Chapter 1: June, part 1
"Forty-five across is ecru," Lucy says, pointing the corner of her phone at the Sunday crossword folded on Whistler's lap. "E-C-R-U."
Whistler pencils it in, left-handed because Lucy is snuggled up against her right side on the couch. Lucy tilts her head up in anticipation, and Whistler pulls her closer to press a soft kiss to her lips. Lucy smiles into the kiss, satisfied with the reward for her contribution.
It's been three weeks since Whistler bared her soul in Tennant's backyard, spilling all the soft, squishy parts of her for everyone, but especially Lucy, to see. Three weeks of rediscovering each other, planning nights out that start with the nerves of a first date but end with the quiet comfort of an established love (and sometimes, with the toe-curling touch of an attentive hand, of gratitude, of forgiveness). Three weeks of navigating still-hurt feelings with patient words of affirmation and all the honesty that had been missing the first time around.
It doesn't erase the months apart, but lazy Sundays are in again.
Lucy presses herself closer to Whistler, scanning the crossword clues again with renewed motivation, now that she's had a taste of the prize pool. Whistler lightly squeezes Lucy's side to get her attention, and when Lucy looks up at her again, Whistler tosses the crossword aside and pulls Lucy onto her lap to replace it. Lucy's knees slot into place on either side of Whistler's hips, her hands finding Whistler's shoulders for balance.
"Hi," Whistler greets, interlocking her hands at the small of Lucy's back.
Lucy grins. "I think thirty-two down was edam, E-D-A-M."
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give an edam," Whistler says playfully, sliding Lucy closer. "Did I use that right?"
Lucy rolls her eyes, even as her palms find the sides of Whistler's neck. "You're embarrassing," Lucy murmurs before leaning in to kiss the goofy smile off Whistler's face.
Whistler untucks the back of Lucy's shirt, fingertips skirting under the hem. Lucy shifts her hips in response, pressing Whistler harder into the back of the couch with her weight. Whistler deepens the kiss, her hands sliding up Lucy's spine until they reach the clasp of her bra.
Annoyingly, Lucy's phone chooses that exact moment to start ringing, and she sighs in frustration and pulls away. Whistler's hands drop out from under Lucy's shirt as Lucy digs around their bodies for her phone that she'd dropped sometime between ecru and edam.
Whistler is kissing her neck when Lucy finally fishes her phone out from between the couch cushions. One missed call from her brother Oliver. She hits voicemail and tries to focus despite Whistler's hands and lips still on her.
Oliver sounds irritated. "Listen, Lucy, you're gonna want to check the family group chat. And, uh, call me."
Whistler finally pulls away and looks down at Lucy's phone, then up at her. Lucy stares back incredulously.
Without another word, Lucy pulls up the Tara family chat that she usually keeps muted. There are over fifty new messages, and as she starts to skim past the ones of her other brother Ben and her sister Hannah thanking their parents for their generosity, Lucy's stomach drops.
Whistler, eyebrows knit in concern, is running her hands soothingly over Lucy's thighs, patient as she waits for Lucy to absorb enough to explain what's going on.
Lucy lifts herself from Whistler's lap and starts to pace across Whistler's living room, eyes fixated on her phone as she continues to scroll.
"I think my parents just bought me a beach house," Lucy mutters.
"What do you mean, they bought you a beach house?" Whistler asks, like she thinks she's misheard.
Lucy sounds frustrated when she says, "I mean, they purchased a four-bed five-bath beachfront property in Haleiwa and are trying to transfer the title to me." Hearing her own tone, she tears her eyes away from her phone to offer Whistler an apologetic glance. "Sorry, I'm mad at them, not you."
"I know," Whistler reassures as she continues to watch Lucy's pacing. "A beach house in Haleiwa sounds... expensive."
Lucy slows down just enough to direct a pointed look at Whistler. "You know that I know that you've googled me."
"We've just never really talked about it," Whistler says carefully. "Not that we have to."
"Let's just say this wouldn't have made the tiniest dent to their finances," Lucy says, turning her attention back to her phone.
Whistler makes an attempt to reach for Lucy as she passes the couch, but Lucy distractedly dodges Whistler's outstretched arms and keeps pacing.
"What's their angle here?" Lucy asks no one in particular, letting out a sigh of frustration. "I mean, what do they want?"
"For their daughter never to have to worry about the skyrocketing cost of rent again?" Whistler suggests.
"No. No, that's not it. They want something from me," Lucy argues. "Not to mention the property taxes and insurance alone would keep me indebted to them forever."
"Hey, come here," Whistler says gently, making another effort to grab Lucy on her next loop around. This time, Lucy lets Whistler pull her back onto the couch. Whistler drapes one arm around Lucy's shoulders and presses a kiss to her temple. "Do you want me to take care of it?"
Lucy looks up from her phone. "I'm pretty sure murder is still illegal in all fifty states, Whistler."
Whistler studies her for a moment. "I'm not going to kill your parents, Lucy."
"Are you sure?" Lucy asks, squinting. "Because that's what it sounded like, and I don't think you'd do too well in prison."
"Would you?" Whistler counters.
Lucy shrugs. "I'm not planning to commit murder, so."
"I'm not either!" Whistler protests incredulously.
Lucy finally flashes a grin. "Okay, okay. Thank you for not killing my family. How would you take care of it?"
Whistler gives Lucy a quick look of exasperation before visibly shifting into federal agent problem-solving mode. "I'm pretty sure if you just... don't take possession of a gifted property, the transfer won't go through. But if you wanted to take it and donate it to charity or something, I could look into it for you and handle all the paperwork."
"On principle, I'm definitely not keeping this gift," Lucy says, air quotes around the word gift. She studies Whistler for a moment. "I know you don't know my parents, and I'm trying to keep it that way as long as possible, but there are always, always strings with them. Always."
Whistler nods. "Okay. What do you want to do?"
"Move to another country?" Lucy suggests, only somewhat joking.
Whistler tries to hide her smile. "What country bans wealthy foreign nationals from purchasing property?"
Lucy shrugs. "I don't know, probably all the super dictator-y ones."
"I love you, but I'm not moving to North Korea for you," Whistler tells her. Lucy tilts her head up to smile at Whistler like she's said something amusing, and Whistler smiles back hesitantly. "What?"
Lucy's smile widens. "You love me."
Whistler rolls her eyes, even as her cheeks tint pink. "Yes, you have me wrapped around your little finger, and you love to remind me of it."
"I think you reminded everyone on Tennant's street of it a few weeks ago," Lucy points out affectionately, stretching to press a kiss to Whistler's cheek. "I love you too."
"Mm-hm," Whistler hums. She glances at Lucy's phone. "You should probably call your brother."
Lucy scowls and looks at her phone again.
Whistler tilts her head. "I thought Oliver was the one you liked."
"He is. I do," Lucy says, almost guiltily. She knows how much her having a brother to call but never actually doing it is something Whistler has complicated feelings about, not that she's ever put it on Lucy, but still. Lucy touches Whistler's thigh. "I'm going to make the call on the balcony. Be right back."
Whistler nods, brushing her hand over Lucy's. "I'll be here."
Lucy presses a quick kiss to Whistler's lips and gets up to make her way out to the balcony. She doesn't need the privacy, of which the balcony wouldn't have offered much anyway, but the fresh air and ocean view is nice. She hits the call button and brings her phone to her ear, and as she waits for her brother to pick up, she smiles at Whistler, who is watching her from the couch.
Oliver answers after a few rings. "Hey, squirt."
Lucy turns to lean against the balcony railing. "Hey, Ollie. How's the fracking?"
"Oh, it's great," Oliver replies sarcastically. "The destruction of our planet is my favorite part of the job."
Lucy smiles. "How've you been?"
"Feel like I should be the one asking you," Oliver says, tentative. "All caught up to speed?"
"Yeah," Lucy sighs, "Ollie, you know I can't take the house."
"Didn't think you would." Oliver takes a beat. "Listen, I know it's been a while since you've been tangled up in Mom and Dad's twisted web, but I don't think what I'm about to tell you next will come as a shock."
"Oh good," Lucy mutters, "strings."
"I overheard them talking about making this an all or nothing deal," Oliver explains. "Either we all take it, or none of us get it."
Lucy's stomach drops. "They want to force my hand."
"Yeah, it feels targeted for sure," Oliver replies, sounding frustrated on her behalf, "but I don't think they care as long as they get their way."
"Their way being, they hold 7.5 million plus annual maintenance costs over me for the rest of my life," Lucy assesses dryly.
"Lucy, if you don't want this house, I'll just turn down mine first so the heat's not on you," Oliver offers.
"They'll know you're just protecting me," Lucy protests, against the backdrop of the sudden affection she has for her brother.
Oliver's shrug decorates his words. "So? Let them think what they want. What are they gonna do, fire their Chief Sustainability Officer?"
Lucy winces. "I mean, maybe?"
"They care more about the optics," Oliver says. "You know this. They won't fire me because then they gotta explain why to the board and look like petty assholes. It becomes a whole thing."
"The wealthy and scandals," Lucy mutters. She tilts her head up to the sky and shuts her eyes. "Ben is going to be so pissed."
"I mean this with an adequate amount of love, but fuck Ben," Oliver fires back. "Does he really need another Upper East Side penthouse?"
"I'm sure he thinks so," Lucy replies, allowing a small smile. "And Hannah—"
"I had dinner at Hannah's last night," Oliver cuts in. "She and the kids are going to be fine where they are now."
"Did she say that?" Lucy asks skeptically.
"I'm saying that," Oliver counters, pointed. "Lucy, you've been to her house. It is, by all accounts, a mansion."
Lucy sighs and pinches the spot between her eyebrows. "Her oldest is starting school soon, and you saw how excited she was that her gift house is in the best school zone in all of Dallas-Fort Worth."
"She could afford to move into that neighborhood all on her own," Oliver says flatly. "She'd just have to downsize a bit. It's not your problem if she doesn't want to do that on her own dime."
"It just feels like I'm directly taking away from her kids," Lucy admits with a flicker of guilt for the niece and nephew she's never made an attempt to see.
"Mom and Dad," Oliver emphasizes, "are the ones taking from them. They could just give her the house without stipulations, but instead, they're playing these stupid mind games."
Lucy groans. "I don't think Ben will see it that way."
"Allow me to reiterate: fuck Ben."
At that, Lucy smiles. "Yeah, fuck Ben," she echoes.
Oliver chuckles. "Take the week to think about it. Let me know what you want to do. I can handle Mom and Dad from my side."
"Thanks, Ollie," Lucy says, taking a deep, cleansing breath. "I knew there was a reason you were my favorite."
Oliver huffs. "You should return your supposedly favorite sibling's calls more often!"
Lucy flinches. She would like to call Oliver more often as well, but it's always been difficult to keep that separation from her parents when she's actively dialing Dallas area codes, especially given that Oliver works with them and is inextricably tied up in their lives. She doesn't know how to tell him all that, though, without it sounding like some kind of guilt trip. So she keeps her distance, maybe unfairly so.
"Would you call more often if I quit?" Oliver asks, as though hearing Lucy's thoughts.
"Oliver," Lucy says tightly, a warning. She takes a beat. She knows she could make more of an effort, that she loves her brother more than she wants to dodge her parents. "I'll call you more, I promise. Don't quit your job."
"I'll hold you to that," Oliver tells her.
Lucy watches the waves crashing into the ocean, tiny surfers on tiny surfboards chasing them in the distance. Some of them wipe out, fully engulfed by the waves, but they always resurface, eager to try again. This exact scenario of seeking more opportunities to drown? Not relatable to Lucy. But the idea of trying again after being swept off her feet? She could work with that.
"Are you at the beach?" Oliver asks then. "I can hear the ocean in the background."
"You know I hate the beach," Lucy replies with a grimace. "I'm at my—" Lucy glances back at Whistler, still seated on the couch, crossword back on her lap, but Lucy can tell by the way she's perched that she's eavesdropping. Not that Lucy has indicated her conversation is private, so maybe the term for that is just listening.
"Your...?" Oliver prompts.
"The woman I'm seeing," Lucy finally says, cheeks warm as she turns her gaze away from the couch. "Her balcony faces the ocean."
The description feels like it severely downplays what's really happening and where Lucy's at emotionally, but they haven't put a label on what they are, and Lucy'll be damned if she calls Whistler her girlfriend in front of her before she's sure that's how Whistler even sees herself.
"Someone new or did mean girl finally come around?" Oliver prods.
Lucy winces. She really should call her brother more often if his reference of Whistler is from 'mean girl' era. Lucy is juggling how to answer Oliver's question against what Whistler would hear from it, but she hesitates a beat too long.
"No way," Oliver says, letting out a hearty laugh. "Did she stop being mean or are you just into that?"
Lucy turns to look at Whistler again, and this time, Whistler meets her gaze, crossword fully abandoned, a glint of curiosity in her eyes.
Lucy scratches the back of her neck. "Uh, I'm just really into her?"
At that, Whistler flushes, hiding an affectionate smile, but she doesn't look away. Lucy suddenly really wants to get her brother off the phone so she can return to Whistler's lap, but Oliver isn't done his line of questioning.
"Y'all take good care of each other? She make you happy?"
"We do, and she does," Lucy replies. She'll have another opportunity to tell Oliver all about the trials and tribulations they've had to suffer through to get here, if she keeps her promise to call him more often. "Ollie, I gotta go."
Oliver hums knowingly. "Shouldn't keep your lady waiting. But hey, what's her name? So I can stop referring to her as mean girl."
"Kate," Lucy replies, watching Whistler perk up from the couch. "Her name is Kate."
"That's not really a mean girl name," Oliver assesses.
Lucy bites back a smile, bracing for Whistler's reaction when she says, "Yeah, well, turns out she's not really a mean girl."
The corner of Whistler's lip twitches in amusement, and Lucy reflexively takes a step away from the balcony railing and toward the couch.
"Okay, go be with your girl," Oliver tells her, as though sensing Lucy's falling interest in their conversation. "Call me when you make a decision or want someone to talk to about this mess."
"Will do. Thanks again, Ollie."
As soon as Lucy ends her call, she makes her way back to Whistler and her empty lap, sinking down easily onto it as Whistler's hands start absently brushing up and down the length of her back.
"Mean girl, huh?" Whistler asks with a playful grin.
Lucy tries to look appropriately chastised. "Can you tell it's been a while since I've talked to my brother?"
Whistler hums, hands finding Lucy's hips. "And when exactly was I a mean girl?"
"DIA Officer Whistler was mean sometimes!" Lucy tells her, punctuating her words with a soft kiss to the corner of Whistler's mouth to emphasize the past tense.
"I was just doing my job," Whistler argues, tightening her grip on Lucy's hips, "which was rendered difficult by a certain NCIS Special Agent who always wanted classified intel before it had been cleared."
Lucy gasps dramatically. "Cases are time sensitive!"
"And military secrets are a matter of national security," Whistler counters, the tiniest flicker of genuine indignance slipping into her tone.
Lucy slides back on Whistler's lap, reevaluating. "I know that," she says slowly, studying Whistler's reaction.
Whistler sighs, her hands sliding to Lucy's thighs. "I'm sorry. I apparently still get very defensive about my role at DIA."
Lucy nods, thinking about what Whistler had told her all those months ago in a quiet parking lot, about people not making it easy for her. Not easy to do her job, and Lucy suspects, to be a queer woman in a field dominated by male egos. That one, Lucy's all too familiar with. Lucy touches Whistler's arm in understanding.
"How's your brother?" Whistler asks then, pivoting.
"Exactly as I remember," Lucy replies with an affectionate eye roll. "Mildly annoying, very nosy, but will do anything to protect me from our parents' whims."
Whistler offers a small smile. "I'm glad you have him on your side."
"Me too." Lucy tilts her head, teasing when she says, "I don't know how effective your eavesdropping was, but—"
"I wasn't eavesdropping!" Whistler protests, a flush creeping up her neck.
Lucy grins, sliding her hands up to Whistler's shoulders, then the heated skin on her neck. "You're really, really cute when you're flustered."
The color of Whistler's cheeks starts to match that of her neck, and Lucy laughs, leaning down to press a kiss to Whistler's lips. Whistler's hands stay politely on the tops of Lucy's thighs, even as Lucy shuffles forward, hips seeking friction.
Lucy pulls away slowly, eyeing Whistler's unmoving hands with suspicion.
"Do you want to talk about what just happened?" Whistler asks quietly.
Lucy lets out a deep, heavy sigh. The answer is no, she just wants Whistler to touch her until she forgets all about the problems that await her back home, and she's pretty sure Whistler would put in every effort to do just that if she asked her to, but there's worry in Whistler's eyes, too. Lucy leans back, keeping her hands on Whistler's neck.
"If I don't take the house," Lucy starts, "none of my siblings get theirs, either."
Whistler frowns. "That's... incredibly manipulative."
"Yeah." Lucy plasters on a tired smile. "Ollie graciously offered to take the heat for me by turning his down, but I don't think I can ask him to keep covering for me."
Lucy's phone buzzes on the couch, and she reluctantly picks it up. It's an email from her parents' lawyer, concise and clinical, with instructions on viewing the house and signing the papers, as well as a fifty-page PDF attachment with what she assumes is all the legalese outlining the conditions of the title transfer. Lucy tilts her phone toward Whistler so she can read the email.
"Could I go through the PDF?" Whistler asks.
Lucy nods and forwards the email to Whistler, then slides off her lap when Whistler taps the side of her thigh. She watches as Whistler gets up and heads to her bedroom, returning with her personal laptop tucked under her arm. Whistler pulls out one of the bar stools under her kitchen counter and starts to set herself up there.
Lucy heads to the kitchen to make Whistler a cup of coffee on her fancy espresso machine while Whistler keys in her password and pulls up her email.
With a fresh mug of coffee in hand, Lucy rounds the counter to stand by Whistler's side. She's focused as she scrolls, already one page in, occasionally pausing to type in annotations. Lucy slides the mug toward Whistler, her other hand reaching over to push Whistler's hair behind her shoulder. Lucy leans in and presses a kiss to Whistler's newly-exposed neck.
"Thank you," Lucy murmurs against her skin.
Whistler takes a sip of coffee. "Don't distract me."
"I'm not trying to!" Lucy protests, taking a step back.
Whistler turns to look at her. "Okay, don't be..." She motions up and down at Lucy. "You, around me, while I'm trying to focus."
Lucy grins. "I'm very sorry I'm so terribly irresistible, and you're so terribly gay."
Whistler pulls Lucy's hand to her lips and brushes a distracted kiss across her knuckles before giving her a light shove. "Go. Put that big brain of yours to work and finish my crossword. I'll flag anything of concern or that might need an actual lawyer to review."
Lucy gets a grip on the back of Whistler's stool and spins her around until they're facing each other.
"Lucy," Whistler reprimands, the amused quirk at the corner of her lip betraying her otherwise stern demeanor.
"Whistler," Lucy says back, mimicking her tone. "You don't have to do all this. I can just get someone to look at it."
"I want to," Whistler tells her. "I'm good at this. Let me help."
"It's not that." Lucy glances at the screen, at the paragraphs blending into one another, and she hesitates. "My family is—I mean, whatever is in there will not paint them in a positive light, and I—"
Whistler's hands find Lucy's, squeezing. "You are not your family, Lucy," she says gently. "Whatever is in here does not reflect on you, the person I love and care about." She takes a beat, searching. "If you'd rather I don't read this document, I will close it and delete it right now, but all this?" She motions at the screen, then at the air around Lucy. "None of that scares me."
Lucy steps closer, nestling between Whistler's legs for a moment, just to be physically close to her. Whistler wraps her arms around Lucy, pulling her into a hug, and Lucy drops her head to Whistler's shoulder.
"Thank you," Lucy says again, the weight of the words not quite enough to express how much she appreciates not having to do this alone.
After a moment, Lucy pulls away and steps back. She finds the back of Whistler's stool again and spins her toward her laptop.
Lucy offers a coy smile and a hint of deflection when she says, "Let me know when you need a break to make out on the couch."
Whistler looks at Lucy over her shoulder and fails to hide her smile. "What did I just say about not distracting me?"
Lucy squeezes Whistler's thigh, fingertips skirting the line of innocence, before turning to the couch and to Whistler's abandoned crossword. She curls into the couch and picks up the paper, looking over the shaky letters penned in by Whistler's non-dominant hand.
The clue for fifty-one across is sentimental fondness, and if Lucy replaces the O's with hearts when she writes in the answer SOFT SPOT for Whistler to find later, that's between her and Whistler and the warm feeling in her chest.
Chapter 2: June, part 2
Thank you, infinitely, for the warm reception and encouraging feedback! My eyeballs are all over them.
The drive to Haleiwa is mostly quiet, save the music playing softly through the car speakers, a selection of jazzy covers that Whistler had carefully curated.
GPS shows a forty-five minute drive from Pearl, which Lucy is pretty sure she could cut down to thirty with a little creativity and a loose interpretation of the traffic code, but she's letting Whistler drive so she can stare blankly out the window and disassociate without putting their lives in danger.
It's been almost a week since Lucy received her parents' offer, quotes around offer, and to Whistler's credit, she's done everything she can to make Lucy's life easier, staying up late with Lucy to listen to her talk through the pros and cons - mostly cons - of taking the deal, holding Lucy's hand and pressing kisses to Lucy's neck and burying herself between Lucy's thighs when Lucy tires of talking and just needs a reprieve from all the thinking. And as soon as Lucy had asked if she could see the place before signing anything, Whistler had handled all the logistics of setting up the visit that they're currently heading toward.
Lucy glances at Whistler, features set as she focuses on the highway stretched out in front of her, thumbs tapping lightly against the steering wheel to the rhythm of the music. Affection blooms heavy in Lucy's chest, and she watches Whistler for a moment, tracing the profile of her face, fixating on the way her eyelashes flutter with every blink.
Whistler stifles a yawn and reaches for the coffee cup tucked into the holder between them, finally noticing Lucy's eyes on her. Whistler offers a quick, slightly self-conscious smile and takes a sip of coffee.
"Sorry I kept you up last night," Lucy says, "and not for fun reasons."
Whistler takes another sip before blindly reaching down to put the cup back into its slot. "I was happy to do it." She glances at Lucy again and sounds careful when she adds, "We're doing this thing, right? Me and you? Where we don't only stick around for the fun parts?"
"Yeah, we are," Lucy replies, feeling her chest squeeze. Then, with an exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek nod, "Would it be accurate to say that you're making me feel your love?"
Whistler barely manages to look annoyed, the corner of her lip twitching up into a smile. "Are you ever going to live me live that down?"
Lucy beams. "No! Do you know how long I've kept your secret that you're a human person with real human feelings, knowing that no one would believe me anyway? Until now, that is."
Whistler's spine stiffens a bit at that, a quick clench of her jaw that Lucy almost misses.
Lucy tries to roll it back. "I didn't mean—"
"It's fine," Whistler cuts in, curt.
"I don't think anyone actually thinks you don't have any feelings," Lucy offers, but judging by Whistler's white-tight knuckles on the steering wheel, Lucy's not sure her comment actually improves the situation. "Whistler."
Whistler looks at her again, visibly softening the moment their eyes meet. "I know, Lucy." She loosens her grip and sighs, returning her attention to the road. "I also know people talk."
"I don't take you for someone who cares what other people think," Lucy observes.
"Your team is important to you," Whistler replies, sinking back into her seat as the tension in her shoulders starts to ease. "I care about what they think."
"They like you," Lucy reassures her. "I think Kai is somewhat afraid of you still, but—"
"I assure you," Whistler says with an amused glint, "Kai isn't afraid of me."
Lucy narrows her eyes. "What do you know?"
Whistler flashes a smile. "Not my story to tell, but it may involve those novelty gifts he and Jesse keep buying each other, and a lewd term that Kai certainly should have looked up before he made the purchase."
Lucy laughs. "Did you save him from accidentally coming onto Jesse?"
"Something like that," Whistler replies, her smile widening. "I told him I thought Jesse would be flattered."
