Debbie almost says it the moment Lou pulls her hand out of her pocket and pushes her against the bank’s brick exterior wall.
She doesn’t even know her name, then. She’d been lounging around the ATM out of boredom, because she’d lost her fake ID and twenty isn’t old enough to get into the clubs where the pockets are worth picking. Her brother is still on some ridiculous mission to ‘keep her out of trouble’, like he’s one to talk, and when every member of the underbelly knows you as Danny Ocean’s Kid Sister, getting a decent fake gets really difficult.
Her first thought, when she slides her fingers into the tall blonde’s leather pants in search of a wallet only to find her wrist held in a vice grip, is that she’s absolutely making Danny pay to bail her out. It’s not like he’s short on cash. But that line of thinking, and indeed, any line remotely in the zone of rational reason, goes out the door when she meets the eyes of her would-be mark.
“Maybe buy me dinner before you start feeling me up, hm?” Says the tall blonde, with a choppy bob and an impressive amount of eyeliner and holy fuck, an Austrailian accent. The british territories are hard to differentiate sometimes but Debbie is usually pretty good at noticing the subtle markers of dialect, can even distinguish different british accents on a good day, and jesus christ why is she still thinking about the accent when the taller woman is now forcing her back against the wall?
Usually her fight-or-flight reflexes would have kicked in by now, because when she fucks up a job she doesn’t stick around long enough to get caught, but something about the calm, self-assured demeanor of the woman has shocked Debbie into inaction. The blonde is a little taller, and Debbie is around eye level with her lips. They’re very pretty lips. Which is not a helpful thought, and neither is the second idea that pops into her head. Debbie has to consciously restrain herself from verbally announcing ‘holy shit, I think I’m in love with you.’
Instead, she just gulps, because her throat has gone dry.
“Word of advice,” says her mark, with that same dry tone and intoxicating accent. “Tight pants are harder to pickpocket from. Good to know if you’re picking pockets, or trying not to get yours picked.”
“Well, good thing I like skinny jeans,” Debbie manages, hoping she sounds less breathless than she feels. Play it cool, Ocean. “So, uh… if you’re giving me pickpocketing advice… you’re maybe not the kind of person to call the cops over something like this?”
Okay, not as cool as she wanted.
The blonde snorts. “Please. If that’s your idea of picking a pocket, I don’t need to bother with the pigs. You’re not gonna steal anything anytime soon.”
“Hey, I steal stuff!” Debbie protests. Immediately after the words are out of her mouth, she feels herself turn bright red. She is really not great at improvising when a job goes south.
Another snort, and her wrist is released. The taller woman moves away from her, and while Debbie is glad to be off the brick wall, she feels suddenly colder without someone else’s body heat pressed against her. “Who are you, hon? I’ve gotta know. You’re quite a character.”
Debbie narrows her eyes. “I’m Debbie.” She may not be at her best this afternoon, but she’s not dumb enough to give her last name to a stranger. Even if this mark doesn’t seem likely to turn her in, the last thing she needs is for this to get back to Danny.
“No last name?” The blonde raises an eyebrow.
“I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours,” Debbie offers, with no intention of following through. Her mark smirks anyway.
“What, no first name?”
“Makes us even.”
“Only if you try to pick my pocket,” Debbie counters, stepping away with her thumbs hooked into her belt loops.
But Miller just laughs, a loud, unrestrained sound, and holds up a leather watch that had previously been fastened securely around Debbie’s wrist.
Not even the one she’d been grabbed by.
“Oh, it’s on,” Debbie promises. She snags her watch back, and the blonde grins and gives her a salute as she heads toward a clunker of a car. “Til next time, Miller!”
“Hope that’s a promise, Debs.”
Lou sips her highball whiskey and glowers down the bar, flipping a silver key between her fingers. It’s the key to a safe deposit box containing quite the stash of platinum jewelry, which is not a difficult system to rob, with the contents easy to melt down and sell.
