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time and too much (don't belong together like we do)

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I know I could be spending a little too much time with you
But time and too much don't belong together like we do
If I had all my yesterdays I'd give 'em to you too
I belong to you now
I belong to you

 

 

****

 

 

Allie is tired.

It’s a deep-in-the-bones sort of exhaustion. She flew 13 hours to Turkey in the hopes of escaping it, but even once the jet lag wore off, it lingered. Even after winning a title, even after winning MVP of that title game, it still lingers in the corners of everything she does. It’s a touch on her shoulder, a sharpness in her chest.

She’s flying home again for what she’s sure is the last time.

A recap — she sank every single ounce of herself into a move to Seattle and a fresh start with a new team, only to get cut mid-season in a phone call because she wasn’t even worth an in-person meeting. It took her a full three weeks to even attempt a shot again. That’s when she knew she was sick, in a way that felt deeper and heavier than anything she’d felt before.

When Allie was little, she spent more time on their driveway hoop than anywhere else. She had a temper, the type that little girls get teased for, but she couldn’t really help it. She just felt everything, at all times. There wasn’t a way to turn it off.

Basketball didn’t shut that temper off. But it channeled it, helped her feel like she could control something — one ball, one hoop. How did that one cheesy line from Hoosiers go? Same height, same width, same rim anywhere you go. So she’d take a ball to the driveway and spend however long it took to calm herself down.

Her dad was always the one who stood under the basket, wordlessly tossing the ball back to her, not needing to ask or hear an explanation. Eventually, he was forced to install a floodlight so that she could keep it up at night.

Allie squeezes her hand tighter, nails cutting into her own palm. Thinking about her dad makes it worse, now. Everything makes it worse.

She closes her eyes, tips her head back against the back of the chair, which is somehow just an inch too short for comfort. The terminal is quiet, and she prays — well, not really — that she can catch a few minutes of sleep before the flight. Thirteen hours from Budapest to Chicago felt a lot shorter going the opposite way.

If she’s being honest, Chicago doesn’t even feel like home anymore. She’s not sure how that happened, either.

***

“Hey.”

Allie’s head jerks up and does her best to fight back the grimace that almost effortlessly scrunches up her features.

“Oh, uh—” She should be embarrassed by the way her voice croaks as she tugs out her earbuds, but the emotion escapes her for the moment. “Hey.”

It’s Vandersloot, the point guard. It’s strange that this is their first interaction given how much Allie knows about her — the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, 5’ 8” and plays bigger, smooth with the ball in an unshakeably confident way.

Allie knows all this, of course, because they just played each other three days ago for the Hungary title. Because she scouted her for weeks ahead of that, mainly on her own, mainly because she knows she’s the main target Allie has to size up and beat out if she has any chance of making it onto her hometown team this month.

“I’m Courtney.” She sticks a hand out in an overly serious way, her face a little scrunched up and hard to read. “Sorry, this is weird.”

“No, it’s good,” Allie says, shaking her hand quickly and pushing her suitcase away from the seat next to her to open up space. “Nice to finally actually get an introduction after you gave me a souvenir the last time we met.”

Both of their eyes flit down to Allie’s knee, where a bruise is finally beginning to yellow after Courtney shoved her into a pick — and, consequently, onto the floor — to earn a flagrant foul in game three of the series. Not that either of them were keeping track.

When Courtney looks up, she’s grimacing, that same solemn look filling her face. But Allie just smiles, gestures to the seat next to her.

“You sure?” Courtney looks a little surprised, and Allie notes that, tucks it away for later, that in all her confidence she seems genuinely surprised for someone to invite her company.

“Of course.” Allie leans her head back again, still seeking out a comfortable position. “Trust me, this flight never gets any shorter.”

***

The tryout was going well.

It wasn’t even a formal tryout. Allie showed up for preseason the same as anyone else, received the same bag and practice jersey, traipsed all over for physicals and introductions.

But nonetheless, she was doing okay. Nothing too crazy, but she was keeping up, which she figured was the most important test of bringing her in to train like this — to see if she fit the team chemistry and dynamic at all. And it had been awhile since Allie could describe herself as "confident" playing in the W but damn if this wasn't as close as she'd been in a few years. 

And then Pokey called her into her office on the fourth day of practice.

“You’re doing well,” she said, and her smile was so warm and affectionate, too much for Allie to handle. “Just keep this up a few more days and I think we’ll be having a really positive conversation soon.”

Just like that, it all dried up.

Every ounce of luck or excitement or maybe even skill that had been going for Allie seems to flee her body overnight. She feels it the moment she laced up her sneakers, the moment she fumbled a ball during warmups. By the time she bricks her fourth shot of open scrimmage, Allie is all-but-ready to just leave all of her new Sky gear in the locker room and get the hell out of this gym.

It takes two straight turnovers for Courtney to finally call her out.

“Quigley.” Courtney’s got both hands on her hips. It’s a stance Allie has taken plenty of times in her life, that captain-taking-charge look, except this is some goddamn first-rounder and Allie is just a washed-up guard who can’t hit a damn shot. It’s unfair and it’s stupid and Allie swears if the ball was still in her hands she’d throw it straight at Courtney’s head. “Talk to me for a minute.”

She follows Courtney off the court, lets her lead them out of earshot from the rest of the team and prepares for whatever pointless lecture she’s about to receive.

“I know, I know—” Allie holds up her hands, doing her best to pass it off as if she doesn’t care, as if she’s unaffected.

“Stop it.” Courtney’s voice is soft. Too soft. It doesn’t match the way her eyes are burning into Allie, pressing something solid and warm and intangible through her chest. “Whatever this thing is that you’re doing in your head, shut it off right now.”

“I don’t—”

Courtney holds up a hand, cutting her off before she can even get started.

“You’re acting like you’re a shit shooter.” That same hand drops, faltering midair before it brushes lightly against Allie’s elbow and she—

She shivers. She’s surprised by it.

“And you’re not,” Courtney says, dropping her voice even lower. “I saw you in Hungary. I know how you can shoot. But you’re hesitating every damn time you get the ball and it’s making you play like shit.”

Allie’s been doing her best to remain disengaged — hands on her hips, eyes trained on the hardwood beneath her sneakers — but the last few words of Courtney’s little speech forces her to look up, forces her to meet her eyes.

Courtney looks at her. There’s really no better way to explain it. She’s just looking, hard, completely and totally focused on Allie in a way that probably should be unsettling but instead just feels comforting.

“Okay.” Allie hates how soft her voice is, how chastised she sounds. “Got it.”

“Hey.” Courtney’s hand is soft on her hip for a moment, and then she’s tugging at her jersey in a way that’s all too familiar, like they’re longtime teammates or something, not just half-strangers who were opponents on the court a few weeks ago. “You’ve got this.”

And she does.

The scrimmage restarts, another six-minute drill. Courtney gets cycled out onto the bench, but she stays standing, a Gatorade towel slung across her shoulders. Allie presses her palms into her shorts, dries them twice as she cricks her neck.

She follows the play carefully as it restarts, sagging off into help defense and tracking quickly into a box out when the next shot goes up.

It only takes a second. As she takes off down the court, Allie glances toward the sideline and catches Courtney watching her right back. Her eyes remain trained on Allie as she rotates off the ball, sets a down screen, rolls out into open space in the corner. She chances another glance, and Courtney nods once, gentle and intense all at the same time.

Allie takes the next pass, and she’s too busy thinking about Courtney to reconsider anything about her form. She just takes the shot, her wrist snapping naturally through the motion she’s practiced and honed for every year of her life that she can remember.

The ball arcs — up and up and up — and then it snaps through the net with her favorite sound in the world.

(On the sideline, Courtney lets out a low shout of praise, and Allie happens to think for a second that this could be one of her favorite sounds, too.)

It’s weird. It works, but it’s weird.

Courtney subs back in soon enough, and then she’s all up in Allie’s face, her hands fidgeting and stretching constantly in an attempt to disrupt Allie’s flow. It’s weird and it’s annoying but it also, somehow, works. Allie goes 8-for-9 the rest of the scrimmage.

On the single shot that she missed, Courtney had been all the way stretched up with a hand gliding just past Allie’s ear. It was probably a foul, but Allie wasn’t one to complain and Courtney wasn’t one to admit fault on the court.

“That the best you got?” Courtney said under her breath as they jogged back. Allie hip checked her a little too hard, earning a wide grin. On the next play, she took the ball directly out of Courtney’s hands and passed down court for Ty to finish easily.

She knows she has to thank Courtney. This went from the worst to the best of her trials days with the team, and on her last practice before the decision it was pretty much life or death. If it hadn’t been for Courtney’s intercession, she’s pretty sure she’d be safer skipping the night out and booking a flight back to Hungary.

So Allie stays behind after practice, watching Courtney and Ty joke around about something on the bench as they slowly toe off their sneakers.

Allie waits until they’re both done talking. Ty stands and stretches her lanky frame and rolls her neck before giving Allie a friendly pat on the shoulder. It only frustrates her more. She’s older than both of them, feels patronized by their encouragement even though it’s meant just as that — encouragement.

But now she’s left in the gym alone with Courtney, so she sucks down all of that pessimism and lack of vulnerability.

“Thank you.” She means it, and she’s frustrated by the way Courtney seems intent on avoiding her gaze as she stands here, opening herself up in the middle of the gym for the first time since— well, too long. “You didn’t have to and— that just, it really helped. A lot.”

“No problem,” Courtney says, ducking her head down further, fingers worrying at her laces even though she already retied them once.

“Cool.” Allie pauses a moment longer, shifting her bag a little higher onto her shoulder, studying the way Courtney’s jaw ripples slightly as it clenches and releases, but her chin remains tucked firmly against her chest. “Yeah, okay. Cool. I’ll see you.”

The gym is empty as Allie walks across it, the faint sound of music filtering through the door from the speaker in the locker room. Her bag is digging a little too heavily into her shoulder blade, and the noise it makes as she shifts it to the other arm obscures the sound of Courtney standing up, a little too quick.

“I want you on my team.” There’s a slight echo to the way Courtney says the words, the way they fill up the entire space of the court separating them. “Just— that’s why. Why I said all that.”

“You do?” Allie only half-turns, mainly because she’s terrified that this kid will see her actually, stupidly full-on blushing at the compliment, like some cartoon version of herself.

“Yeah.” Courtney coughs, and she kicks at the court lightly, just enough to get a little squeak out of her sneaker. “I think you’re great.”

There’s no hope of hiding the way her whole face flushes at that. Allie drops her head, digs her teeth into the inside of her lip to keep from grinning.

“See you tonight?” Courtney’s voice is too hopeful to keep from smiling at, and Allie nods a little too enthusiastically.

“Yeah.” Allie looks back at her for a moment, tries to keep her smile as soft as possible. “See you there.”

***

“Oh God, we’re gonna get kicked out of this place so fast.”

Allie feels lucky when she pulls up to the bar to find Ty and Courtney waiting outside. It’s wordless and comforting, like they both knew she’d be nervous walking in on her own. Ty sees her first, grinning and tucking her phone into her pocket, waving her over a little enthusiastically given the fact that they’re only a few steps apart.

Courtney looks up a second later, and it’s the same. The same strange way of looking, the same rush to her gut.

“Quigley.” She’s looking right at Allie, mouth quirking up at the edges. “You clean up nice.”

Ty doesn’t even seem to notice the comment. Allie rolls her eyes in her best attempt to deflect it.

“On occasion, I put away the sweats,” she says, bumping into Ty. “We going in?”

She’s answered by a dramatic sigh as they both look toward the door of the bar.

“Just trying to delay the inevitable,” Ty mutters, shaking her head with a grin. “This isn’t our normal place and we are definitely getting kicked out.”

When Allie blurts out a surprised “why?” Ty decides the best response is to just bundle her inside, at which point she gets it. Like, immediately.

“A damn mess,” Ty mutters as they rejoin the rest of the team, which is currently spilling out of a corner booth that is quite literally littered with empty bottles and glasses.

Shay is perched on the back of the booth, a beer bottle in one hand and an empty shot glass in the other, and her eyes are glassy as she grins at Allie.

“Sharpshooter!” Shay’s hand claps down on Allie’s shoulder, tugs her into an open slot in the booth while Sylvia shoves a shot into her hand. “We got celebration shots, because you got a lot to—”

She yelps with Courtney smacks her thigh, cutting her off before Allie can even think to ask what the hell she’s talking about, but it seems to wear off immediately when Allie downs the shot and then extends her hand for another.

The things about playing abroad in Europe is that most players only do two things — hoop and drink. So even though she’s one of the smallest in the group, Allie catches up and then keeps pace with the group almost seamlessly.

She’s trying to do her best to ignore the fact that Courtney — who is inarguably the smallest of all of them — might be outdrinking even Sylvia. It’s sort of easy to ignore, given the fact that Courtney appears to be ignoring her. They’re on opposite sides of the booth after Courtney clambered into Michelle’s lap to force her to scooch aside, and they haven’t talked since they came in, but every now and again Courtney will look up and fix a smile on her, sloppier and softer as the night stretches out longer.

At some point, Ty yells that it’s time to dance and at some point Allie is half-carried onto a makeshift dance floor. At some point, the bartender finally acquiesces to their song requests and seems to resign himself to the cacophony of the evening. And at some point, Courtney is next to her again and then a little too close, their hips bumping once, twice.

“Hey.” She catches Allie’s wrist, slowing her half-swaying dance moves completely down. “You want some air?”

All of the sudden, Allie is a little too warm, gulping in several quick breaths, and she nods her head quickly. They make another pass by the bar, where Piph is attempting to engage the poor bartender in some sort of debate, freeing him long enough to make them both another round of whiskey cokes.

The wind surprises Allie, which in turn makes her flush with embarrassment at forgetting her hometown so quickly. Winter doesn’t fully leave Chicago until early May, and early March might as well be the middle of December in most other places. She tugs at her jacket, pulls it closer and steels herself with another long pull of whiskey.

“Money on who’s going to get kicked out earlier?” Allie asks, leaning against the railing of the deserted patio. Courtney leans in next to her, grinning at the asphalt. “That bartender looked ready to throw Piph ass-first out the back door.”

“Let me tell you, Piph can get someone to convert religions if she’s drunk enough.” Courtney shakes her head. “I’m saying Ty, my girl’s gonna break that pool table if she keeps getting up on it to take trick shots.”

They laugh, and in laughing they both shift closer, their heads dipping in unison. Allie figures out what’s happening about a second before Courtney does. They’re too close, their shoulders brushing as they lean into the railing and also into each other.

Allie turns toward Courtney, and she’s surprised to feel a hand on her forearm, messing nervously with the sleeve of her jacket. She drops her gaze for a moment, just to check and make sure that she’s not imagining the touch, and when she glances back up Courtney’s eyes are fixed on her own hand as well.

She notices, but she doesn’t say anything. They stay quiet, Courtney’s thumb tracing a mindless pattern across the leather cuff. After a moment, the same hand roams again, loosening its grip on her sleeve to settle on the edge of her jacket, messing with the zipper for half a breath before pulling them both even closer.

“So uh—” Allie starts talking because she’s scared of the quiet. She’s drunk enough to be solely focused on Courtney’s eyes and the way they keep dipping low. She’s sober enough to know that all of this is a no good, very bad idea.

“We shouldn’t.” Courtney still has a hand latched on the edge of Allie’s jacket, and she tugs on it slightly, undermining her words with the way she sways slightly closer. Her eyes are dark and a little downcast and for a moment Allie gets completely distracted by her eyelashes — they’re longer than she remembered, and they look soft, casting gentle shadows across her cheekbones.

“Right.” She’s trying her best to be the adult here, but Courtney’s throat bobs when she swallows and Allie is just drunk enough to admit to herself that it’s driving her kind of crazy. “Obviously.”

“Um, just because it would be bad for the team and—”

Courtney’s doing this thing where she says one thing while she inches up into Allie’s space, and that hand keeps tugging her closer and maybe that’s why Allie blurts it out all at once.

“I’m not going to make the team.”

For her part, Courtney looks at Allie as if she just said something absolutely absurd — like soccer was better than basketball, or the sky was purple. Something ridiculous. It makes Allie feel a touch enamored and flustered all at once.

“Shut up,” Courtney says.

Allie takes it like she takes most things — as a challenge.

“Make me.”

She’s forgotten their current predicament for half a second long enough to let the words slip out. Which is stupid. All of it is sort of stupid, she thinks, but especially the way Courtney’s eyes visibly flick down to her mouth for a moment before she lets out a frustrated sigh. They’re close, so close that Courtney can drop her chin a little further and brush their foreheads together for a half-second, pulling back the moment they both feel the contact.

“We really, really shouldn’t,” Courtney mutters.

There’s a clipped tone to the way Courtney says it. Allie notices haphazardly that the younger woman is gritting her teeth, that it’s making her jaw clench in a way she really wishes she hadn’t noticed.

“Right.” She tries her best to smile. “But if I don’t make the team—”

Allie doesn’t finish the sentence. Doesn’t risk it. It’s late and she’s not as drunk as she was even ten minutes ago and she’s tired, God is she tired. It’s late and the last shot of whisky is sour in the back of her throat and she can’t believe she came all the way back home just to get shot down again. Twice, apparently.

“Tell you what.” The hand lets go of her jacket (finally) and then it’s pressing into her hip bone, and for a moment Allie can’t even fucking breathe, not to mention look at Courtney as she speaks. “If you don’t make the team, I’ll take you out on the fanciest date in the world.”

Allie laughs. She’s not even sure why she’s laughing, but it bubbles up in a way that’s sort of out of control and sort of wonderful. She lets herself laugh, lets herself suspend in this moment where Courtney is grinning back at her and not really saying anything.

“Okay.” Allie sticks her hand out, and their handshake is just over-dramatic enough to force her to choke back another laugh. “A sympathy date. I can get behind that.”

“You know why I’m offering that, right?”

Courtney tips her chin up a little higher, and Allie is suddenly conscious of their difference in height. Not self conscious, just — aware. She already has the edge by an inch or two, and Courtney is leaned against the railing enough that she’s having to crane her head up to meet Allie’s eyes.

It’s infuriating. Allie has no idea why but she’s — mad isn’t the word. Frustrated. Tired.

“Uh-”

She’s cut off by the glass being half-dragged out of her hand, does her best to keep from shaking when Courtney’s hand brushes hers for a half second.

“You’re going to make the team.” There’s a flash of that cocky grin again. “That’s why. No sweat for me.”

It shouldn’t make her angry. It really shouldn’t. Allie isn’t even sure why the feeling rushes through her. It’s a quick rush, heat flushing her cheeks as she turns away, resting both elbows on the railing and letting her shoulders slump a little more into it.

Maybe it’s just the fact that Courtney is so goddamn sure about all of this — what to drink, what they should do, what’s going to happen next. It’s just her third season in the league. She’s only 24, which somehow to Allie feels like a decade’s difference from being 26 with one foot already out the door of any hopes of a career in America.

(She can’t admit that this thing she’s feeling is jealousy. Of Courtney’s confidence, of her roster spot, of the way she’s got everything Allie could want. Of her casual, relentless belief, something that Allie herself has lost. She’d hate herself a touch too much if she admitted all that.)

“Thanks,” Allie huffs out. “That’s great.”

The words are flat and hollow. If Allie turned her head to the right, maybe she would see the way Courtney hesitated, deflated slightly, an empty whisky glass in either hand preventing her from reaching out. If she looked up, maybe the night would go differently. Maybe.

“Uh, yeah.” Courtney straightens up, cocks her head to the side. “I’m gonna— you wanna go inside?”

It’s loud in the bar when they walk back in, but there’s a silence aching in Allie’s stomach.

***

The call comes the next day, just when Allie’s hangover appears to have fled her body entirely.

She’s feeling— decent, she guesses. In a good way. It’s been awhile since she went out with a team like that. In Hungary, there was always an edge of desperation to it all, everyone drinking to drown their homesickness. Here, it was just all fun and games, just a night off with a team that she was somehow being counted as a part of now.

So when the call from Pokey comes in, Allie considers letting it ring through, just to preserve her morning of contentment for just a moment longer. She doesn’t, of course, but she lets it ring three times before picking up, terrified as ever of coming across as if she cares even half as much as she actually does.

“Quigs.” Pokey’s voice is warm, and Allie grips at her wrist. “I know it’s an off day, but you got some time to come in?”

The main thing Allie is grateful for as she jogs up the steps to the training center’s back door is the fact that at least this time she’ll get cut face-to-face. It was the informality of it that really stung in Seattle, the feeling that she’d impacted the team so little that she could just get tossed aside in a phone call that ended after two minutes and 43 seconds.

(The worst thing about that had been the final words — “It’s nothing personal, it’s just the business of it, you’re a professional so I’m sure you understand.” Of course it was personal to Allie. Without that team, she wasn’t a professional anymore.)

So in the end, Allie is just thankful to Pokey for having the grace to do things this way. In person is better. Maybe if she hears the words in person, she’ll finally have the closure needed to let her dreams of playing in this league drift away.

“Quigs.” Pokey doesn’t even look up when she raps on the doorjamb with her knuckles. “You like the number fourteen, right?”

Allie stops. Her body is doing this weird thing — skin prickling with heat even though a wave of cold just rushed her body, making her shiver.

“Coach?” She takes a small step in, and Pokey finally turns to smile at her, wide and warm. “I—”

“We’d like to sign you, Allie.” Each word hits Allie in the gut like a cinder block. “Can you get your agent in here on Monday?”

For a moment, she’s speechless, and then suddenly she’s the exact opposite.

“Coach, my trial week wasn’t very good, and I know that and I’m sorry—”

Pokey shuts her up wordlessly, holding up a hand.

“It was never about the tryout,” she says. “You deserve to be here.”

Allie barely gets down the hall before she makes her first phone call. Each one lasts a little longer — first her mom, then her brother, then her sister, all the way down the list until she’s spent two hours wandering the empty facility’s halls and finally coming to a rest in the locker room.

Eventually Allie runs out of numbers to call. The quiet in the locker room is deafening. She’s still a little out of breath from it all, and she begins to feel something out of control building in her chest, happiness and nerves and disbelief swirling and ratcheting her heartbeat up into a too-fast pattern.

It’s natural to grab a ball, fishing a hair tie out of her locker and pulling her hair up into a bun as she guides herself on autopilot to let shooting drown out the chaos going on in her head.

It’s only midday, sunlight spilling into the gym. Allie shouldn’t be surprised to see Courtney on the opposite side of the court in an old penny and sweats, moving easily around the arc to launch threes. She dribbles a few times, mainly for the noise, letting it alert Courtney to her presence.

What Allie is surprised by is the way Courtney reacts to seeing her.

“Hey.” Courtney’s smile is immediate and warm. “You’re late.”

“I made the team.” Allie doesn’t even have time to crack a joke or follow Courtney’s teasing. She says it with both fists still clenched, the ball tucked snugly to her chest as she watches the reaction flicker across Courtney’s face.

“Fucking finally,” Courtney says with a grin, and it’s not lost on Allie how quickly she drops her ball, how quickly she moves across the court and folds Allie into a hug, crushing her and dragging her up onto her toes. Allie ditches her own ball in the process, and it kareens off her foot and halfway across the gym. “Man, what did I tell you?”

They’ve never been this close — not off the court, at least — and for a second Allie sinks into it completely, lets her eyes close and breathes in everything about the proximity. But then she feels what she thinks is Courtney’s heartbeat fluttering close to her own chest, and she pulls away a little too quickly, hands lingering for a half-second across the slope of her shoulders.

“Are we still cool?” Courtney's eyes flit across her face, and her expression is inscrutable. “You know, after—”

Allie waves her hands uncomfortably. Saying “last night” would mean acknowledging that it actually happened, and that it actually meant something — more than just something, if she’s being honest — and Allie still has no way to gauge if it meant the same type of something to Courtney. Or if it meant anything.

(Jesus, even in her own mind she’s rambling.)

“Of course.” Courtney smirks, but there’s something soft in her eyes and it makes Allie ache. “Just glad I’m not having to foot some ridiculous dinner bill.”

Allie laughs at that, of course. She finds herself laughing at half the things Courtney says, even when everyone else stays quiet or rolls their eyes or tells her to go to hell.

“Is this—” She gestures awkwardly again, and Courtney’s hand reaches out suddenly, touching her wrist to settle the motion. “Is this going to be okay?”

“Of course it’s okay.” Courtney smiles at her, and Allie feels it somewhere just beneath her rib cage. “You’re on my team. That’s all I could want.”

And it hurts, oh it hurts, how those words fill Allie’s chest.

Chapter Text

 

I see the world the exact same way that you do
We lend our hands and take our stance
In tandem when we do

 

 

****

 

 

The off-day shooting becomes their routine.

Allie isn’t sure where it starts. After the day she made the team, it became her own personal routine — if they didn’t practice, she’d pick up a coffee and head to the gym around 10 a.m., log a couple hours shooting hoops and working on the rote mechanics that were typically left out of daily practices.

Courtney was normally there, too. Sometimes she was already shooting when Allie arrived. Other days, she strolled in later, giving Allie a little nod before taking a rack of balls to the other side of the court.

Their routine was constant, consistent. They’d shoot on their own hoops for the first hour or so. Then at some point one of them would float over, wordlessly starting a natural trade off between rebounding and shooting. Sometimes they’d compliment a shot or comment on form, but it was typically monosyllabic, both of them seeping in the warm quiet of the empty gym.

Allie couldn’t even tell if it was their routine for a while. For weeks, she worried that she was intruding on some sort of off-day ritual that Courtney had previously established.

But then, on a particularly brisk Sunday morning, she woke up to a text.

Can u bring coffee to the gym? Too cold, need motivation to get out of bed

It made her laugh, and also made her scramble out of bed a little faster than most mornings, shooting back a quick response asking for her coffee order, reading it over four times to ensure she didn’t make a typo.

Courtney showed up to the gym five minutes after Allie that morning, and she tried to ignore the way her chest tightened a little as she took the cup out of her hand, muttering an “oh thank god” as she cradled it against her palms.

“You’re the best,” Courtney said after her first sip, and the look she leveled over the top of the cup made Allie know that she wasn’t intruding on anything at all.

From there, it stopped being a question. The next week, Allie sits in bed staring at her phone for 20 minutes before finally sending a one-word (well, one numeral really) text to Courtney.

10?

It takes only a handful of minutes for a response, although Allie still checks her phone five times before it finally buzzes.

Perfect, see u

Their text history piles up like this for weeks, just a series of numbers with question marks followed by a short response. Sometimes a request for coffee. Sometimes an offer to go to lunch after.

Maybe that’s why Courtney’s shot starts falling with even more consistency. Maybe that’s why Allie's minutes keep going up, game after game. And maybe that’s why — with a one-point lead at home over Seattle — Courtney doesn’t even have to think twice to sling a pass behind her back to Allie in the corner to knock down a three.

“God I love you gym rats and your weird connection,” Sylvia practically roars after the game, crushing both of them into a hug under either arm.

They shoot each other a look that wordlessly says the same thing at the same time — they are not weird. Right?

And they really aren’t. It makes sense that they spend so much time together, because they play the same position and they’re working on similar parts of their game. It makes sense that Courtney offers to work with Allie on ball handling in exchange for help on her shooting form.

And of course that means they end up spending hours together in the gym. They get to practice early and stay late. They come in on off days. They’ve both got something to prove, and it makes sense that they’re trying to do that together. So it’s not weird that the connection begins to blend into their play during games. Or off the court.

Allie spends months trying to convince herself it’s not weird. That they’re teammates. That it’s — well, it’s fine.

During one of their shooting sessions on a rainy April morning after weeks of working on ball handling, she blows by Courtney off a crossover. The younger guard grabs her around the waist, lifting her half off the ground to keep her from making it to the basket.

Allie lets out a shout, tossing the ball over her shoulder, but Courtney’s arm stays barred firmly around her waist, holding her a little overly tightly for another second. For a moment, Allie feels out of breath, like she just ran a few suicides at a dead sprint. She shakes it off, makes Courtney go get the ball, gives her a two-handed shove the next time she gets by her.

In May, Allie’s apartment somehow becomes the destination to watch games. It’s nice, she quickly realizes, to be the destination.

It all happened as a happy accident — Ty’s cable went out hours on the day of a Hornets game, and Allie offhandedly offered up her place. Five hours later, the entire team piled into her living room with a potluck’s worth of food and two foam rollers for recovery.

It sort of stuck. She wasn’t sure why. It helped that her place was close to two of their three favorite bars, and that she now owned the nicest TV on the team courtesy of a move-in gift from her brother. But Allie took a not-small amount of pride in the fact that week after week, her team ended up inviting themselves over en masse.

Courtney, of course, was there the most.

After a month, Courtney’s presence sort of lingers around Allie’s place. One of her water bottles is still in the cabinet after she forgot it while they were rewinding from a training session. Her thickest sweatshirt is hanging in the coat closet because she always gets cold and Allie got tired of her stealing hers.

It’s not weird, seriously, until their teammates make it weird.

Courtney falls asleep one night while they’re watching a Warriors game. She’s curled into the corner of the couch, her head half-resting in her own palm.

Piph sees her first, a slightly maniacal grin spreading as she nudges Courtney lightly with her foot.

“Sloot.” Another nudge, but Courtney remains limp and unconscious. “Dude, wake up.”

“Just leave her,” Allie says, tugging at Piph's arm as she walks by. “She does this sometimes, she’ll wake up later.”

“O-okay?” She can feel Piph watching her, but chooses not to say anything.

Courtney does wake up in the fourth quarter, squinting and rubbing her eyes as she sits up. Allie gets up, goes to the closet to dig out Courtney’s sweatshirt, drops it into her lap wordlessly and settles back down, folding herself into the opposite corner of the couch.

Allie sees the way Piph and Shay look at each other. They’re not particularly subtle about it. She’s just not sure what she would say, anyways, as she watches Courtney tug on the sweatshirt with a faintly fuzzy feeling in her chest.

What can she say? It feels, well, she doesn’t really let herself think long enough about it to come up with a descriptor. All Allie knows is that when they’re all bunched up in her living room like this — with Shay and Ty arguing about a foul and Courtney smiling sleepily at her — she feels more at home than she has in too long.

On the road against Seattle in June, Allie sags off a pick instead of hedging it and lets in a drive for an easy layup that equalizes the score in the final 40 seconds. Courtney grabs her by the jersey as they head off the court for a timeout, half-dragging her away from the huddle.

“Allie.” Courtney’s voice takes on the harsh, barking clip that it only gets when she’s fired up in the middle of a game. “You’re better than this.”

“I know,” Allie snaps, wiping her face with her jersey.

No matter the situation, Courtney always seems to have part of her attention on Allie. Most of the time, she doesn’t mind it. Sometimes she loves it. Right now, though, it’s really pissing her off.

“You gotta tough those out.” When Allie doesn’t meet Courtney’s eyes, she gets a tug at the front of her jersey. “Look — snap out of it.”

It’s annoying because it works.

“I know.” Allie shakes her head, nods once. “You’re right. I know.”

“What are you gonna do about it?” Courtney steps a little closer, nudges her in the ribs. “Come on Q, talk to me.”

“I’ll get it back.” Allie meets her eyes as she says it, and Courtney nods. She isn’t smiling but her eyes are bright. “I’ve got you. I’ll get it back.”

On the next play, Allie dishes a perfect feed to Sylvia in the low post for a quick bucket. More importantly, she tips a pass coming back the other way, pulling up for a turnover and forcing a foul.

The Sky win by three points. Courtney crushes her in a bear hug before she can even make it to the sideline.

