrote, Where is the fking cemetery? 12pm. Two minutes later, with an address on the screen, Debbie took her first steps away from the prison with forty-five dollars in her pocket and thirty-eight million dollars spread out between five shiny, new, off-shore accounts. The hot June sun beat down on her exposed neck and back, but Debbie relished it. She did not, however, relish the feeling of walking several miles in stilettos with nearly-broken ribs. Still, she reached the cemetery by 11:30 am, slowing her pace as she walked towards the mausoleum, unsure of what she would feel when she stepped inside. Danny’s name looked cold, and when she reached out to touch it, Debbie found that it was cold. She sank onto the bench in front of the wall of names and tried not to feel numb. There was a scuffing and shuffling from around the corner, and Debbie recognized Reuben’s footsteps. She smiled softly, but she wasn’t ready to face him yet. She was here for her brother, for herself, and no one else. 

Danny had always fascinated her. He had managed to tread the fine line between charisma and mystery with the grace of tight-rope walker. Elegance and poise were like a second skin to him, just as they were to her, but he could also be accessible and relatable in a genuine way with which Debbie could never hope to compete. She hated and loved him for that in equal measure. He wasn’t as smart she was (they both knew that), but he had pulled off beautiful, brilliant jobs in spite of it. He kept things in perspective, knew that there were things that were more in important than jobs. It had taken Debbie almost four decades in crime to figure that out for herself (to figure out that Lou was really the most important thing in her life), but for him it was as intuitive as shoplifting. She envied that, envied the ease with which he was – truly – a decent person. 

“You better be in there,” she said softly, and somehow, she was surprised to find that she actually believed he was dead. She shifted slightly on the bench, trying to position her bruised ribs in a more comfortable way. There was a cough from around the corner, and Debbie felt the corners of her mouth twitch. “I know you’re there, Reuben,” she called at last. “You can come on out.”

Reuben stepped out from behind the corner looking as flamboyant as ever, oversized glasses perched on his nose. “I was just paying my respects,” he said defensively.

“Around the corner?” Debbie raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing here?” She patted the seat next to her.

Reuben sighed as he sank onto it. “It was you, wasn’t it?” He asked, slipping a New York Times article about the theft of the Toussaint into her hand.

Debbie smirked, but said nothing. She folded the article carefully and slipped it into her shoulder bag.

“He didn’t want you to do it,” Reuben said.

“Do what?” Debbie asked innocently, though she knew her eyes were twinkling knowingly at him. She reached over and smoothed the lapel of his dress shirt. 

Reuben sighed and shook his head.

“What else did he say?” Debbie asked. She kept her voice casual, but there was a twinge in her chest that told her she really did care what Danny had thought of her plan.

“He said it was brilliant,” Reuben replied.

“Oh, okay.”

“…and that you would probably end up back in prison.”

Debbie smiled and shook her head. “Well, I’m out, aren’t I?”

Reuben gave an exasperated, anxious shrug. 

Debbie stared at Danny’s name on the wall. “He would’ve loved it,” she said quietly, with a vague gesture at Danny’s name. Reuben patted her forearm sympathetically.

The rumble of a motorcycle cut through the quiet of the cemetery, and Debbie looked over her shoulder and through the dirty glass of the mausoleum door to see the blurred outline of a lanky, leather-clad figure climbing off a bike.

“I gotta go,” she said, standing up and stretching as best she could with her tender ribs. Reuben stood, too, still looking at her with accusatory concern. Debbie leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re looking sharp,” she said, with a nod to his fuchsia shirt.

“Take care,” he said, turning back to Danny’s name on the wall.

“I always do,” Debbie replied, not looking back as she strode out of the mausoleum.

It seemed as though she were moving in slow motion. The pain in her ribs crystallized everything around her into bright technicolor blurs. Lou was the only thing that seemed solid, leaning on her bike – a new bike, Debbie noticed – with her hands fidgeting and her eyes darting, seemingly unable to focus on Debbie or anything else. It was surreal, and yet at the same time, Debbie felt more alive than she had in ten years. Lou waited for her to approach, and Debbie made sure to maintain her stride even despite her bruises. That was a story for later. For now…

Lou crossed the remaining three feet between them and pulled Debbie into a hug. The feel of her arms around her completely overwhelmed the sharp pain in her ribs, and Debbie relaxed into her warmth. Within seconds, Debbie was already drunk on the earthy smell of Lou’s leather jacket and the sharp tang of her perfume. She took a deep breath, and the exhale came out as a sob, muffled in the hair behind Lou’s ear. If things had been different – perhaps if she had gotten parole three months ago when she was supposed to – Debbie would’ve pulled away with a sarcastic comment and a smirk. She had never been particularly comfortable with public displays of emotion. But just for today, things were different. For today, the only thing that mattered to Debbie in the whole universe was that Lou was there to take her home.

Chapter Text

Lou’s new bike easily fit a passenger with room to spare, but Debbie couldn’t bear to leave any space between them. Instead, Debbie fit her thighs around Lou’s hips like she always had and folded her long wool coat into a bundle on her lap. Her sequin and mesh dress rode up all the way to the tops of her thighs, and Debbie didn’t miss the way that Lou glanced at her legs over her shoulder before pulling her helmet on and gesturing to a second helmet attached to the back of the bike. Debbie took the hint and pulled on the helmet, surprised at how familiar it felt after all these years and smirking at the heat in Lou’s eyes. Despite the warmth of the bright June day, she felt goosebumps rise where Lou’s gaze rested. Oh, she wanted her.

“Take me home, baby,” Debbie murmured, stroking Lou’s sides with her thumbs through her leather jacket.

“Hold on tight, honey,” Lou replied, starting the ignition and pulling away from the mausoleum.

“Always,” Debbie said, though she knew Lou couldn’t hear her over the roar of the engine. “Not letting go this time.”

The words that Debbie needed to say – the words she promised she would say – bounced through her body. She felt as though she and Lou were still hurtling towards one another, that they needed to come to a stop before the words could fall from her mouth. In the solitude of her helmet, Debbie tried the feeling of them on her tongue.

“I love you,” she whispered, and then, in a normal speaking voice that nevertheless was lost in the motorcycle’s racket: “Lou, I love you.” Debbie liked the taste of the words. 

Stopped at a traffic light, Lou’s left hand fell to Debbie’s left knee, caressing her skin with her gloved fingers. Debbie closed her eyes. The vibration of the bike, along with Lou’s gentle touch and the feeling of her pressed against Debbie’s chest, was pushing Debbie towards a level of arousal with which she was unaccustomed. The pain in her ribs, though annoying, was far less present than the throbbing heat between her legs. She stifled a moan in her helmet as the light turned green, and they sped forward.

Five minutes later, Lou pulled down a side street towards a group of warehouses on the shore of the upper bay. Debbie could just see the mouth of the Hudson River in the distance, but the sun bouncing off the waves made it hard to enjoy the view even through the helmet’s tinted visor. Lou drove towards one of the warehouses, across an empty lot. A garage door on the south side of the building opened with the press of a button. They sped inside, and Lou parked the bike next to the old Toyota. Debbie wondered if the title for the car was still in her name (or alias, in this case) or if Lou had switched it back to her own. 

