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"Did you know," Leo said, "that sandhill cranes mate for life?"

"That sounds made up," said Win. She refilled her flute from the minibar champagne, and frowned when only a trickle appeared. That was wrong. Wrong and sad, really. She tipped it up to double check, holding it up to her eye so she could peer down into the bottleneck. "Leo, my God, we've drunk it all. We need another one."

"You know who else mates for life?" Leo was splayed open-legged across the backseat of the limo, holding his phone above his head and scrolling. Win's vision was watery from the combo of bright-lights-champagne-adrenaline but in the light of the flashing street lamps from outside the windows, he looked like he was smiling. "Beavers."

"Is that a crack about my cunt?" Win said archly.

"Don't call it that. Call it a 'pussy.' 'Cunt' is too harsh in American, we've had this discussion."

"You're a cunt," said Win. "We're out of champagne."

"Bald eagles also mate for life," Leo said, ignoring her completely. He peeked over the top edge of his phone, looking smug and satisfied with himself, which was - to be completely honest - kind of how he always looked so Win had stopped noticing several Oscar seasons ago. "So do gray wolves. And gibbons."

"What the bloody fuck is a gibbon," Win said, still sore about the champagne.

"It's like, I dunno. It's like a type of monkey I think."

"Shut up, they do not," Win said.

"No, they do! And macaroni penguins. Those are the little guys with the yellow things above their eyes and they always look angry in pictures. See?" Leo flashed his screen at her, then grinned and turned it back away, too quickly for her to see. She rolled her eyes at him ostentatiously, which only made him grin bigger. "Says here that most breeding pairs are 'not monogamous,' though. So I don't know how that works, if you mate for life but you're not monogamous. Maybe macaroni penguins just have marriages of convenience."

"Or they're into polyamory," Win said.

"Very enlightened. Would you like to guess what else this fascinating article is telling me?"

Win hitched up her gown and stuck the empty champagne bottle between her knees so it wouldn't roll all over the floor. "Not really."

"It's telling me that gibbons sometimes cheat on their mates. And that they express affection through grooming."

"Leo, would you put your fucking phone away and pay attention to me," Win said. "I've just won an Emmy, you know."

"I know you won an Emmy and I'm very proud of you," Leo said. "Which is why I'm trying to come up with a funny way to brag about you on my Twitter account. Don't worry - I'm not gonna use the gibbon one. Racist. Very racist. But they are cute, don't you think?" He flashed his phone at her again, and Win smiled indulgently. "Look at this guy just sitting on his little tree branch. He looks like my tax accountant."

"Can't tweet while drunk," Win said, shaking her head. She tapped his shin with her bare toes, her heels having been long abandoned, shoved up against the edge of the generous limo floor. "That's Marie's number one rule. Look at your wrist again."

Leo fumbled with the cuff of his tuxedo jacket, frowning blearily at the little scrawl of writing on the inside of his wrist in thin-tipped Sharpie. "Oh yeah," he said.

"Very helpful."

"So helpful." He let his phone fall to the seat between them, then grinned and let himself fall sideways. "God, I'm drunk."

"I know," Win said fondly, leaning in to meet him and running her hand through his hair. He was sweet and wide-eyed when he got champagne-drunk, like a freshman in college on the first night of rush week. It made Win want to knit him a nice sweater, and also like she wanted to shove him down on a hard surface and sit on his face. There are always two wolves inside of you, et cetera and whatever. "Me too."

"A drunk Emmy winner," Leo said, pulling her close by her wrist. He leaned down and kissed her hand, like a Southern gentleman, and then ran his lips up the inside of her forearm until she laughed, breathless and shivery. "I love you."

Win closed her eyes, her head floating several feet above the limo, and sighed happily. "Love you too, gibbon," she mumbled.

"Is that a crack about my cock?" Leo joked.

"Yes," Win replied easily, right on cue. She slid downwards in the seat, low enough for a kiss, and lingered on the scruff of his beard, which felt pleasantly annoying against her upper lip. She loved him when he was scruffy, the hair long and soft, and she loved him more when he was scratchy, scraping painfully against the side of her neck when he rolled over in bed and rubbed his face against her skin the morning. She loved him most, of course, when he was clean-shaven, but since that almost never happened she'd started thinking of it like a once-yearly treat. Like Christmas. "Thank you for earlier."

"Oh, come on."

"No, I know I was a pill. I'm always a pill."