A week later, Courtney shows up at her apartment with a box of donuts. It’s Allie’s birthday, but she hadn’t mentioned that to anyone on the team. Courtney greets her look of surprise with a shrug and a smile and a hug that’s only awkward because clearly neither of them knows how long they’re allowed to hold on.

“Whenever you’re done with family stuff tonight, we’re taking you out to get drunk,” she says later as they’re sprawled out on the couch.

There’s a bit of glaze stuck to her nose, and Allie can’t help but laugh when she notices it, causing Courtney’s face to scrunch up in confusion. Her face falls into something different, softer, when Allie reaches over and brushes the glaze off, her eyes suddenly glued to the floor as she self-consciously rubs at her face.

Allie goes home for the Fourth of July. It’s a nice weekend, besides the fact that her brother cooks twice as much meat as their family could manage to consume and she eats so much that she feels a touch nauseous.

She sends a picture of her plate of food to Courtney without thinking.

I’m gonna need you to put me through two-a-days to even this out.

She doesn’t hear anything back for several hours. It comes later, as she’s sitting on the front porch with a popsicle talking with her brother and sister like they’re just kids again, counting the fireflies that flit about the yard. When she opens it, Allie can’t help but smile — it’s a picture, fuzzy and out of focus, of what she can imagine are fireworks.

Would look a lot better if you were here.

Allie shakes it off when her sister leans over, asking who the text is from, asking why she’s fighting her smile so hard.

In August, they’re placed together as roommates for the first time. And it’s not weird, really, it’s just — different.

Most things are the same. They hang out in their teammates’ rooms, watch games in their downtime, stick together on the way to each meal. It’s not all that weird, really, because they seek each other out enough when they’re not roommates anyways. 

(Allie just has to make sure she doesn’t linger too long at night, when Courtney switches off the lamp and she unconsciously finds herself matching the rhythm of her Courtney’s breathing in a bed that’s both too far and much, much too close to her own. If she can figure out a way to shut that off, then she’ll be okay. Maybe.)

And it’s not all that strange, either, that they don’t change in front of each other.

Allie tries to rationalize that, at least. The logic isn’t really there. Changing is just part of being an athlete. None of their other teammates even flinch at changing. In the locker room, she and Courtney both strip down as readily as anyone else.

But on this trip, they both seem to skate around it. And post-game, when Allie goes in for her second shower, she bundles a change of sweats and an oversized T-shirt into the bathroom with her. She changes before combing out her hair and brushing her teeth, steeling herself in the mirror while simultaneously attempting to convince herself that this is normal. This is okay. This is fine.

“What are we watching?” Allie asks as she re-enters the room, running a hand through her damp hair as she tosses her clothes into her suitcase. Courtney is settled into her bed, one leg folded up to her chest with her laptop open in front of her.

“I’ve got a whole slate of Netflix rom coms ready for your selection.” It’s comfortable, the way Courtney doesn’t even need to look up as she says it, the way Allie can hear her smiling from halfway across the room. “Hey, what are you doing over there?”

Allie is halfway into her own bed when Courtney says it, and she flushes slightly when she looks up to see Courtney looking at her. She had clearly moved over to make room in the bed next to her, the laptop set in the middle of the foot of the bed as she idly scrolls through the Netflix homepage. When Allie doesn’t immediately move, she pats the comforter next to her, eyebrows raised slightly.

“Fine, but only if you let me pick,” she says, standing and then hesitating slightly next to her bed before carefully settling herself onto the mattress. Allie feels a little stiff, a little awkward, as she settles back onto an elbow, slightly annoyed at how comfortable she feels after the exhaustion of the game.

“Okay that’s completely unfair.” Courtney’s voice is so immediately defensive that Allie has no choice but to laugh. “You always fall asleep, you don’t get to pick the movie if I’m the only one who sits through the second half of it.”

This is true. Extremely true. But Allie is surprised nonetheless, because the immediate offering of that piece of information is another reminder that Courtney won’t stop noticing her.

“Not true at all,” Allie says, but she’s already stretching out onto her back, sinking into the comforter and letting the exhaustion of each individual muscle seep away for a moment.

She glances over, and Courtney is looking at her, leaned back now and propped up on one elbow. Allie tries not to think about it too much. Tries.

“Hey.” Courtney isn’t really smiling, but there’s something warm in the way she’s looking at Allie.

“Hi.” Allie rubs at her eyes, a soft sleepy feeling settling over her.

“You’ve been crushing it lately.” Courtney’s voice is softer than normal, a little less brusque. She’s not one for compliments, and after being on the receiving end of her on-the-court criticism more than a few times, Allie knows what it means. “Just, you know, in case you didn’t know.”

“Thanks.” Allie hates how shy she sounds, but she’s slightly comforted by the fact that Courtney seems to be lacking most of her typical confidence. She stares up at the ceiling, trying not to think. Trying really, really hard.

“Allie?” It’s gentle, the way she says her name. Something slightly above a whisper, but hesitant enough to get Allie’s attention. She tips her head to the side, holding her breath slightly.

“Yeah?” In this moment, Allie is painfully aware of their proximity. Courtney had turned halfway onto her side, and although her eyes seem to be fixed somewhere just above Allie’s shoulder, their hands are close enough that she could interlace their fingers with very little effort. Which she doesn’t. But she could, and it’s the possibility of it all that has her really twisted up.

“Can we please stop being responsible for a second?” Courtney finally drops her eyes to look at Allie when she says this, and there’s something almost painful in her voice.

Allie considers playing dumb. For a moment, she thinks about just saying something dumb — “I don’t know what you’re talking about” would probably do it — but then she looks at the way Courtney is working her jaw back and forth, the little movement reflecting the type of deep anxiety that she knows the younger woman rarely feels.

“I don’t—” She has the foresight to reach her hand out a few inches, enough to brush their knuckles together, softening any reaction to what she might say. “I don’t want to fuck things up.”

Courtney sighs, rolling fully on her side, close enough now that Allie can feel her breath on her shoulder, and she turns her head to look back at the ceiling. It takes a fair amount of self control to keep herself pinned on her back, but she’s being honest enough with herself (for once) to know that if she lets them get even an inch closer she’s going to lose any last semblance of control on this situation.

“I know.” Courtney’s voice is small. “It’s just- this is so hard. Pretending that I’m not—”

She cuts herself off, but her hand moves, brushing up against Allie’s a little more firmly before moving up a little higher, fingers wrapping hesitantly around her wrist.

“Just one.” Allie turns her head, and there’s a plea in Courtney’s eyes. “One night where we don’t have to keep this up.”

Allie’s hesitation almost lasts too long. She’s thinking too hard. She knows it. But she’s spent so long since she met Courtney trying to logic her way out of little moments like this, doing her best to divert her thoughts any time they wandered into this territory. Now that she’s looking straight at it, she’s not sure what to do.

And then Courtney falters, clearly, fear flickering across her face and Allie breaks.

“Okay.”

It’s hardly out of her mouth before this strange space they’ve always kept between them — fragile yet impenetrable — completely shatters.

Allie is surprised by herself. She’d carried the weight of this thing around for long enough that when she finally let herself set it down, she was amazed by the quickness that she lost all sense of her control. Or shame. Or anything.

She kisses Courtney first, which clearly comes as a surprise. There’s a small moment when Courtney sucks in a breath, her whole body freezing in apparent shock, and Allie uses it to gain whatever upper hand she can manage — fisting both hands in her sweatshirt, twisting her body around to half-sprawl on top of her smaller frame, pressing down into her with an almost manic energy.

She imagined this before. One too many times. Enough to know that there are five different things she wants to do first and she’s completely torn on where to start. And Allie’s just caught up enough on deciding whether to kiss Courtney’s jawline or take off her sweatshirt that it takes a few seconds for everything to click.

It happens, finally, when she pulls back just long enough to press her mouth to the curve where Courtney’s jaw meets her throat. She’s not expecting any of it — how soft the skin there is, how easily Courtney relaxes under her, the fluttering little sigh as she presses her palm to the back of Allie’s neck.

It’s that motion that hits Allie like a freight train.

Courtney’s hand is soft, gentle as she cups the nape of Allie’s neck. She’s not holding her, not pressing to guide her one way or another, just half-clinging with a tenderness that forces Allie to pull up.

Allie is shaking. Her breaths are coming at a fourth-quarter velocity, dragging in and out of her lungs. When she pulls back, she can see Courtney — her eyes opening slowly at the lack of contact, her chest heaving in and out — and all of it rushes through Allie too fast and strong to slow down at all.

“Shit.” Allie slumps forward, her forehead resting gently against Courtney’s. “This is a bad idea.”

“I happened to think it was going pretty well.” Courtney is clearly doing her best to be confident, but her voice cracks on the third-to-last syllable and her eyes are focused on somewhere just next to Allie’s ear.

“Court, I can’t- this is-” Allie forces herself to suck in a deep breath. “I can’t just do this as a one night thing.”

“Oh my Go- Allie.” Courtney pushes herself up, dragging them both into a sitting position. The movement says a whole lot about Courtney’s core strength, enough to send a slight tremor through Allie. But that’s mostly outweighed by the vulnerability of her current position — half-wrapped around Courtney and cradled in her lap, her head still tucked into her neck. “That’s not what this is.”

“Then what are we doing?” Allie pulls back, cranes her neck to try to get a good look at Courtney’s face.

Courtney is always hard to read, everything about her emotions tucked into delicate little twitches and tremors, which is why she’s always taking everyone’s money in poker. Somehow, it’s even more frustrating now than when she’s sitting on a pair of diamonds and playing like she’s got a full hand.

Allie tries to read as much as she can into the tiniest details. The way Courtney’s eyes flicker down, then back for a half-beat. The way she catches the inside of her lip lightly between her teeth for a moment, then releases it.

She’s slow to respond, her jaw working with her mouth half-open for several seconds before she finally speaks.

“I want this,” Courtney says, her voice low and level. “I want you, it’s just— I’ve never done this. With a teammate. And I’m scared of fucking things up.”

“Hey, that’s what I said.” Allie says it with a smirk, and Courtney makes a face at her, tipping her head up just enough to brush their noses together.

“I know,” Courtney says, tipping their foreheads together again, and it reminds Allie of months ago, the chill of slightly-thawed winter and the rush of one-too-many drinks. This moment is softer, more sober, but Allie is buzzing now with something different. “You know, we’re not teammates in October.”

“That’s three months away,” Allie practically whispers.

She’s afraid to ask it. She knows they’re walking the line of a big decision here, that they’re both pretending to care a whole hell of a lot less than they actually do. But Allie’s still afraid to ask, focusing on her fingers where they’re futzing with the drawstrings of Courtney’s hoodie rather than looking her in the eye.

“Three months isn’t all that long,” Courtney mumbles.

Allie’s hair is a mess, almost completely fallen out of her hair tie by now, and Courtney brushes a little of it back behind her ear, her fingers soft. It’s natural, the kind of thing you do when you’re looking at someone you love, and maybe that’s why Allie kisses her again.

This time it’s gentle, and for a while there’s no roaming hands, no surprises. Allie kisses Courtney quietly, one hand clinging to her collar. She tugs once, lightly, and Courtney smiles wide enough to break them apart for a half second, leaning them back and pulling Allie completely on top of her, hands splayed across her sides.

All it takes is the tiniest motion. Courtney’s thumb brushes a little too high across her ribcage and Allie’s whole body jolts. She’s embarrassed by the reaction on its own, and that only gets worse when Courtney pushes her lightly back, her grip remaining on Allie’s waist.

“Ah, fuck.” She lifts a hand to Allie’s face, her palm warm against her cheek. “It’s so annoying when you’re right.”

“Tough for you that it happens so often.” Allie grins, tipping her head further into Courtney’s touch.

She knows this is where it’s going to end tonight, that neither of them can take this even an inch further. But she doesn’t want to burst this bubble, doesn’t want to recede back into a territory where they both have to protect their feelings and obscure their intentions.

Courtney, for her part, groans the moment Allie gets the quip out.

“God you’re annoying.” Courtney’s grinning as she pushes at Allie’s shoulder, and she takes it as a gentle request, sitting up and giving them both a little space.

It’s a different angle, and it hits Allie somewhere deep, just below her collarbone. Courtney looks off-balance and out of breath underneath her, pressed back slightly into the pillow, blinking up at Allie.

Allie can’t read her expression at first, but then she haphazardly spreads her palm across Courtney’s stomach and can’t hold back a smirk over the way she twitches slightly under the touch.

“You don’t seem to mind,” she says, grinning, and she can tell that it’s getting under Courtney’s skin.

“Allie.” Courtney tucks both hands behind her head, squeezing her eyes shut. “You’ve gotta get off me before I do something dumb. Like, right now. Please.”

She smirks for a moment, lets her fingers drift up and curl back around Courtney’s collar for a second.

“Sorry,” Allie says, leaning down to press a quick kiss to her cheek before Courtney half-shoves her away.

She shifts off Courtney, but she doesn’t move much further away, flopping onto her back. It’s light and it’s normal and it feels — okay. Which is a relief in itself.

“What do we do now?” It’s soft, a touch fragile, when Courtney says it. Allie had unconsciously adopted the same position as before — flat on her back, staring at the ceiling — but she turns back onto her left shoulder when she hears the way Courtney’s voice hitches.

“Will you just- is it weird if I stay?” Allie asks, and Courtney’s eyes trace over her face, a smile slowly and steadily filling her features.

“Feels like it would be weirder if you didn’t, you know?” Courtney rolls onto her back, closing her eyes and stretching both arms above her head in a half-facade of confidence. “Just please promise you won’t do that thing again.”

“What thing?” Allie scooches closer, hesitating for a moment before reaching her arm across Courtney’s torso. She sees the way Courtney sucks in a breath before relaxing into the contact, but she bites back any quip.

“You know what thing,” Courtney murmurs, cracking open one eye for a moment to fix her with that same look, just a quirk at the corner of her mouth that’s somehow warm and comforting. “Good night Allie.”

Allie’s not really expecting it when Courtney rolls over, tucking their bodies closer together. Her breath catches for a moment, unsure of how to react, but then she simply relaxes into it, pressing her face gently against Courtney’s shoulder and tightening her arm’s grip just a tiny bit more.

“‘Night,” she mumbles back, her voice almost completely smothered by proximity.

Courtney smells like the detergent the team manager uses whenever she washes their gear on the road, but underneath it there’s something different, something distinctly her. Allie tips her chin up to rest on the curve of Courtney’s shoulder, spreading her hand out against her stomach for a moment before gripping lightly at the edge of her sweatshirt.

She sighs, smiles. It’s tenuous. But it holds.

Chapter Text

We fall in love

And we don't fall out

Maybe we speak too soon

But here's you and me

And in between, we draw a line

But we can't see where it's been



****

 

It gets easier and harder, all at the same time, after that night in the hotel.

It’s easier because they both know , and in the knowing there’s no longer a need to hold back. They sit next to each other at all times — in the locker room, on the bus, on the plane, at dinner tables and in vinyl bar booths. 

The reciprocal nature of their friendship (or whatever you want to call it) strips Allie of any self conscious uncertainty. She texts Courtney constantly, and it never loses the thrill when she receives a response almost immediately. Their shoot-arounds continue, but now Allie doesn’t even have to ask for Courtney’s coffee order, and if they bump into each other a little too much when they’re playing one-on-one neither of them mention it.

She doesn’t feel embarrassed by the way she hangs on every one of Courtney’s words, because it’s easy enough to tell that the younger girl is doing the exact same damn thing, and it’s a thrill every time she’s talking to a teammate and looks over to see Courtney grinning at her unabashedly.

So it’s easier, in the fact that they both feel more open around each other, no longer inching closer and closer in tiny increments. But the knowing is also a constant weight, a constant warmth that occasionally builds into a heat that Allie can’t fucking escape no matter what she does.

It's harder because she remembers what it was like to wake up next to Courtney. To watch her burrow her face a little further into the pillow, her gentle breathing undisturbed by Allie's shifting next to her. She remembers what it was like to have seconds when she wants minutes, hours when she wants years.

And sometimes, they get too close. 

On a plane ride back from Los Angeles after a huge, unexpected win, they’re all a little slap-happy from elation. Courtney’s hand finds hers for a moment as they sit next to each other, and for a second their fingers tangle up and they sit there, giddy and oblivious, as if they’ve both forgotten that this isn’t something they can do yet.

They’re both a little too drunk in the back of the bar and Allie grins down at Courtney and she knows, knows , that they’re both thinking about what they could do, what they shouldn’t do.

“October,” Courtney mumbles, and Allie nods, repeats it over and over to herself like a mantra.

It’s a Saturday morning and there’s no excuse — no alcohol, no postgame adrenaline. They’re just sitting on opposite sides of the couch, trying to watch a soccer game and perpetually sneaking glances at each other.

But they hold off and hold back. Somehow. And somehow, it works. They’re both playing the best ball of their lives. They’re both happy on the court.

And perhaps the most good comes from the fact that Allie knows that once she does let herself go, once she can allow herself to fall, that it might be the type of all-consuming thing that would shut out every other detail. Because Allie can tell she’s holding herself back from something big, something that she’s not going to be entirely able to control. 

She feels it in little moments, half-second glances and pauses at the end of nights when they both know they should go home. The way Courtney watches her when she thinks Allie can’t notice, when they’re in a group and they find each other’s eyes like it’s second nature.

And of course it’s noticeable. Of course it loses subtlety with each passing week. They’re both careening, a little out of control, just trying to hold on for a few more months. But in the time before Allie allows this to become her whole world, she finds herself grateful for the chance to find friends throughout the roster.

The first one to ask her about it is Elena. She’s a rookie, but she lacks that first-year sense of self-consciousness, and she’s blunt when she looks Allie in the eye in line for Chipotle in the airport on the way to Minneapolis and asks her point blank.

“So are you and Courtney, like, together?” Her eyes widen when she sees Allie’s already-flustered reaction. “Sorry, I just figured—”

“No, no, we’re just friends.” Allie hears how it sounds when she says it. She can tell Elena hears it too.

“Oh yeah, that’s cool.” There’s a slight smirk to the way the rookie looks at her. “I was just wondering.”

Shay is next, of course.

At first, Allie was surprised by her friendship with Shay. They’re nothing alike, except for their taste in music. It sort of bubbles up naturally, organically, until one day a new barkeep interrupts one of their spirited conversations at the bar to ask if Shay is bothering Allie.

In the half-second before Shay can think of something to say, Allie swivels completely around.

“What the fuck did you just ask me?” To be honest, Allie is a little drunk. There’s no way she would’ve said something like that if she was sober but, admittedly, it feels really fucking good to say. “Get out of here with that.”

The bartender reels back, spewing apologies, and he hasn’t even retreated from their seats before Shay bursts out laughing, wrapping an arm around Allie’s shoulders.

From then on, there’s a weirdly protective quality to their friendship on and off the court. Shay nearly gets into a shoving match when Allie gets thrown to the court on a hard foul. Allie brings her matzo soup when she gets sick in late September. They look out for each other in a natural, easy way. 

So it makes sense that Shay levels her with the most serious questions about Courtney.

The most point-blank occasion comes one night when Courtney decides to tap out of an NBA watch session a bit earlier than normal, yawning as she tugs off her sweatshirt and hangs it back up in Allie’s closet.

“Hot date?” Allie asks teasingly, quirking an eyebrow up at Courtney from her position splayed out on the couch.

“Yeah—” Courtney coughs out a laugh, grinning down at Allie. “Obviously.”

Allie smirks back, and for a second they’re just looking at each other. Like idiots.

“See you tomorrow?” Courtney’s voice is always so hopeful when she asks Allie to hang out, and she smiles at her simple nod in response.

“Ten?” Allie asks, and Courtney flashes a thumbs up before letting herself out, hollering goodbyes to the rest of her teammates.

“So-oo…” Shay draws her voice out long and dramatic, tossing her feet into Allie’s lap. “You wanna explain?”

“Explain what?” Allie keeps her voice light, and Shay rolls her eyes.

“I just don’t want you getting hurt,” Shay says, and for once she’s being gentle, clearly worried.

“I promise, I’m not.” She lowers her voice when Shay looks at her seriously. “Promise.”

For the rest of the season, it’s alright. It’s good. Allie is happy .

She’s close to home, sees her brother and sister on the weekends. She’s playing well, better than she’s played in years. She loves her teammates, feels that she’s forming real friendships for the first time in — God, in at least three seasons. And she has Courtney. Whatever that means. Whatever they are.

And then they lose.

They lose in the first round of the playoffs to Indiana. It’s not pretty. It’s not even hard-fought, really. It’s the out-of-breath sputtering of a team that maxed out its potential a little too early in the season. All it takes is three games, an all-too-easy sweep that leaves them all feeling a little sick.

It’s horrible. Allie knows they should’ve won. Could’ve won. The body language of every single player reflects that mutual understanding as they slouch off the court and into the locker room. Allie hears a bang behind her, knows without looking that it was Ty slamming her palm flat into a locker, just once.

But Courtney is perhaps the most depressing out of all of them. She leaves the court with her Gatorade towel flung over her head and her shoulders, blocking out the visible tears tracking down her face. And it’s natural, of course, for Allie to be the first and only one to approach Courtney in the locker room. 

“Hey.” She doesn’t sit, waits for the invitation that she’s sure is inevitable as she stands next to Courtney and lowers her voice as much as possible. “You okay?”

Allie drops a hand to Courtney’s shoulder. She shrugs it off immediately. 

“You don’t need to fucking talk down to me.” Courtney spits out each of the words, and Allie flinches in turn. “We lost. That’s all there fucking is to it.”

“Don’t beat yourself—” Allie isn’t expecting it when Courtney cuts her off.

“I’m not beating myself up, I’m just being honest,” she says. “You should try it.”

Allie reels back at it. She knows Courtney is furious, but the way she’s looking at her, the way she flinched back away from her touch — it’s enough to make her burn. 

For a moment she just stands there, stupidly, staring back at her, waiting for an apology or a flicker of guilt or something . But Courtney doesn’t meet her eyes, just hunches her shoulders and hangs her head lower.

Then she turns, heads back to her side of the locker room, tugs off her jersey. Shay reaches over and squeezes her knee once, and Allie in turn checks in wordlessly on Elena.

Most importantly, she does everything she can to keep her eyes away from Courtney.

She makes it through the bus ride back to the hotel, through an absolutely horrible elevator ride up to her room, through the cab ride to the bar. 

But all it takes is one shot and half a beer at the post game party — well, party is a strong word for it, but they’re at a bar and they’re drinking — for Allie’s anger to wear off. Courtney is nowhere to be found and her teammates are either pretending not to care or caring way too much about the game’s results. After three laps around the bar, she finally pushes open the door to the patio.

Courtney is on her own, standing against the wall. Allie hates the way her chest aches just a little at it.

“Figured you’d be out here feeling sorry for yourself.” Allie softens even more at the way Courtney’s face falls at her words, self-loathing visible in the way she avoids eye contact. “Courtney, there’s nothing you could’ve done.”

Courtney scrunches her face up for a moment, takes a drink from the beer that’s in her hand. Allie knows her well enough to know this is a bad sign in itself — Courtney always says beer is for wallowing.

“Sorry I’m an asshole.” Courtney stares straight up at the lights strung over the patio as she says it. “After everything in the locker room— I’d get if you didn’t want to talk to me. I’m sorry.”

Allie sighs, moving to stand next to her. She had been half-craving a fight when she got here, but one look at the slight tremor in Courtney’s bottom lip drives it all out of her. 

“You’re not an asshole.” For a moment, Allie studies the hard line at the corner of her jaw, the way it’s twitching just slightly with anxious energy. “You were just acting like one.”

“Okay, well I’m sorry for acting like an asshole,” Courtney mumbles, ducking her head then looking up cautiously at Allie. “That was about me and it was stupid. You deserve better.”

Allie bumps their shoulders together, leans back against the brick where it’s still cooling from a full day in the sun. Indiana is still more warm, more humid than she’d expected in late September and she’s a little overly warm in her long sleeves.

“We’re cool,” she says, looking over at Courtney until she’s forced to look back. “You haven’t gotten rid of me yet. Just don’t push your luck.”

Courtney leans into her, resting more than half her weight into Allie’s side for a second before straightening back up and taking a long swig of her drink.

“I’m a bad loser,” Courtney says.

Allie can’t help it. She bursts out laughing. After a moment, Courtney slowly joins her.

“Shut up—” She gets a little shove in the side for it, and Allie doesn’t even think about it when she grabs hold of Courtney’s arm, fingers gentle and firm on her wrist.

“I’m sorry, it’s just—” They look at each other, and Allie tugs her a little closer. “Like, yeah. Duh.”

“Who even says that?” There’s no malice in the way Courtney says it, a smile still clinging just slightly to the edges of her lips. “You’re so annoying.”

“Yeah.” Allie squeezes her arm again, lightly. “You don’t mind though.”

She knows this should be different. She knows Courtney wants this to be different. But even now, as they trade warm teasing in a way that’s become casual for them, Allie knows this isn’t the time. Even if she isn’t mad anymore.

Courtney looks miserable . She’s letting Allie get up in her space, but she’s hardly reciprocating. Ater months of having to stay calm while Courtney’s touchiness mindlessly drove her crazy, Allie knows this isn’t entirely right.

She’s trying real hard to hide it, especially in the way she’s looking up at Allie. But she can tell — in the way she keeps scrunching up her mouth, in the slight stiffness of her shoulders, and especially in her eyes. Even when she smiles at Allie, it doesn’t entirely reach.

“It doesn’t have to be tonight, you know.” Allie says it quietly, pressing her hand into Courtney’s arm. “I’m not going anywhere if you need to wait a little longer.”

“That’s not fair—” Courtney's voice is just a touch desperate, and she's almost a little wild in the way she looks at Allie. She keeps her hand on the smaller woman’s arm, trying to anchor them both down into the moment.

“Yes it is,” she says. She tightens her grip lightly, and Courtney sways lightly into the touch. “It’s my choice.”

“Are you sure?” Courtney’s voice legitimately cracks, and for a moment Allie is afraid she actually might break down in tears. “Allie, I don’t want to fuck this up just because I’m cut up over a game.”

“It’s not October yet.” Allie tips her chin down, does her best to get her eyes level. “I’m here. When you’re ready.”

A wave of something, too complicated for Allie to sort out — relief, remorse, guilt — fills Courtney’s face for a moment. She turns her face away, but she brushes their hands together, and for a moment their fingers intertwine. Just a moment.

But still it’s the first time she’s fully initiated contact tonight, and it’s enough of an answer for Allie. At least for now.

“Let’s go in, yeah?” She nudges Courtney’s hip, gets a small smile in return, and they start back toward the door.

“Hey, Allie?” Courtney catches her by the elbow, spinning her half around so that they’re facing each other. “I just—”

She looks like she’s steeling herself, setting her shoulders and sucking in a breath. Honestly, Courtney looks like she’s on the verge of making some sort of end-of-a-romantic-comedy speech. And it’s sweet, enough to make Allie’s lungs ache just at the sight of it, but it’s not quite right. Not for them.

Allie knows it. And she can tell Courtney knows it too. She stands there, her mouth half-open to form words that don’t come, tipping her head to the side with a look of frustrated want spread across her features.

“Hey, I know.” Allie steps a little closer, surprises herself when she pulls Courtney full into her body for a hug. “Right back at you.”

They stand like that for a moment, Courtney folded in close to her chest, tucking her face further into Allie’s neck. It sends a slight thrill through her. She’s surprised by how good it feels to take care of Courtney, to know that at this moment she’s offering a certain form of respite that no one else could give to her.

Courtney mumbles a sheepish “thanks” into her shoulder, and Allie takes it as a sign to gently let go. She doesn’t step back, though, reveling in the almost heady satisfaction that comes from the way that Courtney clings onto her for a moment longer before stepping away fully. Courtney runs a hand over her face, looking embarrassed.

“Next drink on me?” There’s hope in Courtney’s eyes as she asks it, and Allie nods, smiling.

“Never gonna say no to that.” They turn back once again to the bar, where Allie is sure their entire team is getting morosely, pathetically drunk.

Courtney smiles at her once, a full smile that actually reaches her eyes this time, and Allie repeats to herself (over and over and over and over ) that she can hold on for just a little while longer.

The flight home sucks. Mainly because they’re all hungover on top of being exhausted and frustrated. Allie brings both Courtney and Shay cups of coffee — they both drank at an insane clip the night before, like they were racing to see who could make their liver tap out first — and wordlessly situates herself between the two of them on the plane.

Courtney falls asleep within minutes, burrowed into the pillow that she jammed into the crevice of the window. Shay leans over Allie to get a good look at their point guard before flopping back in her seat.

“She good?” she asks, and Allie nods, lets her eyes trace over the defeated slump of Courtney’s shoulders.

“Just hates losing,” she responds, and Shay laughs lightly.

“Don’t we all.” Shay motions between the two of them, and Allie fights down the flush in her cheeks. “You sure you don’t want to talk about all that?”

“I’ll let you know if there’s ever something to talk about.” Allie drops her voice low, hoping Courtney really is asleep, hoping she can’t hear. She’s doing her best to keep it cool, but she’s still worried that even this could throw Courtney off her confidence again.

Allie doesn’t want to leave the airport, because leaving the airport means that for the first time in months she won’t know when she’ll see Courtney again. They’ve navigated through the entire expanse of this year from shootarounds to practices to games, always held together by the string of the shared life of any team.

Now, she has no idea what to expect. Courtney is still quiet as they collect their bags, still diminished as they walk to their cars. 

“See you,” she murmurs, and Courtney nods in her direction.

“Drive safe, Q.” Allie’s chest caves slightly when Courtney waves over at Shay and Ty in the same way, tucking herself into her car and disappearing from view.

Allie goes home to her apartment, orders in pizza and begins the exhausting effort of not thinking about Courtney.

So she’s not expecting it when she wakes up to a text the next morning.

11? Park by my place?

Allie stares at it for a moment, blinking. They rarely shoot hoops outside of the Sky gym, normally only on days with beautiful weather. She can tell from the slight pattern of frost on her windows that it’s a cold, gloomy September day, the type that she sometimes misses when she’s far from home. And there’s really only one reason Courtney would want to shoot somewhere that isn’t their workplace.

Something flutters in Allie’s stomach, warm and — happy

I’ll bring coffee.

Allie tugs on sweats and her favorite DePaul sweatshirt. It’s light blue, and Courtney had once off-handedly mentioned that it brought out her eyes. She doesn’t even kid herself that there’s any other reason she chooses it. 

She picks up coffee from their favorite spot by her apartment, splurges for the nice lattes that Courtney always teases her about. Allie feels like she’s almost buying time. As she re-ties her shoes — her old ones from her Seattle season since they’re playing outside — her hands shake just enough to force her to repeat the motion. Twice.

The thing is that she’s wanted this so long that she’s sort of forgotten what it felt like to not want it. And now, she can’t imagine actually having it. Especially after Indiana, when she forced herself to be okay with waiting, with the thin possibility that it might never come, that she might be stuck in the wanting forever.

And now she’s walking out onto an empty court with coffee in her hands and a ball tucked under her arm, watching Courtney dribble her way around three imaginary defenders before popping out to the elbow and dropping a jump shot. 

It’s easy, natural. Allie has always admired the way Courtney moves with the ball. Allie watches film relentlessly, probably twice as much as her teammates, and when she studies herself she can always tell how hard she’s working to handle the ball. That’s pretty typical for most players — there’s a certain level of visible effort going into every move.

But Courtney just dances with it. She doesn’t seem to be pushing the ball down with each dribble; instead, it’s like the ball is always connected to her palm with a string, like she’s just pulling it from one place to another. It’s effortless, in a way that used to frustrate Allie but now that just makes her smile a little, pausing to watch the way she moves when she only has to compete with herself.