"See? You do know my team," Lucy points out sweetly. "And a little birdie named Julie told me that you've become somewhat of a staple at the Tennant household. Should I be jealous?"
Whistler quirks a teasing eyebrow at her. "Jealous of who?"
Lucy sits up straighter, caught off guard. "I—Of Tennant, obviously."
The amused, pointed look Whistler gives Lucy makes her insides flip-flop.
"Why would I be jealous of you spending time with Tennant?" Lucy asks, trying not to sound defensive.
Whistler bites the corner of her lip, but she doesn't say anything.
"I know I'm Tennant's favorite," Lucy continues, thinking she should probably stop talking before she digs herself a bigger hole. "Jesse thinks it's him, but he's wrong." Lucy scowls, and finally, a grumble of an admission, "Okay, maybe I am a little jealous of you too, and how much Tennant seems to respect you."
Whistler fixes Lucy with a small, wistful smile. "I went to see her after her inquiry," Whistler explains. "Figured she could use a friend, or at least a drinking partner. You and I had just—" She waves a hand like she can't make herself say the words. "I needed a friend, too, and Julie needed help with her history project, so I kept coming around."
Lucy softens. "I bet she appreciated having someone to talk to who knew what was going on but wasn't a direct report. Thank you for being there for her."
Whistler tilts her head in acknowledgment. "For what it's worth, we didn't talk about you much, mostly because it felt intrusive to do so, her being your boss and all. But I know she's impressed by you and has taken a special interest in you and your career."
Lucy turns to the window to hide her suddenly warm cheeks. "I told you I'm the favorite," she deflects.
"I haven't seen evidence to the contrary," Whistler affirms.
"And it certainly can't hurt to have my boss be close to my, uh—" Lucy returns her gaze to Whistler and catches the tail end of a playful smile.
"The woman you're seeing?" Whistler supplies, echoing the description Lucy had used with her brother, a glint of something Lucy can't exactly read behind her teasing words.
Lucy flushes. A conversation she wants to have, but a quick glance at the GPS has their ETA at three minutes, and it feels like she will need more than that. Whistler is already pulling off the highway, so Lucy makes a mental rain check and files it away as she turns to watch the first row of beach houses come into view.
Whistler slows down when she navigates onto a small tree-lined road, head ducked as she looks out the window at the passing house numbers plastered on the mailboxes along the side of the road. She comes to a full stop in front of a metal gate decorated with upright wooden surfboards. Lucy studies the gate for a moment, then looks to Whistler.
"Is this it?"
Whistler double-checks the address against the number on the mailbox next to the gate, then pulls out a key ring from the giant purse she has tucked into the floor of the backseat. "Yeah, this is it. You ready?"
Lucy flexes her hands together. "As I'll ever be."
Whistler nods, jingling the key ring as she isolates a gray key fob. She tilts it to the gate and presses it. The gate makes a clicking sound, then starts to slide open, the decorative surf boards disappearing behind the wooden fence circling the property. As soon as the gate is wide enough, Whistler pulls onto the driveway and parks, then shuts off her engine. The music stops.
Whistler turns to Lucy and touches her forearm. "We can leave whenever you want."
"I know," Lucy replies stiffly. She covers Whistler's hand with her own and gives it an appreciative squeeze. "Let's get this over with."
Lucy steps out of the car and shuts the door behind her, squinting up at the two-story, gray-blue house. From the outside, it doesn't look terribly impressive, but Lucy can already hear the ocean waves in the distance.
Whistler steps up beside her. "Could use a fresh coat of paint if the color isn't your thing, and the roof will need to be replaced in the next five years, but it has good bones."
Lucy gives Whistler a suspicious look. "It has good bones?"
"The foundation and the frame," Whistler says as though that's the part Lucy needs clarification on. "I pulled the last available property inspection report. Built in the late 40s, so not much can be done about the size of the front windows, but major remodel two years ago. I think you'll be impressed with the inside."
Lucy nods along. "Does the FBI know you're quitting to be a real estate agent?"
Whistler's eyes snap to Lucy's with some alarm. She breaks out into a smile once she works out that Lucy's just joking. "Yes, ASAC Curtis was very disappointed when I put in my two weeks."
Lucy finds Whistler's hand and intertwines their fingers. "Better make sure you're as good at this job as you are your old one, then."
Whistler leads Lucy up to the front door and unlocks it, pushing it open and guiding Lucy inside. To Whistler's point, the inside is in fact much more impressive than the outside.
The entrance is large enough to have a pair of one-seater corner sofas. Two steps up, a long dining table that seats three on each side, and beyond that, a sitting area with a couch and two armchairs that opens out to a large stone-tiled patio. Part of the kitchen is visible to the left, a breakfast bar with four round wooden stools facing the sitting area. The decor is... beachy, and not to Lucy's taste, but she understands Whistler's comment about good bones now.
"Hardwood floors, marble counters," Whistler tells her, pointing to each as she says them. "All from the most recent reno. Breakfast bar countertop is reclaimed wood."
"Reclaimed from what?" Lucy asks, mostly to be difficult.
Whistler startles, like she hadn't expected to be challenged. "Just, reclaimed. I don't know. Something old, I assume."
Lucy lets go of Whistler's hand to take a few tentative steps into the house and check out the large wooden light fixture hanging off the vaulted ceiling above the dining table. "And the furniture?"
"Most of it came with the house," Whistler explains, stepping up behind Lucy. "Old owners took their master bedroom set and a couple of items with sentimental value but left pretty much everything else."
"Wealthy people," Lucy mumbles.
Whistler moves past Lucy and toward the back patio doors. She unlocks and slides them open all the way to the side to reveal a three-pane wide doorway showing off the well-manicured backyard and further, the deep blue of the ocean. Lucy approaches, until she's close enough for Whistler to pull to her side, a protective arm draped around her shoulders. From here, Lucy can see the long stretch of beach between the yard and the ocean.
"Not going to try and sell me the killer view?" Lucy asks, squinting out at the water.
Whistler smiles. "I don't think it's your idea of a killer view, except maybe literally."
Lucy grins back. "You get me."
Whistler presses a kiss to Lucy's temple in response.
The back of the property faces north-east, and the sun is low in the sky behind them, casting pastels across the clouds over the ocean. Lucy does not want anything to do with the ocean or the beach or even the trap of a house she's standing in, but watching the sunset with a devastatingly gorgeous woman holding her? She could get used to that.
"Aren't you going to show me the bedroom?" Lucy asks after a few minutes of watching the shifting skies. She hears the suggestion in her own voice, but she doesn't rush to clarify her intentions, because the anticipation of Whistler trying to figure her out is too much fun.
Whistler doesn't disappoint, turning to Lucy with searching eyes. "There are four of them, three upstairs and one just next to the powder room behind the staircase."
Lucy smiles sweetly up at her.
Whistler clears her throat. "Um, if you'll follow me."
Whistler heads toward the bedroom on the ground floor first, popping her head briefly into the powder room on the way to show it to Lucy. There's a small, decorative ring buoy hanging above the toilet with ALOHA HAWAII painted on it that Lucy immediately hates.
Lucy makes a face. "Why does every Hawaiian beach house have to be decorated like the person living there knows neither that they're on a beach nor that they're in Hawaii?"
"You have a hula girl bobble head in your bathroom," Whistler points out.
"That was a gift," Lucy counters. "And it says Hawaii without explicitly saying Hawaii."
Whistler arches a brow. "You think a hula bobble head is subtle?"
"More subtle than aloha Hawaii!" Lucy protests.
Whistler fails to hide an adoring grin. "Lucy Tara, masterclass in subtlety."
Lucy's jaw drops open. "Pot meet kettle, much?"
Whistler pulls Lucy close, her hands finding Lucy's hips. "I was told a complete lack of subtlety would get me the girl."
Lucy smiles as she leans in, reaching up to pull Whistler down for a kiss. Whistler's hands slide up to the curve of Lucy's waist. Lucy walks Whistler up against the doorframe, pressing, and Whistler lets out a surprised whimper against her mouth.
Lucy pulls away just enough to breathlessly say, "I like when you're not subtle."
"I like you," Whistler murmurs, chasing another kiss.
Lucy gives it to her, soft and unhurried. Whistler's fingers slip into Lucy's hair, and Lucy tightens her grip on Whistler's jaw, eliciting a soft moan that coils down the length of Lucy's spine.
Lucy pulls away again, eyes flashing with promise when she says, "Let's finish the tour so I can take you home and show you my bedroom."
Whistler pushes off the doorframe with sudden urgency and waves an arm across the room. It's small, with a navy blue bunk bed against the far wall and a window that looks out to the side of the house. A sliding farm door covers the closet.
"Um, would make a nice office or den, probably," Whistler says in a hurry, grabbing Lucy's hand and turning to leave.
Lucy laughs but lets Whistler drag her upstairs. The master bedroom is predictably empty, but the other two are similarly decorated, each with a queen-sized bed. Lucy chooses the room without the pineapple-shaped wooden panel that says you had me at aloha hanging above the nightstand and throws herself onto the bed.
Whistler has the audacity to glance at her watch.
Lucy rolls over to one side and taps the empty space on the other.
Whistler fiddles stiffly with the sleeves of her blouse. She clears her throat. "I'm not doing this in what is still technically your parents' house."
"I'm not trying to get into your skirt," Lucy says, rolling her eyes. "Yet. Come lie with me for a bit."
Whistler remains hesitant, even as she lies down next to Lucy and stares up at the ceiling fan. Lucy finds Whistler's hand on the bed and pulls herself closer.
"Tell me what this room could be," Lucy requests.
"What it already is - a guest bedroom?"
Lucy frowns. "That's boring."
Whistler exaggerates a sigh. "Fine, a studio. It's never too late to learn a new skill."
"I have enough skills, thank you," Lucy replies politely, lifting Whistler's arm off the bed so she can tuck her head under it, curling up against Whistler's side, head on Whistler's shoulder.
Whistler's arm wraps around Lucy's torso, fingers splaying across Lucy's ribcage, and Lucy reaches over to play absently with the lapels of Whistler's blouse.
"This room could be converted to a nursery," Whistler says then, her hand flexing against Lucy's side.
Lucy tilts her head up to look at Whistler, who is steadfastly staring up at the ceiling. It feels like an opening.
"I guess we never really—and we probably should know that about each other if we're going to do this?" Lucy asks, words cryptic but intentions clear. She tucks her fingertips just under Whistler's blouse and rests them against her collarbone.
Whistler shifts, and Lucy can practically hear Whistler's heart thumping in her chest.
"Kids? No kids?" Lucy prompts softly when no response is forthcoming.
Whistler stiffens. "I don't think I have strong parental instincts. I've been told that I talk to kids like they're well-read adults, which people seem to find weird for some reason."
Lucy shrugs. "I think a lot of kids just want to be treated like little adults, so they probably appreciate it. Julie seems to think the world of you."
Whistler smiles. "Julie is a special kid." She swallows hard, squeezing Lucy's side, and Lucy waits, sliding her hand up to Whistler's cheek. Whistler takes a deep breath and leans into the touch. "Noah loved kids, and he was always really great with them. It took a bit of pressure off me, but now, I don't know. My parents never said a bad word about me dating women, but I don't think they really understand."
Lucy presses a kiss to Whistler's shoulder. "You can't live your life for other people, Whistler."
"I know," Whistler replies quietly. "I think we both had to learn that the hard way."
"Yeah." Lucy pushes herself up to her elbow, head propped. Her hand on Whistler's cheek applies light pressure until Whistler's eyes meet hers. "I think I want kids," Lucy says then. "Not right now, obviously, just... eventually."
Whistler pulls Lucy closer. Her chest rises and falls evenly with each breath as she watches her, eyes drifting across Lucy's features.
The silence stretches, and Lucy is about to break it with humorous deflection when Whistler says, "I don't want to be the strict mom."
Lucy grins. "You think between the two of us, anyone would believe I'm the strict one?"
Whistler returns the smile easily. "I think that you are very, very scary when you're mad."
"I'm not going to yell at our hypothetical kids, Whistler!" Lucy protests.
"Neither am I!" Whistler lets out a short laugh, cheeks flushing like she's remembering what they're bantering about. "But fine, I accept my fate."
Lucy brushes her knuckles against Whistler's heated cheeks. "I think you provide structure and guidance in a chaotic world, and I think any kids you mentor would be lucky to have that."
Whistler lifts herself enough to draw Lucy's lips to hers in a slow, reassuring kiss. Outside, the sky has darkened enough that they'll need a light soon, but inside, Lucy has never seen so clearly.
Whistler tugs gently at a curl of Lucy's hair when they pull apart. "How many do you want?"
"One at a time?" Lucy replies with a playful smile. "I think we'll know when we get there, don't you?"
Whistler laughs softly. "We're going to end up outnumbered, aren't we?"
Lucy curls into Whistler's body again. "I want as many kids as you're comfortable with, even if that number is zero. You know that, right? This isn't a deal breaker. We're just talking."
"Honestly," Whistler starts, her other hand draping over Lucy's hip, "I've never given it much thought because I've never been with anyone who I thought I would want that permanence with, until you."
Lucy touches the hand on her hip and squeezes. "We have time to figure it out," she reassures.
They lie together in silence, Lucy playing absently with Whistler's necklace, until the room is dark enough that Lucy can't make out Whistler's expression without being inches away from her face.
Lucy nudges Whistler just to make sure she's awake, and when Whistler hums in acknowledgment, Lucy asks, "Take me home?"
Whistler sits up, bringing Lucy with her. They slide off the edge of the bed, and Whistler pulls the side of the comforter, shaking out the wrinkles their bodies have created, then makes a half-hearted attempt to fluff the pillows.
In the darkness, Whistler finds Lucy's hand. "Let's get out of here."
The sun pouring through the bedroom window wakes Lucy, and she instinctively reaches toward the other side of the bed. She groans when she finds it empty, but the lingering heat under the covers suggests Whistler hasn't been up long. Lucy reluctantly gets out of bed and pads to her kitchen.
Whistler is making coffee. When she spots Lucy, she abandons the coffee machine and approaches, pulling Lucy into a tight hug.
"Morning," Whistler greets, pressing a kiss into Lucy's hair.
"Morning," Lucy replies sleepily. "You're up early for someone I kept up late last night."
"For fun reasons," Whistler reminds her. "And you're up just as early."
Lucy frowns. "Only because you weren't in bed, or I'd be between your legs right now."
"If that's a standing offer," Whistler says, pointing a thumb toward the bedroom, "I'm heading back right now."
Lucy grins. "Now I need coffee first."
Whistler immediately returns to the coffee machine to brew Lucy a cup. Lucy laughs and hops onto a bar stool, letting her feet dangle off the edge. Whistler brings her a mug of coffee a moment later, then returns to the coffee machine to wait for her own.
Lucy takes a sip, watching Whistler move about her kitchen, and she thinks she could get used to this.
Whistler, her own mug in hand, steps up to the counter and stands against the side opposite Lucy like she's doing it for her own protection, so they don't waste two perfectly fine cups of coffee before they're consumed.
"Thanks for being there yesterday," Lucy tells her between sips.
Whistler nods. "It was fun playing tour guide. I learned a lot about the history of Haleiwa when I was looking up records."
"What did you think of the house?" Lucy asks.
Whistler seems surprised by the question being directed at her. "It's really nice, obviously. A bit big for one, or even two people, but I don't share your distaste for the decor, and the waves looked amazing. Would love to go back out there with my surfboard."
Lucy cradles her mug in her hands, letting the heat turn her palms red. "Will you remind me of the conditions of accepting the house again?"
Whistler seems even more surprised by that one, but she pulls up her notes on her phone and starts to rattle off the facts. "You would take possession of it as soon as you and all your siblings sign the papers. Hannah and Ben have already signed theirs. I assume Oliver is waiting on your signal and would sign if you did."
Whistler glances up at Lucy like she's making a quick wellness check. Lucy motions for her to keep going.
"A very generous trust fund has been set up to handle the maintenance costs," Whistler continues, looking back down at her notes. "You can't sell or otherwise transfer the house for the first year, but after that, you're free to do whatever you wish, although the trust fund terminates the moment the property leaves your possession." Whistler glances at Lucy again. "It also has to be your primary residence for that year, though I spoke to someone from Legal, and they seemed unsure that part was enforceable, but also warned that it was probably enough to keep a motivated attorney breathing down your neck for a while."
"And if there's one thing my parents don't lack," Lucy says dryly, "it's an army of motivated attorneys."
Whistler nods. "The JD I've been interacting with over email seems very good at her job. I checked her credentials; they're highly impressive. Top of her class at Yale, clerked under a federal judge before being picked up by Big Oil." Whistler withers under the tired look Lucy gives her and clears her throat. "Not remotely the point. Um." She flushes and scrolls through her notes again. "There are also a few clauses about what happens if either party dies, but let's make sure those don't get triggered."
Lucy finishes her coffee, eyes fixed on the empty mug when she says, "Hannah called me a few days ago. She sounded sympathetic, but also seemed like she'd be mad at me for a while if I prevented her from getting her house." Lucy's hand reaches across the countertop, and Whistler meets her halfway, squeezing. "Money changes people, Kate. It changes relationships."
"I don't think it would change you," Whistler offers softly.
Lucy reaches up to wipe a tear away before it has a chance to roll down her cheek. "Would it change us?"
Whistler finally rounds the counter to stand next to Lucy, and she leans down to press a kiss to Lucy's awaiting lips.
"Not unless we let it," Whistler says, sincere.
Lucy studies Whistler for a moment, searching for answers she knows will only become clear with time and an effort to nurture this thing growing between them. With communication and transparency, like they're trying to do, this time around. Nothing is ever really certain, but this, this is a bet Lucy can take.
"Will you go over all the paperwork with me?" Lucy asks.
Whistler nods, springing into action, but Lucy stops her with a hand around her wrist and another dipping under her sleep shirt. Lucy slides off the bar stool and tugs Whistler toward the bedroom.
"After I make good on my promise."
Chapter 3: July
Lucy walks into the war room juggling a drink carrier and the autopsy report she'd just picked up from AFMES. She places both on the center table and hands out Jesse and Kai's drinks as she gets ready to talk about the cocktail of drugs that killed their victim.
Tennant walks in and grabs the last drink from the carrier. "Thanks, Lucy."
Ernie looks up from his screen in the corner. "Oh, hey, congrats on the new house, Luce."
Everyone's eyes turn to Lucy, mid-drink. She lowers her coffee cup, trying not to flinch under the scrutiny.
"How... do you know about that?"
"One of the alerts I have set up on you started going off a couple of weeks ago," Ernie explains. "I just figured you were busy settling in."
Lucy fixes Ernie with an incredulous look. "Excuse me, alerts?"
Ernie glances around the room. "I have them on all of you. Major financial transactions, vehicle registrations, lawsuits, marriage certificates..."
Jesse turns to Tennant. "Did you know about this, Boss?"
"I did not," Tennant replies slowly.
"I'm not spying on you," Ernie clarifies. "It's a matter of public record." He turns to Lucy and manages to look remorseful when he catches Lucy's discomfort. "I'm sorry, Luce. I didn't realize it was a secret."
"It's not," Lucy tells him, feeling everyone's eyes still on her, "but it's complicated. Family stuff."
"All right," Tennant says, mercifully pulling attention. "We can talk about our personal lives and the value of boundaries later." She gives Ernie a pointed look. "Now, what have you dug up on our suspects?"
Ernie nods, offering Lucy one more apologetic look before tapping away at his keyboard. Two mugshots appear on the big screen, and the team finally tears their eyes away to focus on the case, though Kai looks like he'll be exchanging some words with Ernie after this.
Lucy chugs some coffee and presses hard enough on the autopsy report to bend the corner of the folder.
The break room is empty when Lucy enters in search of some fruit and to check her messages before she leaves for the day. She leans against the island and crunches into an apple as she scrolls through her texts.
One new message from Whistler that reads, Driving range, Kiani's, shave ice?
Lucy grins, holding her apple in her mouth as she excitedly taps back, are we actually going to make it to the shave ice this time?
Three dots appear almost immediately, but after a long moment, they disappear again. Lucy takes another bite of her apple and reaches to type a follow-up when her phone vibrates with a call. She hits the answer button and brings it up to her ear.
"That wasn't my fault," Whistler says in lieu of a greeting.
"Using what gets me going against me is not your fault?" Lucy asks skeptically.
"Not when what gets you going is me just trying to exist peacefully," Whistler replies in amusement.
"Exist without rolling up your sleeves and unbuttoning your blouse!" Lucy protests.
Whistler's laugh is full of affection. "We live in Hawaii, Lucy. It gets hot."
Lucy hums, fighting the smile playing on her lips. "What are you wearing?"
"You can find out in," Whistler starts, and Lucy can practically see her checking her watch, "fifteen minutes?"
Jesse walks into the break room then and offers a nod of acknowledgment as he heads to the fridge. He pulls it open and peers inside but makes no effort to grab anything before closing it again. Lucy waits a beat to see if Jesse's just making a quick drive-by, but he pulls down a glass from the shelves and places it on the counter, then reopens the fridge.
And Lucy knows that they're not a secret anymore, or even pretending to be in front of her team, but some part of her still reflexively clamps up when she's talking to Whistler where people at work can hear her.
"That sounds great," Lucy hears herself saying into the phone, her customer service voice in full effect.
The silence at the other end stretches for a moment. "I'll come pick you up as soon as I'm done here," Whistler says, sounding unsure about the sudden shift in Lucy's tone.
"Sorry, force of habit," Lucy replies with her normal voice, eyeing Jesse as he pours himself a glass of orange juice and leans back against the counter to drink it. Lucy takes another bite of her apple, crunches on it loudly like it might get Jesse to leave. When he doesn't, Lucy says into her phone, "I'll be here. See you soon."
As soon as Lucy ends her call, Jesse puts down his glass and pushes himself off the counter, but he doesn't say anything, even as he studies Lucy like he wants to.
"What, Jesse?" Lucy asks impatiently.
Jesse holds up his hands defensively. "Nothing. Kai and I are heading out for a drink and we were wondering if you wanted to join, but seems you already have plans."
"Whistler's coming to pick me up," Lucy tells him, fighting to keep her tone casual against the feeling of saying something she shouldn't.
"Ah, date night," he says knowingly, a teasing glint in his eye. "Everything going good then? She's not doing whatever she did last time to tee you off so badly?"
Lucy feels herself flushing. She hadn't just been mad; she'd been hurt. But it doesn't feel like the time or place, and she suspects Jesse is leaving out that part on purpose to spare her feelings, so she just says, "Yeah, Jesse, things are good."
Jesse nods, taking a step closer and reaching out to pat Lucy's shoulder. "All the little old ladies in line at the coffee shop can finally be slow in peace."
Lucy punches Jesse lightly on the arm. "That was not because of Whistler."
Jesse grins. "Just a coincidence, I'm sure." He leans his hip against the island counter. "Listen, I know it's none of my business, but if you ever want to talk about your family stuff—"
"Jesse," Lucy cuts in gently. "I appreciate it, really, but I've got a handle on it. And Whistler—"
"Right, of course," Jesse says with an easy, unoffended nod. "You've got your girlfriend."
Lucy doesn't correct him, though the last vestige of doubt at the back of her mind whispers to her that she should, until they've officially given this a name.
The door to the break room opens, and Whistler walks in. She nods politely at Jesse.
"Whistler," Jesse greets. He glances at Lucy, then back at Whistler. "Let me get out of your hair. Enjoy your evening."
"Goodnight, Jesse," Lucy calls out after him. "Don't let Kai kick your ass at pool again!"
Jesse leaves the break room and tosses Lucy one last smile through the glass wall as he sets off to meet up with Kai.
Lucy turns her attention to Whistler. She's in a white blouse and a black pencil skirt, standard work attire for her, but Lucy hasn't seen Whistler for a few days, both busy with unrelated cases, so she takes a moment to shamelessly look Whistler up and down, paying special attention to the column of her neck, to the necklace resting against her collarbones. Lucy slides sideways to toss out her half-eaten apple without taking her eyes off Whistler.
She's pretty sure they're not making it to shave ice tonight.