"You're not a pill," Leo promised, and kissed her wrist again with very careful aim, placing his lips extremely particularly on the very base of her hand. She wiggled her fingers at him playfully, her hand resting in his loose grip, and he leaned his head back against the seat and smiled. "You're a generation-defining character actress."

Win snorted. "I didn't - Marie wrote that, not me." Marie always personally approved the 'For Your Consideration' copy. Even the embarrassing ones.

"Well, it worked. You've got the 'Emmy award-winning' on your tagline now," Leo said proudly. He grinned up at her again, goofy and red-eyed and all-around ridiculous, disheveled and sweaty and leaning his elbow a little too hard against her knee. Win pushed her fingers through his hair again, crouched next to him on the seat, and loved him. She couldn't remember a time when she didn't have this little space in her heart carved out just for him, and she didn't want to. Sometimes she thought it had always sort of been there, hiding out in the backrooms of her ventricles, waiting patiently to be noticed. "You were just nervous. It's fine, it was fine. Didn't we kiss and make up already? Why are we doing it again? We should be making out instead. We're drunk and you just won an Emmy."

Win peered over his shoulder, through the window. She thought, maybe, that they were getting close, almost back to the hotel. Possibly. If she recognized that last skyscraper, anyway. "Well, I just don't want you to think I was blowing you off or anything."

"I didn't," Leo said.

"I don't mean to take it out on you. I know you know, I know, it's just nerves, I'm just - "

"Shut up," Leo said fondly, and tugged her down for another kiss. Win mumbled something offended and then melted into it, her reply melting away beneath the warm press of his tongue. He tasted like chocolate. Like dark chocolate from dessert. They'd been served some kind of pretentious espresso-mascarpone cupcake thing which Leo had effusively and loudly enjoyed, feeding her big bites ostentatiously and making sure the photographer at the next table over kept noticing. She was sure there'd be some extremely charming and mildly embarrassing photos tomorrow morning on the internet which was probably very good for her career (thank you, Leo) and very bad for her groupchat with Shift and Charlie (fuck you, Leo). Two wolves, again. Leo was very good at the balancing act.

"I'm gonna tweet about sandhill cranes," Leo muttered, in-between lazy kisses. Their feet were tangled together, their hands clasped between them on their laps, like Prom dates.

"Don't," Win mumbled.

"I'm gonna do it."

"I'll tweet. Shut up. No, I'll do it," Win said, pushing him away gently and fumbling for her phone. He laughed softly and leaned against her arm, watching as she squinted at the screen, trying to focus long enough to open the app. God, she was drunk. "So Marie will yell at me, not you. I'm protecting you, don't you see? You can thank me later."

Leo just laughed, kissing her arm idly, sliding his palm down on her leg and squeezing gently, like he was comforting her. She was going to tweet something very boring and he would make fun of it tomorrow, she already knew. They'd fought earlier about what he was wearing, which in retrospect was so deeply stupid that she knew she'd apologize for it again tomorrow morning, because really she'd just been very nervous and very silly, and he was such a good man for indulging her. He hadn't even snapped back, he'd just gone quiet and removed himself from her dressing room, and then waited for her to calm down before wandering back in with some pretzels she could eat without ruining her makeup, and a bottle of sparkling water, her favorite kind with the lime flavor, and yes, she really did love him very much. Very, very much indeed. It was embarrassing sometimes.

"Tweet," Win muttered, fumbling with the buttons. She had to concentrate very hard, in order to tap the right words on the autocorrect bar. "Tweeted. Done. See? Easy."

"Did you just write 'thank you' in all caps?" Leo asked, squinting over her shoulder.

"It's effusive!"

"You sound like a grandma," Leo said.

"Shut up, gibbon," Win said, sliding her phone back into her purse.

"Mine was funnier," Leo said idly. He was rubbing his thumb back and forth on the inside of her leg, making her shiver. She could tell that he could tell by the look on his face, which was very smug and (unfortunately) also very attractive.

"I can be funny," Win protested, inching a bit closer. Her head was still floating, and yes, she had won an Emmy tonight. Her bones felt like grape jelly and everything was fuzzy-edged and beautiful, her husband included. She could afford to embrace her inner self, because her inner self really was just a big dork. She'd known this for quite some time, but being a movie star meant she had to sort of ignore it. "Aren't I funny? My handsome little gibbon?"

"Don't make that a thing," Leo said. "It's not funny. It's not going to be a thing."

"I'm going to make it a thing," Win said. She smiled at him, kissing the side of his cheekbone. He twitched his face away and scowled.