“Hi.” 

Allie lets Courtney finish another sequence, draining a shot from the corner this time, before she speaks up. When she does, it’s rewarded immediately — Courtney turns around with a smile so wide that it cracks open something in Allie’s chest.

“Hey.” She squints at the cups in Allie’s hands as she walks over. “Did you get us those fancy drinks?”

“I got myself two fancy drinks if you’re gonna complain about it,” Allie says, grinning and pulling her hand back to keep the cup that Courtney was reaching for just out of reach.

Courtney fixes her with that you’ve- got -to-be-kidding-me look, and Allie acquiesces a lot quicker than she was planning. That’s generally how it goes around her. 

They settle into their typical routine. Courtney stands under the basket, sipping her coffee and rebounding balls with one hand while Allie warms herself up. She was right, of course — it’s cold. The sky is grey and cloudy and by all indications, they’re in for another gross afternoon of sleet and rain. She keeps pausing to blow on her hands, rubbing them together to take away a little of the sting when the ball smacks against her hands.

There’s not really a good way to warm herself up for Courtney’s first words.

“I missed you.” Courtney says it matter-of-factly. She had set down her coffee in advance, and something about the way she speaks feels rehearsed. Not in a bad way, Allie thinks. She just seems as nervous about all of this as Allie feels.

“It’s been, like, 24 hours,” Allie says it teasingly, but Courtney doesn’t respond. She squares up another shot, the ball making the net snap as it falls through. Courtney snags it out of midair, but she doesn’t pass it back. 

“I know.” Courtney looks down, dribbling the ball mindlessly, her eyes fixed on the court. “I guess I just miss you all the time. Like, whether it’s an hour or a day or whatever. Sometimes even when you’re in the same room. If it’s not just the two of us, I miss you.”

Allie can’t breathe. Yes, she was expecting something. But not this. Not Courtney standing ten feet away from her and calmly putting words to everything she’s been feeling since they first locked eyes in that airport.

“I’m going to miss you so much when we leave,” Courtney says, and she’s looking at her and Allie is looking back and she has no logical understanding of how this built so quickly, so fiercely, into the storm currently raging out of control in her chest.

“I know.” Allie hates how it sounds when she says it, weak and whispery. “I’ve been trying not to think about it, honestly.”

Courtney nods, keeps looking at her. Allie can’t think of words. Can’t think of anything except what Courtney just said to her. There’s a moment where it’s just the two of them, looking at each other from too far away, their 

“I know you said you could wait but I—” Courtney looks up at the sky for a moment, and when she sucks in a breath it shudders slightly. “I feel like it’s just gonna eat me alive if I have to keep feeling this way about you on my own. I don’t know how to carry it anymore.”

It strikes Allie that this is the most serious she’s ever seen Courtney off the court. On the court, she’s probably a touch terrifying if you don’t know her, that intensity all too large for her frame. 

But outside of the game, Allie has never seen Courtney stay this grounded for this long — especially now, as she takes a deep breath as if she’s delivering a closing monologue. 

“I had a whole cheesy speech, like I actually wrote it out and everything, but look—” Courtney’s eyes are pleading. “I just want to do this. I really do.”

“Are you sure?” Allie can’t fight her smile anymore, and Courtney matches it, a touch amused and — God, the only word she can think to describe it is smitten

“Allie, I really didn’t even want to wait this long.” Any slight frustration in Courtney’s voice is completely swallowed by the warmth of her words.

For a moment they just stand there, grinning rather dumbly at each other. After a beat, Courtney untucks the ball from her hip, dribbling out toward the corner and shimmying through a jab step before sinking a 10-foot floater. 

She grabs her own rebound, and Allie realizes that Courtney might actually be content to return to shooting hoops now that she’s concluded their big emotional moment. Which would be fine if Allie’s heart wasn’t threatening to crack through her rib cage.

“Switch?” Courtney asks over her shoulder, good natured and seemingly unfazed as she heads to the top of the key. Allie doesn’t say a word, just walks straight over to her and knocks the ball out of her hand. 

Courtney turns, clearly surprised to see Allie holding the ball out of her reach, a smirk spreading and growing.

“You gonna give that back?” she asks, and she’s stepping up into Allie’s space before she even has the chance to say anything.

Allie shakes her head, smiles, gets half of her comeback — a soft “if you make me” — out before Courtney reaches out to fold her hand around the collar of her hoodie. 

She has a half-second to notice how cold Courtney’s fingers are where they brush her sternum, a half-second to register the slight self-conscious hesitation as she pulls up just an inch in front of Allie’s nose, her eyes fixed on her mouth and her jaw doing that twitch yet again. It’s soft and a touch timid and enough to propel Allie to lean in first. 

Courtney’s mouth tastes like coffee and vanilla sweetener and mint toothpaste. She sucks in a breath when Allie kisses her, the same slight ripple of surprise passing through her as it did in that hotel bed months ago. Allie can feel it when she drops the ball, drops one hand to Courtney’s ribcage and the other to the curve of the arm that’s still holding onto her sweatshirt like an anchor.

Allie kisses Courtney hard and firm, because she can and because she’s wanted to for far, far too long. A breeze cuts through her and she shivers, but inside it feels as if she’s melting, tugging Courtney closer until they’re pressed right up against one another. 

She reaches up to draw her hand along Courtney’s jaw, tipping it back slightly, and Allie can’t help but smile when the cold touch earns a light gasp, the ensuing laugh parting them for the first time, if only for a second.

The problem is, now that they’ve started, Allie can’t seem to envision a world where she stops. She keeps kissing her until they’re both out of breath, chases Courtney’s lips when she finally has to pull away, resting their foreheads together and spreading her hand flat and steady on Allie’s chest.

“Woah.” Courtney’s breath is coming short, and her eyes are shining up with a warmth she’s never seen off the court. “Allie, I—”

She cuts herself off, tugs Allie back in and kisses her again, and again, and again.

It’s too cold to stay this way forever. In an hour, the sky will open up and unleash a full day’s worth of half-icy sludge on the city. But for now, they cling to a few perfect moments in the middle of a basketball court, to the feeling of finally, finally finding each other.

Chapter Text

 

The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway 

Is that it's you

And that you are standing in the doorway



****



Courtney isn’t sure when exactly she fell in love with Allie. But she knows it was early. Maybe even a little too early.

She does know when she realized it. She had dated before, been enamored with partners, with people. She had thought she’d fallen in love.

But then came a Tuesday morning in April, when all of Chicago was beginning to shed the drab overcoat of winter and blossom into spring. 

Allie was a little wired — she’d made four threes the night before, finishing with sixteen points. She kept apologizing for being over caffeinated, but she clearly didn’t mean it, buzzing around the gym and launching ridiculously stupid shots from half court and further out.

Courtney teased her, told her to calm down, but she didn’t mean it either. Hell, she’d had a good game too. That normally happened — when one of them played well, the other heated up as well.

And then she lobbed a long pass to Allie, who caught it like a freaking wide receiver, put it between her legs three times and threw it in a weird variation of a sky lob, shouting a dorky little “Kobe!” as it arced across three-quarters of the court and then smashed through the rim with an almost violent swish

For a moment, they were silent, staring at each other in disbelief. Then Allie’s jaw dropped in a half-manic grin, stretching out her arms as she performed the most excessive airplane celebration ever seen in the entire city of Chicago. Courtney did what you’re supposed to do as a teammate — chased her, yelled expletives at her, threw the ball at her, all while grinning.

Allie turned around during all of this, and her smile was buoyant and her eyes were glittering with warmth and Courtney’s whole world just kind of clicked into place.

Oh. So that’s what that feels like

It had only been seven weeks since they first met — really met — in that airport. Seven weeks. But the longer Courtney knows her, the more she truly believes that it only takes a handful of minutes to fall in love with Allie.

After that, it keeps happening. Again and again.

Before a morning practice, Elena squirts her water bottle into Allie’s face and her look of shock and fury makes Courtney’s chest feel as if it’s trapped in a vice.

Allie hits a game-tying three and runs straight to Courtney, jumps into her arms and clings to her, and Courtney just does her best to hold on.

They’re walking through Uncasville in the early morning on the way to get coffee. It’s May and it’s one of those mornings where it’s warm in the sunlight and cold under any shadow. Allie doesn’t say anything, and Courtney doesn’t either, but it’s not really quiet. The city is waking up sleepily around them and they’re slowly regaining their consciousness as well, feet trudging along the sidewalk. Every few steps, the backs of their hands brush slightly. Every time, Courtney sneaks a glance at Allie’s profile and she knows she’s not imagining that slowly-growing smile.

The first and second times that Allie kisses her confirm two things.

  1. She is hopelessly, stupidly in love with her.
  2. She has absolutely no idea what to do with that.

She thinks Allie can tell. After all, Courtney was the one who delivered a big speech about wanting to date her, then immediately went back to shooting jumpers. It was very stupid, and she was very grateful when Allie didn’t let that mess go on for long, but it sort of captured her complete incapability to do anything smart whenever Allie was around.

Courtney doesn’t really know what she expected from Allie. Definitely not for her to actually like her back. Not for her to seek her out at every possible moment.

And she’s been sort of overwhelmed by the way Allie always rushes into things. It’s only been a few days and they’ve only kissed a handful of times, but every single time it’s like she goes a little bit crazy and it’s Courtney’s favorite goddamn thing in the world.

Allie always kisses her like the shot clock is running out, like she’s trying to cram a year’s worth of longing into a couple minutes. Her hands are in constant motion, as if she’s doing her best to memorize every inch of Courtney’s skin as quickly as possible, her fingertips sometimes drumming a nervous staccato into the notches of her spine.

More often than not, Courtney finds herself slowing them down, not because she’s unready for the next step but because she wants to savor everything in between, wants Allie to know that she can take her time, that she’ll be here as long as she wants or needs.

But she’d be lying if she didn’t admit that she loves the insistency, the way Allie follows after her when she pulls away, the way she barrels through any soft touches to slow them down. Honestly, the way she goes about things — frantic, a touch needy — threatens to completely consume Courtney.

It all really comes to a head four days after that morning on the court. Everything has been the same and wholly different at the same time. They spend all their time together, like always. But now it feels like there’s a gravitational pull between them, making it impossible to spend more than hours apart without crashing back together.

They go to an early dinner with Shay and Ty and the rest. After, they all spill out onto the street, already seeking the closest place to get a round of drinks started. Piph advocates for their usual place. Elena begs them to give some new wine bar a try, just for one glass.

Courtney’s already flagging down a cab. She knows they’ll all end up at their normal place, and she knows the current bickering will give her enough time to check in on Romeo before heading out to meet up with everyone. Hell, at their normal pace, she’ll probably beat them.

“Hey—” She brushes her fingers across Allie’s hipbone. “I’m gonna go walk the pup before all this, I’ll meet you guys there okay?”

Allie’s face brightens immediately, and she catches Allie’s fingertips in her own for a moment.

“I’ll come with.” She jerks her chin sideways at their teammates, who are still arguing good-naturedly. “Who knows how long this will take.”

Allie reaches out her hand the moment they’re in the cab together, and Courtney holds it between her own palms, grinning dumbly as they talk lightly.

The moment Courtney lets Romeo out of his crate, he barrels straight to Allie.

“Typical,” Courtney laughs, and Allie is already down on her knees, scooping up his tubby little body. “Lord, he loves you.”

“What’s not to love?” Allie croons it in her ridiculous dog voice, and it makes Courtney laugh even harder as she passes over his leash.

The domesticity of it all hits Courtney when she hop-skips off the last stair onto the sidewalk. Allie takes her hand, tugs it close to their bodies as they walk down the street, Romeo trotting ahead and looking back occasionally. They stop at the first little grassy area about a block away, and as the little bulldog sniffs around, Courtney can’t help looking at Allie.

It’s early but the sun is already on its downward trajectory, washing Allie’s face in warm light, and she has this soft little smile that seems to be held just for herself.

“What?” she asks, looking up at Courtney, and she honestly doesn’t have an answer.

“Nothing.” Courtney steps a little closer. “You’re pretty.”

Allie makes a face, turns a little red, and Courtney grins even wider.

Her hands feel a little half-frozen by the time they get back to her apartment. Courtney shrugs off her coat and takes Romeo’s leash off, moving into the kitchen. Allie kicks off her shoes and pads in behind her, slipping by to wash her hands. 

Courtney’s just about to ask her if she thinks their teammates have settled on a bar to burn down when she feels hands on her waist. Allie’s mouth is warm on her neck where it had been bared to the cold, and she lets herself be turned around and kissed up against the kitchen counter.

Romeo scampers between their legs, and Allie laughs as Courtney nudges him away with her foot. They’re close, enough that Courtney can count each of Allie’s individual eyelashes, and she’s just gotten to six when she kisses her again, forcing her to lose track of all focus or sense of time. 

Courtney has seen Allie, obviously, in the weight room and in practice. She knows she’s strong, even though she’s smaller and more wiry than most of their teammates. She knows she’s pretty built, that she has an actual, like, fully defined six pack. And yeah, Courtney knows she’s two inches shorter and that Allie squats a solid 35 pounds more than her on most days.

But it still surprises her when Allie’s grip tightens around her — one arm barring firmly against her lower back, the other slipping low to catch under one of her knees — to lift her almost effortlessly onto the counter. At first Courtney is too eager to use the sudden height disparity to her advantage, tipping Allie’s head back to kiss her as deeply as possible, sliding her grip down to push Allie’s jacket off her shoulders.

After a second, though, she has to make a joke about it. Just because.

“Jeez, you been hitting the weight room?” she mumbles against Allie’s cheek, leaning down a little to kiss the corner of her mouth again. Allie lets out a laugh in response.

“You’re light,” she says, shrugging with a sort of nonchalant swagger that makes it really hard for Courtney to think up anything else to say for a moment, which is fine until Allie fixes her mouth on Courtney’s neck and starts tugging at the bottom of her shirt.

For a bit she gives into Allie’s pace, lets her pull her shirt over her head. Allie steps back for a moment, her grin a little manic as she slips out of her own shirt and then sidles back up between Courtney’s legs.

“Hey.” Allie smiles up at Courtney, and once again the reversal of their height difference is intoxicating enough to shut Courtney’s brain off.

“Hi,” she says, leaning down to kiss her again.

They stay like that for a while. But then Allie’s hands move a little more boldly, first along the outside of her thighs, then low on her ribcage. Courtney feels on fire and she’s practically shivering as she does her best to keep quiet, and she digs her nails into Allie’s biceps. It’s enough to make her flinch.

“Hey.” Allie pulls back, her hands resting still on Courtney’s sides, eyes a little wide with concern. “What’s wrong, do you want to stop?”

“No!” It comes out a little fast, a little sharp. Allie smirks almost immediately at it. “No, no— I mean, just— nothing’s wrong.”

“You sure?” Allie drops her hands, moves them up the sides of her thighs again in a gesture that’s clearly meant to be supportive, squeezing lightly, but it just makes Courtney twitch slightly under the touch. “Courtney, we can stop. We’re not in any rush.”

She laughs at that. Allie is still pressed up in between her legs, and half of her clothes are scattered on the floor around her, which makes her last statement seem a little outlandish.

“Okay, well that’s not true,” Courtney says, her voice low and teasing enough to get Allie to laugh, too.

“Shut up.” There’s a slight flush spreading up Allie's neck to her cheeks, and it makes Courtney feel a little better as she ducks her head for a moment. “I’m just— I’m making up for lost time. I’ve been thinking about it too long.”

“Really?” Courtney feels a little stupid asking the question, especially when Allie gives her that look in response.

“You don’t just make out with the girl you like in a hotel room and then forget about it,” she mutters, leaning in close to Courtney again, and she hates herself for it but the shivering feeling is back again.

“Oh.” The moment Allie hears Courtney speak, she stops moving. “I guess— I just—”

For the second time, Allie pulls away, wordlessly gives her space to figure things out, and god Courtney loves her for it.

“I just want to be able to remember all of it,” she says. 

For a moment, Allie just studies her, eyes serious as they slowly track over Courtney’s face.

“Okay,” she says, offering that sweet little smile, the one Courtney rarely sees around other people. “We can slow it down, then.”

For a moment, Allie looks like she’s ready to pull back completely, to put their clothes back on and offer to be the one to call the cab to meet their teammates at the bar. Courtney feels guilty for it, but even more so she feels panicked. They only have a handful of nights left in the same city and she can’t kick the feeling that she’s wasting them all away.

So she does the first thing she can think of — she reaches out for Allie. Her fingers catch on the loop of her jeans, holding Allie in place.

“I don’t want to stop.” Allie glances down at where Courtney’s fingers dance across her hip bone, and she has a dangerous look in her eye when she returns her gaze upward. “I just— I guess I’m just worried you’ll regret it.”

“I’m sor— what?” Just as quickly, that dangerous look melts away, replaced by something soft and worried and slightly hurt. “Do you understand how much I’ve thought about this? And want it?”

Courtney feels a little chastised, even though she knows it’s not the point of all this. She doesn’t really know how to verbalize the fact that she’s not doubting Allie — she’s just doubting herself. Doubting that she’s judging this. That she’s reading the signals right. That she’s actually, possibly, got a chance here.

Some of it must be flickering on her face, though, because Allie’s next words are soft, gentle

“Okay.” Allie’s hands tighten their grip a little. “Can I show you?”

Her throat goes dry. In a haze, Courtney nods.

“Okay.” She closes her eyes, hums softly when Allie kisses her throat again. “We’ll go slow, okay? But let— just let me?”

Courtney nods again, and Allie grins.

It’s later and the dying sunlight that was slanting diagonally through the windows of her apartment is completely gone now and Romeo is passed out in his crate and there’s a pair of joggers half-flung into the hallway and Courtney is flat on her back in bed doing her absolute best to not fall apart completely.

“Allie?” There’s a hum from where Allie is pressing a kiss into the inside of her thigh. “You don’t need to take it slow anymore.”

“You sure?” There’s a glint in her eyes when she looks up at Courtney. “No rush.”

“Please—” Courtney turns bright red the moment it comes out of her mouth.

Allie, for her part, props her chin up on one hand and grins devilishly up at her.

“Okay, I need to hear that one more time.”

Courtney reaches back, grabs a pillow and throws it point blank into her face.

“I hate you,” she says, and Allie just grabs the pillow, looping an arm under Courtney’s knees to lift and position it under her hips. The movement is so smooth and sure that it makes her suck in a breath.

“No you don’t,” Allie says.

“No,” Courtney responds, and she’s smiling down at Allie with her heart halfway to overflowing. “No, I don’t.”

It’s even later and the sun is completely absent from the sky and the dark is quiet and comforting. Both of them had sent excuses to their teammates at some point, deliriously hoping that they were drunk enough already to not think anything of it. Now, Allie is flat on her back, Courtney suspended halfway over her, propped up on her elbow. It’s different, a sort of reversal from their normal position. Allie’s breath is still coming uneven and Courtney is still twitching with unasked questions.

“Hey, uh— can we check in for a second?” She hates the way it grates out, loves the way Allie smiles at her, all soft and sweet and blissful, reaching up to tangle her fingers in Courtney’s hair, scratching absently at the nape of her neck.

“‘Course.” She presses a kiss to Courtney’s shoulder. “What’s up?”

“I just— want to make sure we’re on the same page, you know?” Courtney’s stuttering, which is a little silly, and she drops her eyes to follow the way her fingertips trace across Allie’s collarbone. “And uh, I guess, I don’t know. We leave so soon and it’s going to be really different overseas and, uh— what do you think this is? Or, like, want it to be? Just, like, it’s cool to be honest.”

“Oh.” Allie looks up at her, thoughtful and serious for a moment. “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you. If we’re being honest.”

She says it calmly, easily, with only a slight ghost of a smile.

When she was in high school, Courtney’s AAU team came up with the bright idea to do a polar plunge. 

She’d done something similar when she was little at Girl Scout camp, but that was just an early morning leap into a pool with a few bags of ice thrown in for good measure. This was for real. They were playing upstate in late January. The weather had warmed up just enough to melt the ice off a local lake, but not enough to rid any of them of their double and triple-layered clothing every time they left the gym.

Courtney wasn’t stupid. She knew it was a bad idea. Part of her even thought one of them might get hurt, panicked a little at the thought of it. But she wasn’t exactly one to back down for a challenge.

So when they all snuck out of their hotel and made their way down to the shore, Courtney was at the head of the pack. The ground seemed to be snapping and crackling under their feet, ice still dusting everything in the quiet of the hour just before the sun comes up.

There was a pause, and then Courtney and her two best friends all dove forward. She was the only one who went headfirst.

It was so cold that it hurt, so cold that her lungs felt stabbed through with something sharp, so cold that she felt a needling, prickling sensation long after the bus ride home. 

But in the first few seconds — before the cold and the pain and the half-excited, half-horrified yelps began — Courtney felt nothing. It was peaceful, calming, pure. She felt completely encased by the half-water, half-ice around her, a sort of full-body freeze.

As Allie looks up at her, calmly handing her heart over with an unbearable level of trust in her eyes, Courtney feels an identical exhilaration rush through her.

“Is that cool?” There’s a flicker of doubt in Allie’s eyes when she’s met with a moment of silence, and Courtney shatters it, figures the best thing to do is just kiss it away.

For once, she lets herself be the frantic one, framing Allie’s face with both hands and bearing down on her.

“Shit, that’s— that’s more than cool, that’s—” She pulls back just long enough to look at Allie, trying her best to impart the emotion that’s currently flooding her. “Same.” 

Allie laughs, and god if it doesn’t make Courtney’s chest hurt the same damn way every time she hears that sound.

“Same?” There’s a teasing tone to Allie’s voice, to the way she wraps her arms around the small of Courtney’s back, keeping her pulled tight and close.

“I think I’m in love with you too.” 

The words come out as a rush. And despite her seeming confidence from before, there’s a slight hitch in Allie’s breath, a slight quiver to her smile that makes Courtney realize just how goddamn nervous they both were for this.

“Okay.” She brushes their noses together, tips her head to the side to press a kiss into Courtney’s cheek. “Cool.”

They’re staring at each other. It’s the kind of moment Courtney wants to get lost in, wants to capture and savor forever.

“Allie?” She brushes a few strands of hair off her cheek, and Allie turns her head further, kisses her fingertips, her palm, her wrist, humming a slight response in the back of her throat. “Can I kiss you again?”

And she does.

Chapter Text

And in the morning when I'm waking up

I swear that you're the first thing that I'm thinking of

I feel it in my body, know it in my mind

Oh, I'm gonna love you for a long time




***

 

There isn’t a good way to prepare for long distance.

For not planning on any of this to happen, their logistics aren’t the worst in the world. Courtney is in Gyor. Allie is only five hours away in Krakow. It could be worse. Some of their teammates scattered to Spain, Italy, as far as Russia. It could be worse.

(Allie keeps repeating that to herself, clings tightly to those words, tries to will them into being the truth. Honestly, she doesn’t know how she’s going to last. Part of her worries that she’ll go back to the person she was before Courtney if they spend this long apart.)

On the plane, Courtney keeps squeezing her hand and Allie can’t tell which one of them it’s meant to reassure. Eventually, they both fall asleep with their fingers intertwined, Courtney’s head sagging onto her shoulder.

They always cling to each other when they sleep. It's one of the many small things Allie really wasn’t expecting about Courtney — besides, well, everything. 

She’s a pretty big advocate for personal space, never has really been the type of person to dogpile on her teammates when they’re hanging out. Allie knows she’s a little awkward about that kind of physical contact — her sister jokes it’s because she was closeted in Catholic school which, well, probably has some truth to it — and that's always extended to whoever she’s dating.

With Courtney, everything is different.

The first time they slept together in that hotel bed, she’d woken up to find both of them fully tucked into one another. Allie had rolled onto her back at some point, but her whole body was still angled into Courtney, who had rolled slightly on top of her. Her head rested on Allie’s chest, one hand fastened to her shirt. 

She looked down and she didn’t feel claustrophobic. She felt light, warm. Allie looked down at Courtney and smiled and breathed . For a moment, she pretended they could stay like this forever, pressed her nose a little closer to the top of her head and sank into the smell of her shampoo.

Eventually, Courtney woke up, grumbling and annoyed as always at the concept of morning. But the moment didn’t really shatter fully. Allie kept it close in her chest, held onto it and thought about it whenever things between them were hard.

The second time they slept together — and the third, and the fourth, and every time after — Allie realized that wasn’t a mistake or a one-time thing. It didn’t matter if she was sleeping or watching a movie or just drifting into thought. The moment her brain shut off, her body reached out for Courtney, tugging her close like it was an instinct, like it was second nature.

Allie might have felt self conscious about it if Courtney didn’t clearly do the same thing, if it wasn’t a simultaneous, thoughtless act — both of them reaching for each other at all times.

It hurts a little more on the plane, though. They haven’t gone more than a week without seeing each other since March — hell, Allie is pretty sure it hasn’t been more than four days. The distance feels tangible, even when it doesn’t exist yet. Even on a transatlantic flight, Allie tries her best to stay awake for every second that she still gets to hold Courtney’s hand.

Saying goodbye is the same as everything else between them. There’s no big effusive display of emotion, because Courtney doesn’t need to deliver some speech or make a grand gesture to make it clear to Allie exactly how she feels. Instead, she takes one of her hands between both of her own, looks down for a moment before holding Allie’s gaze, firm and purposeful.

“Three weeks.” Her voice shakes a little. “Totally doable.”

“Totally.” Allie smiles back at her. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know,” Courtney says, and there’s weight to it, this solid belief that they both have in one another. “Give ‘em hell and keep that release quick.”

They don’t hold onto their hug for too long, and Allie does her best not to watch Courtney walking away. It’s not goodbye. She knows that. She knows.

Back when they were still stateside, they set rules for themselves in an attempt to keep their relationship from overlapping too much with their daily routines while they're overseas. It was smart, logical. Allie felt confident in all of it.

They break them all within the first two days. They were good rules, really. Smart, logical. The problem is that there’s nothing particularly logical about the ache that wedges itself between Allie’s ribs the moment Courtney gets on her flight to Hungary.

Within hours, wifi feels like a lifeline. Allie spends every free second she has on her phone, sending more texts than she’s ever sent in her life. She feels stupid, like a middle school kid with a crush, except for the fact that Courtney is just as eager, just as attentive, sending her pictures of her morning coffee and recaps of her afternoon weight sessions and in-depth analyses of each of her new teammates.

They FaceTime every night, and then that spills over into the mornings. Allie shifts her morning alarm a half-hour earlier just so she can listen to Courtney wake up while she drinks her coffee. Her teammates get used to her ducking out of dinners and movie nights for minutes at a time, just so she can hear Courtney's voice.

The first two weeks feel like a lifetime. Part of that is just the whiplash of a new routine — two-a-day workouts, getting to know new teammates, doing her best to navigate a new city. But each day feels lengthened just a bit by the way she misses Courtney.

Courtney’s a little out of breath one day when they’re on the phone, and it makes Allie miss their weekly shooting session, makes her long to be back on the same court again.

“Would it be, like, super needy if I came over there on my first off day?” There’s a slight edge of insecurity to Courtney’s voice, which is rare. “Like, even if it was just a day?”

“God, no,” Allie says, leaning back onto her couch, closing her eyes and doing the mental match of how much longer she has until enough time to take a train to Hungary. “Please do that. Ours isn’t for another week but promise I’ll make it happen.”

“Okay, good.” Allie can hear her smile through the phone. “In that case, do you mind opening the door?”

On cue, there’s a knock at the door and a skip in Allie’s chest as her heart, apparently, forgets to work for a moment. She nearly rolls an ankle launching herself over the couch, ripping the door open so excitedly that Courtney bursts out laughing before she can even say anything.

“Miss me?” Courtney is smirking at her, doing her best to look unaffected as she stands in the doorway with a duffel bag in one hand.

“Shut up,” Allie mutters, dragging Courtney into the apartment and quieting her as quickly and effectively as she can.

It barely lasts for 48 hours. Nothing of real note happens during that time. They fall asleep together. Courtney sleeps even more during Allie’s practices. They go on a walk and when they’ve both had enough of the crisp air they duck into a small restaurant and stay for three hours. 

They talk, and they talk, and they talk more. Sometimes, they sit in the quiet, too. Courtney has a way of watching Allie, her smile small but firm, and it warms her deep into her bones.

They’re eating breakfast at the cafe down the street and Courtney’s train leaves in four hours and Allie says something that makes her tip her head with that same little smile.

“Can I kiss you?” she asks, her voice soft as she loops two fingers around Allie’s wrist. She nods, laughing slightly.

“I think you’re past the need to ask,” Allie says, and Courtney grins down at the floor.

“I know but—” Courtney doesn’t finish her sentence, just gestures around the cafe, and Allie gets it.

They haven’t taken this step yet. Allie hates that it’s a step at all, that it’s a question for either of them, but god does she love Courtney for asking. And the only answer she can really think of, in the moment, is to lean over and kiss her, quick and soft and unshakably certain.

“We’re good.” She pauses, kisses Courtney’s cheek, smiles when she can feel her blushing. “Anywhere you want.”

Three weeks later she’s trying her best to get comfortable in an airport terminal on the way to a road game when Courtney texts asking if she has time for a call. Never mind that it’s 4 a.m. — their schedules have forced them to stick to texting for several days, and Allie hits the “call” button without even thinking.

“‘Morning.” Allie can’t help the way she smiles when she sees Courtney’s face, a little too close to the camera, hair tucked up into a bun and eyes wide as she  “Why are you so awake right now?”

Courtney is sort of infamous for how greatly she hates mornings. She doesn’t wake up easy. Like, at all. It’s nice when they’re together, because falling asleep next to Courtney is like falling asleep next to a small radiator, curling up warm and small next to Allie and refusing to move until she’s achieved ten hours of blissful unconsciousness.

So right now, it’s just a touch unnerving to see Courtney’s smile so bright and eager on the screen.

“It’s been four days since we called,” Courtney says, and she’s got that smile on her face that only comes when she knows she’s about to embarrass Allie. “I missed your face.”

Allie ducks her head, looks around for her headphones, but it’s already a little too late. Jantel is looking at her from two seats over, her eyebrows shooting up close to her hairline. When Allie sees that, she stops her half-hearted search, slumps back and makes a face at Courtney.

“You’re annoying,” Allie mutters. It’s too early to even bother. And she meant it — she doesn’t want to hide this anymore. If Courtney wants to say embarrassingly sappy things over FaceTime at 4 a.m. when she knows Allie’s entire team is within earshot, so be it.

“Ah, you miss it.” Courtney has this look on her face like she wants to say more, but she holds back. It softens Allie even more.

“I do.” She takes a little too much joy from the way Courtney grins at that. “So, so much.”

Later, of course, Jantel drops herself into the seat next to Allie on the plane and begins grilling her before she even buckles her seat belt.

“So—” She’s doing that thing again with her eyebrows, and Allie rolls her eyes. “Nice FaceTime earlier?”

“Yeah.” Allie is a little too tired and a little too in love to protect her own pride. “This distance stuff sucks.”

It must be something in her tone of voice, because Jantel doesn’t make a single joke. Not even a half-hearted one. She just gives Allie’s knee a little squeeze, knocks their shoulders together. They’re quiet for a bit, until Jantel speaks again in a gentler tone.

“I didn’t know that you guys were—” She pauses, her face scrunched up. “I mean, Shay told me she thought it might—”

“Of course she did,” Allie says, rolling her eyes, but there’s no actual malice to it. “Yeah, it— we waited. To actually try anything.”

“You waited until you were living in two separate countries?” Jantel asks teasingly, and Allie winces because — well, yeah, it’s kind of dumb when you put it that way.