"Is that what you're wearing to the driving range?" Lucy asks, instead of, how dare you be so hot?
Whistler takes a step closer. "Gym bag's in my car. I'll change when we get there."
Lucy closes the rest of the distance between them. "This is a good look for you," she tells her. "A classic, really. But you know where it would look even better?"
Whistler smirks, crossing her arms over her chest. "On your bedroom floor, I know," she replies with a short laugh. "Let the record show that I am once again trying to make it to shave ice."
Lucy grins. "Okay, okay! I'll make an attempt to behave, even if you have no business looking the way you do when I haven't seen you in three days."
Lucy starts to walk past Whistler toward the door, but Whistler finds her wrist, tugging until their bodies are just touching.
"You look—" Whistler gives her a very purposeful once-over that makes her stomach flip, then squeezes her wrist hard instead of finishing her thought.
"I don't think we're making it to shave ice tonight," Lucy says out loud.
"Solid chance we won't," Whistler agrees.
Lucy smiles. "Let's not waste any more time, then."
"It's the principle of it," Whistler is saying, a piece of Guava chicken hanging precariously from her plastic fork. "If I ordered a sandwich at a restaurant and someone handed me a hot dog, I'd be really confused."
Lucy scoops some macaroni salad into her mouth and tries not to get distracted by Whistler's fingers as they twirl her fork around. "But a sub is a sandwich," Lucy argues.
"Okay, does that mean a corndog is a sandwich?" Whistler asks, finally bringing her fork to her mouth.
"Now you're just making a mockery of this very serious topic," Lucy says playfully.
Whistler turns to Lucy and smiles, the evening breeze momentarily drifting across her hair. They're seated on the patio of the new house on opposite sofas, take-out boxes almost finished on their laps. They'd come here to watch the sunset, and only that, but then Whistler stands and stretches, her thin, lilac hoodie lifting to reveal a hint of skin across her abdomen. It's enough to catch Lucy's attention, and she pushes herself up, knees nearly knocking into the coffee table between them.
"Are you done with the—" Lucy motions at the closed take-out box Whistler has thrust to the sky in the midst of her stretching.
Whistler hands her box to Lucy, who steps inside to throw them into the plastic bag hanging off the cabinet door handle under the sink.
Whistler appears next to her in the kitchen, hands finding her hips to spin her around. The countertop digs into the back of Lucy's waist.
"Will you sit on the counter for me?" Whistler asks, tone polite but eyes challenging.
There's something in the way Whistler is looking at her that has Lucy's palms immediately pressing against the countertop. She boosts herself easily onto the surface, bringing her a few inches higher than Whistler.
Whistler parts Lucy's legs, hands sliding across the tops of her thighs, before nestling herself between them. Lucy hooks her ankles around the backs of Whistler's legs to keep her pinned.
Lucy's fingers thread through Whistler's hair, pulling her closer so she can kiss her. Whistler leans in eagerly, stretching up, and Lucy relishes in having the height advantage for once. Whistler's thumbs dip down, brushing over Lucy's inner thighs, and she twitches in response, squeezing.
Whistler pulls away. "It's a half-hour drive to yours, longer to mine, and there's a perfectly good bed upstairs," she reasons out loud. "Two, in fact."
Lucy leans down to kiss her again with renewed determination, hips seeking against Whistler's like she could will the clothing between them to disappear.
Whistler pulls away again, breathing heavily. "Lucy, I just need some verbal confirmation that it's okay to take you upstairs."
Lucy nods, unhooking her legs and nudging Whistler away just enough to hop off the counter. "A thirty-minute drive sounds too long, wouldn't you agree?"
"Definitely," Whistler says eagerly, her hand sliding over her own hip like she's looking for a pocket that doesn't exist on her leggings.
Lucy steadies Whistler's hand with her own and leads her upstairs to the room they hadn't deemed a potential nursery. Lucy plucks the decorative pineapple off the wall and tosses it into one of the drawers of the nightstand, slamming it shut a little louder than necessary.
Whistler presses Lucy down onto the bed, gently at first, then with urgency when Lucy starts pulling at her clothes.
The house feels like Lucy's in name only, but home? Home has started feeling like wherever Whistler is, hand on her shoulder, fingers in her hair.
Whistler is an early riser, and Lucy has mostly gotten used to waking up to an empty side of the bed on days off when she likes to sleep in like a normal human being and Whistler wants to get up at the crack of dawn to go for a five mile run like a psycho. But waking up alone in an unfamiliar room is jarring, and it takes Lucy a moment to figure out where she is.
Lucy sits up. She vaguely remembers Whistler pressing a kiss to her forehead in the early morning and leaving with a promise to return shortly. There's a fresh bath towel and a change of clothes at the foot of the bed that looks like it had been taken from Whistler's closet, so she must already be back.
Lucy scoops everything into her arms and heads to the closest bathroom. A basket with a bunch of bottles and Whistler's expensive hairdryer sits on the counter.
Lucy steps out of the bathroom and takes a few steps down the stairs until she can see Whistler in the kitchen through the railing bars, making what smells like pancakes. She's in a tank top and shorts, hair pulled back, and she's humming to herself.
"Hey," Lucy calls out.
Whistler startles, looking around until she spots Lucy near the top of the stairs. She smiles, visibly softening. "Morning."
Lucy points a thumb upstairs. "You didn't have to drive all the way home to get all this stuff for me."
Whistler shrugs one shoulder. "I needed to pick up a couple things for myself anyway, and I'm hoping having some amenities will convince you to stay a few more hours so I can hit the waves?"
Lucy grins. "The truth reveals itself!" she teases, clutching her chest dramatically. "My comfort is but secondary."
Whistler tucks her hands into the pockets of her shorts and smiles back easily. "Go shower. I'm preparing more bribes in the form of blueberry pancakes."
With that, Whistler disappears out of view to check on the stove, and Lucy takes the stairs back up. She slips into the shower with a selection of Whistler's shampoo and body wash.
Half an hour and a successful mediation between her curly hair and Whistler's hairdryer later, Lucy finds Whistler at the breakfast bar, newspaper spread out in front of her on the something-old reclaimed wood countertop, two paper coffee cups and a plate with a few pancake crumbs next to her.
Whistler looks up and smiles, motioning toward a small stack of pancakes warming on the stove. She slides one of the coffee cups toward Lucy.
"Coffee might be cold, sorry. I have a drip coffee machine I never use that I forgot to bring."
Lucy takes a sip of lukewarm coffee and walks up to the stove.
"The pancakes, however," Whistler starts saying.
Lucy plucks a few pancakes off the top of the stack and immediately regrets it when they start burning her fingertips. She practically throws them at the plate Whistler's set out next to the stove and brings her hand up to her mouth to blow on her heated skin.
"—might be hot."
Lucy scowls, bringing the plate of pancakes and a set of utensils around the breakfast bar and taking a seat next to Whistler, who hands her a bottle of syrup before reaching for her hand.
"Let me see."
Lucy holds out her hand palm side up. Her fingertips are still a bit red, and Whistler brings them to her lips to press a kiss against them.
"I'll put up a sign next time," Whistler tells her, leaning to press another kiss to Lucy's cheek. "Warning: contents on stovetop may be hot."
Lucy glares. "Your mockery is forgiven only because these smell incredible and I'm starving."
Whistler grins, returning to her paper. Lucy soaks her pancakes in syrup and cuts into the stack. She practically moans when she takes the first bite.
"Should I be jealous of the sounds these pancakes can pull out of you?" Whistler asks, stealing a glance.
"Do you want to try again later?" Lucy asks, covering her mouth as she chews. "Beat out a blueberry pancake?"
Whistler rolls her eyes, but she drops a hand on Lucy's thigh and squeezes with promise. Lucy tries not to react, even as her body lights up in anticipation.
Lucy finishes her plate, washing it down with cold-ish coffee and leans back in her stool, satiated. Whistler's hand is still warm on her lap.
Whistler folds her paper with her other hand and tucks it away neatly, turning her attention to Lucy.
"Have I convinced you to stay another hour or two?" Whistler asks.
"Go surf," Lucy instructs with a small smile. "I'm going to go around and strip off all the ugly beach decor."
Whistler presses a kiss to Lucy's lips before taking off upstairs to change. Lucy tidies up, careful to use a spatula to move the pancakes this time.
Lucy starts to walk around the ground floor, removing a plank of wood hanging off a piece of twine, the wood painted blue with RELAX across it in loopy white letters, then a carving of a pineapple sticking out of the opposite wall. She leaves both on the floor by the entrance.
The top shelf in the kitchen has a set of green letters that spell out ALOHA, and Lucy is trying to figure out how to reach them when Whistler walks up behind her, arms wrapping around her torso.
"Need a boost?" Whistler asks, breath warm and teasing against the shell of Lucy's ear.
Lucy elbows Whistler gently in the ribs to free herself, then makes a show of lifting herself onto the counter, climbing to her knees and sweeping the letters off the shelf and against her chest. She turns back to flash Whistler a triumphant smile, only then noticing that Whistler is in her bathing suit. Embarrassingly, Lucy stumbles, the letter she has clutched under her elbow tumbling to the floor.
Whistler laughs and leans down to pick it up. Lucy scrambles off the counter, flustered.
"I meant to do that," Lucy mumbles.
Whistler smirks, silently taking another letter from her. Lucy rearranges the three in her arm to make them easier to hold, then takes back the ones in Whistler's hands. She forces herself not to look at Whistler's distracting body as she walks past her to add the letters to the small pile near the entrance.
"Want some help with the decor?" Whistler asks from the kitchen.
Lucy doesn't say yes, but she doesn't say no, either. She's studying the large canvas print hanging above one of the solo sofas next to the front door. It's a black and white photo of what appears to be a group of friends in board shorts, each standing in front of a different decorative surfboard along the front gate. The photo had been edited to look vintage, but the length of the shorts and the hairstyles suggest it had been taken recently.
Whistler steps up beside her. Regrettably, she has pulled a white t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants over her bathing suit.
Lucy opens her mouth to tell her to go hit the waves, but Whistler cuts her off.
"I've already missed the early morning swell," Whistler tells her, shrugging. "Conditions won't be that good again until sundown."
Lucy studies Whistler for a moment. She's looking at the photo now, not with any real interest, but almost in an effort to give Lucy the time and space to respond.
Lucy takes a breath. "I just can't shake the feeling that any day now, my parents will barge in with a list of demands."
"Which you don't have to follow," Whistler points out gently. "They gave you the house, Lucy. There wasn't a stipulation that you have to do their bidding in exchange."
"But now they know that ultimatums involving my siblings work," Lucy argues, unable to tamp down her sudden, misdirected frustration. "You didn't have to grow up with them, Whistler. You have no idea what they're capable of."
Whistler stiffens, but she remains quiet, waiting.
"Being here makes me feel like I'm fourteen again," Lucy admits after a beat, "vying for my parents' attention, playing the mind games that pit my siblings and me against each other."
Whistler touches Lucy's forearm, hesitant like she's trying to avoid being the target of Lucy's anger again.
"I don't like who I was under their control," Lucy continues, "and I'm scared of slipping back into that person." Then, softly like she's afraid of breaking something fragile between them, "I don't want you to meet that person."
"You were young, Lucy," Whistler says, squeezing her arm.
"Not that young, the last time," Lucy tells her, pushing back a memory of her parents' last-ditch effort to keep her from moving to Hawaii and out of their grasp, and of the scorched earth she'd left back home when she did.
Lucy can feel Whistler's eyes on her now, and she turns to meet them, unsure what to expect. But Whistler's features are soft with understanding, and something about that softness makes Lucy want to confess all her deepest, darkest fears.
"You have resources now," Whistler reminds her then, "and an elite team of NCIS Special Agents who would do anything to protect you."
"You think I should loop in my team," Lucy states more than asks.
"I think it wouldn't hurt," Whistler suggests. "The more people know what's going on, the less power your parents have over you." Her fingertips slide down to Lucy's hand, searching. "Secrets have a way of snowballing."
Lucy doesn't pull away, but she can't stop herself from saying, "This isn't the same as you not telling me about Cara."
Whistler looks stricken. "I know, Lucy," she says quietly.
Lucy glances away for a moment, unable to meet the sudden flash of pain in Whistler's eyes. "That wasn't fair," Lucy acknowledges. "I'm sorry."
Whistler doesn't say anything, but she squeezes Lucy's hand in silent reassurance.
Lucy takes a breath and pivots. "But you're right. I should let my team in. They've always had my back."
Whistler finds Lucy's other hand, pulling until their bodies are facing. "And you have me."
"You have sway at the FBI," Lucy notes with a distracted nod.
"No, I meant—well, yes, obviously, that too, but—" Whistler takes a beat, like she's trying to figure out timing. "Never mind."
"Oh," Lucy says with realization, heavy in her chest. "Kate—"
"You have me," Whistler says again, "in whatever way you want that to mean."
Lucy offers a small smile. "Yesterday, in the break room, Jesse called you my girlfriend, and I didn't correct him."
Whistler's eyes are searching. "Do you think you should have?"
"No, we just haven't—" Lucy hesitates. "I don't want to make assumptions. Those hurt us last time, and I don't want to do that again."
"Back when I decided to stay in Hawaii," Whistler says, taking a deep, steadying breath that seems to run through the length of her entire body, "I had planned to take you out to dinner to tell you the news and to ask how you felt about putting a label on what we were doing." She looks down for a moment to gather her nerves. "I know we never made it there, and now isn't then, but—"
"What kind of label?" Lucy asks quietly, hearing her own heartbeat, steady, between them.
The corner of Whistler's lip tilts in a small, hopeful smile. "The kind that wouldn't have made you feel like you needed to correct Jesse."
Lucy blinks slowly up at her. "You wanted to be my girlfriend."
"Desperately," Whistler replies, flushing as she squeezes Lucy's hands. She tilts her head and lets out a soft, nervous laugh. "Still, now."
Lucy tugs on Whistler's hands until she leans down to meet her lips, and Lucy kisses her slowly, the warmth of Whistler's words hanging in the air around them.
Lucy pulls away first, just barely an inch. "Are you sure you don't want to keep being referred to as 'the woman I'm seeing'?" she teases, lips brushing.
Whistler's responding laugh is light, eyes creasing with delight, with relief. "Yes, Lucy, I'm very sure."
"Maybe you should serenade me again with Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend," Lucy tells her, trying to keep a straight face.
Whistler pulls back to laugh with her whole body, but then she leans back in to Lucy's ear and playfully sings, "Hey, hey, you, you!"
Lucy dissolves into laughter, hands reaching up to cup Whistler's warm, flushed cheeks. Whistler, Lucy's girlfriend Kate, leans down to kiss her again.
The bullpen is emptier than usual, Jesse and Kai having gone to check out their newest victim's home. Tennant's office door is open, and Lucy takes that as an invitation. She walks over and knocks against the metal frame. Tennant looks up from the form she's working through.
"Lucy. Come on in. Do we have an updated timeline?"
"Still working on it," Lucy tells her, closing the door behind herself.
Tennant eyes the closed door and puts down her pen.
Lucy takes a breath and tries not to fidget with her sleeves. "My parents are incredibly wealthy, powerful people in their neck of the woods."
"I know," Tennant says. "You were vetted when you joined NCIS."
Lucy nods. "A few weeks ago, they gifted me a house in Haleiwa, near 'Ehukai Beach Park."
"I took Alex and Julie there a few months ago. Beautiful area." Tennant pauses to study Lucy, and Lucy tries to make peace with the feeling of Tennant seeing right through her soul. "A bit of a drive from Pearl though."
Lucy forces a humorless laugh. "I don't think my commute was top of mind when they picked it."
"You think they have malicious intentions," Tennant assesses.
"I don't know," Lucy admits, "but they've had malicious intentions before, and someone reminded me that I have people now."
"Whistler," Tennant guesses.
Lucy feels her cheeks grow hot. "Yeah, Whistler." My girlfriend, she wants to add, but that seems unprofessional.
Tennant nods like she's heard Lucy's redacted addendum. "Thank you for sharing this with me." She watches Lucy for a moment. "Something else bothering you?"
"I just, uh, I'm trying to strike a balance." Lucy glances out the glass windows. "Of how much to tell the team."
Tennant stands up and circles her desk to stand in front of Lucy. "Do you know why I have an open-door policy at home?"
"Hopefully because you live in a crime-free neighborhood," Lucy says with a touch of deflection.
Tennant smiles a little at that. "Because people want to know that you'll make time and space for them."
Lucy's eyebrows knit together in thought.
"You don't owe anyone anything about your past, Lucy," Tennant continues gently, "but if you're asking me about balance, I've found it in keeping my doors open, and letting those closest to me see how I live my life."
"I'm usually a bit of an oversharer," Lucy admits with a short laugh. "But this—I just don't want anyone to see me any differently."
Tennant leans back against her desk. "Has anyone given you any indication that they would?"
Lucy glances at the bullpen again. "Not here."
"Don't let the wounds of your past dictate the decisions of your present," Tennant tells her.
Lucy takes in Tennant's words, and she wonders if that's what she's been doing and how many of her recent decisions she's subconsciously allowed her hurt past self make for her.
"I'm going to go see if Ernie's found anything on our victim's social media," Lucy announces after a moment, pointing a thumb over her shoulder. She takes a beat, then offers Tennant a grateful smile.
Tennant returns the smile easily. "Keep me updated. And Lucy? Whistler's right. You do have people now. Don't be afraid to lean on us."
Lucy nods. "Thanks, Boss."
Lucy slips out of Tennant's office and starts to head down to Ernie's lair to tell him about her house and to press him about those apparently legal alerts he has on the team. And maybe ask if he could extend one to keep an eye on her parents.
Lucy has people in her corner now, a whole bunch of them. If there's one thing her parents' wealth can't break, it's her team and the bonds she's carefully built with them over the last two and a half years.
Lucy squares her shoulders with renewed confidence as she badges into Ernie's office.
Chapter 4: August, part 1
Lucy probably is a charcuterie board person, given her fancy breakfast spread, but what's written is written. As always, thank you for reading! It is lovely to read your comments.
The giant charcuterie board in front of her is arranged beautifully, loaded with meats and cheeses and colorful tropical fruit, but Lucy frowns down at it.
"Are we charcuterie board people?" she calls out in the general direction of where she thinks Whistler might be.
Whistler pops her head around the corner. "What's wrong with a charcuterie board?"
"It's very, um." Lucy motions with her hands.
Whistler walks over and stands next to her, looking down at the board. "White?"
Lucy smiles. "I was going to say bougie, but it's true I've only ever been served them by white people."
Whistler sweeps Lucy's hair back to press a kiss to her neck. "I like pumpkin spiced lattes, too," she murmurs playfully.
"Pumpkin spiced lattes are tasty!"
Whistler plucks a grape off the bunch in the corner of the board and pops it into her mouth. "You'll come around to charcuterie boards too."
"It is nice to look at," Lucy concedes. "But if Tennant brings Julie, she's going to flay us alive."
Whistler presses a reassuring kiss into Lucy's hair. "I prepped a small vegan platter for her. It's in the fridge."
Lucy smiles up at Whistler. "Thank you for playing co-host."
"Anytime," Whistler replies, sliding her hand around Lucy's back to rest on her opposite hip. "Where are your car keys? I'm going to go pull our cars into the carport to make room for guests on the driveway."
"In my backpack by the door, front pocket," Lucy tells her. "Could you toss my bag and shoes into the closet, too, please?"
Whistler nods. "You got it."
Lucy grabs Whistler's arm when she starts to pull away and waits for Whistler to look back at her before saying, "I love you."
Whistler's smile is radiant as she leans in to meet Lucy in a soft kiss. "I love you too."
Lucy watches Whistler disappear around the corner and starts to set up the drinks. She's taking a page from Tennant's book. She figures if she has to keep this house for at least a year, she might as well let her team enjoy it with her.
When Whistler reenters a few minutes later, she has Kai with her, his arms piled high with tin foil containers. Whistler is holding a large photo frame, picture side facing her body. She's laughing about something he's just said, her cheeks rosy as she glances at Lucy like maybe it had been about her.
"Kai!" Lucy greets, abandoning the bottles of soda she'd been rearranging.
Whistler leans the photo frame against the wall and takes some containers off Kai's hands. Kai places the rest of them on the counter.
"My dad caught wind of your housewarming party," Kai explains. "I was just telling Whistler that he remembers the two of you fondly from that night at Tennant's."
Lucy pulls Kai into a tight hug. Kai's hands hover awkwardly a few inches off her back, like he isn't sure where exactly to put them. Finally, he taps her back gently a few times with one hand.
Lucy releases him. "Your invite included a spot for your dad."
"He's busy at the restaurant today." Kai looks back and forth between the two of them, folding one arm over the other. "And uh, just as a heads up, my dad is convinced that today is to celebrate the two of you moving in together, so don't be alarmed if he tries to extend his congratulations the next time you see him."
Lucy glances at Whistler. They've been spending an increasing number of nights at each other's homes. Lucy still has her apartment, but she's making sure to spend enough nights at the house just in case her parents are keeping tabs from a distance. She doesn't remember the last time she spent the night at the house without Whistler, so in a way, Kai's dad isn't far off.
Whistler is looking back at her like she's having the same realization.
After a beat of silence, Kai clears his throat and walks over to the framed photo Whistler had left against the wall. It's a gorgeous wide-angle shot of a mountainous side of Oahu, thick white clouds against the bright blue sky, lush greenery lining the base of the mountains, and the clearest blue-green water that almost convinces Lucy that the ocean could be something she'd one day like. The faint outline of a rainbow streaks across the landscape, the pop of color drawing Lucy's eyes.
"I know you said not to bring anything," Kai tells her, touching the nape of his neck with his palm, "but Whistler told me about you tossing all the touristy stuff that came with the house, so I figured you could use a replacement."
Lucy reaches out to touch the frame, turning to look at Kai with astonishment. "Did you take this?"
Kai smiles easily. "Jesse and I kayaked to Mokoli'i one day; I took this photo from there. It's Kualoa Point and the Ko'olau Mountain Range."
Lucy beams. "It's perfect, Kai. Thank you." She turns to Whistler. "Wall above the couch?"
"Your house," Whistler defers.
"You're here as much as I am," Lucy points out. "Not a complaint, just—" Nerves coil at the pit of her stomach. It suddenly feels like they're talking about more than where to hang a photo. Lucy tries for a small deflection. "I think it's at least earned you veto power."
Whistler's eyes are soft but searching. "I think it would look great above the couch," she says after a beat. "Kai, lend me a hand?"
Kai nods, and he and Whistler lift the frame and head toward the couch. Whistler offers a small smile and brushes Lucy's hand as she passes her, and that soothes a bit of Lucy's nerves.
There's a knock at the door. Lucy moves to answer it and finds Jesse on the other side with a gift bag in his hand, his seven-year-old son Jake glued to his leg, a Nintendo Switch clutched in his arms.
Lucy lets them in and greets Jesse with a hug, then leans down to ask Jake if he wants one as well. Jake shakes his head, but he holds out his hand in a fist, and Lucy bumps it happily. Jake flashes a wide, gap-toothed grin in response.
Jesse is smiling when Lucy stands back up. He hands her the gift bag.
"It's not much," he says as Lucy peers inside. "The kids wanted to get you something."
Lucy reaches into the bag and pulls out a die-cut metal sign in the shape of the state of Texas. The inside of the state is printed with a tiled pattern of Dallas Cowboys-related symbology - logos and helmets and the five Super Bowls they've won. The word Dallas and a navy blue five-pointed star are printed over the tiled background. A piece of thin rope has been attached across the top to allow for easy hanging.
Lucy holds it close to her chest. "I love it, thank you, even though you are a dirty Washington fan."
Jesse smiles, and Lucy moves to the nail on the nearby wall that used to house something pineapple-y. She stretches to her toes to hang up the metal plate, then takes a step back to admire it.
"Where are the girls?" Lucy asks.
"Heather took them to the spa," Jesse replies. "They'll pop by later."
"What, no spa day for you?" Kai asks as he approaches, motioning at Jesse's face. "You look like you could use a couple cucumber slices."
