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For Better, For Worse

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FALL 2011: NEW YORK CITY, NY

 

"I, Louise Miller, take you, Deborah Ocean, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us, I give you myself." 


FALL 2013: NICHOLS WOMEN’S PRISON, NJ

 

“Ocean?”

 

The brunette looked up, sweaty and exhausted, just desperate for some sleep. Maybe that’s how you got used to prison. You didn’t care what you were wearing or if you had to pee in front of other people, you just wanted to be able to sleep.

 

“Finished processing your paperwork. Your personal effects stay with us. You don’t have any religious jewelry or anything so—oh,” the woman paused. “Wedding band. Lucky day, Ocean. You can keep the wedding band on if you want it.”

 

Debbie’s face grew cold and she swallowed thickly, eyes hardened as they took in the intricate gold band the guard held between her fingertips.

 

The skin color was wrong. She could still see porcelain finger tips holding up the band, white silk and satin behind them. Blonde curls above them. The cool metal sliding around her own finger. A kiss brushed against the band and then her palm.

 

“With this ring...”

 

Deep, ocean blue eyes flashed before her own.  A sharp jawline. Perfectly curved, soft, pink lips.

 

“Inmate!” The woman barked, and Debbie’s head snapped up, the hazy out of focus ring disappearing from her line of sight. “Take it or say goodbye to it for the next six years.”

 

“Keep it,” Debbie spoke lowly. “I don’t want it.”

 

And as she lay in bed, staring at the white concrete wall that night, tears stinging in her eyes as they started to water, she played with her empty ring finger, wishing she had said yes. Yes, to keeping the ring. Yes, to Lou driving her here. Yes, to saying a proper goodbye. To doing the right thing. The thing that her heart wanted, instead of her head, for once maybe. 

 

“Lou,” Debbie’s hoarse voice whispered with a crack. “Lou, I’m sorry.”


2015: NEW YORK

 

It’s worse than irony. It’s cruel. It’s absolutely cruel. It becomes legal in all fifty states just two years after Debbie is behind bars and Lou wonders if she even knows.

 

If she even realizes. 

 

Lou plays with the gold band on her ring finger, twisting it back and forth, moving it up and down. She wishes she wanted to lock it away. Hide it from herself. She wishes she had the strength to take it with her on her bike and throw it into the woods or into the ocean. But she’s too weak and too strong rolled in one. So here it sits. On her finger day by day. 

 

She wonders if Debbie’s is at the prison locked away in a ziploc or a container. Or if she’d even bothered to hang onto it at all. 


2018: NEW YORK

 

 “At least your partner acknowledges that you’re married to each other,” Lou scoffed.

 

“Well, that’s giving him a lot of credit,” Tammy smiled.

 

“If somehow he ever went off to...he wouldn’t...” the Australian sighed, unable to put words to her thoughts. But she knew Tammy would get the gist of it.

 

“No, he wouldn’t.” Tammy spoke softly.

 

Tammy had invited herself over to the loft for dinner. Lou had been avoiding her per usual and Lou had refused to be in a house with children while she was sober, and since she hadn’t had a drink in a couple of years, Tammy had showed up at the loft with lasagna and salad in tow.

 

“I have a wife who won’t speak to me,” Lou laughed bitterly, pushing around sauce with her fork. “My wife won’t return my calls.”

 

Tammy was laughing darkly along with Lou now.

 

“I have a better relationship with my brother-in-law,” Lou sighed. “Well, had.”

 

That was something that still surprised Lou. After her fallout with Debbie, she thought Danny would have beaten her to a pulp when instead, he showed up at the apartment one night with beer and announced that pizza was on the way and he was here to listen to Lou’s side of things. 

 

Evidently, he sided more with the blonde than his sister, although he swore Lou to secrecy. Once Debbie was in jail, the visits only got more frequent between them. They mostly sat in silence to watch a movie or bike somewhere together, following each other on the highway out into the unknown. They’d reach a mutual understanding of wanting to be alone and not sharing feelings while still needing to know someone else was out there for them going through the same thing even if they had processed it entirely differently.

 

Tammy winced. She knew how close the two had gotten and the news and shock of Danny’s death, real or not, was still raw and deep.

 

“Does she even know?” Lou asked nervously. It had only been a few weeks and she had wondered how Debbie had taken the news, but now she wondered why she had never even asked if Debbie was aware or if her so-called friends had decided to wait until she was on the outside.

 

Tammy nodded. “Rusty went over there. Reuben too.”

 

“But I didn’t.” Lou frowned. She was relieved that Debbie knew, but upset with herself suddenly. But it wouldn’t have made any sense for her to show up out of the blue, after years of not seeing Debbie, just to say “hey, your brother is dead” and disappear again.

 

“You didn’t.” Tammy agreed, sounding almost disappointed.

 

“You think I should have been the one to tell her?” Lou asked, eyebrows raised. “Tell the woman who hasn’t spoken to me in over four years. Who, as you know, is married to me, and doesn’t want anything to do with me. I should’ve been the one to tell her that her brother, her best friend, is dead.”

 

“I thought you were her best friend,” Tammy muttered.

 

The blonde scoffed in response. “I’m a con.”

 

Tammy sighed. “I don’t mean what you do for a living I mean...”

 

“Not a con artist,” Lou corrected herself. “A con for Debbie. No better than a fucking tourist with a bucket of quarters or a croupier.”

 

“Lou,” Tammy warned.

 

“She convinced me that she was in love with me,” Lou hissed, locking eyes with Tammy. They were starting to water against her will. “She conned me.”

 

“You know that’s not true,” Tammy sympathized.

 

“Do I? I thought I knew her,” Lou frowned, shaking her head. Things had been so good. They had been so in love. And then it all disappeared, dragging the rug right out from under her and landing her flat on her ass, shocked and confused as to what they had built over a series of years that ran away so quickly out of nowhere. “But does anyone really know Debbie Ocean?”

 

“Beats me.” Tammy shrugged, sliding her plate towards the center of the table.

 

“I don’t want to see her in prison,” Lou decided. It was moot to admit. They both knew Lou had never gone or even attempted to make her way there or have any contact with Debbie at all.