“We knew how we felt really early.” Allie tries to explain it, but she’s not the best at articulating something as illogical as this thing between the two of them. “And we didn’t want it to mess with the team so we just kind of, I don’t know— we held off. And now we’re doing all of the early stuff from distance.”

“That sucks.” Jantel’s voice is firm. Allie has to admit it’s nice to talk this out with someone who knows her on and off the court. “But you guys seem— you seem good?”

“We are,” Allie says, and she’s proud of the conviction in her voice, the way she knows it’s true. “We’re really, really good.”

Courtney texts her during practice a week later, after they decided to reschedule a visit because Allie had been sick and Courtney’s knee was flaring up.

I miss you.

Allie gets tired of the words. Gets tired of feeling them, constantly, like a weight.

“I thought you liked talking on FaceTime,” Courtney says one night as she grumbles on about it. Every time she brings up the distance. Her voice is sort of small and guilt sinks heavy in Allie’s stomach. It’s not Courtney’s fault. It’s not either of their faults.

“Not really, it’s just better than the alternative.” Allie smiles, wishes there was a way to wrap her arms around her from this far away. “It’s better than not seeing your face at all. You’ve got a good one.”

Courtney tugs at the strings of her hoodie, ducks her face into it, and Allie smiles wider.

It’s hard, but they manage. Allie spends every spare second on the court or on the phone. She buries herself in basketball, in studying the game and working on her speed, on taking her mind off of the 530 kilometers of separation that are eating her alive. 

They call when they can. They watch each other’s games on fuzzy feeds and in hotel bars during road trips. Their teammates become used to the sight of Allie in the bleachers of Courtney’s practices on her off days, of Courtney piling into a cab with Allie with the rest of the Wisla team when she can manage a visit.

It works. It holds. They’re okay.

And then, rather suddenly, it’s not.

Allie hears her phone vibrating the second she gets into the locker room. She doesn’t get to it in time, pulls it out of her bag to see that she’s missed nine calls from Courtney. It’s sudden, the way her throat closes up, something sharp and icy clawing at her chest as she fumbles to call her back, ducking into the hall.

“Courtney?” She’s doing her absolute best to keep from panicking, but that shatters when she hears Courtney suck in a ragged breath.

“Hey— I, uh, sorry I’m—” Courtney’s voice is thick, stuttering, and it takes Allie a moment to process the fact that she’s crying . “I’m sorry I called so much—”

“Court, what’s wrong?” she asks, and a million different possible nightmare scenarios start flashing through her head.

“The team—” There’s a moment where she can tell that Courtney is doing her best to calm herself down. “I don’t know what happened, it’s just— we’re not—”

Her voice cuts off for a moment, and Allie can’t breathe when she hears Courtney choking back panicked sobs.

In the days following, Allie isn’t sure why or how, but the moment she hears Courtney crying she flips into autopilot. Like everything else between the two of them, it’s natural, instinctive.

She really doesn’t know how she got Courtney to calm down long enough to explain that her team had folded, unexpectedly and shockingly, that their coach had announced the news gruffly at morning practice and then walked out of the room. She doesn’t really remember the conversation she had with her coach — asking if she could miss a single practice, promising she would have a good training partner — to handle a family emergency. She doesn’t remember which airline she booked, or how she got to the airport.

All that Allie really knows is that it’s worth it when, a total of twelve hours after making that call, she drags Courtney into her arms in a sparse airport terminal.

“Allie.” Courtney’s hands are firm on her arms, holding them apart for a moment. “You didn’t have to do all this.”

The next three days will contain plenty of important firsts in their relationship — the first frozen pizza they’ve ever shared, the first time they talk about the future further than the next season — but this one is the most important. It’s the first time Courtney has asked Allie for help without saying anything. It’s the first time she’s come running to her side without question.

“I’m always on your team.” Allie means it when she says it, and Courtney smiles like she knows. “Even when I’m not.”

A week later, Allie is back in Poland and Courtney has moved to Italy and everything is so much harder but it’s also easier because they know . They know this isn’t going anywhere. Not now. Not anytime soon.

They figure out that there are a lot of ways to say “I love you” when they’re this far apart.

It’s waking up early to fit in a 10-minute call before they head to practice. It’s the hours that Courtney spends watching Allie’s games, calling her later to read through a list of notes and thoughts about her form, her release, her transition defense. It’s flowers on Courtney's doorstep on the day of her first game in Italy. 

It’s

I saw this and it made me think of you.

and

Call me when you get out of practice, I have to tell you the craziest story

and

Hell yeah superstar, congrats on the win!

and

sorry for being weird on the phone, I’m just really tired

and

I just had the best cappuccino of my entire life, I’m taking you here the next time you visit

and

alexandria it’s rude ur not here why aren’t u here this is so s tupd ur so dumb

and

You’re cute when you’re drunk, hope you got home safe

and

I swear if you watch that without me I’ll never speak to you again

and

Hypothetically, do you think it would look good if I shaved my head?

and

I miss your face

and

miss you more

and

Five more weeks

and, of course,

I love you so much

over and over and over again.

In February, they somehow manage a full three days together for Courtney’s birthday. Allie suggests they go to Vienna rather than either of their cities, and for three days they get lost in the feeling of being completely alone in a new place together.

She doesn’t even think about it anymore when she reaches for Courtney’s hand in public, when she tugs her closer and kisses her in the middle of the sidewalk. Allie feels her affection overflowing constantly, endlessly, and these days she feels too warm and full to really fight it.

So she doesn’t really think about it, either, when she posts a picture of them together on Instagram for Courtney’s birthday. Or when she writes out a caption that would’ve embarrassed both of them deeply a year ago. The time difference from Russia to Austria delays Shay’s texts by about eight hours, but she laughs openly when she sees them the next day, tipping her screen so Courtney can balance her chin on her shoulder and read along.

Oh???

What happened to telling gossip 2 ur favorite teammate??

Ur the worst

Allie responds with a promise to explain later, tucking away that conversation and that hurdle for another day.

Her league ends two weeks earlier than Courtney’s league in Italy, which means Allie ends up flying home and readjusting to Chicago on her own. She ultimately decides not to return to her apartment immediately, instead staying with her mom to get in as much meaningful time with them before the WNBA season starts back up again.

Even more, she finds herself dreading the idea of being alone with the depth of how much she misses Courtney.

Those nine days are agony. Allie feels melodramatic, using jet lag as an excuse to mope around her mom’s house. It doesn’t help that her family keeps teasing her, asking if she has a countdown down to the second of when Courtney lands stateside.

Her mom and her sister had already met Courtney, of course — after games, during family events that the Sky sometimes held. It took her mom three quick meetings to put it together.

“So—” she said one night in the car to dinner after a game back in June, what feels now like a lifetime ago. “Courtney?”

“Yeah?” Allie asked, doing her best to keep her pulse under control.

“She’s the one?” It sounded more like a statement than a question when her mom said it like that.

“What do you mean?” Her voice wavered. She hated it.

“Allie.” Her mom’s voice is kind, but firm. “You’ve never looked at someone like that.”

“I know, mom,” she murmured, turning her head to look out the window. “I know.”

Allie brought her home two days after they decided to start dating. Her mom loved her, of course. Her brothers and her sisters took a few more days to come around, although she was pretty sure they were faking it mainly just for the aesthetics of providing a protective layer for her. And it was one of the things she loved about Courtney — the way she talked to her mom and her sister over FaceTime when they were visiting, the way she respected and understood Allie’s loyalty to her family.

But when she got back from Europe, she found herself wishing her family didn’t take to Courtney quite so strongly, if only so that they’d stop giving her hell for how much she clearly missed her.

Long distance was one thing. Long distance with a seven-hour time difference is an entirely different nightmare, one that Allie wishes she could fast forward through even if it’s just a little over a week, even if the end line is right in sight. 

Her mom teases her for never putting her phone down. Her brothers say she’s looking “moony” which she’s pretty sure is a made up word. Her sister is the nicest about it, taking Allie out to brunch and happy hours to fill her idle time, even though she joins in on the teasing just as well.

Allie doesn’t even sleep the night before she picks Courtney up at the airport. She picks up a dollar coffee on the way, finds herself shaking in the terminal as she waits for her phone to buzz.

It’s 6 a.m. and when Courtney steps off the plane she looks like she barely slept on the whole flight, but the moment she sees Allie she drops everything in her hands and half-runs to close the gap between them. It’s a little more dramatic than their normal taste — Courtney picks her around the waist, gets her halfway into the air, and Allie kisses a little haphazardly in the process.

“Hey,” Courtney says, pulling back, her voice unsteady.

“Hi.” Allie leans them closer again, brushes their noses lightly together. “I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything.” Her voice is insistent and Allie grins widely.

“Can we never do long distance again?” She feels selfish, stupid, asking it. But then Courtney’s arms just tighten around her waist, and as she buries her face in her neck, Allie gets a feeling — that she might never be let go again.

“You’ve got it.” Courtney’s voice is warm, soft in her ear. “Never. Promise.”

Chapter Text

But all I really know

You're where I wanna go

 

***

 

A lot of things happen in the three weeks before preseason begins.

Shay gets waived. It sucks a lot more than Allie was expecting. She’d grown comfortable having a best friend on the team, someone she could talk to and hit up for drinks on off nights. She knows rationally that everyone else sees Courtney as that person for her, but for Allie it had added an extra layer of comfort to have someone who was just a friend.

She helps Shay pack up two days later, after she’s signed with Phoenix. Shay keeps trying to throw all her coats and sweatshirts into a trashbag — “I’m telling you,” she says, holding two aloft in her hand as Allie reaches for them, “It’s too fucking hot in Arizona for this shit.” — and Allie keeps doing her best to keep from either laughing or crying. She’s used to goodbyes in this sport, but damn if this team hadn’t started to feel like a little bit more this year.

One of the reasons she loves Shay is that she waits a full two hours before finally breaking down and asking the question.

“So we’re really not gonna talk about it?” When Allie turns to look at her, she holds up both hands defensively. “Not judging. Just, like, looks like a lot is going on.”

Allie sits down carefully on the arm of the couch. She’s talked to a lot of people about this — her sister, her mom, Jantel, plenty of her friends — but it’s her first time trying to explain it to someone on the Sky. Which, technically, Shay isn’t anymore. But still. It’s closer.

“No, we should— I should. Talk about it.” Allie feels surprisingly nervous, especially given the serious way Shay is looking at her now. “We’re together. Courtney and I are— we’re dating.”

Shay’s grin is immediate.

“Hell fucking yeah.” She looks genuinely, warmly excited and it calms Allie down just a bit. “Are things good? Like how is it?”

“Really good,” Allie says. She loves saying it — she hates talking about herself, but she has to admit she loves talking about Courtney. “I mean, things were hard, don’t get me wrong. Distance sucked. But we did it and now we’re here and it’s good. Like, she’s really great.”

Shay looks like she’s going to say something, but instead she just crosses the room, wrapping Allie up in a slightly crunching hug. Eventually she asks how it happened, who kissed who first, and Allie once again falls into the easy, happy pattern that she loves of talking about Courtney.

She tells her about that night at the bar, about figuring things out slowly over the course of the season. Shay threatens that she’s going to start crying when she retells the story of Courtney’s movie moment on the court after the season ended. She nods along in sympathy when she explains how they started this whole thing at a distance, how they navigated calls and texts and flights across to Italy to get to where they are now. 

“So, real talk—” Shay’s eyebrows do a weird dance and Allie can’t even control the way her eyes roll. “—how good is it? You know, like—”

She interrupts her own sentence with a lewd hand gesture and Allie’s whole face turns a deep shade of crimson.

“I hate you,” Allie mutters, because this is definitely not something she’s talked about with her mom or her sister or, quite frankly, anyone.

“Nah, you don’t.” Shay bumps her shoulder. “Come on, I’m not even your teammate anymore, you gotta tell me. If we don’t have dirty secrets, what else we got?”

“I really, really hate you,” Allie repeats, but she looks down to the ground and sighs, knowing it’s easier to give up now rather than later. “It’s… things are good. Really good.”

Really good?” Shay practically crows, and Allie laughs.

“Honest?” She looks over and Shay looks eager and proud and it makes her laugh harder. “Yeah. Yes. Really, really good.”

Shay makes this obnoxious yipping noise in response, and Allie hits her in the arm a little harder than necessary. 

“Do you think this is going to be bad for the team?” Allie’s voice is hesitant when she asks it. This is her biggest anxiety. That they’ll mess things up, that sometimes being on the team will hurt her and Courtney. Or, even worse, the other way around — that they could make the team worse by being together on it.

“Q, come on.” Shay shakes her head, scrunches her face up. “Don’t get like that.”

“I’m just saying.” Allie feels a little frantic, and she can tell that Shay picks up on it. “This is, like, the script when it comes to bad decision making. I feel like I’m in the first part of a stupid Hallmark movie where I’m gonna have to pick, like, love or basketball at the end.”

“Okay, you’re right,” Shay says, slowing her voice down thoughtfully. “But, I don’t know. It’s you guys. Kind of feel like you two being together makes everything a little better.”

There’s a feeling in Allie’s chest when Shay says that, like something is pressing tight and firm and warm against her ribs. She always has this feeling about her and Courtney — that it’s just something that’s supposed to be, that everything about them makes sense. Still, every time someone else sees the same thing it makes her head spin.

“Yeah?” she asks and her voice is small but Shay’s smile is wide and sure.

“Allie.” She says it like it’s the most obviously thing in the world, like Alli’s stupid for having any doubt, like there’s only one right answer here. “Yes. You guys are the absolute best for each other.”

They waste a few more hours trying to get things into boxes, and finally Shay kicks Allie out for being “too picky” about her packing habits with a promise to get dinner the next day. 

Allie goes straight to Courtney’s — something that’s become a habit. She sends a text, knocks lightly on the door when she gets there, is halfway into the foyer by the time she hears a yell of “it’s open!” echo from inside.

It’s a habit, but she still feels nervous. Just a little flutter in her stomach, just a little clench in her chest as Courtney comes around the corner and catches her in both arms and kisses her quickly and lightly, like it’s nothing.

“Hey.” She kisses her again, and Allie traps her with both arms around her waist.

“Hi.” There are so many things she loves about the way they fit together. Courtney kisses in this way that’s always deeply focused, just like her movements on the court. And their height difference is just a couple of inches, but it’s enough to force Courtney to tip her chin up whenever she kisses her, angling her in a way that’s always so soft and vulnerable that it makes Allie’s heart threaten to break.

“Missed you,” Courtney mumbles, pressing her face momentarily into the crook of Allie’s neck to hide a small, embarrassed smile. “How’s Shay?”

“As good as you can expect.” Allie steels herself — she promised herself she would finally start a conversation today that they’ve needed to have for weeks. “I, uh, distracted her. By telling her about us.”

Courtney steps back, but Allie keeps her close, tightening her grip around her waist.

“Oh?” Her head tips slightly to one side, face scrunched up as if she’s concentrating on not looking too panicked. “How’d that go?”

“I think we need to tell everyone.” Allie says it quietly, and she’s relieved when Courtney nods immediately. 

It’s a pretty easy decision of who will be the one to tell everyone. Courtney has been on the team longer, knows everyone better. Allie’s best friend on the team just got cut. It makes sense that Courtney — who’s the starting point guard, well on her way to becoming the captain — should break the news.

And they agree that they should wait a little longer. Just enough to let everyone get settled and adjusted with one another again after the long time abroad. But then a day passes, and they’re meeting up with their teammates again for the first time in what feels like years, and Allie is running late and Courtney gets a small wave of bravery in the form of a beer and opens her mouth a little earlier than expected.

“Hey, so, uh—” Courtney knows how awkward she sounds. “Allie and I are dating. Just, as like— felt like a thing you guys should know.”

The immediate responses are somewhat mixed.

“Were you not already?” Piph looks genuinely confused. 

“Fucking finally .” That’s Elena, who rolls her eyes but then fixes Courtney with a warm smile.

“Oh.” Sylvia is the only one who gives them the good grace of looking surprised. “Wait, what?”

This time it’s Courtney who explains the whole timeline on her own, with plenty of eager urging from her teammates who she slowly realizes are doing their best to conceal their complete, outright joy at the situation.

“We really, really don’t want to fuck things up for the team.” She had basically rehearsed these finishing lines, both to herself in the mirror and to Allie. “But we didn’t want to hide it, either. I’m really happy and proud to be with her, and I hope we can all make this work.”

There’s a soft sort of quiet after Courtney stops talking. Her teammates look at each other, then back at her, confusion apparent.

“Court—” Ty tips her head to one side, a smile growing. “You know we’re fucking thrilled about this right? No sales pitch needed.”

The room, for some reason, erupts into laughter at that. It’s less about Ty being funny and more about the sudden necessity for a release of energy. Courtney feels flooded with relief. That only doubles when Allie walks in right at that moment, finding Courtney’s eyes immediately, half-smiling with a questioning look as their teammates turn and greet her with even louder laughter.

Telling Pokey is a little harder.

They argue about who should do it for a while. Courtney says it should be her — the coach drafted her, took a chance on her, invested in her for three straight seasons. She's become a mainstay of the team, too, so she figured it might come better from her, offering less risk.

Allie took the exact opposite side of the same argument. She was newest to the team, and if Pokey was going to cut one of them over it, she’d rather it be herself than the starting point guard. Besides, she said, Courtney was younger and had more basketball left in her.

They didn’t exactly fight over it, but there was a tense moment toward the end of the third day of going back and forth. Courtney tossed her head in frustration at something Allie said, crossing both arms and fixing her with a look that was more firm than angry.

“I’m not letting you sacrifice your career for mine.” She tipped her chin up, visibly annoyed by their height difference. “We’re worth the same. Stop acting like we’re not.”

Allie opened her mouth for a moment, looking half ready to fire something back. Then the words made their impact, sinking in and softening everything about her stance, and before Courtney could get in another word she was being kissed firmly, Allie’s hands framing her face.

Shortly after that, they agreed to tell their coach together.

It’s awkward. 

They’re both standing in Pokey’s office like kids who got called in to talk to the principal. Allie eventually sits, but Courtney stays upright. They’re spaced uncomfortably far from each other — they agreed they should display a united front, but maintain as much professionalism as possible to make it clear that their relationship didn’t infiltrate their work life at all. Which results, in reality, in the two of them situating themselves a full yard apart in the small office.

“What’s up?” Pokey’s eyes scan both of their faces. “You two are freaking me out.”

Courtney looks to Allie, who nods and sucks in a breath before talking.

“We just wanted to tell you that we started dating during the offseason.” Courtney keeps her eyes on Allie for a moment longer, if only to take some small strength from the way she sets her shoulders as soon as she gets that first sentence out. “We know this could raise some concern for the team dynamic, so we just wanted to get it out there before the season started. And—”

Allie’s confidence visibly falters for a moment.

“I’m sorry if this is a betrayal of your trust.” Her voice cracks for a moment. “I know you took a real chance on me, and I hope you know that I respect you so much and I just—”

“Allie.” Pokey cuts her off, slicing her eyes toward Courtney for a moment before letting out a light sigh and settling back into her chair. “Okay, Courtney come on, sit down, you’re making me nervous. Let’s talk about this.”

Courtney settles into the chair next to Allie, their elbows brushing slightly for a moment. Allie leans into the contact, knocking their knees together.

“I’m not upset at all.” Pokey’s voice is warmer than either of them expected. “Or surprised, really. You two — I don’t know, you just make sense. And I respect that you wanted to be upfront with me about it from the start, even though you didn’t owe me that either.”

“Coach, we owe you our careers.” Courtney doesn’t mean to cut her off, but she just sort of blurts it out.

“I know.” It’s odd, but Pokey looks — happy? They prepared extensively for stern, angry, disappointed. Not this. “But neither of you had even come out to me before now. You didn’t owe me anything if you were still figuring things out.”

“We’re not.” Allie is the one to nervously open her mouth this time, and she flushes at it immediately. “We’re— like, we’re all figured out. We’re in this thing.”

“Good.” Pokey lifts her chin, gives them both a sort of challenging look. “I trust you both on your own, and I trust you even more together. If anything changes, just come to me, okay?”

They both rush to thank their coach, to reassure her, but Pokey brushes it off quickly.

“I mean it,” she says. “Just hold onto each other.”

It becomes normal after that. Somehow. Allie is surprised by it, by the way it all just works . She wasn’t really one for drama, but she’d sort of just assumed something dramatic would happen. Maybe they’d sneak around for a few weeks. Maybe they’d get in a fight and it would blow up a game. Maybe Courtney would pass to her a few too many times and a teammate would get angry over it. 

Maybe — well, she didn’t know. Her brain came up with a million different scenarios. Exactly none of them come true.

They sit next to each other on the bus and on plane rides, but never room together on the road. On their off days, they’re still in the gym together, although now they typically drive from Allie’s apartment to the facility together, stopping at the same shop to get coffee so often that they get tabbed as regulars.

It’s sort of incredible how easy it all is. How quickly they get used to light teasing from their teammates. How simply they explain the situation to the rookies and new trades. And how, as the season progresses and they spend more time together on and off the court, how much goddamn better they both get.

Allie has been drilling her release since Courtney met her. This year, it seems, it’s finally paying off. It helps that Courtney feels natural every time she finds her off an off-screen or in the corner — not because of any special connection, but because of the hours they spend training together. And it helps that she’s playing the best basketball of her own life.

There’s something fluid about the way they’re playing on the court, both together and apart. Allie isn’t quite at the point where she’s starting, but every time she comes off the bench it’s guaranteed buckets. It helps that she’s normally guarded by a bench player from the opposing team, someone who always underestimates just how quick she can get a shot off.

And Courtney feels a shift in herself at the same time. Partially because she’s been shooting in the gym with Allie enough that her shot is becoming even more deadly. Partially because her confidence is getting bolstered by each win, by each double-digit performance.

Neither of them can tell if they’re playing their best ball because of one another, if this somewhat magical growth would’ve happened if they were apart. Courtney muses about it to Rita — her best, longest friend who still claims she saw this coming from two full time zones away — on the phone, and she gets cut off before she can even finish her long-winded ramble.

“Who cares?” Rita rolls her eyes good naturedly. “You’re here. You’re together. It’s all working out. Cherish that, sister. Cherish it.”

It’s good advice. Even better when, two weeks later, Courtney cuts inside on a hard drive, plants her inside foot and feels a twinge in her knee.

She’s not really aware that she’s on the court until Elena is standing over her. She becomes vaguely aware of the pain in her knee, and then all at once it rushes through her. Courtney’s pretty proud of her overall toughness, but she has to bite her lip at it, clenching both fists in a combination of anger and pain as their head trainer, Christie, makes her way over. 

It sucks. Every second of it. When Elena and Ty lift her up to get her to the sidelines. When she’s eventually wheeled into the locker room, missing the final quarter of the game. It takes 20 minutes for them to decide that she needs an X-ray and an MRI. Courtney spends the whole time staring at the ceiling, trying to listen and tune everything out at the same time.

The only person who hates it even close to the same level is Allie. She shuts off her head for the 13 minutes remaining in the game, swallows up every extra second on the court, drops eight points that don’t do quite enough to edge them back for a win. She tries to stay calm in the locker room — she’s still at work, and there’s a boundary still drawn between how she’s supposed to act as Courtney’s teammate rather than her girlfriend.

(She gets a major rush of serotonin every time she says or hears or even thinks that word in connection with Courtney. Like, a stupidly big rush.)

So it comes as something of a surprise when Pokey grabs her immediately after their postgame talk, tugging her back by her elbow to grab her attention.

“If you grab your stuff, you can go with her to the hospital.” Allie’s stomach drops out. “I’ll have Tree bring you food and a change of clothes if you need it. Just go.”

There’s no room in her tone to question it, and Allie is out the door and into the medical room before she even thinks to thank her coach. Her stomach drops a little further when she finds Courtney sprawled on her back on the exam table, one arm thrown over her eyes in clear frustration with ice strapped all over her knee.

“Time to leave?” she asks at the sound of footsteps, clearly expecting Christie instead of Allie.

“Yeah.” Courtney half sits up at the sound of Allie’s voice, rubbing her face in a clear effort to perk up. “Coach said I can come with. If you want that.”

“Please do.” Her voice is small, and Allie reaches for her hand immediately in response, a wordless promise attached to it.

Allie does her best to make things better. She knows that Courtney has never had a major injury before — literally never, an anomaly in their sport — and she knows the panic that comes in the minutiae of all this. So Allie tries to fill every quiet minute. 

She gives Courtney a play-by-play recap of the final quarter. She holds her hand when she goes into the MRI, makes up a dumb dance to the weird rhythmic noises of the machine. She spends fifteen minutes tossing Goldfish into her mouth from various spots in her room as they wait for results, finally earning a full, real smile when she lands one from the hall to where Courtney is propped up in the bed as Christie cheers on from a chair in the corner.

When the news finally comes, it’s positive — no fractures, no tears, nothing serious. The specialist gives her a knee brace and a prescription for pain meds and a firm order to stay off the court for at least three weeks, which earns a deep groan as Courtney turns her forehead into Allie’s arm, hiding her face entirely.

“That’s doable,” Allie says, wrapping an arm affectionately around Courtney’s shoulders as she buries her face further into Allie’s side. “Totally doable.”

In public — in front of their teammates and coaches and fans — Courtney is a complete professional about rehab. She eats well. She does all of her stretches, all of her exercises. She asks politely each week if she’s allowed to return to full speed, then holds her tongue when the answer remains ‘no.’ She works on her ball handling from a chair on the sidelines at practice, cheers on each of her teammates. During games, she’s the loudest and rowdiest Chicago Sky fan in the building.

In private, she completely falls apart over it. Allie is there, of course, to pick up the pieces.

It takes thirteen days before Courtney makes it through to bed without crying. She hates it, feels weak, feels stupid. Most of the time, Allie is there for it. When she is, Courtney apologizes prolifically until Allie finds a way to shut her up.

Allie’s not really sure how to comfort Courtney — who basically refuses to let herself be comforted — so she resorts to bringing her coffee and cleaning her entire apartment and buying her a pillow specifically meant for elevating an injured leg. She does all of her mobility exercises with her, lets her fixate on anything that interests her or distracts her to the slightest degree.

And when Courtney finally gets back onto the court, her very first session is a shootaround with Allie.

They take it easy — nothing from deep, just a bunch of little bunnies from the block, a few elbow floaters to finish out. Courtney had spent hours during the early weeks of rehab lying on her back and shooting a ball straight up into the air like a kid first learning their form, and now her shots have an almost violent spin to them, dropping through the net with a whip-like snap.

“Looking good,” Allie says as they leave the gym, giving her a little smile, and Courtney grins back, wordlessly wrapping both arms around her waist.

“Thanks for putting up with me,” she mutters into Allie’s shoulder, and she just smiles in response, kisses her head even though they’re both a little gross from the workout.

And just like that, they work. There’s no better way to describe it. Day in and day out, they just make sense together.

When they’re plunged up to their waists in ice baths after a long lifting session, Courtney chattering animatedly to distract herself from the frigid water. When Allie finds any and every way to get under Courtney’s skin during team dinners, starting debates that she knows will get Courtney worked up just to make their teammates laugh. When Courtney knows to stay quiet on the bus ride home from a bad game, or when Allie knows to preemptively fix both their coffees at breakfast.

Ups and downs, wins and losses, none of it really factors between the two of them. They make it all the way to the finals, then get swept with ease by Phoenix and it sucks. It really does. But the pain fades more easily for both of them this time, because in weeks they’re on flights to Poland, to their apartment in Krakow. And being abroad is suddenly easy, too, because it mostly consists of the things they like the most — eating expensive breakfasts and playing basketball and taking trains across the countryside and most importantly doing all those things together.

Courtney starts to realize that they’re growing up together. 

It hits her in December, during Christmas in Seattle. It’s the first time Courtney brought Allie home like this — brought anyone, really, home like this. They go to every single tourist trap in the city and get horrible matching Christmas sweaters from her sister. And then Rita has them over for Courtney to meet her goddaughter for the first time, which ends up in Allie cradling the baby in her arms.

“Can’t wait until the shoe’s on the other foot,” Rita says, beaming down at the three of them, and Allie hums a quiet little affirmation and it all sort of clicks for Courtney.

It’s an unconscious thought. For a moment, the image of this being their future — something beyond splitting each year between two continents, beyond just basketball. It hits Courtney a little hard and a little fast, but not in a way that hurts. It’s just — hopeful . This idea of their future. This idea of growing up like this.

That feeling sticks with her, never really goes away. Their life keeps moving on in this soft, sweet way — winning the Polish Cup, taking a week off to visit Rome, spending three jet-lagged nights watching old cartoons on the couch in their new apartment in Chicago. And Courtney hopes she’ll never lose sight of the feeling that this might last forever. 

She mentions it to Allie one night, scrunches her face up almost immediately at the way it sounds.

“Is that cheesy?” she asks, but Allie is already shaking her head, already leaning over to get all up in her space.

“No.” There’s a smile, and a sigh, and it stays like this — delicate and soft and easy. “Nope, that sounds about right.”

Chapter Text

Yeah, loving is easy

When everything's perfect

Please don't change a single little thing for me

 

***



The court decision comes while they’re in the air on the way to a road game against Atlanta.

It was their earliest takeoff of the season, and everyone is still a little groggy and sore and grumpy from the plane. Flying commercial isn’t exactly suited for a group whose average height tops out a couple inches over six feet. Courtney and Jam are pretty much the only ones out of the team who can ever actually get comfortable in a plane seat, and Courtney has the added benefit of being able to half-burrow into Allie’s side to tuck her legs up. 

So they’re all a little out of it when Ty sees the news and immediately lets out a hoarse yell that echoes through the half-empty terminal.

“Holy fuck—” She’s not really making sense as she shoves at Courtney’s shoulder. “Check your phone, y’all check your phones, make sure I’m not hallucinating this, check your—”

“Oh my god.” Pokey is the one who says it next, and then they’re all scrambling to open their phones all at once.

Allie sees the headline first on Twitter, followed by a steady stream of texts from her sister, her brothers, her mom, her best friend, Shay, her entire team from DePaul—

BREAKING: Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide

Her hand shoots out unconsciously, her grip wrapping firmly around Courtney’s wrist as they both read the same words over and over and over and over.

“Allie.” There’s a slight crack to the way Courtney says it, and when Allie looks over she realizes it’s because there are actual tears streaming down her face. Courtney keeps wiping at them anxiously, but when she looks up she smiles — small and hopeful, building gradually — as their teammates remain reeling around them.

Courtney eventually decides the best way to hide her tears is to bury her face in Allie’s neck, arms wrapped around her ribcage. She’s shaking from something, and Allie can’t tell at first what it is, but when she pulls back she realizes that Courtney is laughing — hard .

The question, of course, comes up sooner rather than later.

They’re eating lunch and Cheyenne matter-of-factly looks up at them over a bite of a salad that barely looks edible and nods at Allie, then Courtney.

“So y’all getting married now?” She says it like it’s a given that they would get married if it was an option, like the only barrier was a ruling in a federal court.

Courtney coughs, chokes slightly on her next breath. Allie just grins at her.

“Chey, we haven’t even been together two years,” Allie says, rubbing her hand gently across Courtney’s back as she takes a long swig of water, still half-hacking.

“Y’all are basically a married couple,” Ty says, her voice good natured, level as she looks between them. “I mean, now that it’s legal—”

“Do y’all mind taking a minute and not proposing to my girlfriend for me?” Courtney finally wheezes out, and now it’s Allie’s turn to fall speechless for a moment.