"All right," Jesse laughs, reaching over to clasp Kai's outstretched hand with his, pulling Kai close enough to slap his back with his other hand. "I moisturize and do those face masks that make you look like the Babadook. That's enough for me."
Kai crouches down to get eye-to-eye with Jake. "Hey, little man. Nice to see you again. What you got there?"
Jake tilts the screen of his Switch toward Kai.
Kai hesitates. "Is that a Gameboy...?"
Jake finally opens his mouth to ask, "What's a Gameboy?"
"That's what I've been saying!" Kai says, earning a laugh and an affectionate pat on the shoulder from Lucy.
Kai stands back up and turns to Jesse. "You bring your board?"
Jesse's eyes light up. "Obviously."
"Whistler?" Kai asks.
"Uh, yeah, mine's out back," Whistler replies, glancing at Lucy. Her surfboard hasn't left the back wall of Lucy's house in weeks, except when she takes it out to the water.
"All right!" Kai exclaims, more pumped than Lucy's ever seen him. "Tonight, we ride."
"Time to show us what you're made of, Whistler," Jesse says with a grin.
Lucy instinctively slides up to Whistler, wrapping her arm around her waist. Lucy can feel Whistler tensing for one moment before relaxing again and looping her arm over Lucy's shoulders.
"I've got a twenty that says she leaves you both in the dust," Lucy tells them, earning her a gentle warning squeeze on the shoulder, even as Whistler's smiling at her.
Jesse whistles. "I know better than to underestimate either of you, so I'll keep my money."
Lucy smiles up at Whistler and tamps down the urge to kiss her. Lucy's still following Whistler's lead on PDA at work and in front of colleagues, and Whistler's given every indication that she still wants to keep it mostly professional in the office, but she always eagerly makes up for it after, so Lucy tries to work around Whistler's comfort.
But to Lucy's surprise, Whistler leans down and presses a kiss to Lucy's cheek, near the corner of her mouth, still smiling as she pulls away, eyes warm with affection.
Jesse and Kai exchange a knowing grin.
Another knock at the door, and Lucy reluctantly tears herself away from Whistler to answer it. This time, it's Tennant with both her kids in tow. Julie bounds inside first, throwing her arms around Lucy in a hug that Lucy happily returns. Alex walks in next with a patented teenage "hey," but as soon as Jesse points out that it's the first time he's seeing him without his crutches, Alex beams.
Tennant takes up the rear, and after exchanging greetings with everyone and watching them scatter to socialize, she hands Lucy a bottle of champagne and a decorative piece of wood carved into the shape of the distinctive eight-pointed sun from the flag of the Philippines. Lucy tries not to get emotional, but she's sure her face is doing something when Tennant gingerly touches her arm.
"Did Whistler tell everyone about me tearing a path through the house and sparing no beachy decoration?" Lucy asks.
"Kai." Tennant smiles. "You have people, Lucy."
"Thank you," Lucy tells her, feeling the first prickle of tears. "For everything."
Tennant nods. "Thank you for all your hard work this year, and for the compassion you bring to every case. Don't lose that."
Lucy swallows against the lump forming in her throat. She's never had a mentor value or encourage her compassion the way Tennant does. She doesn't even realize how much she needs to hear it until Tennant says it.
"Can I get that in writing for my next performance review?" Lucy asks, deflecting in an effort not to cry in front of her boss.
Tennant smiles. "Don't lose that sense of humor, either."
"Hey, Boss!" Jesse calls out from somewhere behind Lucy. "Settle a bet for us?"
Tennant touches Lucy's arm again. "What do you think?" she asks, quietly enough so only Lucy can hear her. "Fastest swimmer? Highest jumper? Most pushups in one minute?
Lucy laughs. "I'm surprised they haven't tried to institute an annual NCIS combine."
"Don't give them any ideas," Tennant warns.
Lucy smiles and watches Tennant walk out to the patio to mediate. Lucy places the bottle of champagne on the dining table, then finds the nail on the wall where the aqua RELAX sign had been, replacing it with the sun Tennant had gifted her.
Whistler sidles up to her. "That's very pretty."
"And the Cowboys sign?" Lucy asks, turning to look at it on the opposite wall.
Whistler glances at it. "It's important to you, so I'll put up with the eye-sore," she teases.
Lucy smiles and leans closer, keeping her voice quiet when she says, "How about I pull out my Cowboys jersey and wear it and nothing else to bed? Would that help?"
Whistler hums. "It wouldn't hurt."
Lucy leans in even closer, heart pounding with what's at the tip of her tongue. Her lips brush Whistler's earlobe. "I've got a matching strap."
Whistler goes bright red. "Lucy," she admonishes, even as she licks her lips.
"Is that a no?" Lucy asks innocently, batting her eyelashes for effect.
Whistler glances nervously around the room. No one is paying any attention to them. "Let's revisit when your entire team and some of their children aren't in your house," she hisses.
Lucy grins. "Just wanted to jumpstart your imagination a little."
"Consider it jumpstarted," Whistler mutters.
A loud crash against the side wall has every adult in the house instantly on alert. Lucy's eyes snap to Tennant. She's motioning for Jesse and Kai to check it out from the back as she gathers the children inside. Lucy nudges Whistler and goes for the front door; she can feel Whistler trailing closely behind.
Lucy defers to her training. She keeps her back to the front wall of the house and trusts Whistler to cover her. Before she has a chance to peek around the corner, Jesse's voice rings out clearly.
Lucy breathes a sigh of relief and glances at Whistler before they both step around the corner. Ernie is standing next to what can only be described as a wagon of electronics.
"Sorry for the noise," Ernie says. "Lost my balance."
"How long have you been here?" Lucy asks as she approaches.
Ernie looks at his watch. "Twenty-three minutes. I've been doing a cursory sweep for bugs and setting up some security equipment outside."
"You didn't think to say hello to everyone first?" Kai asks.
"I thought everyone already knew I was here." Ernie looks around at them, clearly unimpressed. "You know, being highly-trained field agents and all."
Lucy, Jesse, and Kai all exchange looks.
"I'm almost done here," Ernie reassures them, as though that's what they're concerned about. "I'll join the festivities in ten minutes. Oh, and Lucy?" He reaches into his wagon to pull out a thick square frame. "This is for you."
Lucy takes it from him and turns it over. It's a shadowbox of a deconstructed Gameboy Color, the casing and all the internals laid out next to each other, arranged and labeled to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Lucy holds the frame under one arm and pulls Ernie into a hug with the other. "Thank you, for this and for the home security."
Ernie smiles when she lets go. "Of course, Luce."
Lucy holds the shadowbox above her head, facing Jesse and Kai. "This is a Gameboy!"
Kai leans closer to Jesse. "Is that—is that not what Jake was playing with?"
Lucy's jaw drops as she lowers the shadowbox. "How do you do your job with that level of attention to detail?"
Jesse laughs, throwing his arm over Kai's shoulders. "She's got a point, Holman. How do you do your job?"
Before Kai has a chance to respond, Julie appears around the corner and all but launches herself onto Ernie.
Tennant is a step behind. "Let's not bother Ernie when he's trying to get work done."
"I can help!" Julie peers into the wagon excitedly. "Right, Uncle E?"
"Mass-energy equivalence?" Ernie prompts.
"E equals MC squared!" Julie replies without missing a beat.
Julie scrunches up her face in concentration. "A squared plus B squared equals C squared, where C is the hypo—the hypoten—the long side of a right-angled triangle!"
"First law of thermodynamics?"
"The conservation of energy! Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another," Julie recites.
Ernie beams proudly and turns to Tennant. "I'll get her back in one piece."
Tennant nods. "Be good, Julie."
Everyone else heads back into the house. Whistler's hand finds Lucy's, but before they reenter the house, Whistler presses Lucy gently against the wall between the front door and the nearest window. Lucy looks up at the newly-installed camera over the porch.
"We're in a blindspot," Whistler whispers. "Already checked."
Lucy can faintly hear Ernie and Julie around the corner.
Whistler leans in to press a kiss to Lucy's neck, then her jaw. Whistler's breath is hot against Lucy's ear when she murmurs, "My hands under your jersey as I ride you."
Heat spikes suddenly between Lucy's thighs, her free hand involuntarily moving to grip Whistler's hip. Then, like a fever dream, Whistler pulls away, dark eyes fluttering once down the length of Lucy's body before she disappears inside.
Lucy presses her head back against the wall to catch her breath. The concept of throwing her whole body into the ocean to cool herself down suddenly doesn't seem like the worst idea.
"Kai, a little to the left," Alex instructs, looking down at the screen of the DSLR in his hands.
Kai takes a step to the left.
"Sorry, my left," Alex says, pointing a finger in the direction he wants Kai to move.
Gracie, who had just arrived with her mother and little sister, peers around Alex's arm. "It's not in focus."
Alex turns to look at her. "You want to do it?"
"Alex," Tennant warns the same moment Jesse says, "Gracie, give him some space."
Gracie raises her hands defensively and takes a step back. Alex returns his attention to the camera.
"Okay, ready? Three, two—Mom, don't look so serious."
"Just take the photo, Alex," Tennant says through her smile.
"Say cheese!" Julie pipes up.
The team is lined up against the wooden surfboards attached to the main gate, each standing in front of a different board. Kai had noticed the canvas print hanging near the entrance and suggested that they recreate it with the team. Whistler had hung back as Lucy bickered with Jesse over whether she should have to stand in front of the shortest surfboard or not. It hadn't been until Whistler had offered to take the photo that everyone had exchanged confused looks and Kai had silently but firmly positioned her in front of the empty surfboard between Tennant and Lucy.
The camera clicks again and again, Alex pressing the shutter button liberally.
Lucy poses properly for the first few, then she turns to smile at Whistler, reaching for her hand. Whistler threads her fingers easily through Lucy's as she smiles back.
The guests with kids start to clear out, first Jesse with a sleeping Jake over his shoulder, then Tennant, who offers Ernie a ride home. Lucy still isn't sure how he and his wagon had gotten here earlier, and at this point, she's too afraid to ask.
Kai stays a little longer, lounging on one of the sofas on the patio. Whistler is seated on the other one, nursing a bottle of beer. From the kitchen, Lucy can't make out what they're saying, but she hears Whistler laugh once in a while, and that's good enough for her.
Lucy loads and starts the dishwasher, just to give Kai and Whistler some time alone, but then Kai calls her name, and she walks back out to the patio.
Whistler reaches for her, and Lucy gravitates, taking a seat beside her, hip to hip. Whistler's cheeks are pink, warm to the touch when Lucy brushes her thumb across one. Whistler seems more relaxed with just Kai there, and Lucy chances a quick kiss to Whistler's bare shoulder. Whistler's hand slides to Lucy's lap.
Kai smiles at them. "The house is really nice, Lucy."
"Yeah, it is," Lucy says quietly.
Kai studies her for a moment. "Family stuff?"
"Family stuff," Lucy confirms, feeling Whistler's fingertips drifting over her thigh.
Kai nods. "I get that." He sits up and seems to think something over. "I left home at eighteen and thought I'd never come back."
"But you did," Lucy says, "for your dad."
"Yeah," Kai replies with a tight smile. "He was the reason I left, too."
"How did you forgive him?" Lucy asks. At Kai's responding silence, she adds quietly, "Have you forgiven him?"
"I'm figuring out how to be a son again. I guess that is a form of forgiveness." Kai studies Lucy for a moment. "I don't know what your parents did, Lucy, so I can't say whether it's forgivable. I made the decisions I had to then, but I'm not getting that time back."
Lucy doesn't say anything, but she offers him a small smile.
Kai pushes himself to his feet. "Anyway, I should head out."
Lucy and Whistler stand up and follow Kai through the house and out to the driveway. Lucy hugs him first, then he and Whistler look awkwardly at each other for a moment before she steps into his arms. Lucy grins proudly at them.
Kai pulls out of the driveway with a final wave, and Whistler moves to close the gate.
On her way back, Whistler walks with purpose, and the look she's giving Lucy makes Lucy's whole body flush. Whistler pushes Lucy into the blindspot next to the door, lips finding hers, and Lucy tangles her hands into Whistler's hair. Whistler kisses a little rougher than usual, but Lucy likes it, moaning softly when Whistler's leg slides between hers.
Whistler pulls away to drag her lips down to Lucy's jaw. "I've been thinking about doing that all day," she murmurs.
Whistler presses her leg firmly against Lucy, and Lucy throws her head back. Whistler immediately puts her mouth on the newly-exposed column of Lucy's neck.
"I can't believe after everyone goes home, I get to just be with you," Whistler says between kisses, intentions laid bare.
Lucy flushes, not knowing what to do with the sincerity in Whistler's words. She grinds down on Whistler's leg one more time, letting the currents of pleasure rush through her, before using all her remaining willpower to pull Whistler's head away from her neck.
"Inside," Lucy instructs.
Whistler complies eagerly, pulling Lucy into the house and making quick work of the sliding doors to the backyard. Lucy races her upstairs and to the master bedroom. They'd moved one of the furniture sets from another room into it after acknowledging the convenience of having an ensuite bathroom.
Lucy pushes Whistler down onto the bed and climbs on top of her.
"My jersey's at my apartment," Lucy says.
Whistler doesn't waste any time; she slips her hand into the front of Lucy's shorts, fingertips pressing. "Show me next time."
Lucy is doing the thankless job of putting dishes from the dishwasher back into the cabinets when Whistler places a set of keys on the kitchen counter next to her.
"These have been burning a hole in my bag for weeks," Whistler confesses.
Lucy slows her movements, but she doesn't say anything.
"This one is for my apartment door," Whistler continues, finger pressed to a silver key with a round head. "And this one is my mailbox." Brass with a square head. "This one will get you into the building." A flat, round key fob.
Lucy abandons the open dishwasher and starts to walk away. "Wait here."
Lucy finds her backpack in the closet near the entrance and digs around one of the inner pockets to pull out a set of keys of her own. She returns to Whistler, who's fiddling nervously with the keys on the counter. Lucy lays hers down next to Whistler's.
"Gate, front door, side door, that tiny shed thing in the back," Lucy says, pointing to each as she names them.
"You don't have to give me yours," Whistler insists quickly. "That wasn't my intention."
Lucy pushes the keys toward her. "I've been carrying these around since you begged to be my girlfriend last month."
Whistler fights a smile. "Begging is an exaggeration."
Lucy grins and gives her a skeptical look. "I don't know, you wanted it pretty badly."
"I did, but I don't beg," Whistler insists.
Lucy leans in. "You most definitely begged me to touch you last night."
"I was just asking politely," Whistler protests, cheeks tinting pink. She takes a beat, then, lowly, "You like it when I beg."
"I like being able to get you to let go," Lucy tells her, eyes flickering slowly over her features. "I like knowing that I'm the only one who gets to do it, now."
Whistler leans in to kiss Lucy, a lingering apology on her lips, and Lucy presses back with forgiveness.
The giant windows in Whistler's bedroom and the thin translucent material she has the audacity to call a curtain are not conducive to sleeping in, but this time, it's the buzzing of her phone on the nightstand that wakes Lucy up. She groans and slaps at the top of the nightstand until she locates the offending device. She tilts the screen at herself and squints at her lockscreen.
Two missed calls from Ernie, and a message from ten hours ago that just reads, Ali and Alma Tara just got on an overnight flight headed to Honolulu. They're landing at 0700.
Lucy checks the time. It's past 9. On a Saturday. Whistler goes surfing at her house on Saturday mornings.
Lucy sits up. Maybe her parents' first stop isn't her house. Maybe Whistler had been called into work. Maybe—
Lucy's phone vibrates, a text notification popping down from the top of the screen. It's Whistler, and her message is short enough that Lucy can read the whole thing without opening the app.
Lucy, your parents are here.
Chapter 5: August, part 2
The temptation to pull the siren and rush down the highway at dangerous speeds is strong, but Lucy's parents showing up in Hawaii does not constitute an emergency, and Lucy is not interested in abusing her badge to get to her destination ten minutes earlier when no one's life is at risk, even though the concept of Whistler meeting her parents for the first time without her there feels like something is at risk.
Whistler can handle herself, that much Lucy knows. Lucy had tried to call her, but she hadn't answered, only sending a follow-up text a minute later that read, I'm fine. Please drive safely.
Oliver would have warned her, if he knew, so it must either be a spontaneous trip or one carefully orchestrated to exclude anyone who might tip Lucy off. And her parents do not do spontaneity. Every step is calculated. Every option is considered and weighed against each other. Lucy relying on how she feels to guide her decisions has always been a point of contention for her parents.
Lucy dials Tennant and puts her through the car speakers.
"Lucy," Tennant answers. There's cheering in the background, and girls yelling. "Defense, Julie!"
"Sorry, I'll be quick," Lucy says. "My parents are in Hawaii."
Tennant takes a beat. "Do you need backup?"
"No, no, they're not dangerous. Well, jury's still out on that, but no, we—I don't need backup." Lucy swallows hard. "I just wanted to give you a heads up, in case I have to take some time off to deal with them."
"Take the time you need, Lucy," Tennant tells her. There's a roar in the background and the sound of a goal celebration. "Great shot, Leah! Nice assist, Sophie! Let's go, let's go!"
Lucy smiles. "I'll let you get back to it, Coach."
"Take care of yourself, and tell Whistler I said hi."
Lucy tamps down the urge to tell Tennant that Whistler's alone with her parents right now, actually, because it makes her feel a little bit insane, and because it's Tennant's day off too, and she obviously has more important things to worry about, like whether the Kahala Warriors are going to make the playoffs.
"I will," Lucy says instead. "Good luck with the match."
As soon as she hangs up, Lucy itches to call Whistler again. She wishes Whistler would just answer her phone and use it as an excuse to not talk to Lucy's parents, at least until Lucy's there and can steer the conversation away from hot button topics.
Lucy tries to remind herself again that Whistler can handle high-pressure situations. She's seen Whistler at inter-agency events, mingling with all sorts of difficult people, wearing her networking facade like a second skin. Whistler, gay disaster that she is, is also incredibly smart and charming. She won't be thrown off by entitlement; she's been dealing with that her whole career. Lucy almost hopes that DIA Officer Whistler makes a brief return.
Lucy turns onto her street, and she can feel her heart pounding.
An unfamiliar car is parked on the driveway, a modest-for-them Mercedes rental that immediately takes Lucy back to her childhood home, to peering into the windows of her father's luxury cars and trying not to get fingerprints on the doors. She loved going on rides with him as a child, and he loved taking her, until she started challenging his rules and they'd spend their rides arguing over what she was wearing and who she was seeing and how she was too smart to squander the opportunities that her parents' sacrifices had procured for her.
Lucy puts that all away. She has to face them as an equal, whatever that means when she's half living in a house that they'd paid for. Not by choice, but still. Her parents have always been very good at reminding her of what their money affords them, and that includes access to her.
Lucy pulls her car into the carport beside Whistler's and steps out. Instinctively, she follows her training, like she's walking up to a suspect's house instead of her own. She listens, tries to peer through the front windows, but the blinds are pulled down. She takes a deep breath to steady herself. Whistler doesn't deserve to be alone with her parents longer than she already has.
Lucy tries the door and finds it unlocked. She pushes in, and to her surprise, the sound of casual conversation reaches her ears.
"If you like space, the Alder Planetarium is a must-see," Whistler is saying. "Oldest one in the country, housed in a beautiful domed building."
"We'll have to put that on our list," Lucy's father, Ali, replies. "Our grandson wants to be an astronaut. Alma, show her a photo of Caleb."
Lucy's mother, Alma, pulls out her phone and after a couple taps, tilts it toward Whistler. "He's starting kindergarten in September," she boasts. "Already reading at a third-grade level."
"Lucy was an early reader too," Ali says with a hint of affection that makes Lucy's heart ache. "She had a bookshelf wall in her room, with one of those sliding ladders. We thought we could get rid of the ladder as she grew, but by the time she left for college, she still needed it to reach the top shelf."
The three of them exchange a fond laugh.
Lucy takes a few steps into the house. Whistler notices her first, then her parents. She kicks off her shoes and walks over, only looking at Whistler. Whistler's features are pleasant, personable, but Lucy can tell that she's tense underneath, fingernails digging into her palms. Lucy starts to reach for her, but Lucy's parents stand up and approach her.
Her father's jaw is set, serious, like he hadn't just been telling a funny anecdote about her, but her mother smiles at her like there aren't three years and several nasty screaming matches between them.
"Lucy," Alma says warmly, pulling Lucy into a tight hug.
Lucy doesn't hug her back. If that hurts Alma, she doesn't show it.
"Kate was just telling us what we should go see the next time we're in Chicago," Alma continues as she pulls away. Her hands stay on Lucy's arms. "Look at you, so grown."
"Mom," Lucy sighs, the shape of the word foreign to her lips, "what are you doing here?"
Ali clenches his jaw like he wants to say something but doesn't. Alma glances at him before turning back to Lucy with another smile.
"Your father is retiring," Alma explains. "There's going to be a big party at the beginning of next year, and—"
"Lucy, the whole family will be there," Alma reasons.
"I said no," Lucy reiterates, pulling out of her mother's grip. She takes a breath to quell her rising irritation. "I'm not going to stand around and pose for happy family photos in a frilly ballgown just so y'all can pretend like oil and gas is losing a devoted family man."
Ali's face turns red with anger, with embarrassment, but still, he says nothing.
Whistler steps up to Lucy and gently touches her forearm. Lucy flinches without meaning to and jerks away.
"Whistler, go home."
"Kate. Go home," Lucy repeats firmly. Whistler is looking at her with concern now, and Lucy softens. "Go home. I'll call you, I promise."
Whistler hesitates, but then she turns to Lucy's parents and smiles politely. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Tara."
"Pleasure's ours, Kate," Alma replies warmly.
Whistler gives Lucy one last look, and Lucy catches sight of Whistler's hands flexing at her sides, like she wants to reach out again. Lucy shakes her head, almost imperceptibly, and Whistler immediately tucks her hands into her pockets.
Lucy watches Whistler leave. She doesn't want her to be a witness to whatever this is about to be.
"Your colleague seems nice," Alma says once the front door closes.
"Do you mean my girlfriend?" Lucy asks pointedly.
Alma takes a beat. "She introduced herself as your colleague."
"Yeah, I wonder why she would ever conceal something like that from y'all," Lucy says, sarcasm dripping from her words, the pain of rejection still an open wound she carries.
Her father takes a step toward her, and the first thing he says to her in three years is, "Bring her. To the party."
Lucy shakes her head, fresh anger boiling at the pit of her stomach. "I'm not going to let you parade her around to all your bigwig friends as my—" She lifts her hands to air quote the last word. "—colleague."
"You can introduce her however you wish," Ali says calmly. He studies her for a moment. "This has never been about you being gay, Lucy."
Lucy bristles. It's the first time she's ever even heard her father say the word out loud. "Yes, I know, it was always about optics," she acknowledges. "About image, and appearances. But what difference does that make to the way I was expected to act? The person I was expected to be?"
Ali clenches his jaw. "It was a different time, and we were just trying to protect you."
"That's not an apology," Lucy points out. She waits a beat, but her parents remain silent. She nods, sounding too young when she asks, "Did you ever stop to think that what I needed wasn't protection, but reassurance?"
Lucy's parents exchange a look, and Alma takes a step toward her. Lucy automatically takes one back, wrapping her arms over herself, hands on her elbows.
"Congrats on your retirement," Lucy says without looking at them, "but I'm not coming."
"Lucy," Alma starts, "we flew all the way to Hawaii—"
"No one asked you to do that," Lucy cuts in. She looks up at them again, steeling her resolve. "You didn't support me when it was hard, and now you want to reap the rewards when it's easy? No. You don't get to do that."
"We did support you," Alma tries.
Lucy shakes her head. "Only when I was doing what you wanted me to do." She bites her lip and wills herself not to cry when she adds, words catching, "I really tried, Mom."