(Debbie keeps making puns with the term liquidate. Lou has threatened bodily harm multiple times.)
Their current problem is that the safety deposit box requires two keys to open it. Lou had stolen the bank’s key, no problem; a pantsuit, a pair of glasses, and a clipboard had gotten her into their offices without a second glance. It had been almost too easy, and because of how efficient she’d been, she now has to sit here and watch Debbie pull the second key from the owner of the box.
Casimir Franjić is a Serbian businessman who is relatively new to the American private sector, having just branched out his company and acquired a rather impressive amount of precious metals. Most of those are stored more officially in places where a two-woman team like Deb and Lou have no hope of reaching, but this particular safety deposit box contains a new shipment of platinum that Franjić himself is already obtaining through less-than-legal pathways. That’s another gimme, for them; people conducting shady business tend not to make a fuss if, say, a couple million out of a billion-dollar company were to go missing.
Between that and the ease of getting into a safety-deposit box, this job should be a breeze. And it is. Professionally speaking. It’s just that the way to any businessman’s pockets is through his pants and Debbie has never had a problem with being the one to take on that kind of mark and usually Lou is grateful for that, because she finds men sexually repulsive, but tonight, something else is roiling low in her stomach.
Once they have both keys, they can literally just walk into the bank and take the whole thing. Lou reminds herself of this as she takes a swallow of her drink, her eyes slipping closed. Everything is going according to plan… it’s just that suddenly she doesn’t like that the plan involves Debbie sharing a barstool with a douchebag with well-combed hair and a chiseled jaw.
She glances over again, and sees Debbie’s lips pressed to the mark’s neck, her hands on his chest but moving all over. She stops looking.
This is a problem.
Debbie has proven herself as a partner multiple times over, despite her age, which Lou had equated with inexperience until she’d learned her last name. They’ve got a good thing going. But it’s getting too personal, and Lou doesn’t do personal with the people she works with. Because then she ends up stewing over a drink she shouldn’t have, suffering from pointless emotions like jealousy instead of keeping her head in the game.
Case in point-- she startles violently when her drink is snatched from in front of her, looking up to find Debbie downing the last of the whiskey and ginger ale. “Ugh,” her partner groans, “he tasted like vodka. You know I hate vodka.”
Lou bites the inside of her cheek too hard at the idea of Debbie tasting the bastard. “I know, hon. You’re a tequila girl.”
“Whiskey will suffice,” she says, smacking her lips. She twirls a key around her finger that matches the one hidden under Lou’s hand. “Since we’re on a deadline.”
Lou nods and stands, dropping enough cash to pay for her one drink on the bar. “Shall we?”
Because Lou was technically drinking, Debbie drives, which gives the blonde far too much time to think. She thinks about how she should probably cut ties with Debbie, before whatever these feelings are become an issue. She thinks about how she would almost rather cut off her left hand.
Debbie’s calm, lilting voice interrupts the storm inside her head. “What’s on your mind?” she asks, their eyes meeting in the rearview mirror.
I think I’m falling in love with you,” Lou wants to say.
She looks out the window instead of into deep brown eyes.
“Just running the plan through in my head,” she murmurs. “I want this to go smoothly.”
It does go smoothly.
And Lou doesn’t cut ties with Debbie.
Debbie has seen Lou in any number of getups during countless jobs. She’s seen her wardrobe for the dead of winter and the sweltering dog days of summer. She’s seen her at the end of their longest days, makeup smudged and hair messy beyond saving. But when they start living together, in the half-decent two bedroom they can just afford after a string of successes, Debbie gets to see Lou in a new way yet again, a new way that takes her breath away.
The blonde is an early riser, so by the time Deb drags herself out of bed, Lou is already sitting at the kitchen island, sipping black coffee and tapping her fingers idly against a floor plan for the New York Historical Society.
“Good morning, sleeping beauty,” she greets, her voice even lower than usual. A shiver runs down Debbie’s spine, not helped by her first glimpse of Lou’s preferred sleepwear.