It’s not a conversation they’ve had head-on quite yet. Marriage had been legal in Courtney’s home state since before they even met, and it’s been legal in Illinois for as long as they’ve been officially together. They’ve talked about a lot of things — living together, life after basketball, baby names. But never the actual ins and outs of a wedding, or marriage, or anything like that.

The conversation moves on, maybe because the rest of Allie’s teammates can see the absolutely overwhelmed look on her face.

In fact, they don’t talk about it again until it’s just the two of them, a full week later. They’re getting coffee before a shootaround and Allie did the ordering, so the barista put her name on both of the cups. It’s her first name, not her last name, but Courtney sort of stares at the cup that reads “Allie” in her hand for a solid minute before Allie finally asks what’s going on and she’s forced to answer a touch too honestly.

“Do you think about it?” She looks up at Allie, who is clearly bewildered about where this is going. “Getting married.”

Allie’s face softens immediately.

“Yeah.” She says it softly, tucking her chin down a little. Their elbows brush, and it still makes Courtney shiver just a little. “You?”

“I think—” Courtney doesn’t really feel brave when she tells Allie exactly how she’s feeling, because there’s this gentle sort of strength that she gets just from looking her in the eye. “If it was going to be anyone, it would be you.”

“Yeah?” Allie smiles, reaches out to brush their fingers together before taking her hand. “Me too.”

It sits between them, a soft warm understanding. There’s a special strength to the possibility of a someday.

That summer is the best summer of Allie’s life. (So far. There will be even better days, she just doesn't know that quite yet.)

She loves that team, loves their inside jokes and their chemistry on the court. They eat team dinners at Pokey’s house and spend long nights sitting at a table like it’s Thanksgiving, like they’re an actual family sitting around and teasing one another. 

They don’t make it to the final, but it’s okay. Allie is happy. She has a coach who believes in her wholeheartedly and she’s somehow become a starter on a team that pushes her, challenges her, loves her. And she has Courtney, who makes everything — offday soccer games and quick trips up to Michigan and long plane flights home after losses — better.

Summer fades into fall and Allie becomes an aunt and she’s not really sure if she could possibly be happier.

In his third week in the world, Sam finally gives into her consistent pressure to take a night off and let Allie and Courtney take care of the baby. Allie holds him for most of the night, propped up on the couch with Courtney’s arm around her shoulders as they watch an NBA game with the sound muted to keep him asleep.

She puts him down a half-hour later, and she’s heating up leftovers in the kitchen when he begins to fuss from the other room over. Courtney reacts wordlessly, slips out of the room and comes back a moment later with Jax cradled in her arms. It’s enough to set Allie still for a moment — Courtney’s arms encase the newborn effortlessly, tenderly, and there’s something about her eyes as she studies his face that makes Allie, out of the blue, feel like she’s going to cry.

“Hey.” She sidles up next to Courtney, slips an arm around her waist. Her other hand brushes across Courtney’s forearm, fingertips drifting lightly across her skin as they both look down at Jax. “I love you.”

Courtney leans her head to the side, presses a kiss into Allie’s temple.

“I love you so much.”

They decided to do things different during this EuroLeague season, leaving the comfort of Poland for a league in Turkey. It was the best setup for them both — living together, playing separately. Courtney signed with Beşiktaş, Allie with Fenerbahçe. 

It lets them train separately, something they haven’t done in over a year. Their offday shooting sessions remain intact, but they become a little less common because their schedules no longer line up. After a few weeks, they both elect to work out twice when the other one has an off day, spending afternoons and evenings on the court with a ball and Romeo yapping around their ankles.

It’s perfect, of course, until their teams have to play each other.

Courtney sort of forgot that guarding Allie is an actual waking nightmare.

Put aside the fact that she literally does not stop moving any time there’s an active play, or that she can pull up and fire off a shot from three feet behind the line in about half the time it takes Courtney to blink. Yes, Allie is technically sort of impossible to cover when she’s having a good shooting night — which, of course, she is tonight.

But that’s not it. No, Allie is a nightmare to guard because she’s annoying as hell. And she doesn’t shut up, from whistle to whistle.

She walks up to Courtney before tip off, smiles sweetly in her face and gives her a friendly tap on the hip.

“You sure you warmed up enough?” It’s a light little chirp, and she keeps smiling like that as she tugs her foot up behind her in a final stretch. “Looking a little stiff there, Sloot.”

“Ha.” Courtney feels a little off-balance from it — Allie had talked a fair amount of smack through the week, but she thought that was mainly kidding. “Cute.”

About five hours ago, they were eating a pregame meal on the couch in their apartment. Allie had slung her legs into Courtney’s lap as she polished off the remainder of her salad, nudging her toe lightly into her stomach. Courtney had smiled at her, catching her ankle lightly in one hand and giving it a little squeeze.

“Love you.” She had said it because she could, because she liked saying it to Allie as often as she could. And because it earned an immediate, brilliant smile.

“Love you more.” Allie had popped up halfway off the couch, only to flop onto Courtney’s side, laying almost her entire body weight onto Courtney’s torso. She welcomed it, like a weighted blanket of sorts, tugging her even closer into her rib cage with both arms, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

Now, on the court, Allie plants both of her palms on her knees and locks eyes with Courtney, her smile just a little dangerous.

“Yeah, you’re gonna wish you warmed up more.”

The whistle blows, the ball goes up for the tip. Allie gets much more annoying from there.

She talks constantly. It’s sort of buoyant, not exactly full-blown shit talking. Courtney is used to it when Allie is on her side, a constant stream of noise that normally rotates between communicating with her teammates and chirping at the other team. What she completely forgot is how goddamn frustrating it is to be on the receiving end of the chirping, not the communication.

“Nope, she can’t shoot that, no worries.”

“What, you out of breath or something?”

“Oh come on, that’s weak.”

When they line up for an out of bounds play, she walks over to Courtney and deadpan tells her that her shoe is untied. It takes every ounce of moral fiber to keep from looking down at her sneaker, just to check.

When she fouls Courtney with two minutes left in the third quarter, she jaws at the referee for a full 30 seconds, then turns around and shrugs at Courtney.

“That’s the only way you’re scoring, right?” Allie says it so amicably at Courtney that she sort of wants to shove her. Or something.

The later the game gets, the tighter they both get up into each other’s grills. Courtney hip checks Allie to the ground on accident when she’s trying to get over the top of a screen. On the next go on the other side of the court, Allie puts a little extra action into the small of Courtney’s back on a box-out.

The worst thing about it is that they’re both playing well. Courtney’s feeling particularly flashy driving in and out of the paint today, and she doesn’t feel a drop of remorse when she dumps a no-look pass right over Allie’s head for an easy bucket down low.

Allie, of course, just answers by pulling up at the opposite end and dropping the cleanest three of her life, letting her shooting arm dangle inches in front of Courtney’s face for a few seconds too long. The basket puts Fenerbahçe up by seven on a 13-5 run, which is enough to elicit a timeout from Courtney’s coach.

“Sorry.” Allie grins at Courtney. “I’ll let you score later.”

Courtney rolls her eyes, but something sharp shoots through her, something distinctly separate from her ever-growing frustration.

“You’re corny.” She half-shoves by Allie on her way to the bench, which just makes her grin wider. “And annoying.”

Beşiktaş manages to get it back within one, with Courtney scooping up an ugly but effective little hooked layup for the final bucket in the run. Allie says something stupid after that — Courtney can’t really hear the specific words, but she can hear the tone of it.

“Do you ever shut up?” She mutters it on the next play, as they lineup for a free throw.

“You know I don’t.” Allie kicks at her ankle, and Courtney shoves her hip back lightly.

It’s annoying. Infuriating. But also, sort of — well, it’s getting Courtney worked up. Not in a way that’s really distracting from her game. She’s way too professional for that. But it’s enough that she notices it, sort of underlying everything she’s doing and thinking. Allie is frustrating in a lot of different ways and it would be distracting if Courtney wasn’t so focused on beating her right now.

They lose. Courtney is frustrated by it, the way she’s frustrated by any and every loss. Allie greets her at half-court, hugs her quick and tight. The annoyance fades a little bit at the genuine, almost earnest way Allie says “good game” in her ear before promising to see her at home.

It’s almost a full hour before Courtney leaves the building.

First, they handle the expected chewing out from their coach. It sucks, like always. Courtney tries to shoulder a bit of the blame, but she played too well for anyone to put up with it. She comforts the two rookies, checks in with a couple of her teammates, then grabs a ball and heads back out to the court.

After any home loss, Courtney shoots to get it out of her system. It’s mostly effective, and especially helpful to calm her down. She always has a hard time sleeping after games, anyways.

She shoots for about half an hour, finishing with twenty made free throws in a row. It takes her five tries — she keeps hiccuping on her shot around the eighteen or nineteen mark — before she hits that series and feels sufficiently calmed down enough to head home.

The moment she opens the door, there’s a sort of clattering from the living room area as Allie straightens up on the couch, tucking a blanket around her and greeting her with that same cocky half-grin.

“Hi.” She tips her head. “There’s consolation ice cream in the fridge if you’re still pissed at me.”

Courtney leans against the entryway wall for a moment, just studying the way Allie is sitting, already reviewing the raw film her assistant coach always emails over immediately after games. No one studies more film than Allie, spends more time watching footage — sometimes, Courtney swears, frame by frame — just to gain an inch of advantage.

“Who said I was pissed at you?” She’s really trying to come across cool and nonchalant. She can tell by the growing smile on Allie’s face that it isn’t working.

“Uh, how about every single facial expression in that game?” Allie sits up a little further. “Looked like someone was getting under your skin.”

“You’re just—” Courtney pushes off from the wall, moves into the living room to get a better angle on things. “You’d get a little less out of breath if you talked less, you know that right?”

Allie shrugs, sucks on her teeth for a moment before breaking into another grin.

“Didn’t seem to be a problem tonight.” It’s light when Allie says it. There’s no actual edge here, nothing truly malicious.

They both played well. One of them had to win, one of them had to lose. Courtney knows — in a way that’s intrinsic, deeply buried, immediately trusted — that Allie honestly wants Courtney to win. She just wants her own team to win a little more, because it’s their job to want to win. They wouldn’t be where they are without that.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to rib each other incessantly over this.

“You’re the absolute fucking worst,” Courtney says, moving closer, standing slightly over her on the couch. Allie just looks up at her, fakes an innocent look. “And you’ve gotta stop talking smack to people smaller than you.”

“Oh yeah?” There’s a tug on her sweats and Courtney doesn’t even fight the way her body sways closer. “You gonna come here and make—”

It’s become an inside joke with them at this point, so it makes sense that Courtney cuts her off before she can finish her sentence, half-scrambling to get one knee on either side of Allie’s hips on the couch and pin her into the cushion with a hand firmly planted on her collarbone.

“Shut up.” 

Courtney’s fingers curl into Allie’s hoodie, and she gives her a small, singular shake that comes out just a little rough, leaning down to nip at her throat. It’s enough to finally get a gasp out of her, enough to throw her off balance, and Courtney takes that as a full victory.

They don’t make it off the couch for a few more hours.

The next time they play each other, it’s on Fenerbahçe’s home court and Allie loses by 13 points. Courtney smacks her on the ass on her way to the postgame presser in a good-natured way with a glint of a smile and it pisses her off so much that they don't even make it in the door when they get home, Allie pinning her to the wall in the entryway before Courtney even gets her bag out of her hands.

“See, I don’t have to talk smack when I win like that,” Courtney says, grinning as she tugs at Allie’s hair lightly, trying to one-hand her hair tie loose. Allie groans and gives her a shove against the wall that's just on the right side of a little too hard, and then it’s her turn to shut Courtney up.

Spring comes, and Allie ends up heading back to Chicago a full four weeks before Courtney once again. Her last day is a little melancholy — Istanbul is finally starting to thaw out, and Allie takes them both to their favorite place to sit on a patio and drink cay. Courtney keeps looking at her out of the corner of her eye, like she’s trying to get her thoughts together before speaking.

“Do you think this is ever going to get easier?” Allie asks, and Courtney lets out a light sigh in response. “I feel so— It’s stupid that I’m dreading the next few weeks this much, right?”

“Nope.” Courtney’s hand falls gentle and firm on her knee. “I hate it, and I’m always gonna hate it.”

Allie groans, drops her head back to stare at the sky, then at Courtney.

“This isn’t even long distance,” she says, and Courtney shakes her head balefully. “It's a few weeks. We’re such babies.”

“Yeah, we are.” There’s a smile as she says it. “And I hope we stay this stupid about each other forever.”

There’s a beat, and then Allie leans over and kisses her in the middle of a crowded cafe patio, reaching up to let her hand cup the curve of her jaw.

She gets through it, like always. Making up for the months she missed away from her extremely tiny nephew helps. Allie knows she’s sort of tormenting Courtney every time she sends her a picture of the two of them together, every time she FaceTimes her out of the blue with him cradled in both arms. And Allie never has to wonder how much she’s missed, because a full eight-hour jet lag doesn’t keep Courtney from barreling across the O’Hare baggage claim and picking her bodily up off the ground the moment she spots her. 

The first weeks back in Chicago are always a little odd. When they’re in Europe, it feels like they’re living in a bubble, just the two of them in that tiny apartment, spending every spare second together. When they come home, it means they have to share each other with the rest of the people who love them.

And it’s not like either of them mind. They don’t. Courtney loves the fact that the Quigleys have become her own family, that she has her own relationship with Allie’s mom and her sister especially. She’s never experienced anything like this, the strange sensation of being folded into someone else’s family. It means a lot more than she can ever say.

But coming out of their bubble always makes both of them yearn to steal away little moments for just the two of them. They catch them and cherish them whenever they can — spending more nights in than out, taking Romeo for a walk with coffee in hand.

In June, Allie turns thirty, an age she’d been doing her best not to dread. Courtney feels like they need to make a moment out of it, even if they have training at 8 a.m. the next day, so she takes them up to one of the beaches along Lake Michigan and reserves tables at three different places for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

“This is definitely breaking every dietary restriction that Christie has even thought of—” Allie had held her hand for most of breakfast, but she’s now using both hands to plough into a waffle. “—but it’s very worth it.”

It’s dark when they get home, and Courtney is entirely certain that she has a lobster-like sunburn that will be fully visible at training in the morning. Normally Allie would tease her for it, but instead she wordlessly gets aloe from the bathroom cabinet, bringing it out and motioning for Courtney to take off her shirt.

She sits on the floor, settling between Allie’s knees where she’s sitting on the couch and leaning her head back. Allie rubs the aloe gently between her shoulder blades, wincing empathetically when Courtney lets out a low hiss.

“You’re the best girlfriend ever, you know that?” Allie says it a little later. Her hands are rubbed clean now, and she’s letting them drift up and down Courtney’s bare sides, sending a shiver down her spine and through her toes. “Thank you for today.”

“If you can believe it, today’s not over.” Courtney grins up at Allie, grabs one of her hands and presses her thumb lightly into her palm for a half-second before dragging herself up onto her feet. “Gimme a sec.”

She comes back with a box balanced in her hands, placing it in Allie’s lap before settling on the other chair in the living room.

Allie shakes it jokingly, and the box rattles. There’s a slight jingle to the noise, and she looks curiously at it, then at Courtney.

“Just open it you nerd.” Courtney nudges her, failing to hold back her smile as Allie unwraps the ribbon off the top of the box and opens the box up.

There’s plenty of tissue paper and, settled in the middle, a tiny collar with a little bell on it. It clearly takes a moment for it to click for Allie, and when she looks up at Courtney there’s an excited glint in her eyes.

“Is this—”

“Wanna get a dog?” Courtney cuts her off, too excited to let Allie ask any questions. 

The response is immediate and emphatic. Allie practically launches herself out of her seat, piling on top of Courtney and wrapping her in a hug. The angle is all wrong and it’s a bit awkward, an elbow digging into Courtney’s ribs, but she just laughs.

“Is that a yes?” she asks, and Allie nods and then kisses her and then nods some more. 

It takes them a full month to pick a puppy. Not because they aren’t looking — if Courtney thought Allie watched a lot of film, then she wasn’t prepared at all for how much time she could spend on dog adoption websites. And not really because they’re picky. They both just feel that when they know, they’ll know. And until then, they’re willing to wait to find the right one.

They take an off day to visit a French bulldog adoption center up in Milwaukee. At the same time, they spot the scrawniest puppy in the corner, perked up with the largest set of ears either of them have seen.

“Look—” Allie nudges Courtney’s ribcage, then points. “She looks like you.”

Courtney shoves Allie — her ears have become a bit of a joke on the team, especially with Ty — but she’s smiling. 

Three days later, they bundle her home. They have to use a different collar because she was too small for the one Courtney got Allie for her birthday, and she picks three fights with Romeo in the first two days. But on her first night, she falls asleep on Courtney’s stomach when she’s sprawled across the couch, her head resting in Allie’s lap, and they both know that all of this is here to stay for good.

They name the puppy Gemini and Romeo falls in love with her in days. Courtney was the alleged “dog person” of the relationship until now, but Allie overnight becomes Gem’s favorite person, carrying her everywhere and even arguing that she should be brought to road games.

It’s another step of domesticity, something that’s been growing between them for years. Sometimes they joke about that first season together, when they’d go out three or four times a week. Courtney always bemoans the fact that they used to be fun — especially when they lived overseas, where most players just oscillated from playing basketball and drinking absurd amounts of alcohol. 

But Allie is always the first to say that she likes it. She likes staying in on a Friday night, cooking dinner and watching movies on the couch until Courtney falls asleep with both dogs piled on top of her. She likes waking up to Courtney burrowed into her side, mumbling protestations and pleas for a few more minutes wrapped up together in the warm cocoon of blankets. She likes the mundane regularity of living and breathing and being together like this.

And even though Courtney makes her jokes about being boring and lame and becoming an old lady, she loves it just as much. Loves the feeling of being home all the time no matter where they are. Loves the feeling of building something together.

After three weeks of staying in, however, Ty finally convinces them both to come out on an off night.

“The wives are coming out!” she crows the moment she makes it into the locker room after getting affirmation from Courtney. Allie rolls her eyes at it, but she’s smiling when Ty drops down next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“You know we’re not that boring, right?” Allie says, and Cheyenne’s raised eyebrows can be physically felt across the room.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Elena says, sort of defensively, because she’s a hell of a homebody, too. “You’re not boring just because you don’t like to go out.”

“But we do like to go out,” Courtney says, walking across the locker room with a towel slung over both shoulders. “We’re just selective about when we do it.”

“And who we go out with,” Allie adds, digging her elbow into Ty’s side, and she lets out a disgruntled yelp.

“Y’all are rude.” Ty makes a face that’s some sort of half pout and Allie relents, grinning up at her. 

“Hey, we’re blessing you with our company.” Courtney matches her grin from across the room. “Now stop your complaining.”

Even after all of that, they almost don’t make it out.

They do everything right. They eat dinner at the kitchen counter, splitting leftovers. There are an odd number of leftover dumplings and Allie steals the last one, stuffing it in her mouth in what is clearly an attempt to be surreptitious. Courtney pokes her in the cheek in retaliation. 

Allie dries her hair while Courtney takes the dogs for a walk, then she calls her sister while changing and straightening her hair, an old habit that they set in college.

So she doesn’t really take a good look at Allie until they’re in the final stages of heading out the door, and when she does it stops her still and a little dumb.

She doesn’t look all that different. Seriously. It’s a little makeup, a new shirt she hasn’t worn before that makes her eyes look a little more blue than normal. Courtney feels a little embarrassed that it literally takes this little to make her get that stupid, first-month-of-dating feeling in her stomach.

The thing is that Courtney has always felt wholly, completely attracted to Allie. It’s not just about sex or lust or anything superficial like that. She just wants constantly — wants to be near her, with her, around her. She never feels like it’s possible to get quite as close to Allie as she wants to be, and that’s a feeling that hasn’t faded even after three years of becoming boring together.

Allie must read it in her face, because she cocks her head as she finishes fixing her earring in place, scrunching her nose up a little at Courtney.

“What is it?” she asks, glancing down a little self consciously. “We have time, I can change.”

Courtney crosses the room, and Allie seems to register the slightly hungry look on her face about half a second before she crowds up in her space.

“We don’t have that much time,” Allie adds, but she doesn’t really do anything to stop Courtney from slipping her arms around her waist, pressing a hand flat against the small of her back.

“We have a little time,” Courtney says, and Allie just smiles, humming a little under her breath and looping an arm around Courtney’s neck. Her fingers dig in a little to the hair at the nape of Courtney’s neck, and she takes that as a go-ahead to lean up and close the distance separating them.

After a moment, Allie pulls back a half-inch.

“We’re going to get shit on so badly if we don’t go to this bar.” Allie’s words are sort of counteracted by the way her other hand is playing with the hem of Courtney’s shirt.

“I never said we weren’t going.” Courtney tips her chin back a little. “But we could be fashionably late.”

There’s a moment where Allie looks at her, like she’s sizing her up. Her teeth worry at her lip absently for a moment as she thinks it over.

“Okay.” She reaches over and pulls at Courtney’s shirt with a movement that’s so quick it nearly knocks her over. “But don’t you dare let us stay in.”

They show up to the bar and hour and a half late, with Courtney still slightly buzzing as she slides into the booth next to Allie, a gentle touch to her knee sending a high-voltage jolt through her.

“See?” Allie is looking at Ty as she speaks, lofting a double tequila shot, but she knows the words are meant for her. Courtney throws back her own shot, wincing and then grinning when Allie leans into her a little. “Not boring at all.”

Chapter Text

Oh, I am tired

But I'm coming home

'Cause I am yours



***

 

They’re not always perfect.

Later, years down the line, after the wedding that eventually comes and the belated media coverage that follows, they get asked a lot of interview questions about that. Most of them range in the same general scope: 

“Isn’t it hard playing with your wife?”

“How do you keep a line between your work life and your personal life?”

“What’s the hardest part of playing together?”

They’re never sure how exactly to answer, but the questions keep coming, and they keep repeating the same canned responses.

They both always repeat how long they’ve been doing this — since before they were actually together, for every single year of their relationship, all of their engagement, now all of their married life.

Courtney always talks about how she’s the hardest on Allie because it’s something they’re both proud of — Allie for the way they manage their relationship without any semblance of favoritism, Courtney for the way she knows she can get the absolute most out of Allie every single game.

If they weren’t so professional, Allie would have half a mind to just make a slightly obscene joke any time she’s asked about it. (But they are, so she doesn’t.)

So instead, over and over, Allie says the same thing — they don’t fight.

It’s true. No one really believes them, though, until they actually see Allie and Courtney together for a long period of time. She still remembers the way Cheyenne looked at the two of them when she fully got it toward the end of her first season in Chicago.

Allie had played a bad game. She rarely had those anymore, but this was a truly atrocious one. Her timing was off, her shot release seemed to have some sort of hitch in it, and as a result she only played a handful of minutes each quarter before getting yanked to the bench.

At the half, Courtney laid into her. It was mostly her own frustration at the game, at the team as a whole, but she put the full weight of it into Allie.

She knew Courtney well enough at this point to know exactly what she needed. This was their fourth WNBA season together, their fifth in total. And even when Courtney raised her voice or ripped into her shooting form, there was always a strong underlying respect. Her words weren’t cruel, they were just strong. She was firm, maybe even harsh, but never mean. And Allie, as a result, stood there and took it for a solid two minutes straight, while everyone else in the locker room did their best to look away and let it happen. 

Courtney was a little out of breath when she pulled up, but she locked eyes with Allie, her face shifting slightly in hesitation. Her head cocked to the side, a question apparent on her face, and Allie nodded immediately in an effort to reassure her.

“You’re right.” She nudged Courtney’s hip with her knuckles. “Strong third quarter. We’ve got it.”

It didn’t work. Most of the time, Courtney was the best person to snap Allie out a shooting funk. She knew the right way to push her and prod her out of whatever headspace wasn’t working, alternating between encouragement and criticism fluidly. But this was just a bad night overall. It wasn’t just shooting, it was defense and passing and something about the overall rhythm of the game.

She got yanked again in the third quarter, and again in the fourth. When Courtney pulled the lead back down within single-digits in the final two minutes, Pokey looked over at Allie on the bench for a moment, but she seemed to shake her head at herself, deciding against it.

They lost. It sucked, like always. The moment Pokey wrapped up postgame, Courtney immediately grabbed a ball and began to stalk back out to the court.

“Hey.” Allie caught her wrist, tugged her to a standstill. “You want company?”

Courtney looked up at her. When she was upset, she always crumpled her forehead up in this endearingly earnest expression. Allie always thought she honestly did look like their little French bulldog when she did this, although she rarely told Courtney that.

There was a moment where that earnest expression didn’t change, and Allie was fully prepared to hitch a ride home and leave the car keys in Courtney’s locker. But then her face flickered, a small smile quirking up in the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah.” Courtney bumped the ball into Allie’s side. “Always.”

Allie packed up both of their bags while Courtney headed to the gym, and when she looked up the rookie was staring at her.

“Man.” Cheyenne looked at Allie with clear, pure surprise on her face. “Y’all really, actually don’t fight do you?”

Allie shrugged.

“It’s a game,” she said. “This is our job and, like, we have to take it seriously. But it’s just a job. Gotta love each other more than it.”

It’s true. After three years of dating, they can count two major fights between the two of them, and both came at the start of their second year together.

One of them was stupid, an argument they both let get out of control in their first season living together while playing abroad. Neither of them like to talk about it anymore. Nothing was said that couldn’t be taken back, nothing too harmful or mean, but there was a moment when they had both just raised their voices to a yell when they froze, staring at each other.

“Are we—” Courtney shifted her weight from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable. “Is this a fight?”

They both paused. Allie’s voice was a little heavy, and it hurt as it dragged in and out of her chest. She realized in a small moment of stupid understanding that she was half a second away from crying.

“I’m sorry.”

They both blurted it out at the same time, which made Courtney laugh and Allie, for no reason at all, burst into tears. Courtney’s reaction was immediate, closing the small gap between them and tugging her hands away from her face so she could force them into eye contact.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying.” It sort of came out in a wail, and Allie would have felt a touch more embarrassed if Courtney hadn’t immediately smiled, her voice soft and reassuring.

“It’s okay.” She brushed at Allie’s cheek. “That sucked, I’m sorry.”

“Can we not do that again?” Allie let out a slight, watery laugh. “Please?”

“I’ll do my best.” Courtney pressed a kiss to her forehead, that same sappy-sweet look in her eyes. “I hated that.”

The next time they fought was a little more legitimate. Sort of. They were back with the Sky, during their first summer of living together and on a warm offday afternoon in June Allie had spent an entire morning dogging Courtney into watching more film from the last week’s road games.

It’s not like Courtney didn’t want to work. They had already made plans to meet up with Cheyenne and her boyfriend to work on pick-and-roll connections in the afternoon. She knocked out a twenty minute core session first thing before eating breakfast. But she wasn’t like Allie, who could fixate on film for hours with no end in sight.

And after the third time that Allie made her look up from the book she’d been attempting to read all year, Courtney snapped a little.

“Allie.” Her voice came out sharp. “Cool it with the film. I get it.”

“I’m just saying—” Allie’s voice, which was lower than Courtney’s, rarely dropped down like this. But instead of letting Courtney cut her off, she steeled herself a slight bit, pushing back.

Normally, their back-and-forth was fluid, Courtney getting harsh and Allie absorbing it. She didn’t normally match Courtney’s tone or her intensity, which was why they never had any sort of confrontation. It wasn’t like Allie just took it — if Courtney ever got off base, she’d correct her in her own way, which was gentler and less bullish. And Courtney was always careful not to cross any of their unspoken lines, always bringing a softness even when she had an edge in her voice.

So when Allie raised her voice back, it sent a jolt through both of them. They were situated on opposite corners of their couch, and Romeo’s ears perked up as they both half-sat up, putting down the respective items in their hands — Courtney’s book, Allie’s iPad — to get a better look at each other.

It only lasted a few minutes, but they were both clearly aggravated. It was the summer of 2016 and they were both in the middle of a slight shooting slump and their frustration was boiling, constantly, a little too close to the surface.

Courtney said something about needing Allie to chill out, but she added a “for once” that pissed off Allie enough to stand up and leave the living room, heading back into their little kitchen. For the first time probably ever, Courtney followed, seeking out the fight and tracking it down rather than letting them both cool off.

It was a mistake. She knew it. And when Allie turned around, there was a clear look of surprise that flashed across her features before annoyance set in. It sent a sharp stab of guilt through Courtney’s stomach, almost enough to make her stop. Just not quite enough.

“What?” Allie dropped both hands to her hips, leveled a look at her. “I get it, you don’t want to talk to me about film. It’s cool.”

“I just don’t get the big deal.” Courtney knew she was egging her on, and she had no idea why she was doing it. At this point, she was practically begging for a fight, one that Allie had done her best to retreat from twice already. She could just back away, just go in the other room and give them both the handful of minutes necessary to calm down and feel horrible about this.

Instead, she folded her arms and held her ground. Stupidly.

“I don’t know.” Allie’s eyes narrowed, and there was a small ripple along her jawline, the type that belied the fact that she was gritting her teeth slightly. “Maybe it’s kind of dumb that you get to ride me constantly during games, but the second I pull out some video you act like you don’t want to talk shop.”

“That’s not fair,” Courtney bit back, taking another step into the kitchen.

“Is it?” There was an acerbic tone to Allie’s voice. Courtney hated it. “You’re not the only one who knows basketball, Court.”

“I didn’t say I was.” Courtney could hear the petulance in her voice. She hated that too. “I just—”

“Well what were you saying?” Allie cut her off. “Just because you’re point guard, you always know best?”

Internally, Courtney winced at that. Internally, she wondered if Allie really thought that was true, if she really doubted that Courtney hung onto every single one of her words, that there was no one in the world whose opinion she cherished more, on basketball or any other damn thing.

Of course, because she was stupid, she didn’t say that.

Instead, Courtney said: “No, I just needed a goddamn break.”

“From what?” Allie raised her chin slightly, clearly in a desperate attempt to disguise the way her bottom lip was trembling.

Allie was the type to cry whenever she felt too much. Happy, sad, anything in between. When she felt something hard , it just came out like that. Courtney couldn’t tell if it was from anger or hurt or something else, but she could see the way Allie was already choking it back.

“I’m just tired,” Courtney muttered. She wanted to say more, something, anything. Instead she said that which was, once again, clearly the wrong choice.

“Yeah.” This time Allie’s chin dropped, that same tremble growing stronger. “I am too.”

It pissed her off, unfairly. That Allie wasn’t just fixing this for her. That she wasn’t giving in. That she wasn’t giving up. That every time Courtney pushed her, Allie was pushing back just as hard. It made her feel guilty, made her realize just how selfish she was being. 

“Well that’s not my fucking fault,” Courtney bit out.

She pulled up the moment the words came out of her mouth, regret churning in her stomach as Allie’s face fully crumbled.

“Yeah, well—” Allie took several steps towards her, enough so they were close up in one another’s space, enough so she could count her eyelashes, a thing that always calmed down Courtney when she needed it, a simple way to center herself. “It’s not my fucking fault I have to work twice as hard just to be half as good as you.”

The words hit Courtney slowly, one by one. By the time she processed the totality of what Allie said, the soft admission of her greatest insecurity, she had half-shouldered by Courtney on her way out the door.

“Allie—” She reached out, but her fingers fell a few inches short. Allie was already by the door, already grabbing her bag from the hook, her keys from the bowl, her eyes focused on her hands and the floor and anywhere except for on Courtney.

“I’m going to the gym.” She didn’t look up, didn’t look back. “Walk Romeo before you leave, I haven’t taken him out since this morning.”

The door swung shut, heavy and harsh.