"Alright. If I'm a gibbon then you're a sandhill crane," Leo said.

"An Emmy-award winning sandhill crane," Win corrected.

"Credited last," Leo agreed. He grinned and slid his hand beneath her dress, sliding his palm against the warm skin of her inner thigh. "Like you deserve."

"Damn straight," Win said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Red or white, do you think?"

Leo barely even glanced up from his laptop. "White."

Win felt like a dull wife trope in a cop drama, pouting over the fact that he hadn't even looked. "Leo, come on."

"You look incredible in white," Leo defended himself. He still didn't look away, but he pushed his glasses up his nose, which were a recent addition that made him look like an alternate-universe version of himself where he'd stayed in school and studied maths, or something. Win was unfortunately very into it. "Red is great too, love me some red, don't get me wrong, but white makes your skin glow. Go with white."

Win tossed the red dress back on the chair, knowing he was right. "Shift would've told me red."

"Shift once wore two mismatched high heeled shoes to a movie premiere," Leo said archly. "Do we trust Shift with clothing? No. You were the one who told me this."

"I was going to say," Win said pointedly, moving over to the desk to flip her hair in his line of vision, also very pointedly, "that she would've told me that because she knew it would make me look weird and thus get her revenge on me for being whiny and annoying."

"Did I say you were being whiny and annoying?"

"No," Win said carefully, sliding past him towards her vanity, brushing the line of his shoulders with her hand as she went. She wanted to calm him, but he didn't always want to be calmed, when he was in moods like this one. She tried to tread lightly, for the most part, and while it didn't always work - he seemed to appreciate it.

"Okay. Because you're not," Leo said. He tapped angrily for a few more moments, then sighed loudly. "I hate emails. I'm done with them. I am no longer reachable by any modern communication method. We'll have to buy some carrier pigeons."

Win was too busy putting primer on her face to give a more detailed reply, other than a thoughtful, "hm."

"We might also have to move to a castle. Or a swamp of some kind."

"As long as it has wifi I'm sure we'll be fine," Win muttered, distracted. "Did Eloise what's-her-name finally get back to you or what?"

"Or what," Leo said. She heard, over her shoulder, the sound of him snapping his laptop closed. "Every week it's something. This week it appears to be marketing-related. Look, I don't wanna talk about it."

"Alright," Win said easily.

"I have to change." Leo sighed noisily, and Win glimpsed him in the mirror, scowling down at his usual 'I avoided the stylists today' attire, which mostly consisted of jeans and t-shirts with words on them. "Are there going to be paps there?"

"Probably," Win admitted, pausing with her eyeliner half-done on the right side. She met his gaze in the mirror. "You really don't have to come to this one."

He scowled again in response, a bit more heated this time, and stomped off to his side of the bedroom. She waited until he disappeared into the closet to roll her eyes, and then instantly felt bad about it when she heard him stumble over something and curse loudly in pain: "fuck! Jesus, Win, your fucking shoes."

"Sorry!" she called, over her shoulder. He yelled something else, unintelligible from the depths of the closet, and tossed a high heel out into the center of the room. Win bit her lip against a smile when it smacked against the side of the bed and fell the floor, abandoned.

He'd been stressed all week, something about the rent on his Paris space, and one of the artists in New York was being sued by the family of someone at one of the parties - mostly bullshit, or so claimed the Milanowski lawyers, but still bad press nonetheless - so Win didn't want to push him on it. She did her makeup quietly, smiling to herself as she listened to him resentfully talk himself in and out of several different outfits, and then slid into her dress - the white, naturally - zipping herself up without complaint. Her hair was mostly fine - some refreshing, maybe she'd pin it back a little, but this was a casual thing, no need for dramatics, and she could take care of that at the venue - and her shoes were downstairs, so she padded barefoot into the closet, peeking around the corner of the door to look at him. He was sitting on one of the padded benches beneath the rack of his ties, buttoning up his shirt sleeves. His fly was undone and he had three different hats laid out on top of the 'dryclean only' dirty pile. He was also muttering something about cufflinks.

"Darling," Win said gently. "I did mean it. You really, really don't have to go."

"It would look bad if I didn't," Leo said. His jaw was set stubbornly.

"It's just a charity thing. Hardly any press, no photo line. Leo," Win said, reaching down to touch his face gently. He turned into her hand like a flower opening towards the sun, blinking at her a little vacantly, like she'd said something really shocking. "Please."