 

“You sure?” Tammy asked. Lou knew she was hoping that Danny’s death would at least bring her and Debbie together, even if just for a visit. “I know it can be hard to see someone in there especially when it’s—"

 

“Yes,” Lou spat. “I don’t want to see her in there, and I don’t want to see her when she gets out. I’m done. I’m fucking done with her.”

 

“Can I ask you something without you punching me in the face?” Tammy quipped, blotting at her mouth with a napkin.

 

“You can try,” Lou smirked, but it was sincere.

 

“Why are you wearing her clothes?”

 

Lou frowned and looked down at her lap. She decided not to answer as she repeated the question to herself over and over and over, wondering why the hell herself. The blonde hadn’t even done it consciously, but she realized that she’d done it a few times this week alone. She wondered how often she’d actually been doing it. When that had even started…

 

“Grey slacks? Black button down? No vest, no leather pants, no gaping neckline. Those are Debbie’s.”

 

Lou pursed her lips, overly glad that Tammy couldn’t observe that she was also wearing a pair of Debbie’s underwear. And maybe her perfume.

 

“Didn’t feel like doing laundry,” Lou lied.

 

“Right,” Tammy rolled her eyes.

 

“Right,” Lou repeated, boring fiery eyes into Tammy’s own. Tammy put her hands up in defeat.

 

“Just think about it. Sleep on it for a night or so,” Tammy smiled softly, putting her hand on Lou’s. Lou shrugged it off. “You might be mad at her, but you’re not done with her. Not yet. I know you don’t break promises lightly, and well…this promise came with vows and some rings.”


2018: NICHOLS WOMEN’S PRISON, NJ

 

“What do you mean I can’t see her?” Lou sighed. She didn’t want to be here in the first place, but there was guilt and regret tugging at her heart. And now that she’d gotten her hopes up, she was running into roadblocks left and right, and the holdbacks were making her realize how badly she needed to see Debbie. Craved it. It physically hurt now that she’d set her mind on it.

 

“I’m sorry,” the man shrugged. “There’s no record of a Lou Miller here.”

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Lou huffed, but she tried to collect herself. “Does there need to be a record? Can’t I just see her? Please.”

 

“Not unless you’re in the book under inmate Ocean’s history of visitors,” he shook his head. “You said you’ve visited before?”

 

“No,” she looked down. “First time.” This was the first time in five years she’d even attempted to see her partner. What a fucking asshole she was.

 

She tried to ignore the pang in her heart and the bile in her stomach that churned with disgust she felt at hearing Debbie referred to as an inmate. How the hell had she not come sooner? There may have been a lot of anger, jealousy, and devastation between them, but she should’ve done the right thing. Should’ve tossed aside the I told you so she still clung to deep down and ran to Debbie to offer her something even if it was just commissary money or magazines. She hadn’t given her shit to hang onto while she was stuck inside here and she wanted to sit down on the floor and cry.

 

There was time with Debbie she already wanted to rip back from the universe and now she had a sentence of five years she wanted to tack onto it. Why had she been so god damn stubborn? There were certain events that just forced you to get over yourself and toss issues aside, and prison was definitely one of them. Anger and hurt had blinded her too much.

 

“Oh,” he nodded. “Then you need to be screened before you can visit. Lou Miller is your legal name?”

 

“It’s Louise,” she sighed.

 

“Miller?”

 

“Ocean,” she corrected with a small smile. “I’m her wife.”

Chapter Text

New York City (2011):

 

“This is crazy right? Tell me it’s crazy.”

 

“It’s not,” Danny chuckled. “I can honestly say, in all the times you’ve come to me with some sort of a plan, this one is the furthest from crazy.”

 

Debbie smiled at him, looking hopeful and proud of herself before he patted her hand and walked towards the kitchen.

 

“This calls for celebration. Don’t you think? I think Tess has a bottle of shitty champagne in the fridge somewhere. She won’t mind if we nick it.”

 

“Danny,” Debbie spoke quietly, looking down at the floor as she sucked in a deep breath.

 

He looked up at his younger sister in concern, brown eyes meeting brown, the younger Ocean looking uncharacteristically feeble and shy.

 

“She’s going to say yes, right?” Debbie whispered.

 

“Are you kidding me, Deb?” He laughed, his eyes crinkling as he bound back into the room scooping Debbie out of her chair and into a bone crushing hug before kissing her forehead. “Of course, she’ll say yes. Of course. She loves you so much, Deb. I don’t even think you realize how much.”

 

“She’s too good for me,” the brunette admitted, giving him another shy smile. “Way too good for me.”

 

“That’s what I say about Tess,” Danny chuckled, sitting back down beside his sister, sliding the champagne bottle to the center of the table. “Every day, I can’t believe someone like her wants to be with me: a liar and a thief.”

 

“We’re all liars and thieves no matter our professions,” Debbie laughed, sitting back. “But I know what you mean. Even if Lou does run in the same circles. It’s different being with an Ocean.”

 

“You’re not dad, you know,” Danny sighed, reaching his hand out to touch Debbie’s before squeezing it. “If that’s what you’re thinking. You deserve love. You deserve happiness. We both do.”

 

“I don’t tell her enough,” Debbie breathed, before biting her lip, tears appearing in her eyes.

 

“That you love her?”

 

“Yeah,” she nodded, shaking her head. “I really should though, shouldn’t I? With our line of work, you never know. There’s prison, there’s…”

 

“Deb,” Danny whispered, stopping her before she could spiral out of control. “Go home to Lou. Tell her. Tell her how much you love her. Even if you can’t just come out and say it. Tell her whatever you can. She’ll know what you mean. She knows you. Better than you know yourself, even. And do me a favor?”

 

Debbie rolled her eyes. “Yeah?”

 

“Work on it,” Danny smiled softly. “She deserves to hear it. But even if you can’t, she’s not going anywhere. I’ve seen the way she looks at you. What you two have is unlike anything else.”

 

“If I don’t fuck it up,” Debbie huffed.

 

“Debbie,” he warned. He squeezed her hand. “Go home to her. Ask her. She’s gonna say yes. And fuck, she’s going to be so proud of you for getting up the guts to ask her. This is big for you.”

 

“Don’t remind me,” the brunette grumbled. “But thanks, Danny. I—I needed this. And Danny?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I—” Debbie faltered, before looking down at the floor in defeat.