“Just finished this renovation last week,” Lou said conversationally as she turned off the bike and pulled off her helmet. “Used a bit of my cut.” Debbie looked around at the spacious garage and felt herself smiling. It was Lou in every detail from the giant clock face hanging on one wall with all its gears on display, to the lofty ceilings whose rafters blurred to shadows. It was like some kind of steam punk factory crossed with an airline hanger.

“I like it,” Debbie said, handing the second helmet to Lou. With a gallant gesture, Lou held out a hand for Debbie to hold as she dismounted from the bike. Forgetting about the unfortunate combination of her stilettos and her bruised ribs, Debbie stumbled as she stepped down. She fell into Lou, and Lou caught her, fingers gripping Debbie’s upper arms tightly.

“Hey, you okay?” Lou asked, raising a hand to brush Debbie’s hair from her forehead. Her lips were an inch from Debbie’s. She could hear Lou’s breaths mingling with her own, feel the electricity between them, see the way Lou’s eyes dropped to Debbie’s lips and back. 

Debbie swallowed hard and cleared her throat. “I just…I…” Words failed her. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Lou’s, firm and demanding. She wanted her, and she needed a chance at intimacy that didn’t involve talking about bruised ribs and an old scar. In a way, Debbie craved that conversation, felt no qualms at all with Lou seeing her injuries, but if she could have this first, Debbie was going to take full advantage.

Lou gasped against Debbie’s mouth and stumbled backwards in surprise until her back hit the side of the Toyota. There was a buzzing in Debbie’s ears that reduced the pain in her ribs to an almost-forgotten phenomenon; Lou was far more important than a few bruises. With one hand on Lou’s jaw and the other on her hip, Debbie pressed her into the side of the car and slid her bare thigh between Lou’s legs. She could feel Lou’s heat even through her leather pants, and it made Debbie groan. Her trembling fingers fiddled with the fastening of Lou’s pants.

“Debs…Debbie,” Lou muttered, holding Debbie’s upper body away from her for a moment but still pressing herself on Debbie’s leg.

Debbie dragged her eyelids open and looked into Lou’s eyes, noticing heavy arousal in her gaze. “Lou…”

“You sure this is what you want? Because we can go slow. It’s been a long ti—”

“I want this first,” Debbie said firmly, stroking Lou’s cheek with the thumb of her left hand. “I…I need to feel you.” She leaned her forehead against Lou’s, panting through the tension in her body. Her voice shook. “Is that okay? Do you—?”

Lou made a noise that was something between a laugh and a moan. “More than okay, honey,” she said breathlessly, her lips brushing against Debbie’s. Debbie smiled and kissed her gently. She felt Lou’s fingers find her own, helping her undo the button of her pants and pull down the zipper. Debbie moaned into Lou’s mouth as she slid her hand into Lou’s underwear to find her slick and warm.

Fuck, baby.”

“Want you.” Lou cleared her throat as Debbie’s fingers teased over her. “Want you inside me.”

Debbie swooned at the words and felt a rush of wetness between her own legs. Lou’s head fell back against the car as Debbie slid two fingers into her with ease. Debbie grazed her teeth over Lou’s jaw to the spot behind her ear that made Lou squirm. Sure enough, a shiver ran through Lou’s muscles, and Debbie felt Lou tremble. The tight, velvet heat around Debbie’s fingers drove her wild. She couldn’t think, could barely breathe, and Lou’s pleasure seemed to overtake all her own desires as she began to move inside her. Soon, Lou was whimpering with every thrust of Debbie’s fingers. Debbie increased the pressure of her thigh against Lou’s center, pressing her own palm over her. Pulling her head reluctantly from Lou’s neck, Debbie kept her eyes fixed on Lou’s face. Lou eyelids fluttered, and her bottom lip was caught between her teeth. Debbie didn’t think she had ever seen anything so beautiful. She wrapped her free hand around Lou’s back, running up under her shirt. All at once, Lou went rigid around Debbie’s fingers. Her back arched off the side of the old Toyota, and Debbie watched mesmerized as Lou’s entire body shook through her release.

“You’re beautiful,” Debbie whispered as Lou finally relaxed. She kept stroking her fingers inside her until the last ripples of Lou’s orgasm had passed. Then she pulled out and trailed the moisture on her fingertips over the skin of Lou’s abdomen. Debbie’s mouth watered at the idea of tasting her, but she wanted to do that properly later with her head between Lou’s thighs. She shuddered pleasurably at the thought.

“Welcome home, Jailbird,” Lou murmured when she finally found her voice.

Debbie laughed softly as she stepped away, straightening the rumpled hem of her dress as she did so. She leaned against Lou’s bike and pulled off her stilettos, enjoying the rough sensation of cool pavement beneath her bare feet. Lou pushed herself away from the car and held out her hand.

“Come on,” she said. “You may be surprised to learn that I don’t actually live in this garage.”

“Baby, this garage is bigger than any apartment we’ve ever owned, and at least a dozen times the size of where I’ve been for the past six years.”

Lou smirked at that, but there was empathetic sadness behind her eyes, too. It was time to talk, and as Debbie followed Lou across the garage towards a door, her heart beat rapidly in her chest.

 

**

 

 

“Nice place,” Debbie said, looking around at Lou’s loft. Sunlight streamed in through the high windows illuminating the cozy, mismatched furniture and the vintage kitchen. It was so comfortable that Debbie didn’t know what to do with herself. She perched on one of the stools by the kitchen counter with a glass of iced tea and tried not to get too distracted by the abundance of colors and textures around her.

“Try heating it,” Lou replied. She had her back turned to Debbie and was busy whipping up two sandwiches for lunch. “There’s a room for you upstairs – I mean, you’re welcome to share with me, but I thought…you know, after prison…Anyway, your stuff’s upstairs, too. I borrowed some shit – figured you weren’t using it.” She tossed a grin over her shoulder in Debbie’s general direction before turning back to the sandwiches in front of her.  

Debbie smirked and sipped her tea, then reached over to grab a slice of lemon from a dish on the counter. She squeezed it into the glass and rubbed the rind around the rim. When she glanced up, she noticed Lou watching her and smiled.

Lou cleared her throat. “Here,” she said, pushing a plate with an egg salad sandwich on it across the counter, “I hope this is better than…well, anything you’ve eaten in the past six years.”

Debbie winked. “Thanks, baby.”

They ate in silence, eyes locking every so often. Debbie felt herself blush every time Lou’s gaze met hers. It was awkward, though not unpleasant. She tried to savor the sandwich, but after years of prison food, she was still finished well before Lou.

“I can make you another one if you want,” Lou said, gesturing to her empty plate.

Debbie shook her head as she drank her tea. “No, thanks. I’m good,” she said when she put down the glass. Lou nodded and finished her sandwich.

“I’ll have to take you to see the club later – maybe not today but soon,” Lou said, as she placed both of their empty plates in the sink. “Oh, also, everyone wants to meet you.”

Debbie raised her eyebrows.