It’s silk. Clearly comfier than lingerie, but still fucking silk. A chocolate brown set, comfy-looking shorts with a lacy hem not halfway down Lou’s impressively strong thighs, and a matching camisole loose enough that one strap is falling down her shoulder, exposing a ridiculously sharp collarbone. But not anything more, which is a good thing for Debbie’s composure.
She’s been staring for too long; Lou smirks at her. “Still waking up?”
“Uh.” Debbie clears her throat. “Yeah. Need some coffee.” She beelines for the pot, not looking at her partner.
“It’s still warm,” Lou says. “I got your vanilla creamer out of the fridge for you. How do you even drink that stuff?”
“It’s a time saver,” Deb answers, grabbing a souvenir mug stolen from the Rockefeller Center. “It removes the step of mixing in sugar. Besides, most of the time I drink whatever’s in the pot without heating it up… then the sugar doesn’t dissolve. I hate that.” She shudders at the idea of the gritty texture.
“You also don’t have to deal with the sugar if you drink it black,” Lou points out, hiding her smile behind her own mug. This debate is practically ritual for them, even if this is their first morning actually waking up for breakfast together. They can’t drink coffee without trying to convince the other of their own tastes.
“You just like your coffee as bitter as you are, Miller,” Debbie shoots back. Her partner laughs, and as always, the sound brings a smile to Debbie’s face involuntarily.
“Oh, and I’m sure you drink your sugary crap because you’re so sweet, Ocean.” Lou puts aside her own coffee to lean over the blueprints with a smirk. Debbie can’t quite tell if she loses her breath because of the new view of Lou’s cleavage, or simply from the warmth sparkling in her blue eyes and spreading to her confident smile.
Jesus, they’ve had this banter for years at this point, nothing about this is new, except for now they’re even more inseparable than they were twenty-four hours ago, now this all feels domestic in an almost intoxicating way. Unbidden, Debbie gets a flash of what their future might look like, in her dreams, a future where she leans across the counter to meet Lou in a kiss that goes on for ages. She could do that now. She could set down her coffee and say I love you and kiss her partner before she has time to respond.
She could do that, except for the fact that she has no reason to think that would do anything other than ruin their partnership, their friendship. Ruin the best thing Debbie has ever had in her cursed-and-blessed life. She can’t do that.
So she snorts at Lou’s dig, and gulps her coffee, and changes the topic to if they have anything actually edible in their fridge. It’s enough, to live with Lou, to have her in the way that’s just theirs, even if it’s not the way Debbie wants her.
It has to be enough.
Lou can handle the days, the weeks, the months, when business is uncertain and the jobs are bumpy rides. In her line of work, adjusting to unpredictability is a must. A dry spell without any good cons is something she can withstand.
But something about these past few months feels different, in a way she can’t put her finger on. But she can pinpoint the result, the terrible truth that has her tossing and turning all night.
She’s losing Debbie.
Before, they would sit through the struggle of slowness together, watching bad daytime TV and using each other for warmth when they couldn’t afford heating in the winter. The jokes about the lack of food in the apartment were just that, jokes, because they still had each other. It was almost like they got closer when they were forced into their lethargic limbo, connected by the innate understanding that they both hated it.
Somehow, that’s not the case this time. And it makes Lou’s chest physically hurt, like she can’t breathe. She’s taken to disappearing on long walks throughout the city, ostensibly in search of pockets to pic but more due to the fact that she can’t stand Debbie’s uncaring silence, the new aloof energy that she exudes.
Strolling through Little Italy, Lou snags a pastry from a stand that’s far too easy to steal from and chews to quell the gnawing in her gut. Out of habit, she’s observing the passerby, taking in the scene, but her mind is faraway. If their partnership is pulling apart at the seams… maybe she doesn’t have anything to lose. Maybe she should say something to Deb.