She let that sit for a moment, just on its own. Leo's face went through several iterations of several emotions before settling somewhere near 'resigned,' which made Win want to slide right into his lap and hold his head to her chest like he was a child. She very nearly did, just watching the tired slump of shoulders.

Her makeup, though. Maybe later, after she got back.

"Fine," he muttered, sighing. "Fine."

"Just try to relax for a bit. I won't be gone long." She leaned down and kissed him gently, wiping the smear of lipstick away with her thumb right afterwards, clean and affectionate. "I can bring home dinner."

"I can tell that you're being easy on me," Leo complained, reaching up to tug at her dress, straightening the tie around her waist with the sort of thoughtless courtesy he'd always displayed around her. Watching out for the details, in a way that she often overlooked. "And I don't like it, but I also feel like if I have to sit at a table and listen to a geriatric rich person talk about diversity in the arts that I will literally lose my mind and start biting people like a zombie. So."

"You realize," Win said patiently, "that one day, we will be geriatric rich persons."

"I'm talking like, one of the fast zombies. We're talking World War Z, not Romero."

"You're nearly forty, you know," Win continued, cupping her palms around his face. Sitting down, he was level with her stomach, which was a convenient angle for her to smoosh his cheeks in her palms and make him look like a handsome, disgruntled chipmunk. "One could argue that you already are a geriatric rich person."

"You're only five years younger than me," Leo complained. His voice sounded funny with his face smushed.

"Get a massage while I'm gone," Win replied, and leaned down to kiss his forehead again, rubbing his cheeks with her thumbs as her hands slid away. He was smiling a little when she pulled away, which she counted as a victory. "I'll call Sarah. She'll send someone over."

"Fine," Leo said again. He smacked her ass lightly as she walked away, and she yelped, which made him laugh. "Don't give them too much money. Remember, you don't wanna look showy."

"Yeah, yeah," Win said. She'd already written out the check. A venue full of white people talking about diversity, and somehow she was the one shelling out ten grand for appearance's sake. She had to laugh at it sometimes, otherwise she'd never be able to make it through these things at all. "Love you."

"Love you," he replied. She turned for one last look, as she walked away, and saw him leaning back against the wall of the closet, rubbing thoughtfully at his chin. He looked sort of small and silly sitting there, amongst their laundry and discarded outfits, almost like a little boy. But he wasn't staring at his laptop anymore, and they'd avoided a fight. A year ago, that definitely would've ended up in yelling.

It was getting easier, she thought. Wonders never ceased.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Darling," Leo said.

"No. That's my word. It sounds wrong coming from you," Win said.

"Baby?"

"Too American."

"Honeyplum."

"Not a word!"

"Alright, you have to let me keep 'sweetheart,'" Leo argued. He hitched his leg up a little higher, and Win slid one of her thighs over his knee, her skin sliding pleasantly against the sheets. "Honey. I call you 'honey' a lot. It's nice."

"I like honey," Win capitulated. "Maybe a 'babe' here and there. But not 'baby.'"

"Sugar?"

"Oh Leo, enough, with the food ones - "

"Doll," Leo interrupted.

"Now you just sound like you're shipping off to World War II," Win complained.

Leo smiled a little, and pulled her a bit closer, his big hand wrapping warmly around her waist. "Luv," he murmured, in a truly atrocious imitation of her accent.

Win nearly choked on her laugh. "Fuck off."

"You liked it," Leo said.

"I did not, I absolutely did n - "

"Baaaabe," he said, and then laughed when she tried to clap her palm over his mouth to muffle it. He twisted away, tickling her sides beneath the sheet until she shrieked and elbowed him. "Foul! Ouch, Jesus, no elbows - "

"Definitely don't call me 'Jesus,'" Win said. "Do I look Christian to you?"

"Darling," Leo whined.

"Still a no," Win said, still laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Yes," Pritha said, examining the photo on Win's phone through squinted eyes. She had to hold it almost at arm's length in order to see it clearly without her glasses. "You look very stupid in this. I agree."

Win cackled in triumph, and Leo made a face. He propped his chin on the edge of his hand and looked exaggeratedly sad, which moved her mother not even a little. Sometimes - rarely, but becoming more common, these days - Win could see why Leo maybe sort of kind of liked her ma better than he liked her. (He denied it, but Win knew it was true. This was endearing most of the time, until Win got jealous, at which point it was infuriating. She was becoming more comfortable with the balance.)

"It's Hugo Boss, though," Leo said.