“The Met team,” Lou elaborated as she poured herself a second glass of iced tea. “I mean, you know Amita and Tammy, but the rest of them,” Lou shook her head. “They’re really something else. You’ll like them…well, you’ll tolerate them. And they are going to love you. Actually…” She paused contemplatively with the refrigerator door half-way open. “I think they already love you. You did make them all thirty-eight million dollars richer, after all. But I think they’ll like you.”

Debbie smiled understandingly at Lou’s chatter. A part of her felt the same need to fill the silence, to pretend that everything could fall into place between them without preamble. Perhaps that was how it could’ve been if Debbie had gotten out in March with a grand scheme stretching ahead of them and plenty to do. But now, there was no plan to distract them, no job to serve as an excuse for bantering their way back to a kind of normalcy.

“It’d be nice to thank them all in person,” Debbie said in response to Lou’s words.

Lou nodded. “They’ll appreciate that. I didn’t talk about you all the time or anything, but it was your plan, and…” Lou kept talking as she walked around the counter towards the living area. Debbie watched her, though she found it difficult to focus on her words. Her heart beat high in her throat. It was time. Debbie stood up and walked towards Lou where she was standing by the windows looking out over the view of the bay and talking with her hands about John Frazier’s quirks. “He’s just so…” Lou groaned in frustration. “I just hate his stupid waistcoats and the way he blabbers on and on about the goddamn football. He’s like something out of an old, bad movie, you know, and—”

“I love you.”

There was a ringing silence. Lou turned to look at Debbie, eyes wide and lips parted in surprise. Debbie stood still in the middle of the room feeling small and vulnerable and so, so proud of herself for finally saying the words. She couldn’t take them back now, and she didn’t want to.

“Lou,” Debbie said sharply when Lou continued to stare at her in shock. “I love you, baby.”

Lou blinked rapidly several times.

“I should’ve told you months ago when I finally realized,” Debbie went on, fiddling with the cuff of her dress and suddenly unable to look into Lou’s eyes, “and I should have realized years ago. It’s…it’s always been you, Lou.” She looked up to find that Lou had taken a few steps towards her. The silence stretched between them. “Say something?” Debbie said finally, so quietly that she wasn’t sure if Lou heard her.

But then Lou was right in front of her, and her hands were cradling Debbie’s face. “I love you, Debs,” Lou whispered, “I’ve loved you for years – decades probably – and I’m so, so sorry that I haven’t told you. I promised myself I would – today. But I didn’t know how to start, I—”

“It’s okay, baby,” Debbie murmured, raising her hands to wipe a few stray tears from Lou’s cheeks with her thumbs. “We’re okay.”

“Oh, God, I love you,” Lou said through a sigh, and she pulled Debbie to her chest in an off-balance embrace that sent both of them stumbling ungracefully into the back of the couch.

Debbie couldn’t prevent the whimper that escaped from her lips. The pain in her ribs had finally caught up with her, and her head was spinning with emotion and overstimulation. She felt suddenly overwhelmed, tightly gripping the couch cushions with one hand and Lou with the other. 

Lou pulled away to look at her face, concerned. “Are you okay, Debs?”

Debbie winced and squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m—I’ll be fine. There are…things I need to tell you.” She rubbed a hand absentmindedly over her ribcage, not enjoying the way the fabric of her dress moved over the tender skin beneath.  

Lou’s hand covered hers. “You’re hurt,” she said bluntly. It wasn’t a question.

“It’s not bad,” Debbie said at once, meeting her gaze with a hard look, making sure Lou knew she wasn’t lying. “I promise. It’s healing.”

Lou chewed the inside of her cheek. “What do you need?”

Debbie was taken aback by the question. She hadn’t been able to decide her own needs for so long, and being released without a heist up her sleeve, well, she hadn’t prepared for that, hadn’t prepared for the lack of distraction from readjustment. She always did better under pressure.

Lou noticed her silence. “It’s a lot,” she said sympathetically. “Getting out, I mean.” She tucked a strand of hair behind Debbie’s ear. The soft touch made Debbie’s skin tingle. 

Debbie grimaced her agreement to Lou’s words. She began sorting through the swirling emotions in her mind, compartmentalizing with the speed of a true professional. Lou waited. Lou always waited. “I need to burn this dress,” Debbie said finally, once everything was sorted into categories, cross-referenced, and prioritized.  

Lou raised her eyebrows. “It’s a nice dress.”

Debbie smirked and rolled her eyes. “You like it, baby?”

“I do.”

“Yeah.” Debbie drew out the word with more than a hint of bitterness, dropping her flirtatious tone. “It’s what I was wearing the night he framed me.”

Lou looked slightly sick. “Okay,” she agreed with a nod. “Burn the dress.”

Debbie nodded, pulling herself together. “I need to take a real shower,” she said in the same tone of voice she used for delegating tasks during a job. “I need to sleep for about a hundred hours, and I need a drink.”

Lou nodded and smirked. “I can help with that.”

“Thought you might,” Debbie said, intertwining her fingers with Lou’s and feeling steadier by the minute. Her body was starting to believe this was real, even if her brain hadn’t quite caught up yet. “Shower first?”

“Mm hmm,” Lou murmured against Debbie’s lips, “I love you.” She pulled Debbie towards the free-standing metal staircase that led to the upper floor of the loft.

“Love you, too,” Debbie replied softly, allowing herself to be led and feeling a current of joy run through her at the feel of the words on her tongue.

 

**

 

Lou’s bedroom had windows facing the bay and a large en-suite bathroom, which Debbie took to immediately. Lou watched her as she ran her fingers over the countertops and examined the ornate frame of the mirror.

“You do this with your cut, too?” Debbie asked, impressed.

“No, this was an earlier update,” Lou said, stepping into the bathroom from where she had been leaning against the doorframe. “I had it done about a year after I moved here, once the club started doing well. You like it?”

Debbie turned her head from left to right, taking in the everything from the shower tiles to the cabinetry. “I really do,” she said finally, smiling at Lou.

“Thanks.” Lou stepped forward and kissed her.

It was a casual and welcome gesture, and Debbie wondered when the kisses between them would start to feel normal and comfortable again instead of like a precious resource that had to be conserved. Lou’s hands traveled up Debbie’s arms and around to her back. She fiddled with the zipper of Debbie’s dress.

“May I?” she asked against Debbie’s mouth. 

Debbie took a deep breath, preparing for Lou to see the mottled bruising on her ribs and stomach. She herself had only managed one full glimpse of it in the showers that morning. “Please do,” Debbie replied, settling her hands onto Lou’s hips. Lou pulled the zipper down Debbie’s back without breaking eye contact. She kissed her softly again before turning Debbie to face the mirror and tugging her back against her chest. Debbie felt her breath quicken as she looked at their entwined reflections. Lou’s arm across her chest kept her dress from sliding off her, and Debbie was grateful for the chance to see herself before the revelation of her injuries.

Lou closed her eyes and pressed her mouth to Debbie’s temple, giving Debbie a sense of privacy that allowed her to take in her own reflection. Her hair was longer and wavier than she had realized, emphasizing the sharp angles of her face. The muscles of her neck and shoulders were more defined than they had been when she went to prison; it seemed as though her many hours in the gym had paid off. She tilted her head to the side, resting her cheek against Lou’s upper arm, now taking in the image of the two of them together.