After that adventure involving a divorce lawyer and some very interesting revelations about Debbie and one of their fences, Tammy, Lou knows that Debbie certainly could requite her feelings. It’s entirely possible that if she grows a spine and lays all her cards on the table, she might be able to save their invaluable connection, and even take their partnership beyond crime and cohabiting, into the pleasure and gentleness and vulnerability that Lou literally dreams of.
There have been times in her life when Lou has felt that she had nothing to lose in far worse ways. And imagining where this road might lead, what might cause Deb to leave her, makes her heart shudder painfully in her chest.
Lou eyes the closest subway station and heads back home.
“Hey, Debbie?” There’s no response. The door to Debbie’s bedroom is closed. “Debs, can we talk?”
But the apartment is cold and silent, and alarm bells are beginning to go off in Lou’s head. She moves toward the center of the apartment, and that’s when she notices the piece of paper on the kitchen table.
It’s Debbie’s handwriting. Who else would it be?
We’ve had a good time together for longer than I bet either of us expected. You’re a great partner and a fucking stellar con. That’s why I know you don’t need me. We don’t need to mope around together out of loyalty when we both know we’d be more flexible on our own. Don’t worry about me… Claude is letting me stay at his place. I like him. Enough.
Lou stares at the paper, pokes it like it might disintegrate. When it doesn’t, she reads it again. And again.
Mope around together out of loyalty? Well then. Lou had thought it had been more than that. She’d enjoyed having Debbie around, at least. But had that not been reciprocated? Had Debbie just liked her, enough, when they moved in together, when they each became the other’s point person for every job they ran? Here Lou is wondering if her romantic feelings might be returned, but she’d been too stupid to even consider that her platonic ones weren’t.
“Shit, Ocean,” she mutters, picking up the paper and pulling her lighter from her pocket. “Fuck you too.”
“Alright, everyone,” Debbie says, clicking through to the end of her presentation. “Go home, get packed, get your lives in order. Because starting tomorrow, we’re planning the biggest diamond heist New York City has ever seen.”
The excitement in the room is palpable, and she gets hugs from Tammy and Amita that only make her stiffen a little bit; at least her friends don’t seem to notice that she doesn’t return their embraces. Sooner than Deb had expected, everyone has filed out of the loft, and it’s just her and Lou again.
“I gotta hand it to you, Ocean,” Lou says, rifling through the pantry. Debbie glances at the clock and notices it is indeed close to dinner time. “I think this team might actually work. I wasn’t sure where your numbers were coming from, but seeing it all laid out like that…” she resurfaces with a box of pasta and a smirk that’s almost a grin. “We might just be able to pull this off.”
“Of course we will, baby,” Debbie says, tying her hair back into a ponytail. “What are you making for dinner?”
“I’m not making anything until you help me,” Lou jibes. “I know you hung out in solitary for a while, but out here, when you’re sharing a house with someone, you gotta share the load.”
Lou is the only one who can tease her about jail without it creating a pit in her stomach. “Mkay, I’ll put a pot of water on to boil,” she agrees. When she sees the pasta box sitting on the counter, she smiles. “Hey, you got the bowties!”
“Of course I did, hon, we both know that’s the only acceptable pasta shape.”
While Debbie turns on the stove and fills a pot with water, Lou wanders over to the record player in the living room. Debbie hears her flipping through the records, and then the lilting lyrics of Girl in Red fill the room. She smiles at the comfort of the familiar music. “Lou, babe, you know you’re a cliche, right?”
“You are the only one who’s allowed to make that accusation.”
Debbie snorts. “I’m honored.”
There’s a soft, secret smile on Lou’s face as she returns to the kitchen, humming along to i wanna be your girlfriend. The sight of it warms Debbie’s chest, because it’s another part of Lou that’s just for her, another part that she’s missed so painfully over the last five years, eight months, and twelve days. They’re making a plain and simple dinner that they’ve made dozens of times before, with the same vinyl records playing, and Debbie hasn’t felt this purely happy since long before she’d gone to jail. How could she have willingly left this behind?