If she was being honest, Courtney would admit that it scared the living hell out of her. Enough to make her wish she had followed. Enough to wish she’d chased her down right out the door, hadn’t let her walk away that easily.

Courtney was pretty sure it was right to stay. Allie needed space. This is what they did. Anytime one of them blew up, the other backed off, let it simmer down before they talked things over.

This felt different. There was a sense of weight to it, a heaviness in the air, in all the spaces around the apartment where Allie wasn’t. Courtney hated it. She hated how much she was thinking about it. And when she hated how much she was thinking about anything, she did one thing — clean.

She ran the vacuum and wiped down the floorboards and dusted the living room. She cleaned every single window and cleaned off the countertops and deeply scrubbed the stovetop. Her head was stuck fully into the oven, scraping a slightly greasy film off the sides, when she heard the door open.

Courtney tried to straighten up so fast she smacked the back of her head on the handle of the oven. By the time she had scrambled across the kitchen, hurriedly rubbed her hands clean under the stream from the faucet and dried them off, she was slightly out of breath.

Allie was standing in the doorway still, her keys in one hand, toeing her shoes off as she stared at her phone. When Courtney walked in, panting, she looked up.

“Hi.” Allie smiled thinly. It didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“You were right.” The words came out in a rush, and Courtney immediately wanted to curse herself because – oh my God how many times could she say the wrong thing, the wrong way, today? “About going under on the off-ball screens. You were right.”

“I know.” Allie’s voice was quiet, and for a moment she just stared at her feet, pushing her shoes into their spot next to Courtney’s. Then, she surprised her by looking up and smiling a little wider, a little softer.

Courtney took a step closer, and when Allie didn’t seem to react, she moved across the living room to stand in front of her.

“I’m sorry.” She felt stupid saying it. Part of her wanted to reach out to Allie, craved the sort of comfort that couldn’t really be communicated through words, but she knew that was selfish. “Allie, I’m not better than you.”

For a moment, Allie held her gaze. Courtney couldn’t tell what she was thinking, which was rare, her eyes narrowed slightly. Then she dropped her eyes to the floor again, shrugging.

“You are,” Allie said. “It’s okay.”

“I’m not.” Courtney said it immediately, automatically. “Allie, please, I need you to listen to me, you’re not—”

“Court, it’s okay.” It was the softness of Allie’s voice that truly cut her off. There was a resignation in her voice, and Courtney didn’t know how to argue with it, even though she didn’t believe it.

It wasn’t just the fact that Allie somehow, stupidly, irrationally thought she wasn’t as talented as Courtney. It was the fact that Courtney now had to face the possibility that she had been reinforcing this idea in Allie for years, that she had somehow worn her down to think that she was smaller than she was, that she was lesser.

Courtney could see a lot that Allie couldn’t. She saw the way every single teammate looked to Allie — not just for guidance, but for support, for love, for affirmation when they needed it. She saw the way rookies watched Allie’s every move, the way they hung after training and tagged along to her shootarounds and asked her series of highly detailed questions in an attempt to improve her shot.

She saw the respect Allie had from her opponents, from her coaches, from pretty much anyone who shared a court with her. And Courtney, more than anything, knew the way that she felt about Allie, the sense of calm that filled her for every second they were on the court together.

But in this moment, she had no idea how to explain that to her, struck completely and totally mute Allie’s sense of resolve. 

They stared at each other for a moment. Allie didn’t look defeated or upset or angry, she just looked — sure. Her shoulders were set, her eyes soft as she looked at Courtney.

“Hey.” Allie reached out, closed the space between them to grab at one of Courtney’s hands. “Stop doing that.”

Courtney looked down, surprised to see a small trickle of blood coming from her pointer finger. She’d been fidgeting, picking at one of her cuticles anxiously since Allie walked into the room. Allie cradled the hand in her own, staring at it and gnawing just slightly at her lip.

“Sorry,” Courtney said. Allie just shook her head in response.

“I don’t like it when we fight,” she said, her voice small and fragile. 

“We never fight,” Courtney muttered, and Allie smiled a little at that.

“I know.” Allie reached out, tugging lightly at Courtney’s sweatshirt, and whatever moment of tension they were having began to dissolve. “That’s why I hate it when we do.”

After that, it sort of became Courtney’s constant, unending goal to show Allie she was respected, loved, admired.

Not that it hadn’t been already. It had been automatic to hype Allie up to her friends, to constantly brag about her to her teammates. She didn’t hesitate when she said Allie was the best shooter in the league, and she got teased fairly often for being too sappy whenever her girlfriend came up in conversation, and most of the time she was the one who brought her up in the first place.

But after the fight — which Allie took a week to fully thaw out from, remaining a touch shy and a touch hesitant around Courtney for days — she doubled down. 

It was all a matter of softening. Allie became her first thought always — when she made a joke, when she teased, when she questioned. She still chewed her out during bad games, still argued with her over fouls during practice. But Courtney found herself praising Allie even when she was criticizing her, found herself cutting fights short before they could even start.

They were playing pick-up one day on an outdoor court in Seattle, and Allie knocked down a shot right in Courtney’s face, immediately teasing her as Courtney made loud complaints, catching her from behind and holding her back from snatching the rebound. 

“You’re my favorite player of all time,” she said, tightening her grip on Allie’s waist. “You know that, right?”

“I do.” Allie’s smile was broad as she looked back at Courtney. “I promise, I do.”

They don’t fight anymore. Now, they bicker — like an old married couple, everyone says.

It’s a bit of a source of entertainment for anyone around them. Allie is particularly skilled at finding her way under Courtney’s skin, latching onto specific topics and teasing and goading her into arguments even if she doesn’t actually believe what she’s saying. They bicker about who’s the GOAT, about which of them can win in one-on-one — Courtney says it’s not fair because Allie’s range is impossible to guard, which Allie counters is the whole point of the matter. They bicker about where to get coffee and which movie to watch and where to get dinner.

There’s no malice to it, no sharpness. It’s entertaining exactly because of that — no one ever has to actually worry when they start sniping at each other. Half the time, there’s a certain level of flirtation to it, like they’re both falling back into their easy ways of teasing back when it was 2013 and they were just starting to toy with the idea of being together.

They’re older now, but they still tease each other like they’re kids.

Their second winter in Turkey is cold, bitter. It’s honestly a bit brutal, and Courtney feels a bit guilty for bringing Gem, who trembles every time they take her out.

This becomes, of course, another reason to bicker. Gem is firmly Allie’s dog, which is the angle Courtney always takes when the tiny Frenchie burrows between them early in the morning, snuffling and snorting in an attempt to get their attention. 

Allie never minds going. She just refuses to go alone.

“C’mon, Court—” She can feel how cold it’s going to be outside just by looking at the window, lightly frosted over, and the grey sky outside of it. But Allie is nudging into her side, persistent as always. 

When Courtney groans and doesn’t respond, she presses one of her feet — which are consistently cold when she sleeps, like she’d just been holding one of them against a block of ice — into Courtney’s calf, earning an immediate yelp.

“How are they always so freaking cold?” Her voice was thick, a little slurred with sleep, as she attempted to push Allie away, only to get another foot pressed into her other leg.

“Stop being a baby,” Allie murmured softly, dipping her nose to get her face into Courtney’s line of vision as she did her best to roll over into her pillow. “Courtney, haydi , let’s go—”

“I swear to God—” The groan Courtney lets out this time is even louder, and she rolls back over to glare at Allie. “I’m going to track down whoever taught you that word and I’m going to end their life.”

It’s Turkish for “let’s go” and it’s become the most-used word in Allie’s vocabulary in a matter of weeks. At first, Courtney thought it was funny, egged her on constantly. Then, it legitimately annoyed her for a few days. Now, it’s somehow done a lap back around and become an inside joke with the two of them, yet another little way for Allie to badger Courtney just for sport.

“Court, I’m pretty sure that person was you,” Allie grins, tugging at the hip of Courtney’s sweatpants. At their feet, Gem lets out what sounds like a derisive snort.

“Okay, well—” Courtney sighs dramatically, flops on her back. “Guess I’m gonna kill myself.”

“Ah, haydi , don’t be—” Allie rolls half on top of her, leaning in for a kiss only to get shoved lightly away.

“I hate you,” Courtney mutters, but she’s already letting herself be tugged a little closer. Allie kisses her firmly, then pulls back for a half second, dusts a kiss across the tip of her nose.

“No you don’t.” Allie sounds cocky, proud as she tips her head at Courtney.

“No.” Courtney smiles back, knows this — Allie giving her hell and Courtney giving it right back and both of them failing to hide how much they love it — is never going to change. “No, I don’t.”

Chapter Text

 I will be able to make toast for her in the mornings. 

I will do my best to get it right.

 

***

 

Growing up together is the most natural thing in the world for both of them.

Courtney thinks, most days, that if there are only two things in the world she’s meant to do, it’s playing basketball and being with Allie. If there’s only one thing, then it’s Allie. Always.

So it makes sense that, on an otherwise mundane Tuesday morning, Courtney wakes up and realizes that she’s fully ready to marry Allie.

It’s early, and for once she’s somehow woken up before Allie. She rolls over to look at her a little closer, once again counting her eyelashes. Both dogs are curled up at their feet in the bed, Gem making a slight snuffling noise when Courtney’s foot bumps into her.

Courtney looks at Allie, who’s breathing heavily and making the lightest little noise in the back of her throat, clearly still deeply asleep. And she knows, rather suddenly, that she can’t wait any longer.

Which is unfortunate, because she has to wait a little longer. They just wrapped the final week of the WNBA preseason, and they start traveling again in three days. Courtney doesn’t have a ring — hell, she doesn’t even know where to look for one. And for now, she’s stuck staring at Allie and trying to figure out how the hell she’s going to last another minute without being married to her.

Courtney spends the next three months figuring out how to lie to Allie, a thing she’s never done before and hopes to never do again because she’s bad at it.

She tells Allie she isn’t feeling well three days later when they’re on the road and the rest of the team is going out to dinner. Allie doesn’t believe her, a fact that’s clear when she lingers around every part of the room, asking question after question before finally letting Courtney stay in the room alone, shooting her a final look before heading out.

Courtney, for her part, counts to one hundred before pulling out her phone and calling Rita.

“Hey,” Rita says, her smile wide and automatic. “You want to see Bailee?”

Courtney takes a deep breath in, then lets out everything she’s been thinking in a single rush.

I’mgoingtoproposetoAllieandIneedyourhelpfindingaring.

“Court.” Rita’s eyes widen, and she tips her head to one side. “Slow down, speak English and please repeat that before I start freaking out.”

“I’m going to propose.” Courtney breathes it out, feeling like she’s close to a manic break with her current level of excitement. “And I need to get a ring.”

“Holy shit.” There’s a pause, and then Rita breaks out into the widest smile Courtney has ever seen. “Holy shit .”

“I know—” She feels like she can’t breathe saying it out loud for the first time.

“Finally!” Rita cuts her off, and she’s half yelling at this point. “Honestly Court, what’s taken you so long?”

For a moment, Courtney tries to think of an excuse — of why she took years, of why she didn’t just ask Allie for the rest of her life the moment they met.

“I don’t know.” She’s laughing now. “Like, I honestly don’t know, I just woke up the other day and realized that I needed to do it and I should’ve done it like forever ago, like maybe the first day I met her? And now it’s like, I can’t think about anything else, I can’t focus on anything else. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Okay, okay, settle down.” Rita’s voice is a little calmer now, which is good and necessary because Courtney feels like she’s losing her mind. “We’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do it right.”

Rita was right, of course.

They take a full month to find a ring. When they find it, of course, it’s perfect. A little oversized, but still dainty. A big enough rock to make Allie fall speechless whenever she pulls it out.

“The goal is to make her cry,” Rita says sagely over FaceTime as Courtney studies the ring in a small store downtown. “But like, not too much. You want the right amount of tears.”

“I just want her to say yes,” Courtney mutters, but she’s sort of failing at holding back a smile at the idea of making Allie that happy.

The hardest part is waiting. 

Courtney just can’t figure out the perfect time to do it. And instead of picking a time out of the multitude of possibilities of scheduling, she waits. She waits, and waits, and waits.

Allie is chosen as an All Star for the first time, and Courtney thinks, for a moment, about doing it there. It seems almost perfect that they’d be in her hometown for something like that, and she lets herself entertain the idea of taking Allie up the coast to ask the question, of bringing her back to her parents’ house afterward to celebrate. 

But Courtney quickly backtracks. Becoming an All-Star is one of those far-off dreams that Allie had held for her entire career as a pro, and she didn’t want to overstep any of that. The week needed to be about Allie — just Allie, not about Allie and Courtney together.

Courtney comes up with another perfect idea — Allie’s birthday at the end of June — only to realize they play a road game that day. For the week before then, she’ll be in Europe with Yakin for a tournament, coming back just in time to celebrate with Allie. But it’s as close as Courtney can get, and quite frankly, the idea of waiting any further — until July? August? Until they’re back in Turkey? — makes her feel a little queasy.

She’s not even sure how she invites herself over to Allie’s mom’s house.

They’ve always gotten along before. It’s not something Courtney ever took for granted. She’s not the type to easily get along with others, especially new people, especially strangers. But Allie’s family just felt like an extension of Allie herself, sharing the same goofy sense of humor, the same undying sense of loyalty.

So she ends up on Allie’s mom’s porch one evening, clearly stressing her out with the way she’s wringing her hands a little overdramatically in front of her.

“Is something wrong?” She asks, ushering Courtney inside with a little more enthusiasm than she really expected, which is silly because she knows by now that the Quigleys always take guests with the utmost seriousness. 

“No, no, everything is great.” Courtney coughs uncomfortably, shifting from one foot to another. “I- uh, I don’t know how to do this.”

There’s a look that quickly passes across her future mother-in-law’s face, soft and warm and excitable as hell.

“Oh— Courtney.” She knows, in that moment, that there’s no risk. That this is going to go over as well as anything else.

“I want to ask her to marry me.” Courtney still can’t believe the words as they come out of her mouth, even though she means them, even though she’s never been more serious about anything in the entirety of her life. “And I wanted to see what you thought about that, I guess.”

For a moment, Allie’s mom just studies her, this small smile filling her features slowly, too slowly, absolutely torturing Courtney.

“I hope you already know my answer.” She’s moving across the room as she says it, her arms already outstretched. “Courtney, we’d be lucky to have you in the family.”

“I hate how cheesy this is to say, but I honestly am the lucky one.” Courtney holds her at a distance long enough to get her point across. “Like, seriously, your family is one of the best things to ever happen to me and your daughter is, hands down, the best thing that has ever happened to me. Ever.”

From there, it’s just a matter of when and how.

Courtney can’t make a decision. She studies the calendar for hours at a time, but she can’t make up her mind about a date or location or style of proposal. It’s infuriating. 

Finally, after one-too-many complaints, her brother settles on the simplest solution. He flies out to counsel her, texting her his flight information only four hours before he takes off. It’s frustrating as hell, but Courtney also can’t turn him down, taking him instead to a burger joint with the hope that the last minute visit won’t raise her suspicions any further.

“So here’s the way I see it,” he says sagely, which is ruined a little by the way he wedges the next oversized bite of burger into his mouth. “There’s either two ways you go with it. You try to be all chill and understated and it comes across like you don’t really care. Or you just lean into the fact that proposing marriage is the cheesiest thing a person can do in the whole entire world and you fucking go for it.”

Courtney decides to lean into it with everything she’s got. 

She can tell that Allie sees it coming. Courtney is trying to be as cool and low key about it as physically possible. Really. Seriously. When she asks her if she wants to take a few days off up on the Lake Michigan coast, she tries to act like she doesn’t care, like she’d be just as happy staying in Chicago. When Allie says yes, of course, when she follows along with all of Courtney’s plans without any resistance, she pretends that it isn’t the biggest goddamn deal in the whole goddamn world.

At some point, Courtney knows that Allie has figured it out. She’s just not sure when.

Maybe it’s on the drive up. Courtney plays a particularly sappy arrangement of songs, all Dan + Shay and George Strait and Eric Church, just track after track of falling in love and staying in love. Allie doesn’t say anything, just leans over at one point and steals her hand from where it was resting on the gear shift, tugging it into her lap and giving her palm a singular squeeze.

Maybe it’s once they get up to the resort, when Courtney insists Allie goes for a manicure and then a massage, in that order. She knows it’s weird. She knows that she’s being weird. She knows that Allie sees right through it, in some capacity. But Allie doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t tease her at all. She just goes to get the freaking manicure, kisses Courtney on the cheek on the way out the door, doesn’t question why Courtney — who has been complaining about a knot in her lower back for three straight weeks — isn’t coming with her.

Maybe she makes it that far. Maybe Allie doesn’t figure it out until Courtney picks them up and offers to drive them out to the beach. Maybe she doesn’t notice the way Courtney’s hands keep shaking as she clutches the wheel, steering them off to a private beach that she actually went to the effort of reserving for all of this.

She has to figure it out by the time they walk to the water, by the time she sees the candles carving out a path to the area Courtney blocked out to them, when Courtney waves her arm in that direction, her hands trembling.

They both step onto the sand at the same time, toeing off their shoes and sinking slighting into it, and Allie turns rather suddenly, catches the front of Courtney’s shirt.

“Court.” She sways close, her eyes a little wide and a little wet with emotion.

“Yeah?” She tries to play it cool, feels thankful when Allie leans in and kisses her hard enough that she eventually has to pull away, gasping for air.

Allie definitely has it figured out when Courtney gestures them onto the blanket on the sand, when she fumbles with the tiny remote to get the projector running. She definitely knows what’s happening when a wildly cheesy collage of the two of them plays on this private beach, a quiet reflection on all the years building to this moment.

But even then, Allie doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t interject, just lets Courtney stumble through her awkward, poorly worded, cheesy as all hell speech. She lets her pull out the box from her pocket, lets her fumble it and drop it on the blanket for a moment before finally getting it open in front of her, letting her ask the question.

Courtney’s voice quavers through all of it, but Allie doesn’t seem to notice, doesn’t seem to mind.

“Of course,” she says the absolute second Courtney finishes her little speech. “Stop talking, yes, of course, yes.”

For Courtney, it doesn’t even sink in until later that night. She drove them back to their hotel room, sappy music playing a little softer while Allie ran her hand through her hair.

It doesn’t sink in until the door to their room is closed and Allie has her pinned against it. It takes her a half second to even process the way Allie has stripped her of her shirt, the way her hand is already fixed under her bra.

“Don’t,” she says when Courtney moves to slow her down. “Let me.”

It takes until later — when Allie is curled into her side, messing with her hair, the ring glinting slightly in the light trickling in from the window — for Courtney to fully understand that she did it. That this is for forever now.

They get home to their apartment, and Allie drops both bags out of her hands the moment she walks in the front door.

“Stay here a second,” she says, and there’s something so firm in her tone that sort of freezes Courtney without even thinking. Allie disappears around the corner, and Courtney stands there wondering what the hell she might have done wrong.

A half minute later, Allie comes back around the corner and— well, it takes a moment for Courtney to process what’s happening. She drops down on one knee, a small box in her hands, cracking it open at the same time as she cracks a lopsided grin up at Courtney.

“You beat me to it,” she says, and Courtney doesn’t even have to think, just drops down on her knees to get them onto the same level, kisses her so fervently she almost drops the ring.

“You always have to one-up me,” Courtney mutters as she slides the ring onto her finger, Allie raising that same hand to kiss her palm.

“Don’t even,” Allie says softly, the words getting half swallowed up with how wide she’s smiling.

She says it with a slight scoff, but there’s something different about the way she’s looking at Courtney — warm and firm and real — that makes her wish she could freeze time, even just for a moment.

They go back and forth on how to tell the team. Neither of them want to do some big social media announcement, because they know that ups the likelihood of the team’s social media account latching onto it, and all of that just sounds a little too overwhelming for both of them. 

Allie ultimately pushes for the passive aggressive solution — they both wear their rings into their first practice back.

For a solid fifteen minutes, Courtney is positive no one is going to notice. It’s early. They’re all a little groggy, a little out of it. Plus they hadn’t taken all that long to meander around the locker room, going straight to their seats and starting with their socks and shoes.

Stef is the one who finally walks over to ask Allie a question about Gem and Romeo, looks down at her hand, and double (then triple) takes before letting out a full-on shriek.

“Allie—” She’s pointing, and Allie leans back in her chair, smirking up at her. “Is that— you’re wearing—”

When Stef looks over at Courtney, she holds up her left hand, lets her own ring glint in the horrible fluorescent lighting of the locker room. Across the room, Cheyenne stumbles over her own feet as she lets out an equally loud scream.

“Oh my GOD—” The resulting cacophony descends around them, teammates pressing close around them in an attempt to get a good look at both rings at both times. Courtney is the one who gets bullied into telling the proposal story, but Allie keeps butting in, adding detail and pulling out her phone to show off pictures whenever she feels like enough detail isn’t being offered.

Time and time again, even just in this handful of minutes, Courtney is amazed at the way Allie looks so goddamn proud .

It doesn’t fade in the coming weeks. They fly to Seattle for the All-Star game, and Allie spends the whole weekend finding as many small audiences as possible to retell the story. She doesn’t tire of it — not when telling her mom and her sister and her brothers, not when Courtney’s entire family asks for their own separate retelling, not when Rita makes her repeat it three times just because she keeps getting choked up over it all.

Of course, that pride goes both ways. Courtney nearly blows out her vocal cords screaming during the three point challenge, standing up on her seat when Allie wins. When Allie receives the trophy, she turns around, pointing right toward where Courtney is sitting along with her family. Courtney points right back.  

She keeps waiting for the warmth, the buzz to fade. It doesn’t.

Neither of them sleep in their rings, and there’s a moment every morning when they wake up and put them on. Normally, Allie is already up — Courtney hoarding every second of sleep possible — and she comes in with coffee in hand, nudging Courtney into an upright position. As she slowly rolls out whatever part of her body has decided to stiffen up or get sore today, Courtney normally reaches over to the bedside table, grabbing her ring and slipping it carefully onto her hand.

And every morning, the same look fills Allie’s face, her eyes fixated on the ring and on Courtney and on the future. It does make them come close to being late to a few morning weights sessions. But it doesn’t fade.

(Courtney doesn’t know it now, but it never will.)

Chapter Text

Wait

They don't love you like I love you

 

***

 

This time, going to Turkey for the winter feels different.

Part of that is because they’re trying to plan a wedding around a 10-hour time difference, a thing neither of them fully processed until they had to get up at 3 a.m. to FaceTime with a planner, Courtney slumping into Allie’s shoulder with an exhausted groan after half an hour of talking about flower arrangements.

It feels as if they’ve floated from one honeymoon stage to another, and Courtney is so wrapped up in all of it that she doesn’t notice the impending drama until it’s right on top of her.

Galatasaray gets a new small forward – Cansu, a local player who fills a necessary whole in their rotation, particularly on defense.

This team has become Courtney’s home away from home, and in the rush of their return she doesn’t really notice anything off about Cansu. And then, when she does, it’s way too late to avoid some semblance of turbulence.

It’s just the two of them at the bar near the hotel after a thirty point blowout win on the road, and they’re waiting on the rest of the team to really start drinking. Still, Courtney doesn’t feel bad throwing back a shot of vodka, then another. 

She finds herself drinking the most when she’s away from Allie. Not because she’s getting away with something. Not like that. It’s just that when she’s around Allie — even if she’s going out with friends on her own back home — she would always rather go home to Allie than stay out for another round. Being sober around Allie is always a lot better than being drunk with anyone else.

(Although getting drunk with Allie also brings its own unique hilarities, especially the time she insisted on redesigning their living room at 2 a.m. after one-too-many shots of bourbon.)

But right now Allie is several hours too far away and Courtney knows she’s sleeping in a bed on her own tonight, so she lets the alcohol warm her chest, flipping her phone over to fire off the first of what will most likely be many “ I miss you ” texts.

“Oh come on Courtney.” Cansu shoves at Courtney’s phone, flipping it back over so it’s facedown on the bar. “How drunk do we have to get you to get you off that thing?”

Courtney laughs, rolls her eyes, takes it as typical teammate banter.

“Okay, okay.” She takes another long swing of her drink. “Hell of a game.”

“How would you know?” Cansu tips her head at her, knocking their knees together. “You spent the second half pretty much camped out on the bench.”

“Hey, had to give the poor girls a break,” Courtney says, letting the cocky swell of alcohol surge lightly through her, leaving a light burning in her chest. “It would’ve been rude to let ‘em have it like that all game.”

“You’re annoying,” Cansu says, and it’s then that she drops a hand to Courtney’s thigh.

She freezes.

It lasts for only a handful of seconds. In the overall scheme of things, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Courtney feels the strangeness of it, of a hand that’s not Allie’s lingering there for a moment, the way Cansu’s fingertips press into her skin a little too firmly as she dips her chin to meet Courtney’s eyes.

It’s shattered almost immediately by the ruckus of the rest of their team entering the bar, Cansu pulling back and turning to greet their teammates while Courtney turns forward, grabbing her drink and downing it.

She turns her phone back over, the screen lit up with four messages from Allie.

You’re such a baby, it’s been thirteen hours

But I miss you too, come home faster please

Btw I know I said it before but seriously great game, that floater in the second was straight money.

If you get as drunk as you always do please make Jantel put you on FaceTime I want to see you do that Kim K impression again

It fills her chest with a warmth she never has the words to describe, but now it’s paired with a slight tremor of guilt.

She takes a day to think about it, rolling every detail of it over in her mind. Over and over again, she tries to come up with an explanation.

Cansu had always been touchy. Effusive. Courtney figured that was just a European thing — they were, after all, affectionate in a very different way from Americans. Hell, even the Americans on their team were overly affectionate. It was a team , they were supposed to be like that, always piling on each other and ribbing each other.

And Cansu knew Allie — she’d met her plenty of times before, at a few dinners and a party at their apartment and a few different nights at a few different bars. She’d seen the way Courtney’s arm normally fell to the back of Allie’s chair when they sat side by side, the way Allie would affectionately lean into her and drop a hand to her thigh, rest it on her knee. Hell, she was pretty sure she’d seen them kiss. And even if she didn’t, Courtney wore her ring every second that she wasn’t on the court.

And yet, there was no other explanation for the weirdness of that moment. Courtney obsesses over it on the bus ride to the airport, on the flight home, all the way up to Allie picking her up at the airport. Allie folds her up in a hug like always, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek before pulling away to hug Jantel as well.

Courtney tries to press it out of her mind as much as possible throughout the day — she’s exhausted from the early flight and still a little hungover, and she flops into bed the moment they reach their apartment, laying on her back as Allie drops down next to her.

“Court?” Allie’s voice is light, gentle. “Whatcha thinking?”

For a moment, she just studies Allie’s features. Her mouth is pulled up at one corner in that soft little half-smile that always drives Courtney crazy, and her eyes look a little more blue than normal today, her hair falling soft and still a little damp from a morning shower around her shoulders.

The thing is that, above all else, Allie is her best friend. She’s the only person Courtney wants to talk to about — well, anything. And as she tries to figure this out, she knows that the only person she could possibly figure it out with is Allie.

Courtney lets out a sigh, turns to look at the ceiling. 

“I think this girl on the team is into me and I don’t know what to do about it.” The words sound sort of stupid the moment they come out of her mouth.

Allie lets out a soft sigh that sort of sounds like a chuckle.

“Cansu?” Courtney looks over so fast she tweaks her neck. Allie is looking at her with mirth in her eyes, a warmer expression than Courtney was honestly expecting.

“Uh—” Her voice cracks. “Yeah?”

Allie nods a little solemnly, turns her gaze back to the ceiling.

“Yeah I noticed that, too,” she says, and Courtney’s stomach drops.

She rolls fully over onto her side, wraps her fingers around Allie’s wrist.

“I’m really, really sorry,” Courtney says, the words anxious and earnest. When Allie looks back at her, it’s with that same soft smile.

“No, don’t be.” Allie sighs, smiles a little wider. “It’s, like, very visibly one-sided.”

She pauses, interweaving their fingers and giving a little squeeze to add more weight to her words.

“I’ve never had to worry about this.” Allie kisses one of Courtney’s knuckles. “Ever.”

“Okay.” Courtney’s eyes flit over every feature of Allie’s face, attempting to seek out any sign that Allie is holding back, that she could be hurt by this. “I’m still sorry.”

“Babe. We’re good.” Allie scrunches up her nose for a moment, and there’s a flitting grimace of irritation. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hate it. But it’s not your fault.”

“Yeah.” She does her best to crack a smile, reaching for the kind of humor that normally cracks Allie up. “Sorry for being so irresistible.”

There’s a groan, and then Allie is rolling over and on top of her with a look on her face that clearly says shut up. Courtney just grins back, and when Allie kisses her she finds herself leaning into it a little too hard, clinging to Allie’s waist and coming a little too close to crushing her.

It takes awhile before they come back to the conversation.

“You got any suggestions?” Courtney is splayed out on her back again, Allie’s chin resting near her collarbone. “I could wear my ring during practice.”

“Unfortunately, I think she knows you’re engaged.” Allie raises an eyebrow, a slightly frightening smile spreading across her face. “I could fight her.”

Courtney barks out a laugh, shaking her head already.

“That wouldn’t be pretty.” Allie makes a face at her, and Courtney dips her chin down, kisses the furrow out of her brow. “Everyone knows you’d go street in a second, AQ.”

“Chicago did raise me well,” she mutters, and Courtney laughs for real.

For a moment, she gets side tracked running her hand through Allie’s hair, running her fingers through the soft hair at the nape of her neck.

“Any ideas for real?” she murmurs, and Allie lets out a dramatic sigh.

“I don’t know.” Allie turns her head, presses her cheek to Courtney’s chest. “She seems nice. Could you just talk to her? Like, an honest conversation?”

It sends a pang through Courtney’s chest, because — well, it’s Allie . Whose kindness seems unfathomably deep, who finds an ability to feel for others even when they would never feel for her. Of course she would find grace, even for someone who’d shown a complete disregard for their relationship. Of course.

“That sounds very mature and reasonable.” Courtney peers down at Allie. “Not really my thing.”

“Shut up,” Allie laughs, and she’s already propping herself up on her elbow, already dropping her mouth to Courtney’s jawline. For a moment, she lets herself sink into it, lets Allie trail kisses down her neck, before finally dropping a hand to trace along the soft skin of her throat.

“Allie?” Courtney’s voice drops low.

“Mhm?” After a moment of Courtney’s hand on her, Allie pulls back up, locks their eyes.

“I’m really, really excited to marry you.” She puts her whole chest into it, tries to find a way to make Allie hear how much she means it, how much she feels it every single damn day.

For a moment, Allie just looks at her, something deep and warm churning in her eyes.

“I know.” She smiles, and Courtney feels it in her chest, in her stomach, all the way down to her toes. “Right back at you.”

Courtney waits a few more days — with Allie’s support, of course — because she’s hoping for a proper chance to have a proper conversation. They’re at a packed part of the season, with practices and games every other day, and there isn’t the right amount of time to actually sit down and talk to Cansu without risking an immediate consequence.

So Courtney waits a handful of days, which seems fine until she’s wrenched sideways out of the locker room after training one day.

“We need to talk.” Kayla’s hand grips firm onto the back of her collar, half-dragging her into the auxiliary room. “Now.”

Courtney stumbles slightly, eyes flitting back and forth between Kayla and Jantel, whose arms are folded in an almost comical tough-guy pose.

“What’s wrong?” She’s trying to think back through anything that happened at their recent practices, anything she could’ve done to piss them off, but she’s coming up blank. 

“Have you— uh—” Kayla looks desperately over at her center. “Jantel, this was your idea.”

Jantel sighs, and for a moment her expression shifts from foreboding to just— mournful .