 

“I know, Debs,” he grinned. “Me too. Now go get your woman.”

 


New York City (2011):

 

“Did you hear?” Lou panted, picking up her phone before it had even finished the first ring.

 

“I did,” Tammy laughed. Lou could practically see her smile over the phone. “For real this time?”

 

“For real this time,” the blonde grinned, sinking down on the bed. “I don’t know if I can wait.”

 

“Lou,” the other woman sighed. “You had this whole plan. Come on. It’s not just something you can spit out you know.”

 

“I’m not gonna just spit it out, Tam,” Lou chuckled. “I just—it feels right. God, I’ve been waiting for this for so long. I can’t believe it’s real. Why wait? You know.”

 

“This is really happening, isn’t it?” Tammy breathed. “You’re marrying Deborah Ocean.”

 

“I can’t fucking believe it,” Lou grinned, fiddling with her night table drawer and rummaging around in it for the small velvet box that had been tucked away for over a year now.

 

“I can hear you messing around with it,” Tammy laughed. “Stop looking at it, Lou. It’s not like it’s going to disappear on you.”

 

“It might,” Lou whispered, even though she knew it was ridiculous. She had been holding on to the idea of proposing to Debbie and physically holding on to the engagement ring for so long now, waiting for New York to get its shit together, that it was all too frightening that the opportunity would be snatched away from her before she could act. Sure, she always could have proposed. Even if it was a marriage only the two of them recognized. It would still mean something. But it wouldn’t have been enough. And while it wasn’t nationally accepted yet, Lou had a feeling in her heart that it would be one day; besides, New York was their city, their stomping ground, their home. It meant something. It was perfect.

 

She opened the box slowly, taking a glimpse of the diamond before she shut the box quickly, almost closing her finger in it. She was giddy and on edge. Itching to get started. To ask Debbie. Suddenly, reality was kicking in and her palms were sweating, her heart racing.

 

“Shit, I’m gonna do this,” she mumbled, forgetting Tammy was still on the line.

 

“Uh, yeah,” Tammy laughed. “That’s what you just told me. You alright there, Miller?”

 

“How the fuck am I gonna pull one over on Debbie Ocean?” the Australian laughed, but the panic was partially setting in.

 

“Oh, come on. Give yourself some credit, Lou,” Tammy smiled. “You’re the only one who can really read her and call her out on her bullshit. And well…love her the way that you do. Who better to beat Debbie at her own game?”

 

“I’ve got this,” the blonde whispered.

 

“You’ve got this,” Tammy agreed. “I can’t wait to hear all about how it goes. I want all the details…well, except the sex. I really don’t need to know about the sex. The two of you are way too graphic with the visuals and sharing when it comes to friends.”

 

“Jealous?” Lou smirked.

 

“Shut up,” Tammy laughed. “Now, go get ready. I’m here if anything comes up, but I know it’s going to be perfect.”

 

“Of course, it is,” the blonde smiled, rubbing her thumb over the velvet box. “Because Deb’s perfect. She’s the one. The only one.”

Chapter Text

New York City (2011):

 

“Repeat that one more time, Miller,” Danny laughed, shaking his head.

 

Lou cleared her throat before taking a deep breath so she could repeat herself. Clearer this time. Slower.

 

“I’m asking for your blessing to marry Debs,” the blonde smiled, playing with her rings nervously.

 

“I think you’re supposed to go to my father for that,” he grinned. “Not me.”

 

“You think I give a fuck about what Dennis thinks?” Lou smirked. “I have never and will continue to never ask that man for anything. Especially when it comes to Debbie.”

 

“Knew you were smart,” he laughed, swirling the amber liquid in his glass around. “Shit, Miller. There’s something I really want to tell you, but I just can’t do it.”

 

“Tell me what?” The blonde asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

“You’ll know soon enough,” he shrugged. He motioned towards Lou, eyeing the velvet box on the table between them. “Give it here. Let me see the goods, then.”

 

“Is that a yes, then?” the Australian grinned, tossing him the velvet box as he opened it, nodding his head before taking another sip of his drink.

 

“I don’t know much about diamonds,” he admitted. “But I do know this is one I’d plan a con around for sure. She’ll love it. And you don’t need my blessing, permission, or whatever, Lou. Deb’s a big girl. She can make her own decisions.”

 

“I know I don’t need it,” Lou swallowed, looking down at the ring as Danny handed it back to her. She looked up at him with almost desperate eyes. “But I want it.”

 

“Love’s really made you go soft, Miller. Hasn’t it?”

 

“Danny,” she hissed, narrowing her eyes at him.

 

“You have my blessing,” he whispered. “Really. I’m honored you asked me, though I’m shocked you don’t think it’s sexist.”

 

“Oh, I definitely do,” Lou chuckled, stealing his glass to take a swig from it. “But I know it means the world to Deb. You’re the only person she trusts. I know how much your opinion means to her.”

 

“I don’t know about that,” he spoke seriously, considering Lou for a moment. “I think you’ve surpassed me on all levels of trust and opinion. You’re her partner after all.”

Lou smiled down at the ring at the thought, before closing the box gently and slipping it inside the pocket of her jacket.

 

“She really loves you, you know,” he whispered, touching Lou’s hand gently. “She always tells me she never tells you enough. But you should know that.”

 

“I already knew that,” the blonde smiled.

 

“It’s just always been hard for her to say those things out loud,” he sighed. “Both of us, really. But I’m glad she has you, Lou. Seriously. I love how happy you make her. I’ve never seen her like this before you.”

 

“Thanks, Danny.”

 

“I mean I’m a little bitter she stole you from me,” he rolled his eyes. “But you two make quite the team. In business and in life.”

 

“Save it for your best man speech,” Lou blushed.

 

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” Danny grinned. “Any bachelor party ideas you need, I’m your man.”

 


 

“I need you to do me the world’s weirdest favor,” Lou muttered, looking around the room nervously.

 

“Okay,” the blonde stranger laughed, looking confused.

 

“I need you to let my girlfriend steal something from you.”

 

“What?” she spat, moving the cocktail purse from the back of her chair to her lap as she covered it.

 

Lou had to act fast. She only had twenty minutes until Debbie was supposed to be at the restaurant and she needed everything to go off without a hitch.