Tears start to well up in Alma's eyes, but she blinks them away just as quickly. For the first time in her life, Lucy sees her mother's age, the creases in her skin, the jet black dye covering her graying hair, and Lucy suddenly feels sorry for her because she's missed out on so much of Lucy's life.
"I can't be bought anymore," Lucy says then. "Take the house back. Tell Hannah I love her but I can't keep doing this for her."
"We're not here for the house," Ali replies stiffly.
"You're here for me," Lucy acknowledges, growing bolder. "But you can't have me. You don't deserve the person I am today, and you don't deserve to get to know Kate."
Lucy turns to leave.
"Where are you going?" Ali demands, and Lucy winces with the familiarity of those words, of the immediate, visceral reaction it triggers in her.
Lucy gives her parents one last look, trying to sound brave when she says, "I'm going home."
Lucy digs her house keys out of her backpack and leaves them on the dining room table before taking the front door out and getting into her car. She knows she's crying before she even leaves the driveway, but as soon as she pulls onto the street, she calls Whistler.
"Don't be mad," Whistler preempts when she answers, "but I didn't go home."
Lucy lets out a teary laugh. "Where are you?"
"Shark's Cove," Whistler answers. "I know, I know. I'm sorry. I just wanted to be close by if you needed to be bailed out." A beat. "You sound like you need to be bailed out."
Lucy wipes hastily at her cheeks. "I'm coming to you."
It's only a few minutes drive, but Whistler stays on the phone with her and talks to her about this family on the beach that she's been watching and the elaborate backstories she's invented for them. Lucy doesn't say much, but she knows Whistler isn't expecting her to, and Lucy loves her a little more for that.
Whistler drops her a pin of where she's parked, and Lucy pulls up to it, immediately feeling a bit better the moment she sees Whistler leaning against the side of her car. Oxytocin tricking the brain, Ernie had told her once, but if that means she gets to keep feeling the way she feels when Whistler smiles at her, or laughs at something she's said, or touches her, she'll happily let oxytocin dictate her entire life.
Lucy pulls into the empty spot next to Whistler and cuts off the engine. She unbuckles and steps out, and Whistler's already waiting for her with open arms. Lucy sags into them and breathes a sigh of relief as Whistler hugs her tight and presses a kiss to her temple.
"I'm proud of you," Whistler murmurs.
Lucy lets out a muffled laugh against Whistler's chest. She lifts her head. "You don't even know what happened."
"I don't have to," Whistler says easily, sliding her hands up to cup Lucy's cheeks. "I'm proud of you for doing the best you could with what you know and what you have."
Lucy stretches, reaching up to press her lips to Whistler's, once, softly. She tries to commit the warmth of Whistler's skin to memory.
"Since we're already here, you want to have a beach day with me?" Whistler asks, a hint of teasing decorating her words.
Lucy shivers. "Absolutely not."
Whistler smiles. "Worth a try."
Lucy trails her fingertips over Whistler's jaw. "Let's go home?"
Whistler studies her for a moment, like she's trying to figure something out.
"Your apartment," Lucy clarifies. "Or mine. I think I gave my beach house back."
"It was too close to the ocean anyway," Whistler says lightheartedly.
Lucy laughs softly. "It was!"
Whistler kisses her again, and this time, Lucy backs Whistler into the side of her car, pressing with more heat, more urgency. Whistler's hands roll over Lucy's shoulders, down her sides, gripping.
Lucy reluctantly pulls away and makes a motion to get back into her car, but Whistler stops her.
"Hey, before we go," Whistler says, a little hesitant. Her eyes drift quickly over Lucy's features. "I just—It didn't feel good being kicked out of your house today."
Lucy frowns. "I didn't—"
"Let me finish," Whistler requests gently. When Lucy looks at her in wait, Whistler takes a breath. "It's your house and your family, I get that. And sometimes, things need to be handled alone, I get that too. But I don't think I did anything to warrant being asked to leave like that."
"No, you didn't," Lucy agrees, chest aching with the hurt she's inflicted. "I'm sorry, Kate." She takes a breath and searches Whistler for understanding. "This is what I meant about who I become around them. This is who I didn't want you to see."
"I'm here for the messy parts, too," Whistler reassures. "But sometimes the messy parts hurt our feelings, and I want to be honest about that, now."
Lucy nods. "I can do better."
"I know what it's like," Whistler continues gently, "saying things you don't mean out of fear."
Lucy reaches over to briefly touch Whistler's forearm, her wrist. Whistler steps closer to brush her hand over Lucy's cheek and press a quick, comforting kiss to Lucy's forehead.
"Thank you for staying nearby," Lucy murmurs, rolling to her toes to meet Whistler's lips. "And thank you, for entertaining my parents for what must've been almost an hour."
"They weren't what I was expecting," Whistler admits. She gives Lucy a moment to change the subject, and when she doesn't, Whistler continues, "The first thing your father asked me was how you were."
"What did you tell him?" Lucy asks cautiously.
"The truth. That you were doing really well. That people loved you and respected you and supported you." Whistler offers a small, steady smile. "He seemed relieved to hear it."
Lucy looks away, but her hand seeks Whistler's. Whistler squeezes, anchoring. Lucy takes a deep breath.
"I was always his favorite growing up," Lucy says, keeping her gaze on the beach, on faceless strangers. "I knew it. My siblings knew it. He loved them, but—"
"You were the youngest," Whistler supplies gently.
Lucy nods. "He had big, big plans for my life. Both my parents did. I didn't want those things. They saw that as a deep-seated betrayal."
Whistler touches Lucy's wrist with reassurance and waits.
"They both came to this country as teenagers," Lucy continues. "They worked hard, and did well for themselves, and that gave them a very narrow definition of success, and of the steps needed to get there." She finally turns back to look at Whistler. "Kissing girls and running off to play Navy cop weren't part of those steps."
"Do you think," Whistler broaches, "that there's any possibility they're here because they want to make amends?"
Lucy's response is immediate and firm. "No. There's no way."
Whistler nods and says nothing more, her thumb brushing soothing circles over Lucy's open palm. But the way Whistler had asked makes Lucy curious, and deep down, a tiny bit hopeful.
"Did they say something?" Lucy asks, failing to keep her tone neutral.
Whistler takes a moment before answering, tentative as she searches for the right words. "I won't claim to know or understand your parents the way you do," she starts. "But I sat with them for an hour, and the way they talked about you, Lucy—I just don't think they took an eight-hour red-eye only to invite you to a retirement party that they know you don't want to go to."
"I'm sure they flew private," Lucy deflects. "They probably slept like babies on the plane."
Whistler's lips press together. She offers Lucy another moment.
Lucy sighs. "You think I should give them another chance."
"I think you know them best," Whistler replies gently. "I'll follow your lead. I'm just telling you what I saw in case it helps inform your decision."
Lucy looks down at their joined hands, at Whistler's thumb fluttering over her skin. She wants to believe that Whistler's right, that her parents, entering a new stage of life, have turned over a new leaf. She hadn't exactly let them say much earlier.
"Maybe we can start with dinner." Lucy squeezes Whistler's hand, pinning her thumb, before looking back up. "Maybe tonight? Will you come with me?"
Whistler nods, and the soft look she's giving her makes Lucy think that she would go with her anywhere.
Lucy pulls her phone out of her back pocket and scrolls through her contacts until she finds her mother's number. She tilts her screen so Whistler can watch her type out, Kate convinced me to give y'all another chance. Dinner tonight, details to follow.
Whistler presses a kiss to Lucy's hair, and Lucy hits send, then tucks her phone away. She allows herself a tiny glimmer of hope.
Whistler turns to head back to her car. "By the way," she says over her shoulder, "I don't think your mom was convinced when I told them I was your colleague."
Lucy pulls open her own car door. "Oh, the first thing I told them after you left was that we were dating. Like I'd pass up an opportunity to brag about my hot, charming girlfriend."
Whistler smiles before disappearing into her car. Lucy does the same and follows Whistler out onto the street. At the first red light, Lucy's phone lights up with a call from Whistler.
"It's a long drive," Whistler tells her when she answers. "And I haven't finished telling you about the torrid love affair between the two moms I saw hanging out together on the beach."
Lucy laughs. "I can't believe I'm in love with a weirdo."
Whistler's responding laugh is soft, affectionate. "I'm in love with someone who thinks hot dogs are sandwiches, so we all make mistakes." She clears her throat. "So, about Anna and Evelyn..."
Lucy grins and listens to Whistler concoct an epic love story between these two women she's invented and thinks about how it doesn't hold a candle to their own.
The fancy Japanese restaurant that Whistler had picked seems to appease Lucy's parents, as much as having to share a dining experience with strangers within earshot could appease them. Lucy feels a lot better too, away from being shaken awake with the unwelcome surprise of her parents being on the island, in her house, interacting with her girlfriend. Lucy's had the afternoon to process, and to be reassured that Whistler hadn't been scared off by what she'd witnessed.
They've been making idle chit-chat for a while as they wait for their food, and Lucy hasn't felt the urge to bolt. Yet. Whistler looking absolutely stunning in a modest midnight blue dress and her hair lightly curled over her shoulders? Well, that doesn't hurt, either.
Alma takes a sip of wine. "So did the two of you meet at work?"
"Uh," Whistler says, glancing quickly at Lucy.
"We met at a bar," Lucy tells her parents, "a little over two years ago."
Whistler nods. "Six months before I moved here."
"A lesbian bar?" Alma asks, very seriously, and Whistler almost loses the sip of drink she'd just taken.
"No, Mom, like a—just a bar." Lucy fixes her mother with a warning look. "They let the gays into most public establishments now."
Alma looks mildly offended at the implication. "Yes, Lucy, I know that."
Ali clears his throat and turns to address Whistler. "So you met my daughter on a trip and decided to move here for her?"
"No, Sir," Whistler replies, smiling pleasantly. "But that would've made a better story. I was transferred here for work. I had no idea we'd be working together."
Alma tuts. "What is this 'sir' business? Please, it's Ali and Alma."
Whistler smiles politely in acknowledgment.
Ali's eyebrows knit together in confusion. "How long have y'all been together then?"
Whistler glances at Lucy again.
"All right, what's with the interrogation?" Lucy asks.
"We're just trying to get to know you and Kate better." Ali looks between the two of them for a moment. "Should be an easy question, no? Your mother and I will have been together for forty-two years in November."
Lucy opens her mouth to argue back, but Whistler's hand finds her thigh, placating.
"We've been together for a few months," Whistler says, "but if I may be candid, I have cared very deeply for your daughter for much longer."
Ali seems satisfied with that answer. Lucy can sense herself glowing as she smiles warmly at Whistler, who smiles back, the hand on Lucy's thigh squeezing lightly.
Their food arrives, and conversation slows down, attention turning to the assortment of colorful seafood on their plates. Ali mentions something he'd read in the paper about the Hawaiian fishing industry, which causes Whistler to launch into an impassioned speech about the historical and cultural importance of fishing in Oahu. A debate ensues between the two of them about the sustainability of fishing tourism, the dangers of pollution and overfishing, and eventually, even touching upon the environmental harms of oil and gas extraction, which, to Lucy's surprise, her father navigates without growing noticeably angry.
Ali seems to enjoy being challenged by Whistler, which spurs a brief pang of irrational jealousy in Lucy, that there's this clean slate between them that she'll never have with him.
After all the plates have been cleared and Lucy's spooning up the last bit of her matcha creme brulee, Whistler excuses herself to use the washroom, giving Lucy a pointed look as she gets up.
"I like her," Ali announces once Whistler's out of earshot. "Good head on her shoulders, and quick on her feet. She seems eager to build a life with you."
Lucy can't help herself. "Ironic how I finally get your approval when I don't need or want it anymore."
Instead of berating her, Alma reaches across the table and touches her forearm.
Lucy takes a deep breath and tries to remember Whistler's calming hand on her thigh. She tries again.
"Do you know why I'm sitting here right now?" Lucy asks them. She doesn't wait for a response. "Kate saw something in you, in the hour that she spent with you. She thought you wanted to make amends, and I trusted her judgment."
"We do want to make amends," Alma says quietly.
"The house," Ali explains, "and—"
Lucy flinches. "I don't need a house, Baba, and if you don't get that, then what are we doing here?"
Ali sounds resigned when he asks, "What do you need, Lucy?"
The backs of her eyelids burn with tears, and she blinks them away. "Acknowledgment that you hurt me profoundly? A sincere apology? A promise to do better?"
Alma's hand loosens around Lucy's forearm like she'd asked them to do something impossible. Lucy pulls away.
"Do you still think this—" Lucy motions at the space between them. "—is my fault?"
Her parents exchange a look, and Alma tries for Lucy's arm again.
"Yes or no question," Lucy prompts, dropping her hands under the table and out of reach.
The silence that follows is immensely uncomfortable.
Whistler returns from the bathroom a minute later and slides back into her seat. She takes one look at Lucy and immediately bristles with concern.
Lucy looks up at her. "Can we go home?"
Whistler nods tersely. "Yeah, let me just get the bill, and—"
"We've got it covered," Ali tells her.
Whistler ignores him. "Actually, I have some cash." She digs into her bag for her wallet, then pulls out some fifties. She drops them on the table and takes Lucy's hand as they stand to leave.
"Kate," Ali tries.
Whistler finally looks across the table. "I hope your pride was worth losing your daughter over, Sir," she says scathingly.
Lucy lets Whistler lead her out of the restaurant. She doesn't look back.
The drive to Whistler's apartment is quiet, and Lucy spends most of it with her head against the passenger side window as music plays softly from the car speakers.
Whistler doesn't say much, only asking where Lucy wants to go before safely getting them to their destination. She holds Lucy's hand in the elevator ride up, pulling her close to press a firm kiss into her hair. Lucy squeezes her hand in response.
Once inside the apartment, Whistler heads to the kitchen.
"I'm sorry I vouched for them," Whistler says quietly as she takes her water pitcher out of her fridge.
Lucy shakes her head. "Don't apologize. I don't doubt what you saw."
Whistler places two glasses of water on the counter. "You want something stronger?"
Lucy shakes her head again and hollowly takes a sip of water. "Can we put on one of those World War II documentaries you like and make out for a bit?" she asks, wincing at the lack of enthusiasm in her voice. She just wants to feel something that isn't this.
Whistler's forehead creases with concern. She's gentle when she says, "Lucy, I don't think that's a good idea."
Lucy shrugs and takes her glass with her out to the balcony and sinks down into one of the seats. Whistler joins her a few minutes later, having changed out of her dress and into shorts and a hoodie. She's pulling nervously at her sleeves.
"Can I sit with you?" Whistler asks, motioning at Lucy's chair.
Lucy shifts to the edge of the seat, leaving space for Whistler on the other half. Whistler squeezes in, and it's a tight fit, but Lucy drapes her legs loosely over Whistler's and drops her head to Whistler's collar. Whistler's arm wraps around Lucy's torso, her hand coming to rest at her waist as she presses a kiss to Lucy's temple.
They sit quietly for hours, and Whistler, who had been up since before the crack of dawn, makes a valiant effort to stay up with Lucy, but when she offers to refill their glasses and Lucy catches her trying to start the coffee machine at two in the morning, she corrals her to bed.
Lucy sits out on the balcony by herself for a bit longer, listening to the ocean waves and thinking about how close she'd gotten with her parents. She mourns the relationship Whistler could've had with them, that she herself could've had with them, if they'd shown her even an ounce of sincerity and willingness to reflect on their actions.
She doesn't need them, but sometimes, she just misses them.
Lucy makes her way to the bedroom and enters quietly. Whistler is already asleep, and Lucy tries not to wake her as she undresses and climbs under the covers. But Whistler has always been a light sleeper, and she stirs, eyes blinking open.
"Sorry, go back to sleep."
Whistler murmurs something unintelligible and slides closer, long limbs pulling Lucy's body against hers until Lucy's back is against her chest. Whistler's skin is warm to the touch, and Lucy presses her palm against the arm Whistler has draped over her torso.
Whistler brushes her thumb over the hem of Lucy's shirt. "Are you okay?"
"I don't want to talk," Lucy says quietly.
Whistler's lips brush her shoulder. "Okay. I love you, and I'm sorry."
Lucy listens to Whistler's breathing until it turns slow and shallow, but her grip around Lucy remains strong, and Lucy lets that anchor her into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 6: September
Special thank you to Kay for the quick turnaround so I could stay on schedule after I panic dropped her a new draft at 2am last night.
And to Louie, who has had to listen to me say the phrase "chapter 6 edits" more times than any one person ever should.
Tennant offers Lucy a few days off, but Lucy refuses to take them. She dives head-first into work, distracting herself with her open cases, staying late in the office and dodging Tennant's looks of disapproval and Jesse and Kai's glances of worry.
Lucy starts sleeping in her own apartment again, without extending an invitation to Whistler, who has been extra cautious around her since dinner with her parents. She doesn't know how to tell Whistler to knock it off without having to actually talk to her about what happened, so... The long hours. Volunteering for nightwatch. Quick goodbye pecks in the parking lot. Reaching over in the middle of the night and finding only cool sheets.
But Whistler has her own cases, her own life, and a night apart stretches to a week, then two. Still, Whistler calls her most evenings before bed just to unwind and catch up. Some nights, they talk for hours, giggling like teenagers under the covers; others, one or both of them are exhausted, so they exchange tired goodnights and I love yous and annoyingly bicker over who hangs up first. On the nights when Whistler doesn't call, Lucy tries to reason with the anxiety at the pit of her stomach as it keeps her awake, her mind spinning images of where Whistler is, and of who she's with.
Whistler's done everything to keep her promise of doing it right this time, but the scar of standing at Whistler's doorstep, of feeling like a stranger, runs deep, and in Lucy's darkest moments, she lets that memory consume her.
Lucy's pretty sure she needs to book her annual psych eval.
There's a two-week-old text on Lucy's phone from her mother that hasn't been responded to, informing her that they're returning to Dallas and that they'd left her house keys in a combination lock box attached to the inside of the gate, along with the four-digit code that would get her into it. Lucy doesn't really want to go back to the house, but at the very least, she has to go and move out her stuff, and all of Whistler's stuff, too.
So she invites Whistler to the house to help pack all their stuff up, making plans to meet up after work on a Friday and drive there together. Lucy's team seems relieved when she gets up to pack her backpack before sundown.
Lucy makes the drive to the FBI field office and waits in the parking lot by Whistler's car, but she doesn't have to wait long. Whistler approaches with purpose, digging into her bag distractedly before she looks up and slows as she sees Lucy. A lot of things are different now, but the way Whistler is looking at her is the same, eyes soft, curious, and Lucy tingles with the memory of joking about working in the love department, of touching the side of Whistler's face, of asking if she wanted to grab a beer.
Lucy still considers the step that Whistler had taken toward her right before she kissed her that night to be the moment she knew that she'd chase this feeling forever.
The Whistler in front of her now is smiling. "Daydreaming about your other girlfriend?" she teases, and to her credit, she seems to regret saying it the moment the words leave her mouth.
Lucy rolls right over it, tucking away the twinge of discomfort at Whistler's careless joke. "Daydreaming about the the end of the Kayla Barlow case," she admits.
Recognition flickers across Whistler's features. "Ah, yes, my brief stint in the department of distraught husbands."
Lucy smiles. "I'm surprised they didn't promote you to head of the department after what you did."
Whistler laughs. "Maybe I turned it down to come make eyes at a certain NCIS Special Agent who was waiting for me in the parking lot." She fixes Lucy with a small smile. "You could've just come inside and asked for me, you know."
Lucy shrugs playfully. "I don't think you would've kissed me in the middle of the DIA office, so I stand firmly by my decision."
Whistler takes a step closer, and still now, Lucy's stomach flips in anticipation as Whistler glances at her lips. The kiss, when it comes, is softer than Lucy wants after barely having touched Whistler for two weeks, but Whistler smiles into the kiss, and Lucy lets the fluttery feeling in her chest carry her.
When Whistler starts to pull away, Lucy can feel herself rolling to her toes, chasing.
"Let's, uh, let's go pack some boxes," Whistler reminds her, eyes dark like Lucy isn't the only one affected. "I have a stack of collapsible bins in my trunk that I borrowed from IT."
Lucy takes a step back, turning to give the passenger side door of Whistler's car a tug. It swings open. "Borrowed from IT," Lucy asks over her shoulder, "or borrowed from Wallace from IT after you batted your eyelashes at him?"
Whistler rolls her eyes as she walks around to the other side of her car. They climb in, their doors closing in unison. Whistler turns to Lucy as she starts the engine and gets her hand on the gearshift.
"Wallace was off today," Whistler tells her, "but if you think he's the only one in that department who can be persuaded to help me out, you'd be sorely mistaken."
Something about Whistler's confidence and the way she manipulates the gearshift as she pulls out of the parking spot has Lucy squeezing her thighs together.
The combination lock box is exactly where Lucy's mother had indicated, and Lucy punches in the code and removes the house keys from it. Whistler is holding hers in her hand.
Lucy unlocks the front door and steps inside, and despite the bad circumstances under which she'd left the house the last time, it still feels a bit like coming home.
Lucy takes a few steps in, and she can feel Whistler shadowing her.
She looks around at the decorations on the wall that her team had gifted her, the photo of all of their smiling faces lined up in front of the gate, and all the little things - the fleece blanket on the couch that they curl under on chilly nights, the two matching coffee mugs that always seem to be on the breakfast bar, an old threadbare hoodie hanging off the back of a dining chair that Lucy had pilfered from Whistler's closet.
She touches the hoodie as she passes it.
There's a manila envelope on the dining table addressed to her. She starts to pull out the stack of papers inside and catches a glimpse of law firm letterhead. Lucy clenches her jaw and abandons the half-opened packet on the table, moving to the kitchen to appraise how many bins she'll need to get all the kitchenware packed away.
"Can I take a look through this?" Whistler asks.
"Be my guest," Lucy replies.
Lucy pulls open a cupboard and looks up at the dishware stored inside. Half of it belongs to Whistler, and Lucy suddenly hates the idea of having to split everything up into separate bins and taking them back to separate apartments. She closes the cupboard again and tries the drawers. When that proves to not be any different, she moves to clean out the old groceries from the fridge instead.
"Lucy," Whistler calls out, "there's a letter here for you."
Lucy walks back to Whistler, who has taken a seat at the dining table, documents spread out in front of her. As Lucy approaches, Whistler slides a small white envelope toward her. Lucy's name is written on the front in her father's handwriting. She looks at Whistler.
Without another word, Lucy opens the envelope and unfolds the sheet of paper inside.
When you were five, you told your mother and me that you wanted to be a firefighter. We put you in the costume for Halloween, but we made it clear that it wasn't a viable career path for you.
When you were nine, you wanted to be a spy. I'm not sure you knew what that actually entailed, but you wore a black trench coat for three months in the Texas heat. Again, we explained that while some people did grow up to be spies, you would not be doing that.
In middle school, you came home excited one day because a guest speaker talked to your class about forensic science, and that was what you wanted to do. I raised my voice.
After that, you stopped telling us what you wanted to be.
I'm sure you would have made a fine firefighter, or spy, or forensic scientist, just as you have made yourself a fine NCIS agent, in spite of our actions.
I regret the way dinner ended. Please extend that sentiment to Kate, who was nothing but lovely to us. That she didn't hesitate to defend you brings me some peace, knowing you have someone like that in your corner.
I am still working on what she said about me. I hope the attached documents can serve as a start rather than an end.
The letter is unsigned. Lucy doesn't realize she's crying until a tear drops down onto the paper. She folds it back into the envelope and wipes at her cheeks.
Whistler is watching her when she looks up, but before Whistler has a chance to say anything, Lucy motions at the documents on the table.
"What—" Lucy takes a steadying breath. "What's all this about?"
Whistler hesitantly turns back to the papers spread out in front of her. "I haven't finished reading all of it yet, but from what I can tell, it's an amendment to what you signed to get the house," Whistler tells her, flipping through a few sheets. "Your parents are waiving all the extra conditions. You can sell the house, gift it, burn it—well, maybe not that last one. Please don't get arrested for arson."
Lucy tries and mostly fails to muster up a smile.