“Look, you know when we went out the other night?” Courtney nods in response, and Jantel proceeds cautiously. “Cansu said some shit that night that’s just, it’s— it’s stressing us out.”

A heavy weight drops into Courtney’s gut, weighing her down.

“Oh God.” She runs a hand over her face. “What did she say?”

“Uh, basically shit about you. And Allie.” Kayla’s voice quivers when she says Allie’s name, anger visible just under the surface. “And how she thinks you, that you’ll— That you two might—”

“Look I love you, but if you hurt Q, we're gonna have a problem.” Jantel cuts her off. “Like, we just need you to know that.”

Courtney flushes with it, immediately. She’s furious — at Cansu for causing all this, at her teammates for believing it. But the anger quickly morphs into something worse. She’s mortified. That she could let anyone talk this way about herself and Allie. That she could let anything happen that would make this be even slightly believable.

“Guys, I’m— trust me, nothing happened.” Her voice shakes with the effort of holding back tears. “I only figured out that she was, like, that she felt that way— I only put that together a few days ago.”

There’s a moment where Jantel and Kayla both look at each other, relief visibly relaxing their frames.

“Okay.” Kayla covers her face with both hands for a moment, rubbing at her eyes. “Thank God, okay, I thought— I knew it was fucking crazy.”

“So what are you going to do?” Jantel asks, still focused, still cautious as she studies Courtney’s face. She knows how much they love each other. After four seasons of Jantel playing with Allie, she practically feels like family, one of the few constants they could count on while overseas.

Courtney is terrified, after all this, of letting her down. 

“I don’t have a definite plan.” Courtney takes a step back, slumps down into one of the chairs. “I mean, Allie says I should—”

“Wait, you talked to Allie about this?” Kayla cuts her off, her voice so reedy and incredulous that it makes Jantel burst out laughing.

It’s the first moment that Courtney feels really, truly, like herself since Kayla first hauled her in here. She smiles softly up at Kayla as Jantel keeps laughing, planting a hand on her knees to keep herself upright.

“Yeah, of course.” Courtney says it like it’s the easiest thing in the world, because — well, because it is. “She’s my best friend. She’s the first person I talked to about it.”

For a moment, Kayla and Jantel just stare at her, then each other.

“Fucking hell,” Kayla mutters. “You two and your impossibly high bar of healthy communication.”

“So this really isn’t a problem?” Jantel asks, but the warm look in her eyes means she already knows the answer.

Courtney laughs, although it’s still a little bitter with the reality of the issue still at hand.

“Oh, no, it’s a huge fucking problem.” She shakes her head. “Just not for me and Allie.”

It takes two more days before she handles it.

They’re out at a bar, which is the worst possible way to do this. But there’s a moment — when they’re all joking around and then Cansu clearly does her best job to catch Courtney’s eye, shooting her a wink that in turn shoots that same flash of anger through her once again — and it’s enough to make her break.

She’s tired of waiting for a perfect moment, tired of dodging one of her own teammates because she doesn’t want to fuck up the team dynamic but also knows she can’t be left in a room alone without Cansu doing her absolute best to do exactly that.

So when Cansu goes to the bar to grab another round, she follows, the light burn of Kayla and Jantel’s on her back as she walks away.

“Hey.” She hops up on a barstool next to Cansu, who has ordered a vodka sprite for herself and already seemed focused on draining it. The moment Courtney appears in her line of vision, the taller woman’s face lights up, enough to earn a slight churn of guilt. “You got a sec?”

“No, I’m very, very busy.” There’s a visibly flirtatious grin, the way she sways toward Courtney. It sharpens her resolve even more. “Drinking requires all my focus to be done right.”

“Clearly.” There must be something in her tone of voice, because Cansu raises an eyebrow and empties her glass. “Look, I feel like we got off on the wrong foot.”

There’s a slightly desperate way that Cansu’s eyes are flitting across Courtney’s face, which makes her feel a touch off-balanced and also very, very eager to end this as quickly as possible. 

“I just wanted to make sure you know I’m engaged.” Her right hand automatically goes to her left at that, messing with her ring. “And Allie— I mean, we keep it pretty separate, but she’s got a lot of friends on the team and she comes around a lot so just—”

Cansu is staring at her, in that way that people stare when they’re completely lost for words, when they’ve been laid bare for a moment and have no way to articulate an explanation.

“I need you to know she’s the love of my life.” There’s a firm resolve to the way Courtney says it. “So if anything gets at all in the way of that, I— I just need this season to go smoothly. I need you to make sure that this isn’t a problem.”

For a moment, Cansu just stares at the glass in her hand. Then, she nods once.

“Got it.” Her voice is clipped.

“Are you—” Courtney fumbles through it, her voice uneven. “I mean is that—”

“I said I got it.” Cansu stands, thumping the glass onto the bar and turning away. “See you later, Courtney.”

For a moment she stays frozen. Then, Courtney thaws out, goes through the motions of paying for the next round, bringing it back to the booth. When she arrives, Cansu isn’t there anymore. Kayla and Jantel greet her with grimaces.

It takes a few days for things to get better. But slowly, they warm up to each other — light comments in the locker room, pats on the back in games. After a few weeks, Courtney drains a three and Cansu is there to immediately lift her up in celebration, placing her down on the court without any extra commentary or lingering moment. 

It’s a relief. But it only lasts a handful of weeks, until their next game against Allie’s team. And then, well— it sort of all goes to shit.

Allie does her normal thing, chirping and yapping away all game. It’s annoying and endearing all at once. Courtney jaws back at her. Jantel gives her a good natured shove at half time. Kayla holds her follow-through for a few seconds longer than necessary when she drops a three in Allie’s face. It’s fun in the way rivalry games are supposed to be fun, in the way playing against your friends is supposed to be fun.

Cansu, however, doesn’t seem to be in on the joke.

Allie’s been behaving herself, which is a positive considering the fact that she jokingly said she was going to deck Cansu first thing after tip off.

“Babe—” Courtney had been rolling her neck out, and she kept her head tipped all the way back as she looked over at Allie. “She’s four inches taller than you. Bad idea.”

But in the game itself, Allie keeps it pretty damn professional considering everything. She doesn’t even chatter too much around Cansu, focusing most of her annoying attention on the guards and, of course, Jantel.

Somehow, it still seems to be rubbing Cansu the wrong way. Or maybe it’s just Allie as a whole that rubs her the wrong way. Regardless of reason, she ends up putting a little too much action on a few of her picks, picking up a foul when she puts her full hip into a brush-off screen, then another only minutes later when she hacks Allie on the way to the rim.

“Hey—” Courtney grabs her by the jersey as they walk over for a timeout, because it’s her job to get on the forwards when they get out of line. “Knock it off with those, you’re gonna have to sit if you pick up another.”

“She can’t fight her own battles?” The way Cansu bites it out surprises Courtney so much that she stops in her tracks on her court, watching her teammate traipse the rest of the distance to the bench.

Despite her shock, that second foul seems to rattle Cansu enough to knock it off, and she cleans things up for the remainder of the game — which is good. She drops 14, a necessary addition to lift them off to a win despite the fact that Allie finished with 29 points herself.

They head straight to the locker room, and it’s in the middle of an obnoxious little guard celebration with Kayla that Cansu brushes by Courtney and drops a bomb.

“Man, your girlfriend’s a bit of a bitch.”

Courtney pivots, hard . She’s immediately grateful for Kayla, who steps forward and puts a very firm body in her way. She’s not, honestly, all that certain what her plan was when she turned around but it wasn’t feeling great.

“Cansu, shut the fuck up.” It’s Jantel, not Courtney, who says it. She’s still seated next to her locker but she’s got this look on her face that’s just a bit murderous. Anyone who knows Jantel at this point knows where she stands on Allie, knows not to talk about her former guard like that.

“Okay, sorry.” Cansu mutters something in Turkish, but Courtney understands only half of one word. “Didn’t realize we had so many Allie Quigley fans in the locker room.”

“Shut up ,” Kayla says, firmly, over her shoulder. There’s an eye roll and a frustrated huff and then Cansu shakes her head, breaking the moment by bending over to toss her things into her bag.

Allie is waiting when they finally leave, leaned up against the wall outside the locker room with her phone in hand. She looks up the moment she hears Courtney’s voice, smiling warmly and readjusting her bag on her shoulder.

“Seriously, great ga—” She gets cut off by Courtney tugging at the front of her jacket and pulling her in, kissing her quickly and firmly. 

It’s really melodramatic. Embarrassingly so. Courtney knows it, knows that this isn’t their style. Like, at all. There’s a reason why they don’t fight, even now — it’s because neither of them ever lets this kind of drama get to them. The sort of thing that sends couples squabbling normally just sends the two of them into laughter. They like each other and love each other too much to let small things get under their skin.

But there’s a wave of something — maybe anger, maybe adrenaline — fueling her, so she gives in, kissing Allie in the poorly lit hallway outside the locker room with one hand framing her jaw and the other fixed on her jacket.

To her credit, Allie just goes with it, kisses her back almost immediately after letting out a small, surprised breath.

After about six seconds, Courtney gets self-conscious and pulls up. Allie smiles at it, leans forward just the tiniest bit to knock their foreheads lightly together.

“Man, I gotta let you win more,” Allie mutters, and Courtney laughs immediately.

“Where’s my smooch, Q?” Jantel sidles up behind them both, jokingly pushing Courtney aside to wrap up Allie in a hug. 

Things never get all the way better with Cansu. They operate as teammates, keep things civil on the court, but something about the dynamic between them remains fractured forever. 

It’s okay. When it comes down to it, there’s really only a few things Courtney needs in life to be happy — Allie, their dogs, a basketball.

“And a beach,” Allie adds when Courtney tells her this for what’s probably at least the thousandth time.

“A beach?” She laughs, and Allie makes a little pleading face that makes her laugh even harder. “You asking for another vacation?”

“I mean—” Allie drags out the word for a full second. “It has been a full year since Hawaii. I don’t think I could get paler if I tried.”

Courtney looks at her own arms, which have fully lost any warm tones from the summer before, and laughs.

“Okay.” She smiles at Allie, who takes her hand and kisses her palm mindlessly. “You’re right. We need it.”

Two weeks later, they’re on a beach in Italy soaking up their final days without basketball before they return to Chicago. It’s warm, which they needed, and the beach is surprisingly vacant. A toddler is digging anxiously in the sand a few yards away from them, her mom reading a book nearby, and a high school aged couple keep chasing each other in and out of the waves.

Besides that, it’s still, peaceful.

“Hey.” Courtney stretches out a little further on her back, that blissful smile never really leaving her face. “I think I’m done with this whole playing against each other thing.”

“Yeah?” Allie turns a little further on her side, pinches up a little sand between her fingers and tosses it at Courtney. “Tired of the competition?”

“Tired of your bony-ass elbows is more like it.” Courtney makes a face and sweeps a little sand back at Allie, who nudges her hard in the calf with her toe in response. “I mean, I know we’re contracted for next season, but after that?”

“Yeah?” Allie props her chip up on her palm. “I’d kind of like that.”

They stay like that for a moment, grinning rather stupidly at one another.

“I don’t know,” Courtney says, and she’s got that soft little look on her face that means she’s about to say something embarrassingly soft. “The more time goes on, the more I just want to be on your team all the time.”

Allie should tease her for it. It’s ridiculously corny and completely fair game for a good joke or two. But Allie doesn’t say anything, just reaches for Courtney’s hand as she smiles.

“Okay.” She squeezes, once, gentle and firm all at once. “Same team. I can do that.”

Chapter Text

When I see myself, I'm seeing you too

As long as I remember and I'm feeling like I knew

That my jokes aren't funny and the truth isn't true

If there was no you



***

 

Allie can tell that she’s starting to hit her peak.

It’s not a bad thing. Not really. The only reason she can tell, in fact, is that everything is so goddamn good .

The feeling started in 2017. The season before hadn’t been the best — for Allie, but especially for the team. They couldn’t get anything going. They were disjointed, on and off the court. For the first time in their careers — abroad or in Chicago — Allie and Courtney spent most of their nights home together, just the two of them. It wasn’t that the team disliked each other, but they were stuck in a rut, exhausted by their apathetic performances, by their complete inability to win back-to-back games.

The season wasn’t horrible off the court. Allie loved being in Chicago with Courtney, cherished playing in the W too much to really let any of it get to her. Besides, she was the one who needed to ring out all of Courtney’s stress when they lost back-to-back games, when they slid down to a barely winning record.

But no matter how you looked at it, 2016 was a bad season for the Sky. Yet somehow, it still came as a shock when the team fired Pokey.

Pokey told Allie and Courtney first, before the rest of the team. When she called them both into her office a week after their final game of the regular season, it was sort of a relief. Her mentality had always been “onto the next” even when things got tough. It was one of the many reasons Courtney and Allie loved her — she never lingered too long, never let her team settle into negative emotions.

And they both needed some sort of reset, a way to look forward rather than backward before they left to head abroad. They had talked about it just the morning before on the walk from their new favorite coffee shop to an outdoor court by the water.

“I just want, like, a clean slate, you know?” Courtney said, tugging the door to the shop open and holding it for Allie to walk through. “It feels weird to go out without being in the playoffs. Like, we’re just here .”

“I know.” Allie took a sip of her latte, winced at it — she always drank it too quickly and burned her tongue. When she looked up, Courtney was smirking at her just a little, eyebrows raised in an bemused expression. “I wish we could just fast forward to next year.”

So when Pokey called Courtney a few hours later to see if they were both free to meet at her office the next day, they were excited.

That ended pretty much the moment they walked in the door.

Pokey explained everything with a cold, firm tone. Her firing would be announced in a week. She didn’t have any chance really to prove herself further. She was resigned, visibly exhausted. Allie sat slumped, Courtney standing slightly behind her, propping herself up with her palms dug into the back of the chair.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Courtney said, her voice already slanting upward, but Pokey just shook her head. Her anger lasted several minutes. Allie, meanwhile, sat silent for minutes, her eyes fixed somewhere on Pokey’s desk.

“I’m so sorry,” she finally managed, her voice shaky. Pokey seemed unfazed — alarmingly so. She weathered Courtney’s continued protestations, calmed her down efficiently until she had promised to retract a threat to storm the owner’s office.

Eventually, she shooed them both out with promises to go to dinner before they left town. It took until they were just outside the lobby for both of them to pause for a moment, as if they were both frozen still.

Courtney’s anger radiated off her in waves. Her small shoulders were squared as if she was ready to fight, emanating a sort of raw energy, her fists clenching and then releasing and then clenching again. She gritted her teeth together, folding her arms and turning to Allie. 

She was ready to rant, ready to yell, ready to — well, she wasn’t entirely sure what she was ready to do, because the moment she saw Allie it cut every other emotion short.

There’s this thing Allie did — still does — when she felt fragile. Her breath seemed to grow shallow, husking strangely and softly in her chest. Standing outside the stadium, she did just that. Her breath came in visible shudders, her shoulders shaking with the effort of it. One glance at it cracked any angry visage Courtney had hoped to hold onto, and she moved quickly, closing the gap between them.

“Hey.” Courtney got an arm around her shoulder. “Hey, I’ve got you.”

Allie turned fully into her, wrapping both arms around Courtney. It seemed to surprise both of them — after a moment, Allie pulled back with a slight gasp, her breaths continuing to come shaky.

“What’s wrong?” Courtney planted both palms firmly on Allie’s biceps, ducking her chin to try to meet her eyes.

“I’m gonna get cut.” It came out in a mumble, Allie turning her head to further avoid Courtney’s gaze.

“What?” Courtney couldn’t really control the way her voice sort of squeaked out incredulously. “Allie, that—”

“Pokey picked me, she believed in me, and look—” Allie’s eyes were watery when she finally glanced up at Courtney, waving her hands a little haphazardly. “I had a shit season—”

“We all had a shit season.” Courtney tightened her grip on Allie’s arms to keep her grounded in place.

“Not you.” She leveled her with a look, and Courtney bit back a frustrated groan. “You had a great season, I couldn’t even get my shot right—”

“Allie, it’s okay—” Courtney could barely get the words out, Allie’s voice spiraling upward in an increasingly frantic tone.

“What happens to us if I get traded?” Her voice cracked on the final syllable. “What do we do then?”

For a moment, it froze Courtney. The idea of it — well, it wasn’t something she’d ever thought of before. This was their third year doing everything on and off the court together. They were set to pack a moving van in eight days, to travel to a foreign country that felt a little something like home when they lived there together. They had a little puppy together, a whole plan together, a whole life together. 

She had no idea what to do if that all fell apart.

“Hey.” Courtney shook Allie slightly, shaking herself out of it in the process. “That’s not happening.”

Allie didn’t argue. She didn’t say a word. She dropped her chin again, her breath coming in those feathery little spurts. Courtney hated it.

“Allie, you’re the best shooter I know. Best I’ve seen.” She drifted one hand further down Allie’s arm, rubbing lightly with her thumb. “You had a tough season. So what?”

“So what?” Allie’s head jerked up, a sharp edge in her voice. “So, I could get traded .”

She looked angry. Courtney didn’t mind. She could deal with anger.

“No. No you won’t.” She tipped her head to her side, lifted her head in a visible challenge. “I’m not letting that happen.”

Allie laughed at that, a short bark that lacked any actual amusement.

“Court, I don’t think you can talk them into keeping a player,” she muttered, and Courtney rolled her eyes almost automatically.

“Not them.” She nudged Allie again. “I’m talking about you.”

It didn’t seem to register at first. Allie looked at her blankly, frustration and exhaustion and something softer still brimming.

“I don’t get it,” she said, her voice flat and monotone.

You can keep yourself from getting traded.” Courtney tried to keep her voice from catching, because if Allie saw how emotional she was in this moment, she was pretty sure they’d both break down. “Be too good for them to do it.”

“I’m not—” Allie tried to cut in, but Courtney refused to let her.

You are good enough to force their hand.” She didn’t let Allie finish, raised her voice when she tried to cut her off. “If you’re really that scared about it, let’s make it impossible for them to ignore you.”

“How exactly are we going to do that?” There was something different about the way Allie was looking at her. If Courtney didn’t know better, she’d think she was holding back a smile — but it was something more like a frustrated grimace.

“Same thing we always do.” Courtney dropped her hands, took a step back and shoved them both into the pockets of her sweatpants. “Gym is still open. Let’s go get our stuff.”

For a moment, they just stood there studying each other. There was a thickness to the air between them, a sort of tension that Courtney knew she had created. This was a challenge . It wouldn’t have been the right thing for someone else. But she was pretty damn sure this was exactly what Allie needed in this moment.

The pause lasted another breath longer. Courtney noticed that Allie’s breathing was level again, noticed it a half-second before a slight smile tugged up the corner of her mouth.

“Okay.” Courtney couldn’t help but smile a little herself when Allie reached out, grabbing her hand. “Okay. Let’s get our stuff.”

It built from there. In Hungary, Allie became obsessive about her shot. Courtney enabled her, spending hours rebounding and passing and examining every inch of it. They spent longer in the weight room, Courtney alternating between cajoling and encouraging Allie. They both put on a few pounds of muscle, four for Courtney, six for Allie. They came back to Chicago a little sharper and a little tougher — and, on the court, just a little meaner.

It paid off. Their new coach, true to Courtney’s word, had no choice but to keep Allie around. And to play her. And to start her. There were games where it appeared to be physically impossible to keep her from knocking down threes — even with a hand in her face, even with a body crashing into her. Courtney did her best to get the ball to Allie whenever she saw an inch of space around her, not out of favoritism but because she was a goddamn good point guard and good point guards get the ball to their best players.

So it didn’t come as a surprise, really, when she was named an All-Star. 

It surprised Allie, of course. She actually had to lay down on the court when the news first broke, her teammates standing over her and screaming a bit too loud in her face to actually let her calm down. Courtney took her out to dinner at a place that was too expensive for either of their salaries — even their European ones — and ordered the absolute nicest bottle of wine on the menu. 

The excitement for Allie — from the team, from her family, especially from Courtney — is so widespread that it takes until the day of the game in Seattle for anyone to pick up on the fact that Allie is almost too nervous about it to talk.

Courtney is absolutely beaming as she walks back into their hotel suite with coffee in tow. She’s been wearing a Quigley jersey all day, already took five different pictures of herself pointing to the name on the back. It’s been less than a month since their proposals, and the warm glitter of wearing her engagement ring is far from dulling (not that it ever will, fully).

So it knocks her back on her heels a little bit to see Allie sitting on the edge of their bed, staring at the All-Star jersey she was supposed to have changed into already.

“You okay?” Courtney sets the coffees down, moving quickly to drop onto the bed next to Allie, who immediately leans her head onto Courtney’s shoulder.

“I don’t belong here.” She mutters it into Courtney’s shoulder, the sound slightly muffled. It makes Courtney’s stomach drop nonetheless.

“Allie.” Her voice is firm, and she twists around, grabbing at Allie’s shoulders to prop her up. “Hey, Allie, look at me.”

Allie glances up at her, then sighs and turns a little further. Her eyes remain pinned on the bedcovers, but she lets Courtney take her hand.

“You belong here more than anyone,” Courtney says, dipping her chin a little to try to meet her eyes again. Allie just sighs, shaking her head, and Courtney can’t help but notice the way her hands are shaking slightly.

“I’m freaking out, Court.” Allie’s voice breaks a little as she presses both hands over her eyes. “I’m gonna air ball every shot.”

“No, you’re not.” Courtney says it through a laugh, unable to keep herself from being amused at the idea.  “Allie. You can do this.”

She reaches up, tugs Allie’s hands back so they can’t obscure her face. Allie looks at her, that look of panic still in her eyes.

“I wish you could be out there with me,” she mutters. It hits Courtney in the chest a little. She wishes she was there too — as a player, as Allie’s person. 

“I know.” She trails her hand up Allie’s jaw, swipes her thumb over her cheekbone. “But they needed to give the old lady her moment in the spotlight.”

Allie’s laugh is a little watery, but it’s for real.

“I hate you,” she says, smoothing her hand over the back of Courtney’s hand, curling her fingers lightly to cover her engagement ring.

“I know.” Courtney reaches up, brushes a few pieces of hair back. “Next time. We’ll do it together next time.”

They will, eventually. But this weekend is about Allie — and it’s another collection of memories that she keeps trying to capture, to crystallize it. 

After that weekend — after she wins the whole freaking three point competition, after she plays enough minutes to know the rest of the All Stars take her seriously, after she spends a whole hour of the after party debating best-ever back courts with Elena and Tina and Sue goddamn Bird — Allie knows that she’s reaching a peak of sorts. 

It’s logical, really. Things can’t stay like this forever. She can’t keep playing like this forever. She’s gotten older without even noticing, feeling every practice and game in her knees, absolutely embracing every opportunity to soak in an ice bath and give her tired limbs a little rest. 

She knows there might be a little more space left, that she probably has years of playing left ahead of her. But playing like this? It’s the curse of any athlete to know that none of this lasts forever, that everything about the game is absolutely temporary.

It really isn’t a horrible revelation. Allie is sort of grateful for it when it comes. She knows she’s living in the golden moments, the days that she’s going to look back on when she’s older with the absolute fondest warmth. It lets her cherish everything a little more, lets her savor it.

So she does. She makes herself pause. She makes herself enjoy it while it’s happening.

When she’s named an All-Star for the second year in a row. When she hits Diamond with a full-court football throw to take the lead over Los Angeles. When she knocks down 29 points in the three point competition and nearly gets knocked over by an over-excited Diana Taurasi, yelling expletives in her ear as she stares at the record-breaking number on the scoreboard.

Mostly, she savors every moment that she gets with Courtney amid all of this.

The way she vaults over the back of a row of seats to latch onto Allie after she sets the All-Star record. The way she grins after taking a hard charge in the playoffs, locking eyes with Allie as Gabby pounds her chest as they attempt to pull her back onto her feet. The soft calm of the plane flights home to Chicago, Courtney’s hand on her knee as they sleepily celebrated another win.

Sometimes, Courtney catches the way Allie looks at her.

“What?” They’re walking into the arena for the game one afternoon, and Courtney rubs self consciously at her face. “What’s that look about?”

“Nothing.” Allie grabs her hand quickly, squeezes it once. “Just remembering.”

In the middle of all this, Allie is also trying to do her absolute best to keep from letting wedding planning consume them both.

She wasn’t really expecting Courtney to be— well, obsessive isn’t the word. But she wasn’t expecting Courtney to be quite this engaged in their wedding planning. Excited, yes. Fastidiously concerned about which flowers work best for their centerpiece? That’s a bit of a surprise.

But, like always, it’s not a problem because they’re on the same page about everything. Or, nearly everything.

They carry an argument about cake options into practice one morning in early April. It’s probably the first time they’ve brought anything close to an actual fight into the locker room, and it earns an amused audience almost immediately.

“This is ridiculous.” Courtney actually sort of slams her locker shut, which is a bit overdramatic but also visibly hilarious to every other person in the room. “You’re not telling me that you actually thought that icing was edible.”

Stef grins manically between the two of them. Diamond nearly chokes on her water.

“Someone please, for the love of God, back me up here.” Allie swivels, latches eyes with Kahleah, who drops her head immediately to pretend to search in her bag. “Wedding cakes are not chocolate. That’s just a known fact.”

“Wait, Q has a point there—” Diamond starts to cut in, and now it’s Courtney’s turn to pivot around with a slightly ominous look in her eyes.

“Rookie—” She holds up a finger, and Diamond just grins back at it. “I swear I will make you run so many sprints.”

“I’m the actual vet here, don’t even—” Allie interjects, but she hardly gets the start of the sentence out.

“It’s a gay wedding!” Courtney throws both hands up, her visible frustration sort of undercut by the way she’s smiling. “There is literally no need for it to be traditional!”

“Wait—” Gabby, who has spent this entire argument on her chair, turns their attention with a look of pure bewilderment spreading across her face. “You guys are getting married?

For a moment, everyone just stares at Gabby. After a beat, Allie turns to Courtney, one hand already halfway up to her hip.

“Court.” Her voice is low, using every last inch of effort to keep from smiling. “Did you forget to invite the rookies?”

The resulting laughter drowns out any future possibility for the argument to continue.

(They end up going with a marble cake, anyways.)

The wedding is perfect, of course. It was always going to be perfect, no matter how the actual ceremony ended up. Allie and Courtney both knew that. It was perfect because it was them , and because they’d waited five whole years to finally be here.

But it’s perfect beyond that, beyond what it means to them. Nearly everyone is able to come. Their families, their friends, their former and current teammates. The room is perfectly full — enough people for Allie and Courtney to feel that no one missed out, but a small enough assortment to make everything feel intimate.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, they both agreed to spend the night before their wedding apart. It felt a little formal, a little dated, but Allie liked the idea of it, and it’s romantic enough to easily sell Courtney. 

Then the actual night arrives, and neither of them want to leave.

“You guys.” Sam is standing in the hallway, collecting Allie and watching with a warm look of amusement as she takes forever rounding up her chargers and toiletries. “It’s one night. You’re getting married tomorrow. You’re fine.”

“I know,” Allie grumbles, shuffling past Courtney.

“This was your idea,” Courtney says with a small smile, and Allie rolls her eyes.

“I know.” She tugs on Courtney’s sweatshirt, pulls her close enough to kiss. “See you tomorrow.”

“I love you,” Courtney says softly, kissing her forehead. “Sleep fast.”

“Love you more.” Allie kisses her again, a little harder, tugs her sweatshirt one more time before stepping back. “See you at our wedding.”

In the end, of course, neither of them can get to sleep. Allie’s heart is simply refusing to slow down, her whole body feeling like she just ran a sprint as she attempts — and fails — to get comfortable in bed. It lasts a whole hour and a half before, 

“Hi.” Courtney’s voice is gravely. It’s a full two hours after her normal in-season bedtime, and they’re both still a little jet lagged. “What are you doing up?”

“What are you doing up?” Allie rolls over on her side, warming already just at the sound of Courtney’s voice.

“Couldn’t sleep without you.” It’s soft when she says it. Allie loves her for it.

“Yeah.” She smiles, wonders if Courtney can hear that. “I know the feeling.”

For a moment, they’re both quiet, a light rustling coming from Courtney’s side of the line.

“When’s the last time we spent a night apart?” she asks, and Allie hums under her breath for a moment as she mulls it over.

“Mmm—” She shifts onto her back, stares at the ceiling. “This spring? When I had that EuroLeague game and you went to France?”

“Oh yeah.” Courtney pauses a moment, her breathing light and soft. “Are your feet cold?”

Allie laughs — the room was just a little drafty, and she put on an extra pair of socks loaned by her sister in preparation for being on her own tonight.

“Of course they are.” Courtney laughs at that, too. “Probably going to freeze to death without you.”

“Glad to know you just miss me for my heat.” Her voice is light, and Allie feels a little dumb — but mostly deeply, unchangeably, endlessly in love — for missing her after only a few hours apart.

“Obviously that’s all I miss.” There’s another pause, and she can hear Courtney yawn on the other line. “You should sleep.”

“You too.” Courtney shifts again, rustling her line, and Allie can hear her smile. “Big day tomorrow.”

“Just a bit of an occasion.” Allie hesitates for a moment. “Can I ask you something dumb?”

“Of course.” Courtney’s response is immediate, like always. “Anything.”

“Will you stay on the line until I fall asleep?”

There’s not even a pause before Courtney responds.

“Yeah.” Allie can hear her moving around, getting more comfortable. She wishes she was there — Courtney sort of burrows into her side when they’re together in bed, saying she’s most comfortable if she’s tucked into Allie’s frame. “Of course.”

“I love you,” Allie says, soft and a little delicate. She rests the phone on the pillow next to her, buries her face in the soft fabric. 

“‘Night, Allie.” Courtney’s voice is low and rough, clearly already close to sleep. “Love you more.”

The next day is perfect. The best day of their lives. There’s no arguing that. There’s a lot of moments we could detail from that day — the vows and the first dance, the way Gabby actually cried for the first 20 minutes, the way they snuck out an hour into the reception to stand on the balcony and just talk. 

But really all you need to know about Allie and Courtney is this — that one night before joining together for the rest of their lives, they couldn’t get to sleep without one another. This, more than anything, paints the picture of the way they are together, the way they’ll always be together. 

There’s a moment when the only sound in the room is the soft hum of the empty phone line.

“Hey.” It’s a soft mumble, but even from here Allie can picture exactly how Courtney is smiling. “We’re getting married tomorrow.”

“I know.” It’s the last thing she thinks about as she drifts off to sleep — the past and the future and everything else between the two of them coming together in a matter of hours. “I can’t wait.”

Chapter Text

With you it's like I'm coming home again

Baby you're hands down the best thing

About me

And baby I don't know where I was

But I'm so glad you found me

 

***

 

The thing about getting married is that everyone has an opinion on it. Literally everyone.

Every single person they knew seemed to take it upon themselves to tell them every little thing to expect about their wedding. Most of them end up being wrong, in one way or another. There’s no way they ever could have prepared for the sheer amount of people who have thoughts or interest quite suddenly in the two of them, even strangers who see their rings and decide to ask questions.

For instance, a scene Allie didn’t expect — Diana Taurasi latching a hand somewhere between her shoulder and her neck and half-dragging her into a hug after their last game against one another in the 2018 season.

“Congratulations kids, I’m happy for you—” Like always, Diana spoke in somewhat staccato run-on sentences, not really taking a breath or a pause as she somehow got her other arm looped around Courtney. “We gotta stick together, I’m real happy for you both.”

Courtney sort of ducked to glance around Diana’s torso, shooting Allie an amused grin. 