 

“How do I explain this?” Lou mumbled under her breath before the wheels started turning and she felt confident enough in her makeshift plan for her flirtatious confidence to start oozing out. “I couldn’t help but notice the designer piece on your wrist,” Lou lied, exaggerating her marvel as she looked at the bracelet. “And that necklace. It’s vintage, right?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” the girl blushed, touching the necklace lightly. “My boyfriend, he—”

 

“Say no more,” Lou smiled, slipping $200 in cash out of her pocket. “You look like the kind of woman I could trust.”

 

“Perhaps,” she whispered.

 

“I’m going to slip this box into your purse, alright?”

 

“Okay,” she giggled.

 

“And in about forty minutes, I’m going to dare my good friend to see if she can rob you.”

 

“Okay,” she laughed again. “Wait. What?”

 

“Don’t worry,” Lou consoled her. “I’m going to plant whatever I want her to take. You’re not going to lose anything alright. Keep $100 for yourself, and I’ll make sure your tab is taken care of. Order anything you want. Just make sure that box stays in there and that other $100 bucks, alright?”

 

“Alright,” she agreed. “I just don’t understand. Why would your friend want to—”

 

“Why don’t you let me worry about that, sweetheart?” Lou smiled, patting her lap before she backed away to check her watch. “I can trust you, right?”

 

“Of course,” she nodded.

 

“Perfect,” Lou nodded. “It was lovely meeting you…Ms…”

 

“Stevens,” she smiled. “Francesca Stevens.”

 

“A pleasure, Ms. Stevens,” Lou murmured, before kissing the back of the woman’s hand and walking away, feeling the girl’s eyes watching hers as she laughed to herself and put the bag back on the back of the chair, perfectly in the eyeline of where Debbie would be seated.

 


Lou veered off towards the bar to wait out Debbie’s arrival, ordering them each a drink, wishing she could still play with the velvet box in her pocket that she kept glancing towards, nestled away in the blonde’s purse.

 

“Hey, stranger,” Debbie murmured, nuzzling against Lou’s neck as her hand reached out to swipe the martini glass away from her partner as her lips found Lou’s own. “Missed you.”

 

“Missed you more,” Lou whispered, sliding a tip across the bar before taking her own glass in one hand and Debbie’s in the other. “Shall we?”

 

“Lead the way,” the Ocean hummed, following Lou towards the table, detecting a bit of a bounce in the blonde’s step.

 

Lou pulled her chair out for her before settling in herself, Debbie’s hand already reaching across the table for her as Lou chuckled.

 

“What did you get up to today?” Lou asked, trying to calm her nerves.

 

“Some errands,” Debbie shrugged. “Saw Danny. He sends his hello.”

 

“You saw Danny?” Lou asked, mildly panicking. She wondered if Debbie had seen him before or after she had, her heart starting to race.

 

“Yeah,” Debbie smiled, brushing it off. “Had to ask his opinion about something I was scheming. Nothing big.”

 

“Since when do you go looking for his opinions when it comes to your plotting?” the blonde grinned. “Is this growth?”

 

“Special exception,” Debbie grinned, hiding behind a sip of her drink.

 

“Thought it wasn’t big,” Lou asked, suddenly suspicious. Her fluttering heart was racing ahead of her brain in making assumptions, but she didn’t want to disappoint herself. But then again, she and Debbie were on the same page practically 99% of the time.

 

“God, the waiter is taking forever to notice us,” Debbie sighed. “I’m starving.”

 

“How about a distraction then?” Lou asked, her eyes twinkling as she grinned. “I bet you can’t rob someone before a waiter comes over to take our order.”

 

“Seriously?” Debbie grinned, scanning the room quickly. “Alright, Miller. I’ll take that bet. What do I get if I win?”

 

“Anything you want,” the blonde shrugged.

 

Anything?” Debbie laughed, already pushing her chair back.

 

“Don’t you want to know what I get if you lose?” Lou tried. "Or who'd make a good mark?"

 

“What?” Debbie pretended to call out. “I can’t hear losers,” she spoke, already stepping away from the table as she fluffed her hair, long legs strutting towards the blonde Lou had spoken to just minutes ago, Debbie’s gaze on her gold bracelet.

 

Lou watched with baited breath as Debbie leaned into the other woman, caught up in some elaborate story, and Lou would bet good money that Debbie could’ve conned this woman even without Lou’s set up, the blonde so engrossed in whatever tale Debbie was spinning, not even noticing Debbie’s hand opening her purse and slipping its contents into her own, Lou’s stomach plummeting as she watched the velvet box pass between her fingers before disappearing into Debbie’s bag.

 

Debbie was back at the table only moments later, her face bright and beaming as she leaned in across the table.

 

“I think I’ve got something good,” Debbie whispered as Lou leaned in, licking her lips.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Debbie laughed. “But it’s gonna call for a change of plans dinner-wise because if she notices that she’s missing something as big as a ring box then she’s gonna—”

 

Debbie paused mid-sentence as her eyes locked with Lou’s, growing wide.

 

“What?” Lou breathed, wanting Debbie to piece things together herself and catch Lou in her scheme the way she loved.

 

“Lou,” Debbie uttered, barely breathing. “You—did you—you didn’t—”

 

Suddenly, Debbie was backing her chair up again, looking on the verge of a panic attack as she stood, her face going pale.

 

“Debs?” Lou whispered, standing up to reach for her as Debbie started backing away.

 

“I’m sorry,” she panted. "I have to—”

 

And then Debbie was whipping around, headed for the exit as Lou stood there dumbstruck, looking down at the purse Debbie had left on her chair. She tried to push Debbie’s face and reaction out of her mind, not allowing herself to panic about what it could mean, grabbing the purse and racing after Debbie, only worried about her partner and what the hell was happening as she followed her out of the restaurant and onto the streets of New York, the brunette pacing back and forth, her heels clicking against the concrete as she held her head, muttering and cursing to herself.

 

“Debs?” Lou repeated, her face full of concern as she tucked the purse under her arm, reaching out for her partner. “Debbie, honey. Breathe. Talk to me.”

 

“I—fuck,” she spat, raking her hands through her hair as she cursed again. “God, I always do this. I always fuck these things up and you—God,” she muttered. “I just—Shit. I knew I’d do this. And you’re so—”

“Hey,” Lou murmured, stopping the brunette in her pacing as she pulled her in against her, shushing her and reminding her to breathe as she held her close, kissing her forehead and combing through her hair. “You’re okay, Debs. Take a deep breath for me, honey. You’re alright.”