The evening carries on in a haze of marinara sauce and indie pop. After dinner, Lou and Debbie end up on the couch, Debbie leaning against her partner and letting her eyes fall closed as Lou turns on some ridiculous courtroom drama. There’s a joke on the tip of her tongue about watching jail-themed TV fresh out of prison, but she’s too tired to voice it.
There’s other things she’s too tired to voice, too. But that’s probably a good thing.
How do you even tell your partner, the person who matters most to you in the world, the person you abandoned without saying goodbye, that you’ve spent five years and change trying and failing not to think about her, only to come to one singular realization? What words even are there for the feelings that have taken root in Debbie’s rib cage, wound like vines around her heart? I love you feels like far from enough to convey the strength of the hold Lou has on her life.
Debbie’s mind spins in circles until she’s too exhausted to think anymore, and then she falls asleep listening to the steady beat of Lou’s heart.
Lou makes it two months on the road before she admits to herself that these days, she longs for more than just the freedom brought to her by her bike.
She’s longed for more than a long time, but it wasn’t until Debbie went to jail that Lou realized how much she needed her in her life. They’d been inseparable until they weren’t, and Lou had thought, when Deb went off with Claude, that that was simply the end of their partnership, and all of the feelings she’d fought for years would fade.
And then Debbie had gone to prison, and Lou had experienced the feeling of her heart being torn from her chest.
When her partner had come back, it had felt like nothing had changed. And so Lou had gone through with her stated plan, buying a bike and cruising across the country. Debbie would always be there for her to come back to; Lou was never letting anything happen to her again.
But after weeks on the road, Lou is facing the reality that just knowing Debbie is there isn’t enough. They’d almost lost each other-- for all intents and purposes, they had. Lou doesn’t even want to risk the possibility that that might happen again before she lets herself tell Debbie how she feels, how she’s felt for decades now.
And so, after sending a selfie to the group chat (Nine Ball was all about tech security, and then lobbied for the eight of them to make a fucking group chat) from the Golden Gate Bridge, Lou gets back on her bike and heads straight home to New York.
Amita, Nine Ball, and Tammy are all lounging around the loft when Lou arrives, but she doesn’t care because Debbie is there too, which is all she needs. She tosses her helmet onto the couch, and when it clatters down to the floor, her partner looks up.
“Fuck it, Ocean,” Lou says, louder than she means to. Debbie stands up from the kitchen table, but Lou sets a hand on her waist, pushing her firmly back against the brick wall. “I’ve waited to do this long enough.”
Before Debbie can give her more than a questioning look, Lou presses her lips to her partner’s, her right hand coming up to cup her cheek, and then carding through her hair. Debbie is kissing her back, thank god, and suddenly a still touch isn’t enough. Lou deepens the kiss until their tongues meet, and her hands begin to move, her left untucking Debbie’s silken blouse and her right sliding down to brush over her neck. Debbie is gripping the lapels of Lou’s leather biker jacket like she’s never going to let go. Lou doesn’t want her to.
At some point, long after Lou’s perception of time has gone out the window, they have to part for air. Lou rests her forehead against Debbie’s and takes advantage of her height to sort of frame her partner against the wall. Debbie’s arms come up around her neck.
“I love you,” the Ocean whispers, her voice shaky in Lou’s ear.
Lou dips her head to press a kiss underneath her jaw. “I love you, too.”
The moment is ruined by a wolf-whistle from Nine Ball, and then Tammy starts a slow clap. Lou turns around to flip them off, but Debbie is laughing, a smile of pure joy spreading across her face, and she’s still hanging onto her. Lou wraps an arm around her waist and fixes her own mussed hair before pushing Debbie’s locks out of her face.
“It’s about time,” says Amita, wearing a warm grin.
“Yeah,” Lou agrees, staring into Debbie’s beautiful brown eyes. “It is.”