Whistler clears her throat. "They've already signed it," she continues. "You'd just have to do the same and get it notarized, and then you're free to do whatever you want without it impacting your siblings."
Lucy nods, blinking back fresh tears.
Whistler stands up and takes a few steps toward Lucy, scooping her into a tight hug. Lucy buries her face against Whistler's chest and lets out a muffled sob. Whistler runs her hand up and down Lucy's back as she cries out of relief, out of confusion, out of frustration that the apology she wants so desperately from her parents simply may never come in the format she wants it to.
Lucy cries, too, for the lurking insecurities she struggles to shake. That despite Whistler being steady and patient and so present this time around, Lucy still has voices in her head asking ugly questions and supplying uglier answers.
They've never really talked about what happened - Cara, or the months after - in any meaningful way, because grand gestures have a way of masking over hurt feelings, and Lucy had wanted desperately to ride the high of reconciliation as far as it would take her.
It appears it would only take her as far as here, now, in a house she's somewhat managed to make a home. A house with apparently no more strings. She doesn't know if she trusts that.
She doesn't know if she trusts anything.
Whistler seems to sense something shifting between them, because she holds on a little tighter, like she could wring out this thing taking up space between them if she just squeezes hard enough.
Lucy pulls away, gently touching the damp spot on the front of Whistler's blouse. "Sorry," she mumbles, "I know this is dry clean only."
"Don't worry about it," Whistler reassures her, the hand at her back sliding to the dip of her waist. "Do you still want to pack?"
Lucy doesn't want to pack, but not because of her parents' misguided apology laid out across the dining table. She doesn't want to pack because they've started to build a home here, together, and she's afraid that leaving that behind means leaving them behind, too.
"We can come back another day," Whistler continues when Lucy takes too long to answer. "Sophia from IT wanted the bins back by Monday, but I'm sure I could convince her to let me keep them another week."
Lucy doesn't say what she wants to, which is that the thought of Whistler flashing her flirty smile to get in Sophia's good graces makes Lucy's insides twist, and not in a mostly harmless Alina, huh? kind of way, but in a and this is Cara, your girlfriend from DC kind of way.
Lucy has to use some muscle to step away from Whistler's firm grip, and she starts to gather the documents spread out across the table. Whistler waits with watchful, worried eyes, and Lucy briefly remembers telling her that she could do better than this, better than pushing Whistler away at the first sign of discomfort. Lucy's not so sure she has it in her to keep that promise tonight.
"Lucy," Whistler tries again. "Please say something."
Lucy opens her mouth to answer Whistler's question about packing up, but what she blurts out instead is, "Where were you Tuesday night?"
"What?" Whistler startles, eyes wide with confusion. "I—Tuesday, I was out with my team. What does that have to do with the—" She pauses, and Lucy can practically see the gears turning in her head, putting the evidence together like she's solving a case. Whistler sounds incredulous when she asks, "Is this because I didn't call you on Tuesday?"
Lucy flushes with embarrassment. It sounds ridiculous said out loud. She's an adult, capable of adult emotional regulation.
Whistler takes Lucy's silence as an affirmative. "I got home late and figured you were already asleep," she explains, voice tight. She presses her lips together. "You could've called me, you know. That night or any other night."
"I know," Lucy says, biting the inside of her cheek. "I guess I thought—I don't know what I thought."
Whistler's eyes turn bright with unshed tears. "Lucy, do you not trust me?" she asks quietly.
"Of course I trust you," Lucy answers immediately.
Whistler studies her for a long moment. "But not what I was doing Tuesday night."
"I feel like Tuesday is getting a bad rap here," Lucy says, deflecting. "It's done nothing wrong."
Whistler stiffens. "I don't think I have either, but this conversation is making me feel like I did."
"That's not what I said," Lucy counters.
"You haven't said much of anything other than imply I'm messing around," Whistler points out indignantly, "so you'll have to excuse me for being confused and a little defensive."
Lucy burns with the scar of past betrayal. She looks Whistler straight in the eye and says, "I don't think you having secret girlfriends is the craziest concept, do you?"
Whistler blanches like she's been hit.
Lucy swallows hard and looks away, down, anywhere but at the devastation across Whistler's face. "Going to bed without you for fifteen days straight has given me all sorts of time to go to some pretty dark places."
"It's been sixteen, actually," Whistler tells her quietly, strained like she's fighting back tears, "and I know that because I missed you every single night." She takes a shaky breath. "Lucy, I'm not—I don't have a secret girlfriend."
Lucy looks back up, heart in her throat. "I missed you every night too."
Whistler lets out the breath she's been holding. "I wanted to tell you that every time we talked," she confesses. "But I thought you were asking for space, so I was trying not to make it any harder for you."
"I was," Lucy says, trying to rearrange her thoughts in a way that would make her outburst make sense. "I was asking for space. I appreciate you giving it to me."
"Then what—" Whistler takes a step back and sinks down into one of the dining chairs. Even then, she reaches for Lucy's hand as she looks up at her, hurt and worry and lingering confusion heavy in her eyes. "Lucy, did I do something to make you think—"
"No! No, you've been—" Lucy looks down at their clasped hands, Whistler's fingertips gentle as they knead into her skin. "You've been amazing through this whole thing. I'm just—" She trails off and and takes a breath before settling on quiet honesty. "I've been having a really hard time with everything since my parents visited. I know that's not an excuse for what I said."
"You don't have to deal with this alone. This—" Whistler motions at the documents on the table without taking her eyes off Lucy. "—or us." She pauses anxiously. "We still want the same things, right?"
Lucy touches Whistler's cheek with her free hand. "Yes, assuming you haven't changed your mind after this."
"I don't scare that easily," Whistler replies with a small smile. "Not anymore."
Lucy lets her fingertips trace over Whistler's cheekbone, then down across her jaw. "I do trust you, Kate," she says softly. "But that feeling of standing on your doorstep, I still struggle with it sometimes," she admits, tugging lightly at Whistler's fingers, willing her to understand. "I know it was a long time ago and we've put all that behind us."
"It wasn't that long ago," Whistler says, voice soft as she squeezes Lucy's hand. "A few years ago, I went to see a therapist because I was having a particularly rough time with Noah's death." Her head dips momentarily as she tries to compose herself. "She told me that trauma doesn't have an expiry date. I've tried to remember that on days when it's hard."
Lucy's heart hurts for the flicker of pain in Whistler's eyes. She pulls Whistler's hand up to press her lips firmly to her knuckles.
Whistler swallows hard. "I still catch myself doing things shaped by events that happened to me years ago," she continues. "And the secret I kept from you, the hurt I caused you, I know it can linger, and I'm sorry." She looks down at their joined hands, then back up at Lucy. "Will you please talk to me whenever you're struggling with this?"
Lucy nods. "I'm sorry I implied that you haven't changed. Because you have, and I see you."
Whistler tugs gently on Lucy's hand until she takes a step into her space, between her parted legs. Whistler slides to the edge of the chair and runs her hands over Lucy's back, pulling her even closer, then presses her face against Lucy's abdomen and takes a shuddering breath.
Lucy holds her close. "I'm sorry," she says again.
"It's okay," Whistler reassures into the front of Lucy's shirt.
"It's not, though," Lucy replies, her fingers sliding gently through Whistler's hair.
Whistler tilts her head up. "It will be."
Lucy nods and lets out a breath. "It will be," she agrees.
Whistler presses a kiss to Lucy's abdomen, then slides back against the chair to make room for Lucy to sit in front of her, between her legs. Lucy takes a seat and leans back, sighing as Whistler's hands immediately wrap around her again. Whistler's chin comes to rest on Lucy's shoulder, and she presses a kiss to Lucy's neck.
Lucy picks up the letter again and flips open the flap of the envelope. "Do you want to read this?"
Whistler's arms tighten around her. "Do you want me to read it?"
"I want you to know things about me," Lucy replies, pulling the letter out and handing it over. She punctuates it with, "I trust you."
Whistler flips it open carefully like she's handling precious cargo and presses a quick kiss to Lucy's shoulder before turning her attention to it. Lucy slides her hand over Whistler's forearm and takes comfort in the steadiness of Whistler's breathing as she reads. When she's done, she folds it up and takes the envelope to tuck it back in and place it on the table.
"Thank you for letting me see it," Whistler says, running her hand along Lucy's side. "How are you feeling?"
"Exhausted," Lucy admits.
Whistler glances at the documents on the table. "We can deal with all this another day."
Lucy twists to look at her. "Don't you want all your stuff back?"
"Not if you're keeping the house," Whistler answers. Then, quickly, "You don't have to decide today. I'll live without my plates."
Lucy nods and leans closer, her hand reaching for the side of Whistler's face as she twists herself a little more, lifting her legs to drape them over one of Whistler's. Whistler's hand finds Lucy's hip, the other cradling her back, and Lucy takes a moment to just look at Whistler, tracing over her features with her eyes and following with her fingertips.
Whistler smiles when Lucy brushes over her bottom lip. "What are you doing?"
"Looking at you," Lucy answers, eyes drifting back up.
"You're touching, too," Whistler points out gently.
Lucy's fingers pause at the corner of Whistler's mouth.
"That wasn't a complaint," Whistler amends.
Lucy smiles and leans in, sliding her hand away to make room for her lips as she kisses Whistler the way she's wanted to for weeks, with urgency and ambition. Whistler's hands tighten against Lucy's shirt as she opens her mouth to her, soft sigh of relief leaving her throat when Lucy presses her against the back of the chair. Without breaking the kiss, Lucy twists more, lifting herself to reposition her legs on either side of the chair. She settles down onto Whistler's lap again, straddling, and Whistler's palms slide to Lucy's thighs.
They slow down, and Lucy loosens her grip to let Whistler dictate the pace. Whistler wants soft, agonizingly gentle kisses, like she needs to be reassured, and Lucy gives them to her, thumbs brushing her cheeks.
Lucy starts to lose track of time, and she doesn't realize she's been grinding down on Whistler's lap until Whistler pulls away to whisper her name, fingertips digging into her thighs with warning.
Lucy laughs breathlessly. "Sorry, I can—"
"It's only been you," Whistler says then, words rushed like she's been waiting to say them. Her eyes flicker over Lucy's face. "For... For so long."
Lucy leans back in to press another kiss to Whistler's lips. "Me too."
"Do you still need—" Whistler slides her hands to Lucy's hips. "Are you going back to your apartment?"
Lucy studies her for a moment. "Can I stay with you tonight?"
Whistler nods, her relief palpable. "Tonight and any other night."
"Surfing in the morning?" Lucy prompts.
Whistler takes a beat, like she's working out what Lucy's really asking. Finally, she settles on saying, "I liked my old surf spot just fine, you know."
Lucy looks out into the backyard and the ocean just beyond. "It's a nice perk though."
Whistler nuzzles her face against Lucy's neck. "You're a nice perk," she murmurs.
"I'm the main attraction, actually" Lucy replies, tilting her head to provide Whistler more space.
Whistler laughs and leaves a trail of soft kisses across Lucy's neck before lifting her head. "You're right. Pretty big oversight on my part." Her eyes darken as they trace over Lucy's body. "Can I make that up to you?"
Lucy shakes her head. "I want to do the making up today."
"Hey, before we—" Whistler's hands find Lucy's, and she quiets. "You can talk to me about things, even if they're uncomfortable, even if they're about the past, and even - especially - if they're about me."
"I know," Lucy says, squeezing Whistler's fingers. "I'm definitely not planning to go on another spiral where you flirting with Sophia from IT takes me over the edge."
"I didn't flirt with Sophia," Whistler protests lightly.
Lucy tilts her head. "Didn't you say she has a thing for blondes?"
"She does," Whistler says with a short laugh. "That's why I just had to flash her a smile and ask politely."
Lucy looks at her thoughtfully. "I think you smiling constitutes flirting."
"How very mildly misogynistic of you," Whistler teases.
Lucy grins. "Oh, no, I love women," she insists. "Here, let me show you how much."
Whistler laughs. "You sound like a frat boy."
Lucy untucks Whistler's blouse from her dress pants. "But I look like a cute lesbian, so you're going to let me get away with it."
Whistler rolls her eyes, even as she leans in to kiss Lucy, and Lucy's hands immediately slide under Whistler's blouse, touching the expanse of skin on her torso. Whistler moans, leaving just enough space between their bodies to get her hands on Lucy's belt. She makes quick work of the buckle and starts to unbutton Lucy's pants.
Lucy shifts her hips, her hand finding the clasp of Whistler's bra under her blouse and undoing it. "Couch? Rumor has it I haven't touched you in sixteen days and I very much plan to make up for that."
Lucy does make up for it, first on her knees in front of the couch, face buried between Whistler's thighs, then straddling Whistler's lap, one hand working her, the other rolling her nipple while they lazily make out.
Later, after they've gotten through the fast and frantic ones, Whistler pulls Lucy onto her lap and sinks two fingers into her, watching as Lucy slowly rides her hand.
"You're it, for me," Whistler murmurs as she kisses Lucy's neck softly.
Lucy moves a little faster in response, hand gripping her shoulder blade a little tighter. "Whistler."
"I'll tell you again," Whistler promises, "anytime you want."
Lucy works herself to the edge against Whistler's hand, to Whistler's words. And when Whistler whispers to her how much she loves her and wants to be good for her, Lucy comes undone, pleasure flushing every inch of her body.
Lucy finds Whistler's mouth with her own, hovering for a moment so she can say, "You're it for me too, but if you want to show me again in five minutes, I won't be mad about it."
Whistler's breathy laugh vibrates against Lucy's lips as she pulls her closer.
The hammock in the backyard swings gently under their combined weight. Whistler's hair is still damp from her morning surf, sticking uncomfortably to Lucy's skin, but Lucy can't find it in herself to care as she runs her fingertips over the skin exposed by Whistler's bathing suit.
They'd spent the night at the house at Lucy's insistence. Whistler had gotten up at the crack of dawn to surf, and Lucy, in a rare bout of early rising, had curled up on the hammock to wait for Whistler to finish. Needless to say, Whistler had cut her session short to cuddle.
A good night's sleep with Whistler's long limbs curled around her again has quelled whatever remained of Lucy's pent-up anxieties. She wants to apologize again, for choosing the words she did, for delivering them that way.
"Hey, where'd you go?" Whistler asks, her palm warm on Lucy's abdomen.
Lucy refocuses. "I'm right here, with you."
Whistler hums, satisfied.
Lucy's hand stills against Whistler's skin. "My apartment lease ends at the end of next month," she says then. "I have to decide if I want to renew it in the next few weeks."
Whistler glances at her. "What are you thinking?"
"That my upstairs neighbors might actually be elephants," Lucy replies.
Whistler laughs. "It would explain the weird trumpet noises in the middle of the night that one time. What was that all about?"
"Right?! I was half expecting the rest of the horn section to join in." Lucy pauses thoughtfully. "I don't want to have to rely on this house though. I'm not wholly convinced there isn't another curveball coming."
"I don't know, the paperwork is pretty airtight," Whistler replies with a shrug. "Your parents' lawyer did a great job."
"The one you have a crush on?" Lucy teases. "Yale Law? Federal clerk?"
"I do not have a crush on her," Whistler insists. "I respect her credentials and attention to detail, that's all."
Lucy shifts, carefully turning to her side to face Whistler as the hammock wobbles. She presses a kiss to Whistler's shoulder, her skin slightly salty from the ocean water. "Hey, I hope you know that what we talked about yesterday doesn't mean you can't ever utter another woman's name in my presence again."
Whistler tilts to look at her. "I know, Lucy. I don't think that."
"Women are hot, you know?" Lucy adds.
Whistler's look shifts to amusement. "Is that your professional opinion, Special Agent Tara?"
Lucy grins. "As a matter of fact, it is. Does your position on the matter differ, Special Agent Whistler?"
Whistler shakes her head. "Nope, I think you've built quite a solid thesis. But I'd love to take a look at the evidence you have to support it."
Lucy laughs softly. "Exhibit A is right here," she says, lightly pinching Whistler's side.
The hammock swings precariously as Whistler tries to climb on top of Lucy. She pauses, one leg draped over Lucy's, as she waits for it to settle down.
"If this thing flips," Lucy warns, eyes wide, "I will never speak to you again."
Whistler slowly lowers herself back down next to Lucy again, twisting to face her. Their legs tangle together.
"This hammock, on the other hand, clearly hates your thesis," Whistler mutters, smoothing her hand over Lucy's side.
Lucy hums, shifting her legs until the one pinned between Whistler's settles at the apex of her thighs. Lucy flexes with intention.
Whistler takes in a sharp breath, her hand sliding to Lucy's hip with warning. "We have neighbors!" she hisses. Then, soberly, she amends, "You have neighbors."
"You're all over this house, Whistler," Lucy tells her gently, relaxing her leg. "So I think you're allowed to say that we have neighbors." She touches Whistler's cheek, pushing a few stray strands of hair behind her ear. "Yesterday, when you asked me if I still wanted to pack, I picked a fight with you instead of answering."
Whistler's hand moves back up to Lucy's side, and she waits.
"I can't bear the thought of splitting up all our stuff and taking it back to our own apartments like we're going through some kind of weird breakup," Lucy continues, her fingertips drifting to Whistler's jaw. "Do you want to keep staying here with me until I figure out what to do? Maybe just on weekends or whenever."
Whistler's hand dips between Lucy's shoulder blades, pulling her close until their lips meet. Whistler kisses softly at first, but when Lucy flexes her leg again, Whistler moves with more urgency, lips setting a blazing pace.
The hammock wobbles again, and Lucy reluctantly pulls away to steady it.
"This hammock is homophobic," Lucy declares.
Whistler smiles like she's amused, but her eyes are trailing over Lucy's face, soft with affection. "I want to stay wherever you are."
Lucy kisses her again, gently to appease the moody hammock. "I already know you won't move to North Korea for me, so I'm not sure that statement holds."
Whistler laughs brightly. "I'll meet you in the DMZ twice a week."
Lucy smiles, letting her fingertips trace down the column of Whistler's neck. "What did you think about my father's letter?"
"I think I need to see photos of you as a small child, dressed like a firefighter," Whistler replies light-heartedly before sobering. "I think he seemed genuine, but Lucy, I made a pretty poor assessment last time."
Lucy huffs out a sigh. "Can I just give the house back?"
The question is mostly rhetorical, but Whistler answers anyway. "They'd have to accept it, and I doubt they will. I can draft up the paperwork though, if you want."
"Is my only other option to sell it?" Lucy asks.
"House like this usually takes a while to sell," Whistler tells her, "even priced well below market. There just aren't that many buyers who could afford it."
Lucy hums. "You sure you don't want to be a real estate agent? They make bank off commissions, and you can wear a pantsuit every day."
"They take insane commissions because it's a severely underregulated industry," Whistler argues, "and I can already wear pantsuits every day."
"You look so good in them," Lucy muses, raising her eyebrows suggestively. "Look good out of them, too."
Whistler flushes. "Lucy."
"I think I'll keep the house a bit longer," Lucy decides then.
"Does that mean you're ditching your lease?" Whistler asks.
"I don't know," Lucy replies, scrunching up her nose. "The drive from here to Pearl is pretty brutal."
"I still have my apartment," Whistler points out. "You can stay with me whenever you want, as long as you want."
Lucy's eyes drift to Whistler's. "Are you asking me to move in with you five days a week?"
Whistler's smile is playful, like she knows a secret she's eager to share. "Lucy, you've fully taken over two drawers and an entire hanger bar in my closet, the building superintendent knows you by name - he doesn't know mine, by the way, calls me a random white girl name every time he sees me - and my pantry looks like a fifth grader raided the candy and cookie aisle at the grocery store." Whistler runs her hand down the length of Lucy's spine. "I think it's safe to say you've already moved in."
Lucy flushes. "I'll have a chat with George about that," she deflects. "And you're welcome for the tasty snacks."
"I had tasty snacks," Whistler protests half-heartedly.
Lucy scoffs. "You had weird granola bars and a bag of pine nuts, arguably the worst nut."
Whistler bites back a smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize there was a nut hierarchy. What's the best one, then?"
"Pistachios! Obviously." Lucy laughs, and she can't help but press a quick kiss to Whistler's lips. "And are those granola bars meant to taste like cardboard?"
"They're high in fiber!" Whistler argues. "I take them on my morning runs."
Lucy squints. "Amended question: who gets up before sunrise and thinks, you know what my body needs right now? To move really fast for five miles."
Whistler laughs, pressing her palm into the small of Lucy's back. "It's relaxing. You should come with me one morning."
Lucy shakes her head. "No thanks. I'll stick to not dying before breakfast."
Whistler stretches to kiss Lucy's forehead, then her cheek. "If I stock my pantry with some pistachios, will you move in with me five days a week?"
"Do you think it's too soon?" Lucy asks quietly. "We're only four months in, officially."
"And unofficially?" Whistler takes a quick breath. "We've been doing a lot of things backwards from the beginning. I just—I don't want to spend another sixteen nights without you. Sometimes you just know."
Lucy brushes her knuckles over Whistler's cheek. "Is there space in your fancy bathroom for my hula girl bobble head?"
"Our fancy bathroom," Whistler corrects, "and yes, we'll make it work."
"Okay, I'm in," Lucy says easily, touching Whistler's face as she smiles, "but before I get you hot and bothered again, can we please find a more solid and stable piece of furniture?"
Whistler somehow manages to roll out of the hammock without tipping it, then extends her hand to help Lucy up as well.
Lucy chases Whistler into the house, daydreaming about what all her stuff will look like in Whistler's—in their apartment.
Chapter 7: October
"Katherine Margaret Whistler!"
Whistler snorts out a laugh and catches Lucy's eye through the reflection of the bathroom mirror. "You know that's not my middle name."
"I don't, actually, because you haven't told me what it is," Lucy replies, walking around her to get to the second sink.
"Because it's so much more fun watching you guess incorrectly," Whistler says, returning her attention to her mascara application. When Lucy boosts herself onto the counter and grins at Whistler, she pauses, mid-brush. "Did you need something or are you just trying to provoke me into telling you my middle name?"
"I wanted to ask you if you've seen my—" Something on one of the shelves catches Lucy's attention. "Oh! There they are," she says, grabbing a pair of earrings and then reaching for her own earlobe to put them on.
"You know you can just look it up, right?" Whistler asks, finishing up her mascara between sentences. "My middle name."
Lucy exaggerates a gasp, hand covering her mouth like she's scandalized. "Abusing government resources to illegally spy on private citizens? Whistler, you've changed."
Whistler fixes Lucy with a look Lucy knows is meant to be exasperated, but it mostly comes off amused. "You really want to know it?"
Lucy scoots closer along the counter, until her knee is touching Whistler's hip, and shakes her head. "Not yet. It's so much more fun annoying you with incorrect guesses, Katherine Grace Whistler."
Whistler laughs, her hand dropping to Lucy's knee. "All right, you ready to go?"
Lucy smiles, her eyes tracing over Whistler's face. "You're so pretty," she tells her instead of answering, relishing in the way Whistler's cheeks tint pink in response. "Since the first night we met, I've always thought you were unbelievably beautiful."
Whistler's hand slides to the top of Lucy's thigh. "God, Lucy," she says, leaning her weight forward to find Lucy's lips. She kisses her softly, reverently, then pulls away to run her gaze over Lucy's features. "You're gorgeous. Sometimes it's hard to not look at you."
Lucy tries to ignore how easily her body lights up for Whistler. "Lucky for you," she teases, "you'll get to look at me all evening, and possibly if you play your cards right, all night."
Whistler grins. "I don't think it'll be a tough hand to play."
Lucy's mouth drops open. "Are you saying I'm easy?" she asks, feigning outrage.
Whistler's eyes twinkle playfully as she slides her hand a little higher. "I'm saying we're going to be late to dinner."
Lucy tries very hard not to give Whistler the satisfaction of falling apart under her fingertips. "Guess we should get going then."
Before Whistler has a chance to further instigate, Lucy hops off the counter and purposefully taps Whistler's butt on her way out of the bathroom.
They do, sometimes, make it to shave ice.