 

“You were going to propose,” Debbie mumbled against Lou’s chest, holding onto the lapels of her jacket for dear life. “It’s an engagement ring, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes,” Lou whispered, kissing the top of her head. “It is. But Deb, if it’s too much too soon or it’s something you don’t want, then don’t even—”

 

Debbie was pulling away before the blonde could finish her sentence, shaking her head with a smile.

 

“No, it’s nothing like that,” she laughed, sniffing as she wiped away a tear running down her cheek. “It’s just—”

 

She reached under Lou’s arm for her purse, opening it to pull out Lou’s velvet box, another one appearing beside it in her palm.

 

“Debbie,” Lou breathed, looking between the two boxes.

 

I was going to propose,” Debbie laughed, leaning her forehead against the Australian’s. “I just—I just can’t believe you beat me to it.”

 

“I mean technically, your panic attack got in the way of that,” Lou smirked, her finger brushing against Debbie’s wrist. “And, may I add, scared the shit out of me.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Debbie laughed, holding herself up by gripping Lou more. “I just wanted to be the one to do it so badly, so I could show you--and to think you were gonna do it first—”

 

Lou started to kneel, Debbie looking down at her with wide eyes as she tried to keep the blonde standing.

 

“No way,” the Ocean laughed, stilettos bearing down against the sidewalk with a screech as she tried to push Lou back up. “Let me have this. I rehearsed a speech and everything. Please, baby.”

 

“Nuh uh, I asked for Danny’s blessing and planned a con for you,” Lou laughed. “Let me get this,” Lou smirked, acting like she was trying to pick up a $5 tab for coffee.

 

“Please?” Debbie asked.

 

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Lou compromised, pulling Debbie down to her level until they were face-to-face on the sidewalk, laughing at each other.

 

“On three?”

 

“Ready?”

 

“One,”

 

“Two,”

 

“Three,” Debbie breathed, watching Lou’s face instead of the box as it clicked open, bright blue eyes starting to tear in front of her as she felt her eyes doing the same. The streets of New York, her ever-whirring plans and ideas, her worries and fears, all going silent in her mind for the first time in her life, only able to hear the pounding of her own heart as it hammered in her chest.

 


New York City (2011):

 

“Deb?” Lou called, looking down at the diamond ring that sat alone in the porcelain dish on the dresser. “Forgetting something?”

 

Debbie patted the pockets of her slacks and then looked in one of the pockets of her coat before looking up at the blonde in confusion.

 

“I don’t think so,” she frowned. “We should be all set. Ready to go?”

 

The blonde reached for the ring, holding it up between her thumb and her finger, the stone sparkling in the morning sunlight that dipped in through their curtains.

 

“Can’t wear it,” the Ocean sighed, shaking her head. “You should take yours off too.”

 

Lou swallowed thickly, playing with the ring between her fingers as she looked down at it.

 

“Hey,” Debbie whispered, coming closer to her fiancée as she clutched her arm, trying to soothe Lou and answer the silent questions racing through the blonde’s mind. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just…they stand out, you know? Too memorable. Last thing we need is a mark identifying us because he remembers those two hotties with the diamond rings, right?”

 

“Right,” Lou mumbled, nodding her head as she put the ring back in the dish, looking down at her own forlornly. She was so used to having it on her finger. She already knew she’d feel empty sliding the weight off of her finger and looking down to see bare skin all day. Her finger already had a small groove where the band sat, resting against the skin from being there so often.

 

“You know how it goes, baby,” Debbie smiled, kissing her cheek. “Same old thing. Tattoos. Hair color. Animal print coats,” she smirked, looking at the blonde pointedly. “Can’t go giving a sketch artist a field day.”

 

“No,” Lou frowned. “Of course not.”

 

She took her time, slipping the band from her finger as if saying a silent goodbye to the piece of jewelry before laying it down in the dish, sparkling next to Debbie’s own. One complementing the other. She couldn’t help wondering if this was the only scenario in which Debbie would automatically think to leave her ring at home, immediately wanting to smack herself for thinking such a thing.

She loved Debbie. Trusted her. It was just fear, she told herself. Insecurity. It was foolish to think like that. She was allowed to have good in her life, after all. She deserved it, even if she didn’t always feel like she did. She had to stop punishing herself for being in love with someone and having them love her in return, even if it was a thought that crept into her mind often throughout the day.

 

“We should make sure we stick to simple bands,” Lou thought aloud, a small smile playing at her lips, already feeling lighter at the idea. “When we pick out our wedding bands, I mean. Nothing too intricate or flashy. Just simple, plain wedding bands. Run of the mill, you know? That way we can wear those at least when we run jobs. Best of both worlds, I think.”

 

“Yeah, maybe,” Debbie smiled, gesturing towards the door. “We should get a move on,” she added, starting to leave the room, but then stopping to grab Danny’s watch off of the dresser to fasten it around her wrist. “Coming?”

Chapter Text

New York City: 2011

 

“Let me see! Let me see!” Tammy shrieked, barreling across the restaurant towards Lou as she pinched her eyes shut and gritted her teeth waiting for physical impact.

 

Lou held out her hand, giggling for one of maybe five times in her life as Tammy clutched her fingers, jumping up and down.

 

“This is good! God, this is so good!” Tammy squealed. “Right?” Tammy whispered. “This is good, right?”

 

“Yes, it’s good,” Lou chuckled, patting Tammy’s hand as she pulled away, her eyes sparkling. “Fuck, it’s more than good. Tam, it’s amazing.”

 

“And a double proposal?” Tammy sniffed. “I hate you both. It’s so perfect. I want every single detail. Every single on, okay?”

 

“I’m gonna need a drink or five,” Lou grumbled, sinking down in one of the chairs as Tammy clapped beside her, but she couldn’t keep the smile from her face.

 

“Where is Debs, anyway?”

 

“Danny kidnapped her,” Lou smirked. “She’ll probably come in kicking and screaming.”

 

“Not gagged and bound then?” Tammy snorted. “That’s more your forte, right? Kinky wheelhouse.”