“You look good, Debs,” Lou said quietly. Debbie let her eyes flick up to Lou’s face, just slightly above hers in the mirror. She hadn’t realized that Lou had opened her eyes again.

Debbie cracked a smile and saw herself blush. She didn’t exactly disagree with Lou, but the image of herself in the mirror didn’t quite fit the image of herself in her head. It would take some getting used to.

“You ready?” Lou asked.

Debbie sighed and nodded. Lou pushed the fabric slowly down Debbie’s arms and then let the dress slip over her hips to the floor.

“Jesus,” Lou muttered as her eyes raked over the purple and green bruises covering each side of Debbie’s ribcage and spreading out over her stomach. Her fingers traced over Debbie’s right side where the worst of the bruising was still red and a little swollen. Lou’s left hand found the clasp of Debbie’s bra.

“Yeah, go for it,” Debbie said before Lou could ask permission. The garment fell away within seconds, and Lou’s eyes – as Debbie had known they would – immediately found the scar around Debbie’s left breast.

There were tears in Lou’s eyes once more when she met Debbie’s gaze in the mirror, her hand resting protectively over the knotted skin. Lou cleared her throat. “When?” she asked in a hoarse voice.

Debbie sighed and covered Lou’s hand with her own. “I was stabbed five years ago by someone who…who wasn’t overly fond of Oceans,” Debbie explained calmly. She needed Lou to understand that she wasn’t haunted. “The prison thought it was a suicide attempt, so that’s how I ended up in solitary.”

Lou let her breath out in a long sigh that ruffled the hairs at the back of Debbie’s neck. 

Debbie closed her eyes and focused on the gentle caress of Lou’s right hand over her bruised ribs. “The bruises,” she began.

“Recent?” Lou asked.

Debbie winced as she opened her eyes. “Last Sunday,” Debbie replied.

Lou’s jaw tightened, and Debbie saw a flash of fury in her eyes. “Who?” she asked in a voice lower than Debbie had ever heard her use.

“He—Claude…” Debbie swallowed around nausea as she said his name. “He has a cousin. She got hired by the prison two weeks ago. I think…” She swallowed hard. It was difficult to talk about the encounter with Allison Becker, especially when she had processed so little of what happened with Claude himself. “I think I got off easy,” she finished finally. Unfortunately, it was true.

“That’s why you turned your phone over?”

“Yup. The past two weeks have been worse than the last five years.”

Lou nodded. She looked shattered, Debbie thought, more shattered than Debbie felt. But then, Debbie knew how she would feel if Lou’s body had gone through the same. It would have wrecked her.

“I’ll be okay, baby,” Debbie said softly.

“Does it,” Lou rubbed a hand across her own face, wiping away tears. “Does it hurt?”

Debbie shrugged. “Yes, it hurts,” she replied in a bored tone. “She beat the shit out of me. Fighting a guard…wasn’t an option. Not if I wanted to get out today, and all I wanted, baby, was to get out today.”  

Lou gave a humorless laugh at Debbie’s blasé tone. Debbie grinned a bit sheepishly. Lou passed her hands over the discolored flesh, circling each bruise with a tenderness that brought a tightness to Debbie’s chest. After many moments of silence, Lou’s hands stilled. Her left hand settled once more over Debbie’s scar; her right hand fell to Debbie’s hip, thumb rubbing slowly over her hip bone. Debbie gave a shaky sigh as her pulse quickened under Lou’s touch.

“I wouldn’t have picked you up on the bike if I’d known,” Lou said apologetically as she turned Debbie back around to face her.

“I know,” Debbie said as she methodically removed each of Lou’s many necklaces and piled them on the counter. “But I didn’t want to miss such excellent foreplay over bruised ribs.”

Lou flicked her eyes to the ceiling with an exasperated expression. “Please tell me that’s not the reason you didn’t tell me.”

Debbie smirked. “Not a texting conversation, baby,” she said simply.

Lou nodded.

Debbie dropped her fingers to the buttons of Lou’s grey vest and raised an eyebrow at her. “Shall I?”

“God, yes.”

Debbie kept her movements restrained and careful as she removed Lou’s clothing, aware that she might not be the only one with new scars. “New tattoo?” she asked, as she slid Lou’s matching blazer down her arms and noticed the ink on her right bicep.

“Couple years,” Lou said with a shrug. “Got it around the same time I redid this bathroom actually. The club was doing well, with only a tiny bit of help around the margins—”

Debbie winked at that and then went back to Lou’s buttons.

“—so, I treated myself to a few things.”

Debbie nodded and pressed her palm against Lou’s exposed stomach, relishing the way her muscles twitched at her touch. Lou’s bra was light blue and designed to tease; Debbie’s mouth went slightly dry as she toyed with the front clasp.

Off,” Lou said firmly.

Debbie flicked the clasp open and pushed both bra and vest to the floor. Six years in prison and ten years without Lou had given Debbie more than enough time to fantasize. As with their kiss during Lou’s first unsupervised visit back in March, none of her fantasies of Lou came close to this. Debbie felt her lips part and her tongue flick out to moisten her dry mouth as she looked at Lou’s bare breasts. Lou cleared her throat. It took more effort than Debbie cared to admit for her to drag her eyes back to Lou’s face.

“See something you like?” Lou asked. She stuck her tongue in her cheek as she looked at Debbie. 

“Hi…uh…” Debbie stammered.

Lou snickered and shook her head. “It has been a while.”

Debbie furrowed her brow with regret. “It’s been ten fucking years, Lou.”

“I know, honey,” Lou said, serious once more. “I know.”

The rest of their clothing joined the pile on the floor, and Lou started the shower. Debbie winced at the feeling of the spray on her bruises, but she knew the hot water would help in the long run. Lou pulled Debbie back against her chest once more, and Debbie tilted her head back to rest against Lou’s shoulder. She sighed as she let Lou take most of her weight.

“Hey, don’t fell asleep on me yet, Ocean,” Lou said, nudging her gently into a standing position.

“I won’t,” Debbie murmured, but she didn’t open her eyes. Debbie’s brain short circuited as Lou began massaging shampoo into her scalp. It had been ten years since she had been touched like this, and Lou was the only one who she had ever allowed to be this close. How had it taken so long for her to realize that she was in love with her, had been in love with her since…? When had she…? Where…? Debbie’s thoughts fluttered through her mind like smoke, impossible to pin down. Lou finished rinsing Debbie’s hair and rubbed soap between her hands before massaging it into Debbie’s shoulders. Debbie moaned.

“Feel good?” Lou asked. 

“Practically orgasmic.”

“Oh, we’ll get to that.”

Debbie smiled and shook her head. “I’m becoming a fucking sap, Lou.”

“Hm.” Lou seemed to consider Debbie’s statement carefully. “You’ve got a ways to go, and I think you get a pass when you’ve just been released from prison.”

“Good to know,” Debbie said through a smile that she knew Lou would hear in her voice.