Or Lucy does. Whistler prefers a soft serve most of the time, and Lucy has no complaints at all about Whistler's tongue making a special appearance, so...
So maybe it is Lucy's fault that they rarely make it to shave ice. She's all about introspection these days.
The bench they're sitting on is far enough away from the ocean for Lucy to not fear for her life, but close enough that they can still enjoy the sea breeze. It's nice, just existing in the same space.
Whistler shifts against her on the bench as she eats her ice cream cone, her free hand dropping to Lucy's leg. "Do you have Thanksgiving plans this year?" she asks, the words tumbling out quickly like she'd been sitting on them all evening.
Lucy's spoon stills in her paper cup. "Uh, haven't really thought about it." She turns to look at Whistler and finds her looking back with steady eyes. "The Cowboys play every year on Thanksgiving," Lucy continues. "Kickoff is around noon local time, and last year—"
"You watched the game at a bar in Waikiki," Whistler cuts in. "I remember. Your team lost in overtime and you complained about the refs for fifteen minutes when I called you later that night."
Lucy had almost forgotten that they'd been... something this time last year. Something secret, but something that had felt like it could be really special. It all rushes back. The nervousness of asking Whistler to Tennant's annual Thanksgiving stragglers potluck, and the disappointment of Whistler telling her she'd be in DC visiting her parents. The excitement and comfort of Whistler calling her at what must have been four in the morning east coast time to wish her a happy Thanksgiving and to tell her that she was grateful to have Lucy in her life, in that tentative way like she wasn't sure if she was allowed to express it yet.
Lucy remembers almost confessing everything about how she felt in response, but instead, simply echoing the sentiment, because she too hadn't been quite sure how much she could to say.
All of that hesitation seems silly now, as Lucy leaves her spoon propped up in her cup to run her hand over Whistler's on her knee, thumb brushing over the ring Whistler always wears on her right hand.
"That game was rigged," Lucy insists, allowing a small smile when Whistler hums skeptically. "I guess you're going back to DC again this year?"
"I am." Whistler's fingers tighten anxiously around Lucy's knee. "I know we're still a month out, but my parents asked me to extend the invitation to you this year, if you'd like to come."
Lucy studies her curiously for a moment. "I didn't even know they knew I existed."
The small, one-shouldered shrug that Whistler offers is nervous. "My mom heard me on the phone with you last year. I don't know why she was awake at that hour."
Lucy can feel herself sitting up straighter. "Does she think we've been together this whole time?"
Whistler shakes her head. "No, she doesn't know much, but she has an idea of timeline, and she knows I'm serious about you." Whistler takes a breath, glancing down at their hands. "Do you want to come?"
"Do you want me to come?" Lucy asks gently, interpreting Whistler's nerves as hesitation.
Whistler's eyes flicker up in surprise. "I want them to meet you. Do I give off the impression that I don't?"
"No, you just seem nervous," Lucy tells her, squeezing her hand.
"I am," Whistler admits, "but not because of that. I've just never really—" Her eyes drift over Lucy's face. "You'd be the first person I've ever brought home."
"I'm good with parents," Lucy reassures her.
Whistler finally allows a small smile. "I'm not worried about you. I know they'll love you." She shifts again, and Lucy can feel her start to pull her hand away, but Lucy presses down to anchor her. Whistler takes another breath, and she sounds like she's putting on a brave front when she says, "Something happens to a family, after—I don't know, Lucy. It can be a tough environment to be in sometimes."
Lucy slides her hand to Whistler's forearm. "I want to be there, with you."
"Okay." Whistler's smile is brighter now. "I usually take the whole week off to recover from jetlag and catch up with some friends, but you don't have to do that if you just want to come to dinner."
"Let me talk to Tennant and see if I can get the time off," Lucy says, her hand leaving Whistler's arm to pick up her spoon again. She scrapes carefully at her shave ice. "Can I meet your friends?"
"Yeah," Whistler replies easily, "but I met a lot of them through DIA, so expect some shop talk."
"I can do shop talk," Lucy says with a dismissive hand wave. She clears her throat. "Yes, those top secret DOD projects are paramount to national security. And how about that counter-intelligence mission? Oh, of course, they would need the proper security clearance. Protocols, jurisdiction, DARPA." She grins at Whistler. "I got it."
"You're very lucky I find you incredibly cute," Whistler tells her, fighting a smile. She stares out at the ocean for a moment. "I'm not close with them, not like you and your team," she admits, almost apologetic. "But they're nice people."
Lucy leans harder against Whistler's side and bumps their knees together. "I don't talk to many people from back home, even the ones I like."
Whistler turns back to look at her, and whatever she'd been seeking with her confession, she seems to find. She takes a beat before continuing, "I swear I actually do know people outside of work. If we're ever in Denver, remind me to introduce you to my sorority sister Rena." She bites thoughtfully at her ice cream. "She reminds me a lot of you, actually. Easily excitable, big bright smile, but if you piss her off, you'd better find the nearest hurricane shelter."
"You think a hurricane shelter would stop either me or Rena?" Lucy asks, bringing a heaping spoonful of shave ice to her mouth.
Whistler laughs. "I'm rethinking introducing the two of you now. I'm not interested in being double-teamed." At Lucy's suggestive brow waggle, Whistler flushes and quickly clarifies, "Not like that."
"I didn't say anything," Lucy replies innocently, "but now I'm curious, not like what, Whistler?"
"I'm not dignifying this with a response," Whistler replies, cheeks still rosy. She takes another quick bite of her ice cream. "Anyway, you can meet anyone you want."
Lucy smiles as she chews on a few mango chunks. She presses a cold kiss to Whistler's bare shoulder, then leans her head on it, curling closer.
Whistler looks down at her. "What?"
"Nothing," Lucy replies, enjoying the warmth of the evening and the freedom to sit in public with Whistler. "I'm just remembering when you pulled me aside and told me that you wanted to keep things a secret."
Whistler stiffens, enough for Lucy to feel it against her cheek. "I apologized for that."
"No, I know," Lucy reassures quickly. "I wasn't thinking about it to make you feel bad. I'm just glad we're not... that anymore."
Whistler takes a breath, and she relaxes again. "Yeah, me too."
Lucy lifts her head again, mostly so she can eat her shave ice before it melts. They finish their desserts in silence, Lucy occasionally reaching over with her spoon to steal some of Whistler's soft serve. Whistler tries to look annoyed, but she's easily appeased when Lucy leans over to press a kiss to her cheek.
Once Lucy's cup is empty, she crumples it up and pins it between her knees to keep the wind from carrying it away. Her hand slides into Whistler's, and Whistler turns to look at her.
"What are your parents like?" Lucy asks.
Whistler's smile reaches her eyes. "My mom is a handful. Very... chatty. She worked as an event planner, so she knows how to get things done. I'm sure she will tell several embarrassing childhood stories about me while we're there."
Lucy practically vibrates with glee. "Ooh, I can't wait."
"My dad's more reserved," Whistler continues. "Serious. He served in the army when he was younger and then worked in various government agencies after settling down with my mom. Recently retired. He opens up when you get to know him though."
Lucy smiles at that.
Whistler leans her weight against Lucy, her fingers sliding to intertwine with Lucy's. "They were good parents to us," Whistler says quietly. "It's just hard, sometimes, after Noah."
Lucy runs her other hand up Whistler's forearm, stopping to brush the pad of her thumb over the soft skin on the inside of Whistler's elbow. Lucy presses another kiss to Whistler's shoulder.
"What was Noah like?" Lucy asks gently, tightening her grip on on Whistler's arm when she flexes.
"He was always cracking jokes," Whistler starts with a small, affectionate laugh, "really outgoing. He had a way of making people feel at ease, you know? I idolized him, and he always made time for me. He was the best brother I could've asked for." She turns to Lucy, blinking against tears, but she's still smiling. "He would've liked you and laughed at all your bad jokes."
Lucy smiles, nudging Whistler with her elbow. "You like my jokes."
"I like watching you be amused by your own jokes," Whistler counters, laughing quietly when Lucy looks affronted. "Your eyes light up right before you deliver the punchline. I really like that."
The affection in Whistler's voice warms Lucy's cheeks, filling her with softness.
"Thank you for telling me about Noah," Lucy says, running her fingertips over Whistler's forearm. "Hey, what are your parents' names?"
"Robert and Christine."
Lucy thinks on it for a moment, then comes up with, "Katherine Roberta Whistler?"
Whistler's sudden, surprised laugh is a delight to Lucy's ears.
"See?" Lucy says pointedly, smug. "You do like my jokes."
Whistler pulls Lucy closer, and when she kisses her, Lucy can still taste the vanilla on her lips, mixed with a hint of lingering adoration.
For all of Lucy's complaints about the insanity of running for sport, she's a pretty fast sprinter, and she leverages that whenever they get a spooked suspect who decides to take off, throwing obstacles in her way as though it would do anything to slow her down.
It does mean she ends up confronting them first a lot of the time, before Jesse or Kai can navigate around tight spaces or flank them from the other side. And she doesn't love having to physically fight anyone, but murderers need to be stopped, and if it so happens that Lucy's the one tasked with very literally taking them down, she handles that responsibility seriously.
That's how she finds herself on the wrong side of a fist that belongs to someone who looks like they would be an effective linebacker, or like, a retaining wall. Lucy puts up a good fight, following the muscle memory of her combat training, but when Jesse finally gets the guy on the ground and manages to cuff him, Lucy's taken enough punches to know that she'll be feeling this arrest for weeks.
"You okay?" Jesse asks once he's handed the suspect off.
Lucy bends to the side and tries not to wince. "Yeah, you should've seen the other guy," she jokes.
Jesse doesn't laugh. "Let's make a pit stop to Tripler."
"I'm fine, Jesse," Lucy tries to reassure, but she's not sure how convincing she sounds taking pained breaths and clutching her ribs. She motions toward the ambulance parked on the side of the street. "I'll just get a quick patch up from our friends at EMS and rinse off when we get back to Pearl. I've got a change of clothes in my locker."
"Listen, it's not my call," Jesse replies, holding his hands up in surrender, "but I suspect Tennant would agree with me." He watches her for a moment and reaches back to scratch the nape of his neck. "Truthfully, I'm just trying to avoid getting chewed out by Whistler when she learns I didn't make a real effort to get you checked out."
"She's seen me in worse states," Lucy dismisses, carefully flexing her wrist.
Jesse fixes her with a pointed look, like he can't believe he has to spell it out for her. "Yeah, but now you go home to her," he says. "It's different."
Lucy touches her own jaw, flinching when she finds it tender. "You know how I feel about hospitals."
"I also know how you feel about Whistler," Jesse counters, lightly tapping his own chest over his heart. "Happy spouse, peaceful house. Trust me."
Lucy glares at him for a moment. "Okay, fine," she relents, because she's in pain and she actually would like to be able to reassure Whistler that a doctor confirmed that she's fine. "One x-ray."
Jesse walks Lucy to his vehicle and lets her wave him off when he tries to help her into her seat.
Whistler's car is already in her parking spot when Lucy passes it on her way to her own spot in the underground garage of Whistler's - now their - building. Lucy moves slowly out of the car and to the elevator, grateful that the painkillers they'd given her at the hospital are finally starting to kick in.
She was supposed to stay late and help interrogate the suspect she'd sacrificed her body to bring in, but Tennant had taken one look at her after they'd gotten back from Tripler and had told her to take the rest of the day off to rest.
Lucy hesitates when she reaches their apartment door, key in hand. She lightly touches the butterfly bandages across her eyebrow. Jesse was right. It is different, somehow.
She takes as deep a breath as her bruised body will allow, unlocks the door and pushes inside. The door closes behind her, and she locks it up again. She kicks off her boots, dropping her backpack on the floor next to them.
"You know what I learned today?" Whistler is asking from the couch, turning to look at Lucy. "There's this island in Japan where—" She seems to process, then, what she's looking at, and she bolts out of her seat and rushes over, eyes widening.
"It's just a scrape," Lucy tries to preempt.
"Lucy, what happened?" Whistler asks, crowding into her space. Whistler's hand brushes over the bruise forming on Lucy's jaw.
Lucy manages not to flinch. "You should see the other guy?"
Whistler doesn't laugh either, and okay, Lucy'll take the note and workshop the timing of that joke.
"I'm fine," Lucy continues. "Jesse forced me to go to the hospital, and my x-ray came back clean."
"X-ray?" Whistler asks with alarm, eyes scanning Lucy's torso like she can see her injuries through her clothes.
"Just some bruising," Lucy reassures. "I'll be up and at it in a week, tops."
Whistler swallows hard. "Okay," she says. Her hand flexes against Lucy's jaw, and she looks like she's struggling to not say more.
Lucy sighs. "Kate."
"I know it's part of the job," Whistler adds quickly, leaving her side for a moment to dig an ice compress out of the freezer. "I don't have to like it."
Whistler returns with the compress wrapped in a towel and presses it gently against the swelling on Lucy's jaw.
"I've been hurt worse," Lucy points out, taking the compress from her. "So have you."
Whistler purses her lips. "I know."
"I'm scrappy," Lucy insists. "And Jesse had my back. No one's going to take me down for the count."
Whistler doesn't say anything, but she reaches out and places her hands gently on Lucy's sides like she's gauging just how badly she's hurt. Lucy winces when Whistler touches a sore spot.
"My job isn't new," Lucy says then, sounding more defensive than she means to. "You knew what you were getting into."
Whistler's eyes flicker back up to Lucy's face when she catches her tone. "I know, Lucy."
"So what's changed?" Lucy presses.
Whistler averts her gaze again, dropping her hands to her sides. "You know what's changed."
Lucy's chest squeezes, momentarily distracting from the buzzing of pain across her torso. She reaches up to pull Whistler down for a kiss, moving slow against her lips. Whistler yields to Lucy's pace, offering herself for Lucy to take, and Lucy takes liberally, fingers tightening over the back of Whistler's neck. Lucy pulls a little too hard, and Whistler takes a stumbling step forward, her hands instinctively catching Lucy's hips for balance as their bodies collide.
It's usually a welcome touch, but this time, Lucy flinches, whimpering in pain against Whistler's mouth, and Whistler immediately pulls away and gives Lucy a moment to catch her breath.
Whistler guides Lucy to the couch and makes her sit, then starts to kneel down in front of the couch.
Lucy startles, hands curling into fists next to her hips. "What are you doing?"
Whistler looks up at her, seemingly confused by the severity of her question, until something clicks, and Whistler flushes, eyes wide. "Oh, no, I wasn't about to—" She glances down at Lucy's lap and sits back on her heels, hands at Lucy's ankles. She sounds equal parts sincere and bewildered when she appends, "Unless that's what you want me to do?"
Lucy reflexively presses her thighs together, ignoring the jolt of pain from flexing her abdomen. "No, no, I mean, maybe later? Later for sure."
Whistler studies Lucy for a moment. She bites the corner of her mouth like she's stifling a smile, but then she tugs lightly at Lucy's ankles and starts laughing, eyes twinkling in amusement, the tension in her body dissipating. She picks one of Lucy's fists off the couch and presses a kiss to her knuckles, then another to her palm when her hand eases open. Whistler's other hand slides up Lucy's calf as she lifts herself to her knees again.
"Can I see?" Whistler asks gently. When Lucy nods, Whistler's hands find Lucy's belt and start to unbuckle it. "I recognize where the confusion occurred," she says as she unbuttons and unzips Lucy's pants, untucking her button-down.
"My sensory processing is really going through it right now," Lucy mumbles, shifting uncomfortably against the couch as she watches Whistler slowly unbuttoning her shirt.
Whistler's jaw is set as she pushes Lucy's shirt open, her eyes taking in the discoloration across Lucy's torso. Whistler leans over, brushing her lips over the worst-looking one. Lucy's hand drifts to Whistler's shoulder as she inhales sharply, pleasure and pain and the slow burn of desire at the pit of her stomach swirling into a dangerous concoction.
Whistler pulls back, her palms sliding to Lucy's hips. "We have plans now," she says quietly. "Pretty big ones. That's what's changed."
"I'll be healed way before Thanksgiving," Lucy reassures.
Whistler's eyes drift back up to Lucy's, her voice steady when she says, "Not just Thanksgiving."
Lucy's hand on Whistler's shoulder moves to the side of her face, fingers threading through soft hair. "I'm going to be there for all those plans, I promise."
Whistler's body goes rigid. "Don't—" She shakes her head before Lucy has a chance to anchor her from her spiral. "We don't always get to keep those promises, despite our best intentions."
"Kate," Lucy murmurs, bringing her other hand up so that she can cradle Whistler's cheeks between her palms.
Whistler shuts her eyes and takes a breath through her nose, leaning the weight of her loss against Lucy's hands. When Whistler's eyelids drift open again, she looks a little mournful, and a lot embarrassed, her cheeks bleeding heat into Lucy's skin.
"Sorry," Whistler tells her. "You haven't done anything wrong. I just—"
"I know," Lucy replies, pressing against Whistler's cheeks in reassurance. She offers a small smile. "Trauma," she adds rather nonchalantly, hoping the ease with which she says the word softens the blow of its meaning.
Whistler pulls Lucy's hands away from her face to hold them. She leans forward to brush her lips against the bruises on Lucy's skin again, and Lucy leans back for a moment to breathe.
"Will you tell me about the Japanese island?" Lucy asks after a few minutes, pulling at Whistler's hands.
Whistler lifts her head in confusion.
"Earlier," Lucy clarifies, "you were going to tell me something about an island in Japan that you learned about today."
"Oh!" Whistler pushes herself to her feet, finds her phone on the coffee table, and sits back down next to Lucy, who immediately cuddles closer, ignoring the twinge of pain as she cranes her neck to see Whistler's phone screen. "Aoshima," Whistler says as she pulls up a video, "in the Ehime Prefecture. The island is tiny, barely a mile across, and it's home to only six elderly human residents but over two hundred cats."
Lucy watches the tourist video with wide eyes. Her mouth would be open in awe if it didn't hurt so much to move her jaw. The cats in the video appear friendly, especially when they realize the person filming has snuck in treats for them, and Lucy almost gives herself a headache trying to decide which cat to look at first.
When the video comes to an end, she's smiling so much her cheeks hurt.
Lucy turns excitedly to Whistler. "Honeymoon shortlist?" she asks without thinking.
Whistler's eyes find hers, and Lucy's pretty sure neither of them so much as takes a breath for five endless seconds.
"You want to get married?" Whistler finally asks, eyes soft and searching.
"Is that a proposal?" Lucy deflects, pulse racing. "Because it could use some work."
"That wasn't a proposal," Whistler replies calmly. She doesn't look nervous, but then she slips and fiddles with her watch. "Lucy, I do want that, with you. And I don't mean today, but—"
"Me too," Lucy cuts in abruptly, because she's been sitting on the answer. "But only if you ask properly. Or maybe leave the proposing to me."
Whistler fixes her with a skeptical look. "You think you can come up with a better proposal than I can?"
Lucy beams, head already spinning with ideas. "Oh, I know I can."
Whistler studies her for a moment. "You're not going to propose to me tomorrow just so yours is the one that stands, are you?"
Lucy keeps grinning. "No, I'd never do anything so rash and irresponsible just to win an argument."
"One year," Whistler tells her. When Lucy tilts her head in confusion, Whistler clarifies, "Neither of us is allowed to propose until we hit our one-year anniversary. I want to get this right."
Lucy does the math quickly in her head. Their anniversary, the one on paper, which Lucy lovingly refers to as Serenade Day, is in late May. It's almost November. Seven more months. She can wait seven more months. Seven months gives her time to get a ring, and to plan something epic. She doesn't tell Whistler that she'd say yes today and give up the satisfaction of winning best proposal, if Whistler had asked properly.
Lucy leans her head on Whistler's shoulder and looks up at her. "How's that for a pretty big life plan?"
"It's solid," Whistler replies with a smile, tracing the length of Lucy's torso with her eyes, then following the path with a gentle hand.
"Do you believe me," Lucy asks, "when I tell you I'm going to be there, for all of it?"
Whistler presses a kiss to Lucy's temple and sounds sincere when she says, "Yes, I do."
Lucy curls closer. "Good, because I'd love to meet the poor asshole who tries to stop me from proposing to... Katherine Dakota Whistler?"
Whistler laughs. "You really think my middle name is Dakota?"
"It could be!" Lucy argues. "Katherine Montana? Hotter or colder?"
"I was not named after a US state," Whistler tells her, reaching up to tug playfully on a loose curl of Lucy's hair. "So colder."
"Katherine Nebraska Whistler," Lucy says with intention, "you tell me your middle name right now."
Whistler leans over to press another kiss to Lucy's temple. She opens her mouth to respond, but Lucy's hand immediately snaps over to cover it.
"Wait! Don't tell me. I want the gratification of guessing it correctly."
Whistler pulls Lucy's hand away and grins at her. "Your meds have really kicked in, huh?"
Lucy smiles dopily. "Maybe." She flings her legs wide open and throws Whistler what she thinks is her most sultry look. "You wanna get on your knees again?"
"All right," Whistler announces with an affectionate laugh, gently pulling Lucy up with her as she stands, "let's get you to bed."
Lucy lets Whistler steer her to the bedroom. She changes into the sleepwear Whistler hands her and then slides under the covers, eyes immediately closing.
"Kate?" Lucy calls out without opening her eyes. She hears Whistler hum in acknowledgment and waits until she can feel Whistler's hand brushing hair off her forehead before murmuring, "I'm going to propose the heck out of you."
Whistler's laugh is soft, her touch on Lucy's cheek softer, and Lucy drifts to sleep with an island of kittens and the woman she wants to go see them with on her mind.
DC is cold in November, and Whistler looks adorable in her peacoat. It's a tragedy that Hawaii is so warm all year round, because clearly, Lucy has been missing out on cute fall coats and beanies and boots. Whistler can really rock a pair of boots.
They'd spent the first half of the week seeing the sights and meeting Whistler's friends for coffee. Seeing Whistler in her element, laughing, cracking jokes, reminds Lucy that she'd had a life in DC. Maybe even a support system. And moving half an ocean away from that, to work on a team that never seemed to have her back, it makes Lucy understand her motivations a bit better. It makes Lucy love her a bit more for staying.
The drive to Whistler's parents' house in the Maryland suburbs is slow, the usually bad traffic on the Beltway made worse by the start of the long weekend. Lucy has always been an impatient driver, but Whistler is calm at the wheel of their rental car. Lucy fiddles with the gift bag on her lap, the two bags of Kona coffee beans jostling inside. She's not nervous, exactly, but she just really wants to make a good impression.
"Hey," Whistler says, glancing at her as they finally escape the traffic and turn onto a quiet suburban street. Whistler's hand drops to Lucy's leg, squeezing reassuringly.
"I know," Lucy preempts. "They'll love me."
Whistler smiles. "They will."
A few minutes later, Whistler pulls up to a red brick house with a giant oak tree on the front lawn, and turns into the driveway. Lucy gets out of the car and follows Whistler up the steps to the front porch. Whistler gives Lucy's hand a quick squeeze before ringing the doorbell.
Whistler's mother answers the door, and Lucy's seen her in photos, but it still surprises her how strikingly similar the two women look in person.
"Come in, come in," Whistler's mother says, holding her door wide open. She fixes her attention on Lucy as they step inside. "You must be Lucy."
"Yes, Ma'am," Lucy replies, flashing a bright smile. She holds out the gift bag. "Happy Thanksgiving."
Whistler's mother waves a dismissive hand. "Please, it's Christie," she insists, taking the bag from Lucy and peering inside. "Oh, did Kate tell you these were my favorite? Thank you."
"Of course, Christie," Lucy replies politely. "Y'all have a lovely home. And were those geraniums outside? They're beautiful. You and your green thumb will have to show me how you get them to still look like that in late November."
Christie turns to her daughter with a glint in her eye. "Oh, you found yourself a charmer, Kate."
Whistler's cheeks are rosy. "Hi, Mom," she greets, letting her mother pull her into a hug.