 

“How many drinks in are you?” Lou laughed, raising an eyebrow. “I like this Tammy. She’s vile. What did you do with my dork of a goody goody best friend?”

 

My best friends are in love,” Tammy smiled, resting her chin on her hand, looking off into the distance. “What’s better than that? I mean, Lou. Did you ever think we’d be having some little engagement dinner soirée like this with our little group of convicts?”

 

“I really didn’t,” Lou shook her head. “Speaking of convicts,” she nodded towards the door.

 

“There’s my new favorite little sister!” Danny bellowed, giving the two women a wave as he strolled down the corridor, his arms opened wide.

 

“Lou!” Rusty called out. “I thought we had something, man! Guess you had to make an honest woman out of Debs instead, huh?

 

“It’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to tackle that disaster,” Lou mumbled as Tammy let out a snort, bumping her shoulder against hers.

 

“It’s not going to get funnier, no many how many times you try it. Either of you assholes,” Debbie rolled her eyes, butting past the two guys as the blonde reached out for her, cradling her in her arms before kissing her softly.

 

“There’s my fiancée,” Lou whispered. “Hey, honey. I missed you.”

 

“Not as much as I missed you,” Debbie whispered. “Couldn’t stop thinking about you all day.”

 

“While you were with your brother and his alleged non-boyfriend?” Lou coughed, wrinkling her nose.

 

“Well,” Debbie giggled. “I had to think about something to distract myself. And my mind went directly to this hot blonde I know. Legs for days. Hot Australian accent. These smoldering, blue eyes. God, this sexy, gravelly voice. Maybe you know her? I think she goes by Louise something—”

 

“She definitely doesn’t go by Louise except for in secret from only one person who’s occasionally allowed to call her that maybe once a year, if she’s lucky,” Lou snickered, pulling Debbie’s hand up to kiss her ring, only to notice that the engagement ring wasn’t on Debbie’s finger, her face quickly sinking as her heart dropped.

 

“What?” Debbie asked, her face paling as Lou’s eyes met her own.

 

“Debbie! Debbie! Let me see it!” Tammy cheered. “The two of you have a lifetime to make out and eye fuck each other. I know those boys didn’t care about that rock, but I’m ready with tissues and squeals. Come on!”

 

Debbie seemed to connect the dots at once, the sounds of the restaurant disappearing around them as Lou’s hurt eyes honed in on her fiancée, Debbie trying and failing to disappear herself under Lou’s gaze.

 

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Lou hissed, tugging at Debbie’s hand as the brunette stumbled forward.

 

“You eating this, Deb?” Rusty called, motioning to the roll next to Debbie’s plate.

 

“No funny business, you two!” Tammy called out, giggling into her drink. “Can’t have the lovely brides getting each other off in the ladies room. This place is classy!”

 

“Tammy, how about some water, sweetie?” Danny chuckled, pushing the glass in front of the younger woman.

 

“Where’s your ring?” Lou asked, slamming the bathroom door shut behind them as she tugged Debbie inside, the brunette falling into the room after her before separating them as she started to pace, crossing her arms, tucking her left hand underneath her arm, out of Lou’s view.

 

“I forgot it,” Debbie shrugged. “No big deal.”

 

“No big deal?” Lou scoffed. “Debbie, this is our engagement dinner. You know? The sort of thing where people expect to see someone’s engagement ring?”

 

“We’ve got yours at least,” the brunette grinned. “And I know it’s gorgeous. I’ve got excellent taste. You could say that’s why I proposed to you, actually.”

 

“Debbie,” the blonde hissed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “It’s not a pair of earrings I got you for your birthday that I said would look nice at dinner or a Christmas present or just—whatever. It doesn’t even matter. It’s an engagementring. We’ve been engaged for a few weeks. You didn’t take it off to go to the gym. You didn’t lose it. You didn’t forget it. This dinner is literally an event centered around it.”

 

“I did forget it, Lou. And it’s about the engagement, not just the rings, alright? Who cares?”

 

“Who cares?” Lou spat. “Really? That’s classic. On the night we’re celebrating our engagement? Come on, Debs. That’s complete bullshit.”

 

“I did. I’m sorry, but I just forgot.”

 

“Why don’t I believe that?” Lou muttered. “You didn’t want to show Rusty? Or Danny, your brother? Tammy, your best friend? Weren’t excited to wear it as much as you possibly could because you can’t believe your engaged or because you love it? Because I know I can’t wait to wake up every morning and slip in on my finger so I can look down at it. Because it makes my heart flutter. And it makes my eyes teary. Because when I look down at it, I see the love of my life. My soulmate. My partner. My best friend. I see you, Debbie. I see my love for you. Your love for me. At least that’s what I thought I saw. And you don’t even give a shit, do you?”

 

“Baby,” Debbie smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, I am. But Lou, it’s just a ring. Okay? We’re still engaged. I still love you. We’re still getting married and getting our forever. It’s just…ornamental. Cherry on top, right? It’s the ice cream underneath that counts. This is just an accessory.”

 

“An accessory?” Lou whispered, her eyes starting to tear as her lip trembled. “An accessory,” she laughed, shaking her head. “God, I knew it. I fucking knew it. And here I was telling myself that I was just going insane. That I was being ridiculous and I really needed to just take a step back and calm down. But here it is. That cherry on top? That ring, Debbie? It’s a symbol of our commitment to each other. Of spending eternity together. That we want to make a vow to each other to spend the rest of our lives together. It shows our commitment to one another. And if you don’t see it that way…”

 

“Then what?” Debbie asked, sounding cold as she tested Lou, the question hanging in the air.

 

“Then maybe we’re not on the same page like I thought we were,” Lou whispered, her heart breaking.

Chapter Text

“Baby,” Debbie sighed, trying to reach for the blonde as Lou turned away, disgusted and disappointed with herself for thinking things were different. That they could be different. That she deserved or could have any type of permanence. Any type of normalcy. Maybe it was Debbie. But maybe it was anyone. Maybe criminal, low-life, runaway Lou couldn’t ever run far enough to escape her past or pretend she was just someone in love, about to spend the rest of her life with her soulmate by her side.