"It makes you look washed out and ugly," Pritha said, without ceremony. "You need - dark colors. Blues, greens, reds. Ruby shades. With this - what is this, paisley? Please - it makes you look - bah. Not handsome at all."

Leo was pouting, which would be effective if Win couldn't see that he was trying very valiantly not to laugh. "My own mother-in-law - "

"Oh, don't start," Win said, still laughing. Pritha's mouth quirked too (her only tell).

The dog - newly christened Bala, freshly rescued from outside her mum's rubbish bin three months ago - jumped up onto the couch into Leo's lap, nearly sending his wine glass topping over onto the coffee table. He leapt forward and caught it just in time, thankfully. "Whoa! Easy, Bala - "

"Don't let her on the couch," Pritha said sternly, looking up from the phone. "Bala! Down!"

Leo frowned - pouted, really - some more, and gently scooped the dog off of his lap and set her onto the floor. "He's just being friendly."

"Have to start off with good habits," Pritha said, snapping her fingers at the dog, who wandered over guilelessly and started sniffing her fingers, looking for food. Her face was fond, though, when she scritched the dog's ears, and there was a smile on her face when she looked up again. "She's already too old to be trained, so we have to be consistent."

The dog was good for her, Win could tell. She glanced at Leo, who was smiling in his own surreptitious way, watching Pritha out of the corner of his eye. "Yes, we've been following your rules, Ma. Just the other day - you should've seen it - Leo even scolded her."

"Now that, I don't believe," Pritha said. Leo huffed and rolled his eyes. "Not in a million years, I'd believe it."

"I can be stern," Leo protested.

"He raised his voice and everything," Win swore.

"I can be!"

Pritha leaned over and patted his shoulder. "It's alright. You have other good qualities. Win and I know."

Win felt herself laugh again, felt it bubbling up in her chest at the look on his face, at the easy atmosphere between them, which felt like a gift. Pritha was rarely this easy going when it was just her and Win. Leo was like the best kind of wine - conversational magic, really, especially when it came to her mother. He eased the tension, kept it light. He diffused, he soothed, he placated. He sat next to Win on the couch and held her hand. He was handsome, and friendly, and perceptive, and Pritha loved him, she really did. Win knew this was true because she badmouthed him constantly. It was a very peculiar relationship that Leo seemed to take a deep amount of pride in, which was rather endearing in and of itself.

And, yes, fine. He also watched Yeh Rishta religiously, but that was definitely cheating in terms of "winning over her mother" points, so Win maintained that it didn't count.

"Except for dressing," Pritha said. "That is not one of your good qualities."

"I think patterns are interesting!" Leo protested. "They look nice, paired with what Win wears. You know, all the bold plain colors."

Win snorted.

"Ha. You are kind of cute, eh," Pritha said. She eyed Win slyly. "He thinks he is taking attention from you, if he does not look a little goofy. Hm?"

"That's not true," Leo said, with a suspicious flush to his face. Win turned to look at him incredulously. "It's not!"

"God, you're an idiot," Win said fondly. She elbowed him, and he yelped in pain. "I love you."

Pritha rolled her eyes, huffed - sounding remarkably like Leo, in that moment - and scooped Bala up off the floor, muttering something about a water bowl.

"You can't say that and call me an idiot in the same sentence," Leo complained, and she elbowed him again. "Hey, now - "

"I do what I want," Win said. She grinned at him briefly, then glanced over her shoulder. "She's right, though. You really do look stupid in paisley."

"Okay," Leo replied, like he was humoring her, and settled back down against the couch. He looked like he belonged there, in her mother's living room, his hair mussed and his body relaxed, his arm hitched up along the edge behind Win's head. It was a thought that was far less unsettling than it had been a year ago, which felt like progress. "Whatever you say, sugar."

"Did he just call you sugar?" Pritha called, incredulously, from the kitchen.

"No," Win called back, smiling. She turned back to the TV, and ignored Leo's little shake of laughter beside her, making the couch shake slightly. She was an award-winning actress, thank you very much. She didn't even flinch. "You must be hearing things, Ma."

"Uh huh," said Pritha. Her dog barked. "Shh! No barking inside!"

"She's gonna nag that poor thing to death by February," Leo said, under his breath.

"Well, it's good for her to have hobbies," Win said. She smiled at him beatifically, and he winced, already sensing what was coming. "Gibbon."

Leo, to his credit, just sighed. "Deserved that," he said.

"Yes," Win agreed.