Lou finished with Debbie’s back and slid her hands around her hips. She rested her chin on Debbie’s shoulder and carefully spread soap over Debbie’s torso. Her touch was exceedingly gentle – gentler, in fact, than Debbie had been with herself that morning in the prison shower before her release – and the bruises barely hurt under the soft pressure of Lou’s hands. At last, Lou slid up to Debbie’s breasts, and Debbie gasped.

“I love you,” Lou murmured in Debbie’s ear, kneading her flesh and rolling Debbie’s nipples between her fingers.

Debbie whimpered in response, unable to form coherent words. Her body, which had been close to utter exhaustion mere minutes ago, was now buzzing with anticipation as Lou’s fingers elicited half-forgotten sensations.

“I want to take you to bed,” Lou whispered.

“Please,” Debbie managed to say in a voice thick with arousal. Lou helped Debbie rinse the soap from her skin and then dry off in the bathroom. Debbie couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the way Lou was looking at her as though she could eat her alive. Lou led her into the bedroom and helped her climb onto the bed. Even the simplest of motions were slightly painful, and Debbie wasn’t entirely sure how sex was going to work out. However, she would rather go back to prison than deny herself this, bruises be damned.

“What do you want?” Lou asked, lying on her side next to Debbie with her head propped up on one hand and the fingers of the other tracing slow, tortuous circles around Debbie’s left nipple. Debbie arched into the touch and struggled to speak.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” she said through a gasp. “I just want you.”

There were times when Lou would have waited for her to beg, but the softness in her eyes today told Debbie that she wasn't in that kind of mood. Lou smiled and flung a leg over Debbie’s hips, straddling her. The sight of Lou above her and the feel of Lou’s arousal pressed against her abdomen was enough to send another wave of electric heat all the way out to Debbie’s fingertips. Lou’s movements were slow and precise, and Debbie felt loved and safe as Lou settled her forearms on either side of Debbie’s head, eyes bright but hooded with desire. Lou kissed her briefly – almost chastely – and then pulled back for a second to read something in Debbie’s face. Debbie’s mind was whirring out of control, and she wondered if Lou could see that in her eyes. But then Lou was kissing her again – deeply and relentlessly this time – and Debbie lost the ability to wonder anything at all. Lou moved over her like water, soothing and strong.

“Tell me if anything hurts, okay?” Lou requested quietly, lips brushing the sensitive skin by Debbie’s ear.

Debbie shivered and nodded. “I will.”

Lou shifted to the side so that one of her thighs pressed between Debbie’s. Debbie spread her legs unabashedly, amazed in spite of herself at how wet she already was. She supposed it wasn’t that surprising – not when she had been daydreaming of Lou for ten years – but she was pleased by it nonetheless. If Lou’s soft moan was anything to go by, she was pleased, too. Lou licked along Debbie’s jaw and down the side of her neck, stopping when she reached the join of Debbie’s neck and shoulder. It was a particularly sensitive spot, and Debbie couldn’t remember if that had always been true or whether it had become that way because Lou favored it. Lou nipped and sucked at the skin before rolling her tongue over the mark she had made. Debbie whimpered and rolled her hips into Lou’s thigh. 

“Mine,” Lou whispered.

Debbie smiled with her eyes closed. “Yours.”

“I want to taste you,” Lou murmured as her fingers of her right hand danced up and down Debbie’s inner thighs.

“Mm,” Debbie hummed somewhat thoughtfully. “Not yet,” she murmured, “plenty of time for that later. I want you right here.” The thought of Lou’s tongue between her legs sent a heady thrill through her whole body, but first she needed her warm and close above her. Debbie wrapped an arm around Lou’s back and traced spirals on her skin, pleased when Lou hummed her apparent contentment. Debbie spread her legs wider as Lou’s fingers teased through her arousal, spreading slick heat over her. 

“Jesus Christ, Debbie,” Lou murmured. Her forehead fell to Debbie’s shoulder. 

“I missed you,” Debbie said into Lou’s hair. She attempted a frank tone, but it came out breathier than intended.

Lou smiled against Debbie’s collarbone. “Do you want me inside you, Debs?” Her voice was heavy and rough with arousal.

God, yes.”

“Look at me?” Lou said, the hint of a question in her voice as she pulled her face out of the crook of Debbie’s neck to meet her eyes once more. 

Debbie’s heart clenched at the tentative note in Lou’s voice, the subtle request that allowed Debbie to refuse. She didn’t refuse, though. She fixed her eyes on Lou’s and let herself drown. “I love you,” Debbie whispered, heart high in her throat. Lou pressed two fingers inside her, slow and sure. “Oh,” Debbie arched her back, ignoring the twinge in her ribs as she pressed herself against Lou’s chest.

Lou brushed Debbie’s damp hair from her forehead. “I love you, too,” she murmured, sliding her fingers carefully back and forth within Debbie’s heat. Debbie relished the stretch after all these years. All the same, she appreciated Lou’s caution because it showed a side of her soul that Debbie had missed – the caring, human side that Debbie was so proud of knowing.

“So good, baby,” Debbie managed to gasp as Lou increased the depth and speed of her thrusts. She kept her eyes open and fixed on Lou’s, seeing the importance of this reflected back to her in Lou’s eyes.

“I love you,” Lou said again, said it over and over as Debbie’s panting turned to rhythmic whimpers of pleasure. “I love you, I love you.”

It was as though she were trying to make up for all the times they hadn’t said the words, all the years they’d spent maintaining a false distance. Debbie knew because she felt the same, wasn’t sure she would ever overcome that regret. And yet, here they were, and focusing on what could have been was far from what they both deserved. The heat in Debbie’s body built and coiled until it shattered her. She pressed herself into Lou, trembling against her and seeing stars in front of her open eyes.

Her eyelids finally fluttered closed of their own accord as Lou pulled out of her and massaged her back to relaxation. It was perfect; she was perfect, and Debbie wanted to tell her, but her limbs were leaden, and her tongue refused to cooperate enough to form anything coherent. Six years’ worth of exhaustion crashed over her, and Debbie thought she heard herself weeping in relief as Lou helped her slide between the sheets of her bed; their bed? She felt Lou slide from the bed and almost cried out for her, but she was back within moments. And then there were soft hands rubbing something soothing onto the battered skin of her torso and a cool weight settling across her ribs, easing the throbbing pain of her bruises. A sense of complete calm washed over Debbie as Lou settled next to her and tucked her chin on Debbie’s shoulder.

“Sleep, Jailbird. I love you. I’ll stay. I love you. You’re home,” Lou’s voice murmured on and on. Debbie felt as though she were falling right into that voice, the voice she had missed for ten years. She slept hard and deep in fits and starts as golden rays of afternoon sunshine traveled slowly across the room. Each time she woke, Lou was there beside her to stroke her hair, to swap out the cold pack on her ribs, to tell her she was beautiful. Sometimes, Debbie managed to respond with gentle words and the soft caress of her fingertips across Lou’s skin. Lou slept, too, for a while, and when Debbie woke in the early evening, she was mesmerized by the flutter of Lou’s eyelashes against her cheeks and the steady movement of her chest as she breathed deeply.