“You got a decanter?” Diana looked seriously between Allie and Courtney, as if she’d just asked them if they believed in God. “I’m talking a good one, not some off-brand Target shit.”

“Uh—” Courtney looked at Allie. “We don’t even have a good couch yet.”

“Alright, say no more.” Diana let them both go a little violently. “Check your mail in two to three weeks. Best wishes to you both.”

For a moment, they just stood in the middle of the Phoenix court, slightly slack jawed. Courtney looked up at Allie, her gaze a little off balance.

“What the fuck?” she finally muttered, and then they both broke down laughing. 

(Two and a half weeks later, a package containing a Waterford swan decanter showed up at their apartment. It took them both several minutes to regain their composure, out of breath from laughing a little too hard.)

It continues in this same pattern. Everyone wants to congratulate them, to hear about their wedding plans, to offer some sage little piece of advice or warning or recommendation. Courtney loves it — she doesn’t care how many times she’s been asked, she’ll still bury herself in the retelling of every detail of their upcoming wedding plans. But it starts to get just a little under Allie’s skin.

“Why does everyone have an opinion about this?” she asks after they both smile and nod their way through yet another sermon — this time from an actual pastor, a man who used to serve in Courtney’s church who they bumped into while running to get coffee with her parents on a visit to Kent — about the importance of devotion in marriage.

“They’re excited for us.” Courtney grins, bumping Allie in the side with her hip. “Let them have their fun.”

Allie can’t argue with that, because she’s so excited that sometimes, if she thinks too hard about that day in December, she sort of feels like she can’t breathe.

So she listens to every single soliloquy and assurance and platitude about weddings and marriage, even though none of them really seem right for them. For Allie, at least, the wedding is almost for the rest of the world — an outward recognition of the fact that it’s going to be the two of them, together, for the rest of their lives. But Allie has known that fact for six years now. It feels like a formality, almost, to inform everyone else about it.

Okay, there’s one accurate recommendation. Courtney’s mom warned them both that they would forget to eat the whole day. She practically forced a protein bar down Courtney’s throat that morning, promising she’d thank her for it later. 

In the end, it’s nowhere close to enough. Courtney doesn’t eat a thing for the rest of the day, and her second glass of champagne hits her a little unexpectedly in the middle of the reception. She ends up half-stumbling, half-swooning into Allie’s side with a warm, glassy look in her eyes.

“You’re my best friend, do you know that?” Her arm slips around Allie’s waist, her cheek pressing into her shoulder. “You’re my best friend and we’re married .”

Allie had been talking in a small circle with a few of their closest friends — Diamond and Stef, her sister and two of her bridesmaids — before Courtney came crashing in, and normally she’d be a touch embarrassed by something like this. 

But it’s Courtney and it’s their wedding and everyone here just watched her cry through half of Courtney’s vows and, quite honestly, she hasn’t been able to keep this goofy grin off her face since she woke up. 

So instead Allie just tugs her a little tighter to her side, laughing under her breath when she sways with the motion.

“Uh huh,” Allie says, sort of crooning it in a voice that she knows is a little sappy sweet. “We said vows and everything.”

Courtney beams up at her, her eyes a little shiny. 

“This is the best day ever.” Her smile crooks up at the left corner of her mouth, like always. “Better than winning a championship.” 

Courtney is so serious, her voice low and a little solemn even through her smile as her hand tracks down and intertwines with Allie’s fingers. It makes her chest hurt, makes her want to pull Courtney out of this room so they can find somewhere for just the two of them.

“You sure about that?” Allie mutters, just a little too low for anyone else to hear. Courtney starts nodding immediately, a little overeager.

“Mhm.” Courtney’s hand presses into her ribcage as she sways a little again. “Gotta trophy right here.”

Sam laughs and Diamond makes a half-choked sobbing noise and Stef buries her face in both hands as Allie flushes, a slightly red tint spreading up her neck. Courtney, for her part, just keeps smiling up at her.

“O-kay.” Allie says it teasingly, shakes her head, because all this is still so overwhelming and she’s still sort of afraid that she might start crying again. Courtney just slips her other arm around her waist, dragging her down the necessary couple of inches in order to kiss her.

It lingers a little longer — okay, a lot longer — than it normally would, but it’s their wedding and Courtney is tipsy and Allie is too head over heels to really bother to care about it.

“Alright.” Diamond waves both her hands in the air in their general direction. “I’m gonna go cry in a corner now, don’t mind me.”

They stay sickly sweet for weeks after. Courtney kisses her without warning anywhere and everywhere — on their way out the door to their last team dinner in Chicago, in the line for coffee at the airport, in the entryway of their stadium in Russia.

It turns out that the same damn thing happens after the wedding, this time in terms of unsolicited advice about marriage itself. Everyone seems to have some little colloquialism, some cheesy piece of advice in the early weeks and months. Which is silly because — as James and Kahleah and Diamond and, frankly, all of their teammates insist on pointing out — they’ve basically operated as a married couple for five years already.

“If one more straight man makes the happy wife happy life joke—” Courtney half-growls one day, and Allie just laughs, cuts her off with a kiss before she can get the rest of her threat out.

In the end, getting married is just another step in building a life together. After that comes another step, and another, and another.

They buy a house, which is more complicated and also more stressful than anyone warned them. They decorate it, room by room, which should be difficult — they don't really share anything close to the same intrinsic sense of style. But, like everything with the two of them, it works. They compromise, buy the couch Allie wants and the recliner Courtney picked out, frame nineteen different pictures of their dogs and their families to scatter around the house.

It becomes a touchpoint of sorts for the rest of the team. They have them over at the start of summer, when some of the rooms are still a bit bare, and within hours Diamond makes the announcement that none of them are ever leaving. Like, ever.

That comes true in plenty of ways — most days, at least one of their teammates can be found somewhere in the house, sprawled across the couch in the living room or playing with the dogs in the backyard or hounding Allie in the kitchen.

"I know we've talked about kids, but we did not agree to adopt ten of them in our first year of marriage," Allie says under her breath one day when Diamond and Kahleah invite themselves over after practice.

"You have to love us—" Kah's response is immediate, arms folding around Allie from behind and half-lifting her up immediately as Diamond heads straight to the fridge. "—because you're our moms and that's that."

At the beginning, at least, marriage mainly seems to change the way everyone else acts around them. 

Not in a bad way — it’s just as if, suddenly, they’ve become a little more precious to the people in their lives. Eventually, it’ll wear off and their team will start calling them “mom and dad” and the relentless teasing will return at threefold.

But for the first few months, it’s a collection of little things. 

At the start of the season, James asks them, a little awkwardly, if they’d like to room together for road games. They both already agreed to rotate between rooming together and separately — they hate sleeping apart, but rooming with their teammates is also the easiest way to ensure that the entire team is gelling together.

On the first road trip of the season, Allie gets paired with Gabby who, of course, has been the most giddy and also the most endearingly awkward about their status as newlyweds. She puts both traits on display within hours of arriving in Dallas when the whole team is trying to kill a full afternoon’s worth of time. Courtney is reading a book while flopped halfway across Allie, who’s singing to herself under her breath watching an old musical while Gabby gathers her things to go get food with Kah and Diamond.

“Hey, so, uh—” Gabby pauses awkwardly in the doorway, shoving her phone into her pocket. “We’re gonna be gone for an hour or so.”

Courtney doesn’t even look up, repositioning her book on Allie’s stomach as she turns the page. Allie lifts her chin a little, smiling warmly at Gabby.

“Okay, cool,” she says, attention already turned back to the TV.

“So like, the room is, uh—” Gabby stays put for another moment, rapping her knuckles nervously across the doorframe. “All yours. So just—”

Courtney still doesn’t look up, but her smile is immediate, the grin spreading further as she slowly puts her book down. Allie tips her head at Gabby, both eyebrows furrowed.

“Gabby,” Courtney says, attempting to sound stern. “We have a house with a bed.”

“And a couch.” Allie earns a shove in the ribs for that one, but all that does is make her smirk down at Courtney. “And a shower.”

“Allie.” Gabby pretends to gag in the doorway as Courtney sits halfway up, her tone still struggling to sound anything close to scolding.

“What?” Allie drops her eyes, tips her head to one side, smirks just a little. “Also a pool.”

“Gross.” Gabby’s eyes widen even further. “I’ve been in that pool.”

There’s this smile Allie gets on occasion that’s a little overwhelming, a little threatening. It’s spreading across her face now, matched by Courtney’s low laugh.

“Are you done traumatizing me?” She’s already backing out of the door, her arms held up. “Is this nightmare over?”

“You started it!” Courtney yells.

“I’m leaving.” Gabby sticks her head back into the door one more time. “Please don’t have sex on my bed.”

“We’re not going to have sex.” Allie’s voice drops down into a mutter. “But if we do, it’ll exclusively be on your bed.”

“I hate you.” Gabby’s voice is audible even through the closing door.

Courtney immediately drops her head back onto Allie’s chest, although she leaves the book untouched for the moment.

“Did you want…” She lets the question trail off, and she feels rather than hears Allie’s rumble of laughter in response.

“Babe, I could barely stand after that ice bath.” There’s a soft brush of a kiss on top of Courtney’s head, and then Allie reaches over to grab the remote, cranking the volume back up a few more notches. “I’m gonna need a raincheck.”

“Hey.” Courtney tries to get a quip out, but it’s engulfed in a yawn. “You were the one terrorizing Gabby with the idea of it.”

“Had to keep the kid in check.” There’s another yawn, and Allie drops a hand to Courtney’s back, scratching lightly against her skin. “You’re five seconds away from falling asleep yourself.”

There’s not really a response to that, because Courtney’s eyes are practically weighed down by dumbbells at this point. She presses her cheek a little closer to Allie, smiling slightly.

“Mmhm.” Courtney wraps her arm a little tighter around Allie’s waist, her book completely forgotten. “You’re comfy.”

She can’t see the way Allie looks down at her, warm and a little indiscernible, because she’s already drifting out of consciousness.

Gabby gets back nearly two hours later, a small tray of coffee and a bag full of bagels in tow. Allie spent the afternoon flipping between two movies, although she did take a small break to watch a little more film once she was sure Courtney was fully asleep and wouldn’t make fun of her for it. 

“Hi.” She closes the door slowly, careful to not let it latch too loudly.

“Hey.” Allie smiles softly, shiftly slightly. “How was the coffee?”

“Good.” Gabby sets down the tray, pointing to it haphazardly. “Got y’all some if you want it.”

“You’re the best.” Allie can’t really move, because Courtney is still firmly latched around her torso with a hand clinging to the edge of her sweatshirt, and they’ve been together long enough for Allie to fully value any form of mid-day nap on Courtney’s behalf. 

After a moment, Gabby seems to catch on, carrying over one of the cups. For a breath, she just kind of stands there, beaming down at both of them a little goofily.

“Y’all are cute.” She tips her head a little. “In case you haven’t, you know, been told that lately.”

“I know.” Allie grins back up at her. “But thanks.”

After that, it sort of feels like nothing in their lives could possibly get any better. Their team wins game after game, spending their downtime at their house, laying out by the pool and playing with the dogs. Life feels easy, natural. If Allie could take herself back to where she was seven years ago — well, she’s honestly not sure she’d even believe it could be this good.

And then they’re both named to the All Star team and it — it doesn’t even feel real.

Courtney tries to downplay it at every turn, continuously turning the conversation back to Allie in interviews. They’re doing a live hit on the local ABC affiliate and she won’t stop egging Allie on about guarding her.

“Oh yeah, I’m gonna lock her up.” Courtney’s chin juts out a little, lifting up in that annoyingly cocky expression that always makes Allie want to shove her just a little. “You can write that down.”

She tips her head at Allie, and for a moment they just sort of keep staring at each other, Courtney’s grin continuing to grow.

“You’re—” Allie’s laugh sort of comes out as a scoff. “You really want to do this?”

“Hey.” There’s a shrug and Allie bites back the urge to flip her off on live television. “I’m just telling the truth.”

Everything about Vegas and the week and the game is a blur — especially the game, which seems to fly by in a matter of minutes for them both. 

It’s a little strange, because everything about the trip feels like it’s about them . Not as individuals, but as a couple — they do interviews together, get asked questions about each other even when they’re split up. 

Elena actually can’t get herself to stop laughing when she tells Courtney to guard Allie at the start of the third quarter, and Britney has to take a full minute to get herself together on the bench after Allie sends her wife into the front row with her second-straight three. 

Everything feels centered on the two of them as a couple, which is okay — it’s great actually, they both find themselves surprised at how much they don’t mind the new level of attention — except for the fact that they don’t actually get any real time alone together.

Even at the hotel, their suite becomes a stand-in for their house back in Chicago. Teammates flit in and out as if they own the place, Diamond and Kah throwing themselves across the bed before one of their nights out as they split a bottle of champagne, Stef spending half an hour in their bathroom because she forgot to pack her own straightener.

They’ve become unused to going this many days without any quiet solace together. It’s a touch overwhelming — especially for Allie, who cherishes her slow mornings with coffee and their dogs more than most people know, who gets just a touch jittery if she spends this many extended hours surrounded by other people. Courtney can tell it’s building up, especially by the way she sort of clings the moment they clamber into bed, absolutely exhausted, on their second night in Vegas. 

So it makes plenty of sense that, on their last night in the hotel, it’s Allie who tries to slow them down to a complete standstill as they get ready for yet another party.

Courtney is messing with her hair in the bathroom — she swears Stef messed up her straightener, somehow, in the half-hour she used it the other night — when Allie comes in, wrapping her up from behind with both arms. 

She lets herself breathe into it for a moment, closing her eyes and melting back against Allie’s body, smiling softly at the familiar feel of it. Allie is fresh from the shower and smells like shampoo, and her mouth is warm when she drops a kiss to the curve of Courtney’s throat.

“Hey.” Courtney’s voice comes out a little strained, and she can feel Allie laughing at it.

(It’s not her fault — they’ve hardly been alone together all week, and most of their quiet time in their lavish hotel room has consisted of literally crashing into bed in exhaustion after hours of media appearances and training and trying to keep their teammates from burning the entire city of Las Vegas to the ground.)

“Hi.” Allie’s voice dips a half-octave lower than normal, her mouth tracing down to Courtney’s shoulder. She shivers at it, completely out of control of her own basic reactions.

“Allie.” Courtney tries her absolute best to sound firm. It doesn’t work at all. Allie, in return, just drops her hands to Courtney’s hips, pressing her forward just enough to pin her into the counter, a subtle movement that is all too effective in distracting Courtney completely from the rest of their plans for the night.

“Alexandria.” She drops a hand to cover Allie’s, trying to still her for even a second. “Come on, we’ve gotta go soon.”

There’s no response. Allie lets out a little sigh against her shoulder, then presses another kiss to her skin, this time to a spot on her jaw just below her ear that makes Courtney jolt, turning around a little quickly.

She’s relieved to see that Allie looks just as out of breath as herself, although her smile is a bit more amused. 

“You know what I’m gonna say,” Allie says, and Courtney crushes down her impulse to groan immediately. 

“Don’t say it.” Again, Courtney fails to sound at all commanding, which makes a good amount of sense given the way Allie is continuing to crowd all up in her space.

“You know I have to—” There’s a way that Allie smiles that is always going to get her right in the chest, that’s always going to make her weak. She’s doing it now, which isn’t fair because Courtney is right. They’re supposed to meet their teammates in the lobby in 15 minutes and neither of them are even close to dressed and if Courtney gives into this they’re going to regress even further in the opposite direction. 

“Do you?” Her voice is low, and Allie just smiles. “Do you really?”

“I can’t say anything if you just—” Allie pauses and tugs a little at the front of Courtney’s sweatpants.“Shut me up.”

It’s a breaking point for both of them, and Allie mumbles the final few syllables against Courtney’s lips as she kisses her.

“Shut up.” She pulls away just enough to get the words out. “Please.”

Allie still kisses her like they just got together, like they’re standing on a basketball court in September after months of holding back, as if they just figured out they were in love with each other. Courtney thinks it’s going to take her breath away forever.

“Okay.” There’s a smile, a little too sweet, and then Allie is pulling her backward in the haphazard direction of the bed. “Only because you asked nicely.”

Early in September, Allie wakes up to an elbow in her ribs. 

At some point, Courtney had rolled on her side away from Allie, splaying out awkwardly with her legs thrown one way and an arm over her face. She’s mumbling under her breath, incoherent nonsense that Allie can’t piece together. She lets out a slight grumbling sigh as she shoves her arm away, nudging at Courtney’s side. 

“Hey.” She digs into her ribcage a little further, earning a discontented noise from Courtney. “Scoot over, dummy.”

There’s no response, just another sigh from Courtney and another babbling little sentence.

“Court?” Allie nudges at her again. “Babe.”

Again, no response, just another mumbled protestation. Courtney’s face scrunches up even further, twitching slightly in clear discomfort. Allie raises a gentle hand to her cheek, and her amused smile falls quickly when she feels the sickly flush of her skin, which is slick with sweat.

“Baby.” Allie shakes her shoulder a little more firmly. “Courtney, wake up.”

This time, Courtney rolls onto her back, cracking open one eye with a fervently miserable expression.

“What’s wrong—” She half-slurs the words, then immediately starts coughing, an awful, phlegmy sound from deep in her chest. 

“Oh no.” Allie presses her hand to Courtney’s face again, that same warmth still pulsing into her palm. “Babe, you don’t feel good.”

“Nope.” Courtney shakes her head with all of the stubbornness of a two-year-old. “We have a game in two days. No way I’m sick.”

“Our game schedule doesn’t make you immune—” Allie chances a glance at the clock, which reads 6:12 a.m. “—to infection.” 

“Allie.” Courtney takes a dramatic pause and, in the process, a rather dramatic sniffle. “I’m fine.”

“Courtney.” She’s already out of bed, grabbing at her phone. “We’re going to the doctor.”

“Alexandria.” There’s a groan from the direction of the bed, but it’s cut off by more coughing. “I swear, I’m good.”

Allie turns, the phone already held up to her ear as she flashes a light glare at Courtney.

“If you think you can go get a thermometer and turn up a slightly normal temperature—” She points in the direction of the bathroom. “—be my guest.”

That earns a woeful sigh, and then Courtney flops back into the pillows, groaning lightly.

“If you’re gonna boss me around, can you get me some water?” She says it in a slightly whining tone, but Allie just smiles, grabbing her hand and giving it a light squeeze as she slips out of the room.

The best part of being sponsored by a local hospital is that they’ll drop pretty much everything to take care of the team’s returning All-Star and her starting point guard wife. Even if she’s just getting her ass kicked by a really nasty strain of the flu. 

The doctor gives Courtney pointed orders to stay in bed for the rest of the day and calls James personally to insist that she stay off the roster for the road game in Los Angeles. He also gives her a prescription for flu meds, which Allie fills on the way to taking Courtney to Starbucks for a medicine ball tea. 

“You’re treating me like a little kid,” Courtney mutters as she sips at it, and Allie just laughs.

“You’re acting like a little kid.” Allie can’t keep herself from leaning over the armrest and kissing her on the cheek, flu or not. “Good thing I still like you.” 

“Uh huh.” Courtney visibly hesitates, turning her head to kiss Allie and then thinking the better of it. “You’ll be singing a different tune when you get this, too.”

“Don’t.” Allie jabs a finger at her. “One of us has to make it to Los Angeles to keep the kids under control.”

Allie gets her home and into the shower, then changes into her gear and fully packs her training bag before Courtney seems to catch onto the fact that she’s not going to be attending practice today. She’s actually trying to change into her gear, gingerly tugging on her practice jersey, when Allie walks back into the bedroom.

“Nope.” She crosses the room, getting both hands on Courtney’s jersey and tugging it back up over her head. “Get your ass back in bed.”

Courtney lets out a low whine, but she doesn’t really resist as Allie nudges her to back a little, pulling her thickest sweatshirt out of the dresser and pressing it into her hands.

“I could just come watch ,” Courtney mutters, tugging the sweatshirt on. “You’re always saying I need to watch more film—”

“Courtney.” Allie nudges her again, hands light on her torso. “Get in bed or I’ll put you there.”

“Is that an invitation?” Courtney says it with a smirk, twitching her eyebrows upward, but the effect is completely lost when she’s taken over by another spurt of coughs, racking her upper body violently as Allie nudges her to sit on the edge of the bed.

“I’ll be back by noon,” Allie murmurs, letting Courtney tug her to stand in the space between her knees. “I’ll bring soup.”

“Thank you.” There’s a softness to the way Courtney says it, tugging one more time on Allie’s jersey. “I love you.”

“Love you more,” Allie says, leaning down to risk another kiss to her cheek. “Even when you’re stubborn.”

Courtney lets out a grumble, but she’s already slumping back into bed, curling herself under the covers. She’s in the same position when Allie comes home, groggy and a bit fussy when Allie wakes her up to take her temperature again.

Allie had been the first one to actually get sick in their new house — it was food poisoning in their third week after moving in, and she was bed ridden for a full 48 hours while Courtney basically waited on her hand and foot. Now that the tables are turned, Allie tries to replicate everything Courtney did to make her feel better.

She coaxes Courtney out of bed, props her up on the couch and piles her with blankets, which are quickly weighted down by both dogs clambering up in a desperate attempt to help her feel better. She heats up the soup, places it gently in her lap, forces her to drink a full glass of ice water. She throws the sheets on the bed into the wash, remakes it fresh so Courtney will be comfortable when she goes back to sleep. 

Allie fusses and futzes around the house until Courtney basically demands that she come sit still in the living room.

“You sure you’re not worried about getting sick?” she asks, but Allie is already half-dragging her into her lap, cradling her head as she reaches for the remote.

“Just—” She wraps an arm around Courtney, who melts into it immediately. “I’m good.”

Courtney falls asleep within minutes. She wakes up a few times before Allie prods her back into bed, eventually joining her after packing for the flight to Los Angeles the next morning.

In a particularly lucid moment, Courtney had convinced her to sleep in the guest room for the sake of avoiding getting sick and to ensure that she actually slept through the night. Allie agreed that it was the smart, logical thing to do, but after approximately 45 minutes of lying awake in the overly-quiet room she slips out of bed and pads quietly back into the bedroom.

“Shhh,” she murmurs when Courtney starts to stir. “Go back to sleep.”

Courtney doesn’t question the fact that she can’t sleep without her, just tugs her a little closer before they both drift off to sleep.

Allie leaves with the Sky the next morning, getting a ride from Cheyenne to the airport. They win on the road, a pleasant surprise without Courtney in the backcourt. She can tell Courtney is feeling better already when they FaceTime after the game — her coloring a little more normal, her voice chipper rather than sluggish.

It still comes as a surprise when Courtney’s there at the airport when they come home the next morning. Allie had been planning on just hitching a ride home, and she feels a little silly when her whole stomach lurches at the sight of Courtney leaned up against the partition by baggage claim in a pair of sweatpants with the number 14 embroidered on the side.

“Hey.” Allie drops the bag off her shoulder to hug her. “You look better.”

“Feel better, too.” Courtney tucks some of her hair behind her ear. “You ready to watch film yet?”

She laughs, then lets their teammates engulf her. When they leave the airport, Courtney throws her bag over her shoulder, takes her hand in her own.

“Hey.” Courtney tugs a little on her hand, brushes their hips together. “I missed you.”

“Same.” Allie grins back at her, soft and somehow a little shy, even after all these years, even after promising a lifetime to each other. “Always do.”

Chapter Text

I'm gonna die the exact same day as you

Scrape the sky with tired eyes

And I will come find you

And I ain't scared cuz I'm never gonna miss you



***

 

Courtney is tired.

It’s more than just the exhaustion of playing in a playoff game, of losing a playoff game. There’s a weight to the disappointment, so heavy that it almost drags her to the ground. She’s not even sure how her legs keep her upright, how she makes it to the sideline. 

This was supposed to be her year. Their year. And it was her fault, and she knows it — her turnovers, her absolutely shitty decision-making put them in this position. 

Courtney does absolutely everything she can to keep from letting anyone see her cry. She pulls her jersey up half-over her face, bites down on it hard as she feels sobs beginning to rack up into her chest. There’s a roaring silence in her ears, drowning out any crowd noise, any words that any Vegas player says to her as they move through the line to high-five. She shrugs away from Kayla’s hug, drops her eyes to the court and does everything in her power to stay under control, just for the next handful of seconds, just until the locker room.

The only consistency through all of it is Allie’s touch on the small of her back. It stays, firm and gentle and subtle, prodding her forward and off the court. When their friends on the Aces try to stop them to say something, Allie presses her palm into her back with just a little more force, ultimately propelling Courtney toward the locker room when she sort of stalls at midcourt. She only lets go once they’re at the door to the locker room, grabs the handle and holds it open as they pile inside.

Allie stays silent through James’ postgame speech, which is equally quiet and frustrated. She doesn’t say a word when Stef offers up a corny speech, or when Diamond punctuates it with a simple statement — “Next fucking year, on my life, I promise y’all.” 

She waits until they’re just starting to pack up, turning quietly and tugging the towel back until Courtney is forced to look her dead in the eye.

“Hey.” Allie reaches out, her fingers lightly twisting around Courtney’s. They’re never like this in the locker room, and the rare show of affection when they’re still in their jerseys is almost enough to make her start crying all over again, right there on the spot. “We never lose because of you. Only in spite of you. You’ve never let us down, not once.”

Courtney finally starts to cry, fully and without hiding it. Not because she’s sad, not because she’s angry or frustrated or tired. No, she cries now because Allie didn’t have to ask, didn’t have to hear one word to know what she was thinking and, at the same time, to know exactly how to fix it. It’s enough to actually bring on tears, and when Allie’s thumb lightly brushes across her cheekbone, it makes her cry a little harder.

It’s intimate, rare for both of them while they’re at work, but Courtney leans into it. For a moment, it’s just the two of them in a locker room, figuring things out like they always do. 

Courtney ends up being the one who invites the team over to their house when they land in Chicago the next day. It makes Allie laugh a little at her — five years ago, Courtney would’ve needed a week to stop sulking over a loss like that.

“Yeah, well a lot changed since then,” Courtney mumbles, and it’s still loud enough for the whole group to hear as they slouch through the terminal. There’s this very specific way that their teammates smile at the two of them sometimes — sort of warm and soft and almost a little melancholy in its sweetness. When Courtney looks up she’s greeted by an entire team’s worth of those smiles.

Five years ago, they would’ve drowned their sadness at a bar. Hell, five years ago they’d already be hungover from drowning their sadness in the hotel last night.

Instead, they crowd around the fire pit in their backyard with beers and wine and about five bags of marshmallows. Gabby drops three consecutive marshmallows into the pit until Diamond forcefully takes the poker from her hands and cooks both of theirs at the same time. Stef convinces Gem to sit on her lap and spends a very animated couple of minutes holding her ears up and doing her best impression of the dog’s thoughts in a squeaky voice.

Allie tugs Courtney’s left hand between her own, cradling both between her knees and playing with her wedding band absently as she talks to Gabby on her other side. Courtney just watches, thinking of the first time they lost a playoff game together, thinking of every other first between then and now.

Hours later, their teammates begin to drift off to their own homes. Gabby cleans up all the trash, Jantel puts out the fire. They put an extra warmth into their goodbyes, an extra squeeze into their hugs. The offseason is long, and anything and everything could change in the coming months before they see each other next.

Finally, it’s just the two of them left, leaning their elbows into the kitchen counter to look at each other.

“Hey.” Allie’s smile is soft, growing wider when she sees Courtney holding back a yawn. “We should sleep.”

“Yeah,” Courtney says, but she moves in the wrong direction, stepping up into Allie’s space instead and pulling her closer, tight into her chest.

“I love you,” she says, burying her face in Allie’s neck. 

“I love you too,” Allie says, and she can hear her smile, can feel it as she presses a kiss to the top of her head. “Always on your team.”

 

***

 

There’s no good way to write the end of a love story that doesn’t actually end. 

That’s the greatest tragedy of every happy romance, of course. Because it doesn’t end. Not really. And the beauty of this particular story is that it’s going to continue on forever. 

So instead, there’s just a future and a past that look remarkably similar and yet wholly different from one another. 

Behind them are bruised knees and early morning exhaustion. Transatlantic flights and games in foreign gyms. FaceTime and phone calls that lasted too long and also too little. Games won, games lost. Shooting sessions on courts in Pécs and Chicago and Istanbul and Seattle and Yekaterinburg. Off day afternoons on the pier at Flathead Lake. Team dinners in their backyard. Taking pictures of Allie whenever she wasn’t looking. Morning after morning of coaxing Courtney out of bed with bribes of coffee intermingled with occasional threats.

Ahead there are medals and retirement ceremonies. A honeymoon that was delayed a full five years. Sleepless nights and first steps. Parent-teacher conferences and plane flights to Seattle. The first time they raise the hoop to the full ten feet for their daughter. The quiet hum of cicadas outside as they sink into chairs on the back porch after getting their son to sleep.

Weddings they wouldn’t miss for the world, funerals that bring them to their knees. A dog, and another, and another, each of whom love the kids more than the last. Kindergarten graduation and middle school graduation and high school graduation and college graduation. Weathered hands and knees that crack at every opportunity, that make them look at each other and joke, “Was all that basketball really worth it?”

Too many pictures to fit into frames. Too many memories to be held on their own, so many that they have to be shared, with nieces and nephews and children and grandchildren and, most important of all, with each other.

And in the middle, holding it all together — it’s just them. Courtney teases Allie for never changing, for never looking a day over 21, for being rock solid for decades. Allie loves Courtney for the opposite — the way she’s always changing, always learning, always surprising her with something new, nothing ever growing old or boring even when they themselves grow old and boring.

In the middle are countless moments like this one: the next morning as they wake up, no alarms set, no schedule crying out for them.

Allie wakes up first, as always, tries her patience for a while before nudging her way into Courtney’s space.

“Hi.” She smiles when Courtney shifts, tipping her head over to look up at her.

“Mmph.” Courtney scrunches her face up good-naturedly, smiling slightly as she leans over a little further to press her mouth to Allie’s shoulder. “Good morning.”

“‘morning.” For a moment they both roll on their backs into their own spaces, stretching languidly to a slight chorus of popping joints. Eventually, Allie turns her head back, looking at Courtney.  “What’re you thinking?”

“Remember that bakery in Poland?” Courtney grins at the ceiling, then turns to look back at Allie. “The one in Zakopane?”

Allie groans in response, covering her face with both hands.

“Oh god, don’t remind me, I’m already hungry.” Courtney laughs at the overdramatic dip in Allie’s voice, rolling over to rest her chin on Allie’s chest, her hand absentmindedly drifting down to her ribcage. “I miss it.”

“We’ll go back.” Her voice is firm, and Allie loves her for it. 

“This year?” Allie drops her chin down to get a better look at Courtney’s face as she nods seriously.

“For sure.” Courtney grins, her fingertips tapping against Allie’s ribs.

They’re quiet for a moment, Allie’s hand working through Courtney’s hair, scratching softly at the base of her neck to earn a breathy little noise in response.

“Remember that breakfast place in Milan?”

This time, it’s Courtney’s turn to let out a slightly yearning groan.

“The one with the pigeon?” 

Courtney tips her chin up enough to look Allie in the eyes, wonders haphazardly if she’s ever going to stop getting that light fluttering in her chest when she looks at her wife this closely.

“Mhm.”

They go on like this for a while, quizzing each other on things they’ll both do their best to remember for the rest of their lives. At some point the questions cut off, because Courtney leans over to kiss Allie and neither of them are really in the mood to stop.

That’s not the end, or the beginning. It’s just somewhere in the happy middle. But it seems as good a place as any to stop, as sure of their love as we’ve ever been.

And that’s where we’ll leave them for now.