She hadn’t been coming up with dramatics or symbols for her own benefit in this warped duel against Debbie. She meant what she had said. That ring meant something to her. Showed things to her. It carried weight to it and she took that weight seriously. Maybe Debbie didn’t. And that was something she could barely admit to herself, let alone voice out loud so her partner might confirm her sinking suspicions that left her stomach in sour knots.

 

“Don’t,” Lou whispered, her voice breaking as her jaw shook, furiously batting her eyelids as she tried her damndest not to cry in a bathroom on the night that was supposed to be one of the happiest of her life. Of their lives. “Don’t do that.”

 

Debbie had a choice to make here and now and she knew it. She could apologize, yes. It would be the right thing to do. The best thing. Because whether she had actually done this by mistake or intentionally, Lou was right and she truly didn’t have a leg to stand on. There would be no point unless she was intent on upsetting her fiancee and treading on thinner and thinner ice by the minute. Some fights or misunderstandings simply weren’t worth winning, and she had to remind herself that. Sometimes giving up or giving in wasn’t truly losing; it was the right thing to do, and the best thing she could do for herself and for their relationship as a couple. Especially, as future wives who were about to embark on an eternity-long adventure together.

 

But a twisted part of Debbie was contemplating her other choice. She could lean into her stubbornness like she usually did. She could leave. She could tell Lou to leave if she was so upset and didn’t want to be here anymore. Didn’t want Debbie anymore. She could tell Lou that she knew what she was signing up for. Debbie had never hidden who she truly was from her, and maybe Lou had gotten caught up in wishful thinking and the Debbie Ocean she had dreamt up in her own mind. 

 

Debbie could turn the tables and dare the blonde to walk out on this and make Debbie look like the innocent victim left behind. But this wasn’t about proving a point or being right. This was about being the woman Lou thought she was. The woman she wanted to be for Lou. The Debbie that Lou deserved. And that was that.

 

“I can fix this,” Debbie whispered, her own tears starting to roll down her cheeks. “Let me fix this, baby. Okay? Forgive me? Please, Lou?”

 

“It’s not that simple, Debbie,” the blonde sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose as Debbie clung to her, wiping Lou’s tears away with her thumb before kissing her softly.

 

“I’m not just saying it to say it,” Debbie murmured, hooking her pinky with Lou’s own. “I mean it this time. And every time after. Let me fix this, Lou. Let me make this up to you. Please. I know I don’t deserve it, but I want to make things right. Celebrate you and us the way that you deserve, baby.

 

“We can’t just kiss and make up every time we run into a roadblock,” Lou whispered coldly, but she seemed to be addressing herself more than the woman standing and pleading in front of her for forgiveness. “Eventually, there comes a point where…”

 

“That’s not today,” Debbie smiled, kissing Lou’s pinky as she squeezed their fingers together. “That’s not tonight.”

 

Lou tried to ignore the pit in her stomach at Debbie’s choice of words that seemed to hint not that this day would never come, but simply, that today was not that day.

 

Debbie wasn’t the only one with a choice to make. And Lou had to credit her for doing the right thing instead of veering headfirst into defiance and trying to get the last word in. She was letting Lou win. Because perhaps, she realized that Lou had a valid point and was truly hurt, not just creating a stir for no good reason. The least Lou could do was forgive her. The least she could do was give Debbie the opportunity to make things right before she completely spiraled out of control.

 

“You owe me,” Lou whispered, but her tone was light now as her lips broke into a smile, the Ocean giggling in front of her.

 

“Oh, I know I do, baby,” Debbie grinned. “And I have just the plan.”

 

“I hope it involves a rather large whiskey and your head between my thighs, Ocean.”

 

“Stop reading my mind,” Debbie winked, kissing the blonde’s cheek as she grabbed her hand. “Come on, baby. Follow my lead.”

 

“Don’t I always?” Lou smiled, trying to swat away the internal question floating around in her mind that wondered if she followed Debbie’s plans too easily without question or challenge. If she gave in too fast. If she forgave too easily. But this was Debbie, right?

 

The blonde let Debbie lead her out of the bathroom and back to their table in the restaurant where Tammy seemed to have settled some thanks to Danny’s insistence that she chug more than her fair share of water and sample some of the bread basket.

 

“Deb!” Tammy grinned, waving her over excitedly. “Come on! Let me see!”

 

“You two didn’t fuck in that bathroom, right?” Danny sighed. “You know we’re supposed to be able to eat tonight, right?”

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Lou smirked, having decided to hide the truth for all of their sake as Debbie shot her a grateful smile.

 

“You know, Miller. I really would rather not,” Danny sighed. “I’d rather scoop my own eyeballs out with this spoon.”

 

“Well, that was more graphic than I needed before food,” Rusty grinned, his actions only contradicting his words as he shoved part of a baguette into his mouth, chewing happily.

 

“I say, we get some delicious food and then we head home for dessert so I can show you all my beautiful ring,” Debbie suggested, slipping into her seat as she patted the chair beside her, Lou sitting down gingerly next to her as the brunette grabbed her hand gently.

 

“I’ll drink to that,” Danny smiled, practically glowing as he looked at his younger sister proudly. “In fact, I think I should propose a toast to my sister and her handsome bride to be. Deb is finally giving me the brother I’ve always wanted.”

 

Lou let out a chuckle as Danny threw her a wink.

 

“Actually,” Debbie stood, clearing her throat, as she lifted her glass of champagne. “Allow me to propose a toast not just to us, but to Louise Miller. The greatest thing to have ever happened to me. Baby, you are too good for me and you put up with a lot of my shit–”

 

“Here, here,” Danny snorted.

 

“And I will spend every day of forever trying to make that up to you and trying to be half the woman you are. I can’t wait to marry you and to be your wife. And I can’t believe that you chose me. So–”

 

And you love her,” Tammy added, lifting her glass.

 

“That I do,” Debbie smiled, raising her glass as Lou lifted her own, looking down at their joined hands with a sad smile as Debbie squeezed her hand, Lou left wondering why Debbie hadn’t spoken those three simple words aloud herself. But maybe she was reading too much into things again.

Maybe after a while, even I love you was something to be presumed, even if it wasn’t voiced out loud.

Chapter Text

FALL 2013: New Jersey Municipal Detention Facility

 

“You weren’t supposed to call me.”

 

“What?” Debbie seethed, pressing her forehead against the cool steel bars of the holding cell as she glared at her brother through the gap. “You’re just gonna let me rot in here because I fucked up?”