“My girl,” Debbie murmured as her eyelids grew heavy once more. She reached out and touched Lou’s shoulder to make sure she was real, careful not to wake her. “I love you,” she whispered. She let her eyes fall closed once more, and at last, Debbie believed she was home.

Chapter Text

The motorcycle was warm and alive between Lou’s thighs, but it was nothing compared to the woman sitting behind her, arms wrapped around Lou’s waist and hips slotted perfectly against her own. She didn’t need to glance over her shoulder to know that it was Debbie pressed up against her. No one else had ever fit so well right there – no one else had ever really bothered to try.

The sun beat down on endless miles of perfect pavement – yellow lines against black fading around the next corner and the next. The sea flickered on their left far, far below. The view was almost as beautiful as Debbie, Lou thought. Not quite, though. The ocean could be dangerous, and Debbie Ocean could be dangerous, too, but not to Lou. Not anymore, anyway. Lou could see the sharp edge of a ring underneath the glove on her own left hand.

The air smelled like pine and salt, like petrol and Armani perfume. The colors around Lou blurred to rainbows at the corners of her eyes, and she knew this was a dream. Still, she reveled in it. They were standing on the beach now, bare feet in the surf. The waves were made of sunlight and the sand gleamed like diamonds. Lou could sense Debbie standing next to her, a constant presence as sure as the tide washing up the beach…   

 

**

 

The dream faded into reality, and when Lou blinked her eyes open, Debbie was there beside her. Not standing on the California coast – not yet anyway – but there in the bed next to her, breathing slowly and deeply, solid and real. Lou hadn’t intended to fall asleep when she curled up next to Debbie on the bed, but there was something about listening to Debbie’s steady breaths that eventually lulled her into a nap. Lou could tell she hadn’t slept very long, though the dream had seemed luxurious when she was in it. The cold pack across Debbie’s ribs was still fairly cool, and the sun had not yet set over the bay. Lou wondered if Debbie had woken up again while Lou was sleeping. If she had, there was no sign of her moving at all. Lou looked at her, amazed that after so many hours of watching her, Debbie still took her breath away. Lou pushed herself into a sitting position and let the blankets fall around her hips. With careful movements, she lifted the cold pack from Debbie’s torso and surveyed her skin. It looked a bit red from the cold, but the swelling on her right rib cage had definitely gone down.

Lou’s eyes were drawn repeatedly to the scar around Debbie’s left breast. She knew it was old now, and she knew from the way Debbie had spoken about it that she had long since overcome any emotional scars from the experience. Still, the scar was new to Lou, and trauma was complex. Finally getting out of prison was bound to be emotionally chaotic, and Lou knew that Debbie had planned for her release to be very different. Not for the first time, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last either, Lou wished that she could turn back the clocks and change the outcome of Debbie’s parole hearing. Before Lou could go too deeply into that rabbit hole however, Debbie shifted and blinked her eyes open.

“Hey, baby,” she murmured, “you watching me sleep?”

Lou blushed and felt her mouth twitch into a smile. “Uh…yeah, I was,” she admitted, not quite meeting Debbie’s eyes. It almost hurt to look directly at her, as though Debbie were still something for which she was hoping with all her heart, rather than solid flesh and blood.

“Thinking?” Debbie asked, reaching up to place a gentle hand on Lou’s cheek to turn her face back towards her. 

Lou nodded. “Yeah, just thinking that you should’ve been at that goddamn Met Ball with me.”

Debbie smiled understandingly and moved herself gingerly into a sitting position. “Yeah,” she agreed, in a voice that sounded bright and familiar, a voice that made Lou’s heart sing. “Yeah, I should’ve been speaking German to Heidi Fucking Klum, but I wa—”

“I’m sorry, what?” Lou asked, holding up a hand to interrupt her.

Debbie yawned and stretched as best she could with her injuries. “Mm hmm, did I not mention that part?”

“Uh…no? You were going to walk the red carpet?”

“Yes, I was,” Debbie said as though it were obvious.

“At the fucking Met Gala? On parole?”

“Uh, yeah,” Debbie brushed away Lou’s questions. “Don’t worry about it.”

Lou snorted with laughter and flopped onto the bed. Debbie winced as the mattress bounced and put a hand to her ribs. “Sorry,” Lou said, immediately concerned.

Debbie shook her head. “It’s fine, baby. Feels a lot better, actually. Thanks to you.” She winked at Lou and swung her legs off the side of the bed.

“Where are you going?” Lou asked suspiciously, sitting up once more and sliding a hand over one of Debbie’s to interlock their fingers. “I can get you anything you want. This place is full service for recently incarcerated felons.”

Debbie rolled her eyes and brought Lou’s hand to her lips. “I appreciate that, but unless you want to bring me a chamber pot, I’m going to insist on getting out of this bed every so often.”

Lou wrinkled her nose and lay down again. “Okay. Fine. Go.” She released Debbie’s hand and patted it once.

Lou tried not to read too much into the slightly uneven nature of Debbie’s footsteps as she made her way to the bathroom. Debbie’s ribs would heal, Lou told herself, and in the meantime, it seemed as though Debbie was more than willing to take care of herself and allow Lou to help her. That was a change from the Debbie Ocean that Lou remembered. Another change nagged at the back of Lou’s mind: Debbie had cried. Tears had poured from her eyes as Lou tucked her into bed, and Debbie hadn’t tried to hide them or even wipe them away. Lou had never seen Debbie cry like that. She didn’t blame her, of course. If anything, she felt overwhelmingly grateful that Debbie could bring herself to that level of vulnerability around her. Still, the bruises, the tears, and the way Debbie’s eyes seemed to dart back and forth a little more than Lou remembered as though she were trying to process a thousand feelings at once – all of it made Lou very attuned to everything Debbie did. Then again, perhaps she would have been that way even if Debbie had come back unscathed and icy as ever. Pining after someone for ten years (give or take) was more than enough to make one hyper-aware of that someone’s actions.

“You’re thinking again,” Debbie said, nestling back under the blankets next to Lou and running her fingers through her hair.

Lou leaned into her touch and closed her eyes. “I’ve never seen you cry, Debs. Not like that,” Lou said. Wherever the future was taking them, Lou was going to make damn sure that they started off with honesty.

“I barely even remember it,” Debbie said softly.

Lou cracked an eye open curiously. “What do you mean?”

Debbie shrugged and smirked. “I remember having a truly fantastic orgasm, and then from there everything is very blurry. I think my brain finally reached capacity.”

“Wow,” Lou said in mock amazement. “Didn’t think it was possible for Oceans to get to that point.”

“Neither did I,” Debbie shot back, “You learn something new every day.”

The banter warmed Lou’s heart and she nuzzled her face into Debbie’s shoulder. Debbie stroked her hair, and Lou wondered if there were things about prison that Debbie wasn’t telling her, things that would make some sense of the changes Lou had noticed. But then, Lou reminded herself yet again, ten years was a long time. People changed over the course of a decade. She herself had changed. Perhaps she was being paranoid and over-protective. Debbie would tell her if something was wrong. Debbie loved her, trusted her. Debbie loved her…

“Fuck, Lou, you really need to stop thinking,” Debbie chided.

“You’re one to talk, Ocean,” she said in mock indignation. “No one overanalyzes better than you.”

“I don’t know, baby. Part of my charm is that I analyze the perfect amount.”

Lou grinned against Debbie’s collarbone in spite of herself and planted a kiss to Debbie’s shoulder as she shifted a little to meet Debbie’s gaze. “You’ll talk to me, right Debs? If something’s…wrong?”

Debbie gave her a hard, honest look. “Yes, Lou. I’m done not talking to you, baby,” Debbie said. “I promise.”

Lou felt a lump rise in her throat at the sincerity in Debbie’s face. “Honey…” she began.

“I’m serious, Lou,” Debbie said. “I might cry more, and I’m not always gonna know why. A lot of shit happened that I need to think through. But I’m okay, baby. I really am. And…” She swallowed hard, and Lou saw tears glistening in her eyes. “And I love you. I’ll never say it enough – I know that. But I do love you.”

“I love you, too, Debs.” Lou shifted so she could lean over Debbie and kiss her, careful not to lean too hard on her bruised ribs. Debbie hummed against her mouth, and Lou deepened the kiss. She tasted like Lou’s mouthwash, which she must have found in the bathroom. Lou sucked Debbie’s lower lip into her mouth, pleased with the moan she received in response. The heat built slowly between them, languid and warm like the evening sunlight filling the room. Lou felt Debbie relax into the pillows, kissing Lou back until their lips were swollen and tingling.

“Taste me,” Debbie breathed in Lou’s ear, sending a shiver down her spine.

“That’s what you want?” Lou asked against Debbie’s mouth.

“That’s what I want,” Debbie confirmed, spreading her legs as an invitation for Lou to slide her hips between them. Lou took her time kissing her way down Debbie’s body. She skipped over her breasts at first and glanced up at Debbie with her lips hovering over her scar.

“I don’t want anyone to ever hurt you again,” Lou said. Her voice rumbled in her chest. She hadn’t meant for it to sound so threatening, and Debbie’s eyes darkened and seemed to grow deeper at the words.

“I know, baby,” Debbie said, reaching down to pass her fingers through Lou’s hair.

Lou kissed the place where the scar curved around her breast. Debbie closed her eyes and tilted her head back on the pillows. Her fingers massaged Lou’s scalp with a gentle pressure, keeping her mouth in place against her skin. When she felt the scar had received ample attention, Lou shifted her focus to each of Debbie’s bruises in turn. She licked around each one with delicate strokes. Debbie laughed affectionately at her ministrations, but squirmed pleasurably all the same when Lou hit on sensitive spots. Eventually, Lou paused with her tongue flicking teasingly over Debbie’s hip bone. Their eyes locked, and Debbie took a deep breath.

Lou surged upwards and licked into Debbie’s mouth once more. Debbie gasped in surprise and then melted under her, hands coming up to grip Lou’s shoulders. Lou didn’t linger on Debbie’s lips. Instead, she moved her mouth down the side of Debbie’s neck to her collarbone, and then finally to her right breast. She paused for a moment, allowing her breath to pass over Debbie’s nipple and watching it harden. Lou’s mouth watered, and when she finally took it in her mouth, they both moaned. Debbie’s hips were rolling rhythmically into Lou’s stomach by the time Lou released Debbie’s breast with a pop of her lips and gave the opposite nipple a final pinch between her fingertips. Debbie whimpered at the combined sensation, and Lou felt her trembling as she finally settled herself between Debbie’s legs.

Debbie’s eyes were mostly closed, but Lou could tell she was trying to keep them open to watch her. Her eyelids fluttered open and shut as Lou used her hands to press Debbie’s thighs apart and a little up, lifting Debbie’s feet slightly off the mattress. She was already glistening with arousal. Lou had forgotten how much she had missed her scent, and she breathed her in as she spread Debbie open with her thumbs, rubbing firm circles against warm, damp skin.

Debbie sighed. “Fuck, that feels good,” she muttered.

“You’re so beautiful,” Lou murmured back. Speaking grounded her in reality, made her remember that this wasn’t just a dream. She began with delicate swipes of her tongue, testing spots she remembered and swooning when Debbie arched her back as she licked over them. Even after ten years, this felt familiar and so, so good. Debbie’s hand came to rest on the back of Lou’s head, and she took it as an invitation to increase the pressure of her tongue. The taste of her was intoxicating and warm, and it felt as though that warmth was filling Lou right to her core. It didn’t take long for Debbie to begin to unravel. Words fell from her mouth in a jumble of encouragement as Lou sucked her into her mouth and flicked her tongue at the same time. Debbie whimpered, and she grasped for Lou’s hand with the fingers that weren’t tangled in Lou’s hair. Lou gripped her hand reassuringly and slipped one long finger inside her, thrusting deep and acting on memories that told her this was what Debbie needed. Sure enough, Debbie’s whole body went taut, and her cry of pleasure was muffled in the pillow as she turned her head to the side. Lou kept licking over her until the fingers in her hair tugged gently, and she retraced her journey back up Debbie’s body. Debbie moaned into Lou’s mouth as Lou’s lips found hers, surely tasting herself on Lou’s tongue.

“You’re good, baby,” Debbie whispered as they broke apart, resting her forehead against Lou’s.

“Good enough to eat?”

“Is that a request?”

“If you’re up for it, honey.” Lou said it through a smirk, but she was serious, and she knew Debbie would sense that even through the banter.

“I’m truly always up for it,” Debbie said with a grin and a matter-of-fact tone. She tugged at Lou’s hip. “Get up here.”

“…Oh,” Lou said, momentarily surprised as she realized Debbie’s intention. “Are you sure?” she asked, moving to place her knees on either side of Debbie’s head, as Debbie slid further down the bed.

“Baby, you’re dripping,” Debbie murmured. It wasn't an answer to Lou’s question, but the enthusiasm in her tone left Lou in no doubt of what Debbie wanted.

“All for you, honey,” Lou replied. The words dissolved into a whimper as Debbie tilted her head upwards and ran the flat of her tongue over her. Lou teetered slightly on her knees and grabbed the headboard for support.

“Relax, baby, I’ve got you,” Debbie murmured. Her voice vibrated against Lou as her arms wrapped securely around Lou’s thighs. Lou settled herself on Debbie’s mouth and felt a familiar swoop in her stomach as she surrendered to the sensations. She lost track of Debbie’s movements, only aware of her white-knuckled grip on the headboard and the pressure building in her core.

“Right there, honey, don’t stop,” Lou muttered, speaking through a haze of pleasure and feeling detached from her own voice. “So good, Debs.” She licked her lips and realized that she could still taste Debbie in her mouth; the thought made her thighs tremble, which in turn made Debbie moan.

“So sensitive, baby.” Debbie kept her mouth firmly against Lou as she spoke and then planted a wet kiss directly over Lou’s entrance. Lou groaned and couldn’t prevent her hips from grinding down against Debbie’s mouth. She felt Debbie laugh quietly as she tilted her head and slid her tongue into her. Lou arched her back and mirrored the slow circling of Debbie’s tongue with her hips. Debbie’s breath ghosted over Lou’s aroused skin as she breathed through her nose, tickling and caressing her. The combined sensations spiraled and tautened in Lou’s muscles until she broke in a warm gush of wetness around Debbie’s tongue. Debbie continued to lick over her – back and forth, back and forth in a soothing pattern. Lou took a deep, shaky breath as she came back to herself and looked down to catch a smug gleam in Debbie’s eyes. It made Lou swoon yet again to recognize the pride Debbie took in pleasuring her.