 

“No,” Danny sighed, pressing his forehead against hers, taking in a deep breath.

 

“I only got one call.”

 

“I know,” he frowned. “That’s exactly my point, Debs. I shouldn’t be your one call. It should be…”

 

“Don’t.”

 

“She’s your wife, Debbie.”

 

“I don’t deserve that title,” the brunette spat, her eyes flashing as Danny fell back a bit, looking at his sister, perplexed.

 

“Why are you in here?”

 

“You already know,” she huffed, sitting down on the steel bench with a loud thunking noise as Danny studied her.

 

She looked different. Tired. Exhausted, even. And sad. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her look so sullen. Surely, it had to be years ago. More than a decade even. Ever since…

 

“Don’t tell Lou,” Debbie whispered, looking up at him with tears in her eyes. “Tell Reuben, Rusty. Whoever you need. If you don’t want to deal with this, then go on and let Tammy know. She’ll hate that I roped her back into this, but she won’t be able to say no, and then I’ll be out of your hair. You won’t have to worry about me.”

 

“She has a right to know,” he sighed, kicking at the bars as Debbie looked away.

 

“I don’t want her to know.”

 

“It’s not like she’s going to be surprised. Upset, sure,” he laughed, shaking his head. “But we all know the risk in this line of work. She’s probably more prepared for this situation than you think. It’s probably her worst fear. Other than, well, really losing you. But I’m sure she has a plan. Or really, knows you have a plan and is ready to hear it. She’s your ride or die, Deb.”

 

“She hates me,” Debbie whispered, looking down at her shoes. She hated these heels. She’d only worn them because they made her an inch taller than Claude and he hated that. He was insecure. Immature. Condescending. A real asshole. And that’s all before he’d landed her here behind bars while he roamed free. He’d set her up. Lied and told her he loved her. That he needed her for this to work. That all that was standing in their way was this one last, big job. One payment. Then she was out. Easy squeezy. He never mentioned that he was only pulling all the strings to fuck her over. Only telling her he loved her and needed her and wanted her because he wanted her to take the fall. She was nothing more than a scapegoat in some lipstick and a short sequin dress that left her freezing as she stood in this holding cell. He’d done it. He’d conned a con. And she couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it. It was exactly what she deserved in fact. Karma was a bitch, and she had quite an interesting style.

 

“I don’t want to get in the middle of your lesbian politics, Deb, but—”

 

“Shut up,” Debbie growled. “I fucked things up. I wanted bigger things. She wanted to quit. She’s not the person I thought she was.”

 

“She’s exactly the person you thought she was, and that’s the problem,” he murmured. “Because it scares the shit out of you.”

 

“That she doesn’t want to run jobs anymore?” Debbie asked. “Because that’s how we met. That’s what we do. What we’ve always done.”

 

“No,” Danny frowned. “You’re scared because she loves you for more than that. She wants you, Debbie. All of you. She wants to be a family. I mean you’re married for fuck’s sake.”

 

“We’re partners,” she rolled her eyes.

 

“Spouses, Debbie. Partners, yes. But you’re married. Committed to each other for life. You exchanged vows.”

 

Vows that Lou had wanted to write. Vows that Debbie had said would be easier if they just did them by the book. Because then she didn’t have to emote, or feel, or think about it. She could just memorize something. Keep the vulnerability out of it. No wonder Lou didn’t want to see her face ever again. She was a monster.

 

“You can’t just run away when things scare you, Debs,” Danny whispered, moving to the corner where she was sitting, reaching his hand through the bars. Debbie watched him as he let it dangle for a moment, looking disappointed as he finally took it away, nervously scratching his head and then pocketing his hand, looking down at his sister with concern. “You can’t just run away because things are good. Lou just wanted things to be even better.”

 

“She wanted to stop me from pushing myself. From doing what I do best.”

 

“You can’t do this forever.”

 

“Watch. Me.”

 

“Not really a great point you’re making here,” he smiled gently. “From your prison cell.”

 

“That’s thanks to that douchebag Becker. That wasn’t me. You know my plans always work.”

 

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It’s who you put your trust in that’s questionable. Maybe if you stuck to doing jobs with your partner then…”

 

“Danny,” Debbie seethed. “I didn’t call you here so you could berate me about Lou. God knows Tammy does that enough. I fucked up. I fucked it all up, okay? I know I did. And yes, as I sit in this damn cell, I’m not stupid. I’m realizing that I’ve created a shitstorm of a disaster and I only have myself to blame, but I need help. I need you to get me out of here. And if you can’t, I need you to teach me how to survive, because I only have one goal when I get out of that box.”

 

“Good,” he smiled. “That should be the only goal. Getting her back. Telling her you were wrong, and you screwed up and you just want her back.”

 

“You’re shitting me, right?” Debbie asked, raising a brow, cursing herself because it was a habit she’d picked up from Lou. “They told me I was looking at six years. Chance of parole if I play nice. But I’m going to spend that whole time trying to get revenge on that fucker. I want him to rot. And I want to be the one to put him behind bars.”

 

“You know what?” Danny sighed, biting at his lip as he considered his words. “You’re right. You fucked things up. Big time. And if you’re going to spend your time in prison trying to get even with Becker, you’re even more stubborn than I thought. You could have called Lou. You could’ve apologized. She would have helped you. Waited for you. Kept you safe. And you’re just driving the wedge even further. How’s she gonna feel when she finds out from someone else you’re in prison? That you didn’t call her? Shit, Debbie. How stupid can you be?”

 

Arguing wasn’t going to help even though she was fuming. She merely gave Danny the win and asked to talk about something else. Come up with a plan. She was right. She knew what she wanted to do. She was serving time, sure, but she knew how she wanted to use it. She was going to make Claude wish he’d never fucked with her in the first place. Danny didn’t know what he was talking about.

 

But she knew what she was doing. She was doing it again. Debbie stared at the ceiling of the cell, counting the ceiling tiles as she played with her necklace, letting the gold band slink from one side of the chain to the other, back and forth, back and forth, finally letting it land softly on her finger as she considered it for a moment, still cool and comfortable against her skin before she released it again, tucking the chain into her dress, the ring out of sight, out of mind, but still dangling against her heart.