“I missed you,” Lou said in a rough voice as she finally pushed herself back down the bed to drape herself gently over Debbie’s body, careful to avoid putting too much pressure on her bruised torso.

“Memories aren’t enough, are they?” Debbie asked in response. Her eyes searched Lou’s face, darting and tracing in a wistful sort of way. She still looked proud, but there was also a hint of sadness and conflict in her gaze.  

“Hm.” Lou planted a kiss to Debbie’s collar bone. “No. Memories were never enough, Debs.”

“I missed you, Lou,” Debbie whispered. “I thought I was okay after you left. I really did – sad, but okay.” She smiled weakly and passed her fingers through Lou’s hair. Lou rested her cheek on Debbie’s breast and gazed up at her, entranced and moved by the raw emotion in Debbie’s tone that Lou had rarely heard before. It flared up sometimes when Debbie was really desperate, but before this she had always bottled it up so quickly that if Lou blinked she could miss it. Things were different now. “It took a while, but eventually it all went to shit,” Debbie went on in a low voice, staring off into space even as Lou gazed unblinkingly into her eyes. “Claude…” Debbie swallowed hard and shook her head almost imperceptibly as if banishing him from her conscience. “I never blamed you for leaving,” Debbie said, eyes focusing back on Lou with a suddenness that made Lou’s pulse race. “Never, baby,” she emphasized, tracing Lou’s eyebrow with her thumb.

Lou sighed at the touch. “I shouldn’t have left,” Lou said. “No,” she went on quickly as Debbie made to contradict her. “No, I don’t regret it. I know why I needed a change. I…well, it’s like there are two opposite things that are both true: I shouldn’t have left and I needed to go.” Lou shook her head and laughed bitterly. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Debbie’s lip twitched in the echo of a grin. “I think it does. I never blamed you for leaving, and I blamed myself for going to prison. Neither of those is really…accurate. You chose to leave; it wasn’t my fault.” Lou nodded grimly, feeling that Debbie needed some validation for that statement, needed to know that Lou wouldn’t take offense at it. Debbie looked relieved. “Claude sent me to prison,” Debbie went on. “I couldn’t have…gotten thrown in there on my own. He…I didn’t like the person I was when I was with him,” Debbie admitted. Lou wasn’t sure what that meant, but she trusted she would find out in time if Debbie needed to tell her. “I was trying too hard to forget about you,” Debbie said. It was a hint of an explanation, and it was enough for Lou to know that the hurt Claude had caused was deeply emotional and personal, nothing like the physical marks on Debbie’s body inflicted by his cousin. It made Lou feel sick to think about it.

“It wasn’t your fault, honey,” Lou said.

“I know,” Debbie said firmly, finding Lou’s hand and squeezing it. “I know.” She chewed her lower lip and stared at a point over Lou’s shoulder. “I never loved him, Lou,” she said quietly. “He hurt me – and I promise I’ll process it one day, and I’ll want to talk about it then – but I need you to know he didn’t break my heart, okay? I never…”

Lou raised her head slightly and reached up to cup Debbie’s cheek, encouraging Debbie to meet her gaze. “Thank you for telling me that,” she said quietly, looking deep into Debbie’s eyes and seeing uncertainty in her gaze. “I…I did wonder.”

“I loved you the whole time,” Debbie whispered.  “I didn't know it then, but I did. I did.”   

“I really love you.” Lou hoped that Debbie could hear the unconditional promise behind her words.

“Feels nice to say it, doesn’t it?” Debbie said with a wink.

“Yes,” Lou replied. “I’ve waited a long time.”

Debbie smiled a bit sadly again. “We wasted a lot of time, didn't we?” she muttered.

Lou shifted up the bed so she could lie on her right side next to Debbie. “It doesn’t matter, Debs. We have as much time as we want now. Forever, if you want.”

“Forever,” Debbie echoed musingly. She leaned forward and kissed Lou. Lou closed her eyes and thought of the ring she was working on with Amita. They had settled on a setting, and Amita was looking for the right stones. A part of her wanted to ask Debbie now, today. But it was still Debbie’s first day out, and she didn’t want to overwhelm her. They needed to live into loving each other for a little while before making it official. Lou had no doubt that Debbie would say yes, but she wanted it to be as spectacular and interesting as Debbie herself. Besides, today was already as close to perfect as any day could be.

“I wonder how long it would have taken me to say it if I had gotten out in March,” Debbie said as she ended their kiss at last.

Lou nuzzled her neck but said nothing.

“You know it was right after that first unsupervised visit that I realized? Right after my parole was denied?”

“What did you realize?” Lou asked, glancing up briefly from the mark she was working into Debbie’s neck.

“I realized I loved you,” Debbie replied, eyebrows raised as though it were obvious.

Lou smiled against Debbie’s skin. Oh, Debs, she thought fondly. You would have figured it out eventually no matter what. “I realized I loved you the day you called me to say you were being sentenced,” Lou told her.

Debbie sighed and closed her eyes, clearly remembering. “So, that was what you were going to say?”

“Yup, but then the line cut out.”

Debbie shook her head. “Took a lot of luck to get here, baby.”

“Thought you didn’t believe in luck.”

“Not when it comes to jobs,” Debbie said, “but you’ve never been a mark, Lou. You know what else I realized during that visit?”

“No, what’s that?”

“That I would have given up the Met Job to be able to walk out of that room with you that day.” Debbie’s jaw was set, and her eyes were hard and dark. Lou felt her own lips part slightly in surprise. She had never expected that from Debbie. She had never even wanted that. Jobs were a deep, inherent part of Debbie – a part of her that Lou loved as much as she loved any and all parts of her. Debbie’s words made the uncertainties about her well-being flood back into Lou’s mind.  

Lou cleared her throat. “Honey, I won’t ever ask you to be someone you’re not,” she said seriously. “I love you, Debbie. You. All of you. Your mind, your, I don’t know, your soul, maybe. And the jobs too.”

Debbie blushed. “I know. I really do.”

“Good.”

“And to be honest,” Debbie went on with a familiar smirk coloring her tone. “To be honest, the feeling lasted maybe ten seconds before I started reconsidering whether I really could give up the job. But it was the closest I ever came to trying to make a bargain with the universe, and that really is saying something.”

With the help of the added context, and the smirk, Lou relaxed. “You know, I’m actually relieved to hear that?” she said.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going soft,” Debbie assured her. “At least, not completely. That’s your job, okay, baby? You’re better at it anyway.”

Lou placed a series of very gentle kisses across Debbie’s left shoulder, down her breast, and over her knotted scar, shifting into a sitting position as she did so. “Yeah, honey” she said when she had finished and was once more looking down into Debbie’s eyes. “I am.”

Debbie smiled up at Lou with tears in her eyes.