Whistler's father appears around the corner, and the first thing Lucy notices is how tall he is. He hadn't looked it standing next to his tall wife and tall daughter in photos, but he's Jesse's height, at least. He offers Lucy a quick head tilt in acknowledgment, then turns to Whistler.
"Welcome home, sweetheart."
"Thanks, Dad," Whistler says, giving him a quick one-armed hug. She guides his attention back to Lucy to introduce her. "This is my girlfriend, Lucy."
Lucy holds out her hand with another bright smile. "A pleasure to finally meet you, Sir."
"Call me Rob," he says as he grasps her hand in a firm, practiced handshake. "Let me get your jacket."
Lucy slips out of her jacket and hands it over. "Thank you, Rob."
Rob moves to the closet to hang up Lucy's jacket, and Christie jumps in to offer Lucy a tour of the house, which Lucy graciously accepts. Whistler follows them as her mother takes Lucy through the house, accompanying each room with an anecdote: here's where Kate took her first steps, here's where Kate tripped and lost her first baby tooth, here's where Kate would give impromptu concerts. Lucy absorbs everything eagerly, wide-eyed and grinning. Whistler, to her credit, takes it all with good nature, smiling sheepishly whenever Lucy turns to her in excitement after receiving a new piece of information.
Upstairs, they pass a room with a closed door that Whistler and her mother both pretend aren't there, but Lucy senses the immediate and suffocating tension that consumes that small square of hallway, and it makes her hold her breath and take lighter steps until they reach the next door.
Whistler's room is immaculate, lilac walls lined with neatly arranged illustrated posters: one of the 1913 National Suffrage Procession, another of Joan of Arc, a third of the most famous works of Virginia Woolf. There's a giant sepia-toned world map above the desk in the corner, and Lucy imagines a young Whistler sitting there, devouring a lamp-lit book about the American Civil War.
The bulletin board above the headboard of Whistler's double bed is pinned full of photos, postcards, and other trinkets, and Lucy covets the time to go through them with Whistler and learn about all the little things that shaped her into the person she is.
But Christie is telling a story about the time Whistler's high school volleyball team won the regionals as she moves to the next room, and Lucy tries to keep pace so she can catch every detail, hang onto every word like she's been granted exclusive access to a part of Whistler's world that very few others have had the privilege of seeing.
The tour concludes back downstairs, where Rob is crouched down next to the oven, peering into the window to check on the turkey. He stands back up as they approach and glances at the wall clock before turning to Lucy.
"Kate tells me you're missing a big game to be here."
"Oh, no, I can just catch the highlights later," Lucy tells him with a reassuring smile. "I'm happy to spend the evening with y'all tonight."
Rob motions toward the living room and picks up the two cans of beer on the countertop. "I was just about to put it on, if you'd like to join me."
Whistler touches Lucy's arm. "Go watch the game," she urges. "My dad's better company than he looks."
Lucy nods. "Rob," she addresses very seriously, "Christie just gave me a lovely tour of your home, but if you break my heart by rooting for the Giants this afternoon, I may have to catch the next flight back to Hawaii."
"Well, we can't have that," Rob replies easily. "Consider my loyalties with the Cowboys for the rest of the day."
Lucy beams at Whistler before following Rob into the living room and taking a seat on the couch, closest to the armchair he's planted himself into. Rob pops open his beer and puts the game on. It's the beginning of the second quarter.
Lucy nurses her beer and tries to rein in her usual game day exuberance out of politeness, but when the Cowboys score a tying touchdown, she leaps off the couch to celebrate, and Rob happily returns her high-five.
At halftime, Rob turns down the volume on the game analysts. Lucy looks into the kitchen, where Whistler is leaning against the counter, chatting with her mother as she bustles around the kitchen.
"I must admit," Rob says then, pulling Lucy's attention back, "I'm more of a baseball guy myself."
Lucy smiles. "According to legend, I was born with a Cowboys onesie on. Really baffled the doctors who delivered me."
Rob seems to find that funny, chuckling as he takes a sip of beer.
"When I was younger," Lucy continues, "my family used to watch the Cowboys game together every Thanksgiving. Haven't missed one in over twenty years."
Rob furrows his brows. "You were willing to break a two-decade-old tradition tonight?"
"Sometimes you have to make some new traditions," Lucy replies soberly. She wishes her heart didn't hurt when she admits, "I didn't watch the last three with them."
Lucy braces for questions, but Rob just nods and takes another sip of beer.
"Families can be fragile," he acknowledges.
Lucy glances at the framed photos on the fireplace mantle. Noah is in a few of them. She doesn't know if she's supposed to pretend his presence isn't still all over the house and in the heavy spaces of every conversation.
"My son played football in high school," Rob tells her then, answering her unspoken question. His eyes are fixed on the TV. "Wide receiver."
"Running must be in the Whistler genes," Lucy remarks lightly.
"Not my genes," Rob replies with a sound that might pass for a dry laugh. "But Christie ran track in college. She'd take the kids jogging every morning when they were little. They loved spending time with her. I guess the habit stuck."
Lucy makes a mental note to make less fun of Whistler's morning runs. A little less, anyway.
"Kate runs directly on the beach sometimes, if you'll believe it," Lucy tells him with a soft, affectionate laugh. "Why did we as a civilization even bother inventing paved roads?"
"Preaching to the choir," Rob replies, smiling like he's found kinship. The sound of Whistler's laughter floats out of the kitchen, and Rob glances over. "I haven't seen Kate this happy since college."
Lucy tries not to beam with pride. It's not any one thing, she knows, but she also knows her contribution, and the work they've both had to do to get here.
"Kate deserves to be happy," Lucy settles for saying.
Rob takes a drink of beer, then another. He tries to mask his grief when he says, "I know she feels a lot of pressure to carry the family name now that her brother's gone, and I wish she knew she didn't have to do that."
"Have you told her that?" Lucy asks gently. She takes the silence as a no and continues, "My parents placed a lot of expectations on me growing up, and I struggled to meet them. I know it would mean a lot to me if they reassured me that I've made the right choices."
Rob continues to remain silent, and Lucy is about to apologize for overstepping when he says, "I hope you and your family can make it back to watching football together on Thanksgiving again, Lucy."
Lucy tries to blink away the sudden, unexpected pricking behind her eyelids, turning away because she's never been good at hiding how she's feeling, never less so than when she's caught off guard, and she doesn't want this to be Rob's first impression of her.
But Rob drinks his beer in peace and gives her the space to compose herself.
"I hope so too," Lucy finally says, "but new traditions with new people aren't so bad either."
Rob lifts his beer can up toward Lucy. "To new traditions."
Lucy smiles as she picks her own can off the coffee table and taps it against his. "To new traditions," she echoes.
Whistler approaches a few minutes later and taps her father on the shoulder. "Dad, you're needed in the kitchen."
Rob pats Whistler's hand and gets up, leaving his beer on the coffee table. He offers Lucy a small smile before heading to the kitchen.
Whistler sits down next to Lucy on the couch, squeezing them into one and a half seats together just so their bodies can touch. Whistler smiles at her before sliding their hands together and leaning in to press a quick kiss to Lucy's lips.
"How's the game?" Whistler asks, glancing at the TV.
"Tied at halftime," Lucy replies, chasing another kiss that Whistler eagerly hands out.
Whistler hums distractedly, her other hand running over Lucy's hip, her thigh. "Food's almost ready. Do you want to wait until the game ends to eat?"
Lucy starts to get up. "No, no, there's still a lot left to play and everything smells so good. Can I help with anything?"
Whistler smiles and follows Lucy up. "My mom would and has previously physically barricaded herself in the kitchen when guests attempt to help, so let's not reintroduce that fire code violation tonight."
Undeterred and driven by her desire to be helpful, Lucy drifts into the kitchen to look for something to do, and is promptly reprimanded and returned to a waiting Whistler, who smiles in amusement and tugs Lucy around a corner so she can kiss the scowl off her face.
The Thanksgiving feast looks incredible, the table set beautifully, and Lucy tells them as much when everyone takes a seat at the table, Lucy and Whistler on one side, Whistler's parents on the other.
Christie holds up her glass of wine. "This year, I'm thankful for family," she announces with a warm smile directed at Lucy, "and for the new addition to ours."
"All right, Mom," Whistler protests, "let's not scare Lucy with welcome to the family speeches."
Christie clicks her tongue in disapproval. "The way you were talking about her earlier in the kitchen, I'd say my speech is already overdue."
Whistler flushes. "I—"
Lucy lights up in delight. "Now we've got to trade notes, Christie," she says teasingly. "See if what she's telling me lines up."
Whistler turns to Lucy like she's been betrayed. "Don't encourage her!"
Lucy laughs and pulls Whistler's hand to her lips, pressing a pair of soft kisses to the knuckles of her index and middle fingers. Whistler's cheeks are still glowing, but her responding smile is full of affection.
"Can we please eat?" Whistler mutters.
"Let's talk later," Christie mouths at Lucy.
Lucy loads up her plate and digs in, good-naturedly fielding Christie's probing questions about how they met and how they got together the first time and why they broke up. Lucy tries to tell a condensed version of events that dances around what really happened to protect Whistler's character, but Whistler cuts her off with a hand on her arm to take responsibility for the breakup, but to also claim it for their reconciliation.
Between bites of turkey and mashed potatoes, Lucy learns about Whistler's family, about the high-level government events that Whistler's mother had been responsible for pulling off, about the military tours Whistler's father has taken, and about the line at the DMV where they met and talked for two hours while they waited to get their licenses renewed.
They talk about everything except the empty seat at the table and the heaviness lurking in the room when the person who should be in that seat makes an appearance in a story one of them is telling.
But Lucy watches as they sweep the discomfort aside with what feels like practice, over a decade of it. She lets them, because it's not her place to tell them how to live with the loss, but she gleans just a little more understanding about Whistler's ability to compartmentalize.
It's past midnight when the table finally gets cleared. While Rob loads the dishwasher, Christie stacks the leftovers away in the fridge.
"Why don't you stay the night?" Christie asks. "It's late, and your room upstairs is all made up."
Whistler glances at Lucy. "Uh, thanks, Mom, but—"
Lucy touches Whistler's wrist, remembering the bulletin board above Whistler's bed that she's yet to explore. "I wouldn't mind, actually."
Christie clasps her hands together in excitement. "Kate, show Lucy where the clean towels are."
Whistler is difficult to read as she leads Lucy up the stairs and to the bathroom closet. She doesn't look particularly upset, and she would've said something if she really didn't want to stay, but the anxiety radiating from her is obvious.
"Is this okay?" Lucy asks as Whistler hands her a towel. "I can drive us back to the hotel."
Whistler runs a hand through her own hair. "I'm just thinking about what embarrassing things are in my room and if I can get to them before you do."
Lucy relaxes, relieved. "Oh! Well, why don't I shower first, and you can go hide all those love letters you wrote your high school sweetheart."
Whistler smiles. "I assure you, I was not brave enough to write anyone love letters in high school. I could barely look at girls I liked in the eye."
Lucy brings her hand up over her heart. "Aw, you were shy!"
"I wasn't shy," Whistler protests half-heartedly. She pulls Lucy closer and leans down to kiss her, once, softly. Whistler's hand slides to the small of Lucy's back, then lower, until she can give Lucy's butt a quick squeeze. "Anyway, I think I've gotten over that, wouldn't you agree?"
Lucy laughs, instinctively pushing her hips forward. "Don't start something you don't intend to finish, Whistler."
Whistler's responding smile is bright as she turns to leave. "I'm going to go find you something to wear to bed."
Lucy ties up her hair and takes a quick shower, then pulls on the Kappa Alpha Theta t-shirt and gray sleep shorts that Whistler had left out for her. Everything is a bit loose on her, so she rolls up the sleeves of the shirt, turning it into a tank, and tightens the drawstring on the shorts before leaving the bathroom.
Whistler is sitting on her bed, looking through a photo album. She glances up when Lucy enters, and then immediately takes a second look, eyes scanning slowly down the length of Lucy's body.
Lucy plops down onto the bed next to her, pulling her legs up to cross them in front of her. She cranes her neck toward the photo album. "What are you looking at?"
"Well, you, now," Whistler replies, openly staring.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs is the only reason Lucy keeps her hands at her sides and behaves. Whistler must hear it too, because she straightens up and turns her attention to the open doorway. To her credit, Christie knocks against the doorframe and waits a moment before she peers inside. She wishes them a goodnight, and Whistler gets up to give her mom a hug, then her dad when he appears behind her.
Lucy hovers in the periphery, feeling a bit out of place in her sleep clothes, feet bare. But then Christie turns to her and asks her if she's a hugger, and Lucy has to remind herself to be cool as she approaches and takes the offered hug, trying not to squeeze as tightly as she'd like to. Rob, on the other hand, doesn't look like much of a hugger himself, but he does pat Lucy on the shoulder, and that feels almost as good.
Whistler's parents head down the hall to their own room, but before Lucy can attempt to continue where they left off, Whistler grabs a change of clothes and leaves to take a shower.
Lucy looks around the room. She doesn't actually want to snoop and stumble on something that Whistler either doesn't want her to see or would rather introduce to her on her own terms and with context, so Lucy sticks to looking at the books on her bookshelf and the annotations on her world map.
Lucy is kneeling on the bed, looking at a photo of Whistler and her brother on the bulletin board above the headboard when Whistler walks back into the room and closes the door behind her. The tips of her hair are damp, and she's in a pair of light blue sweatpants and a loose black Ramones t-shirt.
"It's Noah's," Whistler explains when she notices Lucy looking at the shirt.
Lucy narrows her eyes. "You have sweatpants, but you put the Texan in shorts in late November."
Whistler hides a smile. "It was the only thing I could find with a drawstring."
"Uh-huh," Lucy says, turning her attention back to the bulletin board.
Whistler walks over and places her hand on Lucy's back. "Are you really cold? I can turn the heat up."
Lucy shakes her head and points to the photo she'd been looking at. Whistler looks like she's in her late teens or early twenties in it, her hair in a side braid over her collarbone. Noah has his arm around her shoulders, and he's smiling down at her as she's grinning at the camera, cheeks rosy.
"We had just gotten off a zipline near Lake Tahoe, and he was making fun of me for screaming," Whistler recalls with a small smile. "This was right before he left for his last tour." She swallows hard. "He was supposed to be back in time for my college graduation."
Lucy shifts herself closer and wraps an arm around Whistler's back. With the extra height offered by the bed, Lucy stretches to press a kiss to Whistler's temple, and Whistler leans in, tucking her head against Lucy's neck. They stay like that for a few minutes while Whistler points out a few photos of her childhood friends and tells her what they're up to now.
Once she's gone through most of the pinned photos, Whistler lifts her head and presses a kiss to Lucy's shoulder. "Let's go to bed?"
Lucy nods, and Whistler moves to put away the photo album she'd been looking at earlier and flip off the lights. Lucy slides under the covers and watches the silhouette of Whistler approach the bed and climb in beside her. The bed is a bit smaller than they're used to, but Lucy doesn't mind having to squeeze a little closer. Whistler turns to face her, and Lucy can just about make out the shapes of her features in the dark.
Lucy pulls the covers up around her chin. "I like your parents."
"I can tell they really like you," Whistler replies, "as I knew they would."
Lucy smiles. "I'm very easy to like."
Lucy slides closer until their bodies are touching, her hand finding Whistler's hip under the covers. "You didn't like me much when I was trying to creatively circumvent your red tape."
Whistler breathes out a laugh. "I'm not sure I would agree with your definition of creatively, but I liked you," she insists. Then, softer, "I've almost always liked you."
Lucy's hand flexes, sliding up to Whistler's waist. "Like as a person, or... in a gay way?"
"Both," Whistler admits without looking away. "Your disregard for DIA protocol was... challenging, but I couldn't help but be fascinated by you."
Lucy's eyes have adjusted better to the darkness now, and she studies Whistler for a moment. "You could've been a bit nicer to me if you had a big, gay crush on me."
"Okay, I didn't say that," Whistler argues.
"Small, gay crush?" Lucy amends.
Whistler doesn't make an effort to fight that one, but she does tuck one of her legs between Lucy's as she curls closer, hand moving to Lucy's lower back.
"Kate," Lucy says softly, "why didn't you ever say anything?"
Whistler's shrug falls just short of unaffected. "Because we agreed not to."
"We broke that agreement every few months," Lucy reminds her. "I think it's safe to say neither of us were all that invested in keeping it."
Whistler takes a beat. "I don't think I really understood what I was feeling back then, or why I was so increasingly drawn to you." The hand at Lucy's back presses into her shirt. "I was afraid if I mentioned anything resembling feelings, you wouldn't want to keep occasionally breaking our agreement anymore."
"I didn't even know feelings were on the table." Lucy squeezes Whistler's side, hard enough to feel her readjusting. "You were always pretty quick to leave or dismiss me after."
Whistler tightens her grip around Lucy when she says, "I thought if I stayed, it would blur the lines too much."
"They were still pretty blurry for me," Lucy confesses quietly, counting her own heartbeat in an effort to ease the sudden ache, and the memory of uncertainty.
"Yeah," Whistler breathes out, "for me too."
Lucy leans in, seeking Whistler's lips. The kiss they share is full of tenderness, softer than Whistler's firm grip on the back of Lucy's shirt would suggest.
"Katherine Zeta-Jones Whistler," Lucy says absently when they pull apart.
Whistler smiles, reaching up to tuck Lucy's hair behind her ear. "It's Marie," she tells her, "after my grandmother."
Lucy's eyes light up. "Marie," she says slowly, quietly into the air between them like she's repeating a secret. "Katherine Marie Whistler."
Whistler pulls Lucy closer to kiss her again, and this time, Lucy lets her hand slip under Whistler's shirt and up Whistler's side. She gets the pad of her thumb against Whistler's nipple, and Whistler arches, pulling away.
"I don't know if I can do this in my parents' house," Whistler says.
Lucy immediately withdraws her hands. "Okay. Can I—" She reaches down between her own legs and presses her palm against herself. She can feel Whistler gripping the back of her shirt again. "Whistler, I need to—" She feels flushed for what she's asking, and for how much Whistler's tight grip is really doing it for her. "Do you want me to go to the bathroom? I'll be fast. Or, um, I can wait."
"No, just—" Whistler swats Lucy's hand aside and replaces it with her own. "Be quiet."
Lucy tries her best to comply as Whistler undoes the drawstring of her shorts and touches her, working her with fingers and thumb under the covers until Lucy can feel the intensity of it building between her thighs.
Whistler's watching her the whole time, gaze flickering between her eyes and her mouth. When Lucy starts to get a bit noisy, Whistler leans in to kiss her, relegating those sounds to the back of her throat.
Lucy presses hard against Whistler as she comes, moan muffled against Whistler's mouth. Whistler's hand keeps steady pressure as Lucy grinds down against it, then relaxes when her movements still, sliding soaked fingers to rest on Lucy's inner thigh.
Their kisses slow, and Lucy moves a shaky hand down between their bodies, reaching for Whistler, but Whistler stops her and pulls away.
"I'm fine," Whistler murmurs. "I just like watching you."
"You must be uncomfortably turned on," Lucy remarks, still trying to catch her breath.
Whistler laughs softly but doesn't refute her assessment. "Lucy, go to sleep. You can get me back when we return to our hotel room."
Whistler nods, rolling to her back and pushing the covers off her chest for some ventilation. Lucy reaches over to drop her hand on Whistler's abdomen, sliding her fingertips just underneath the hem of her shirt. It's an open offer until one of them falls asleep.
Whistler shifts, first to rub her thighs together, then to stretch. Lucy watches as she tries for a few minutes to find a comfortable sleeping position. Finally, Whistler sighs in frustration and turns her head on the pillow to look at Lucy desperately.
"How can I help?" Lucy prompts, her hand twitching in anticipation.
"I don't think I can be quiet enough."
And Whistler can be pretty vocal, which Lucy loves, but she's definitely also been plenty capable of being quiet, so Lucy's pretty sure whatever Whistler is worried about isn't rooted in volume. Lucy waits, brushing her hand encouragingly over Whistler's abdomen.
Whistler's hand wraps around Lucy's wrist to steady it, then guides Lucy under the waistband of her sweatpants, down between her legs and over the underwear she's already soaked through.
Lucy groans, fighting the urge to accelerate. "Whistler."
"Can you—" Whistler seems embarrassed, fingers flexing against Lucy's wrist. "Can you call me Kate tonight?" Warmth radiates from her cheeks. "In this house, it's—"
"Kate," Lucy complies, "please let me make you feel good."
"You've made me feel really good all day," Whistler says with sudden sincerity. She tightens her grip on Lucy's wrist. "Having you here has been incredibly validating for me."
Lucy leans closer, and Whistler's lips meet hers halfway. The kiss is soft, reassuring, and when Lucy's hand slides to Whistler's thigh in an effort to take it at her pace, Whistler moans at the loss of contact.
Lucy pulls away just enough to murmur, "Can I touch you?"
Whistler loosens her grip around Lucy's wrist and nods.
Lucy kisses Whistler again, harder this time, with intention. Her hand finds the band of Whistler's underwear and slides in, seeking. Whistler's hips press forward eagerly as Lucy touches her, rolling her fingertips in tight, firm circles until Whistler is whimpering against her mouth.
Whistler breaks the kiss, eyes squeezed shut in concentration, lips slightly parted, brows knit, and Lucy loves this part, loves to watch Whistler dangle at the precipice and knowing she has the power to pull her over.
Lucy presses a kiss to Whistler's sweaty forehead. "Kate," she whispers.
Whistler's eyes flutter open, and her concentration wavers but isn't lost.
"I love you," Lucy murmurs. "I love seeing you like this."
Whistler climaxes quietly, her shuddering body curling into Lucy's as she lets out nothing more than a gasp. Lucy peppers kisses across Whistler's face as her hand slows to a stop in rhythm with Whistler's grinding hips.
Whistler laughs softly once she's caught her breath. She rolls onto her back again and covers her eyes with the back of her forearm.
"What," Lucy teases, "you've never snuck a girl into your room?"
Whistler peeks at her from behind her arm. "No, Lucy, some of us have an appropriate amount of fear and gay panic during adolescence."
Lucy laughs brightly and pulls Whistler's arm away so she can kiss her again.
A wooden carving of a tiny cowboy hat sits cradled in Lucy's hands as Whistler drives them out of her parents' suburbs and back to their hotel. They'd left shortly after breakfast, Whistler making promises to call more often and visit when she can, her mother's teary-eyed hugs making Lucy think about the awkward and tense hug her own mother had given her when she'd visited unannounced.
"What's that?" Whistler asks at a red light, looking at the carving in Lucy's hands.
Lucy lifts it to the top of her head like she's modelling the world's smallest hat. "Your dad gave it to me."
Whistler narrows her eyes. "When?"
"This morning," Lucy replies with a small smile, "when you and your mom were bickering about which branch of government has the most power."
"Right, the legislative," Whistler says immediately.
"On paper, maybe," Lucy counters.
Whistler scoffs. "You mean the paper called the United States Constitution?" She shakes her head and hits the gas when the light turns green. "Not the point. Did he make it for you?"
"Yeah, did you see his workshop in the garage?" Lucy asks, turning the carving over in her hand and running her fingertip over the smoothness of the brim. "He's very talented."
"Of course I've seen his workshop," Whistler says stiffly.
Lucy studies her for a moment, then bites back a smile. "Do you want to drive back and demand he give you something too?"
Whistler glances over. "I'm not jealous of my dad liking you."
Lucy hums. "So you won't mind if I put this next to that fancy vase in our kitchen, with a sign that reads, Rob Whistler carved this for Lucy Tara?"
Whistler's jaw shifts like she's holding back a laugh. "Fine with me. I'll even make the sign."
Lucy smiles and continues to fiddle with the carving, thumbing over the crease at the top. "My dad has an ear for music," she says then. "He never had any formal training, but he could listen to something once and play it. I think he was disappointed I didn't inherit that from him."
Whistler reaches over to touch Lucy's knee before returning her hand to the steering wheel. She waits.
"I miss him," Lucy admits quietly. "I know I'm not supposed to, but hanging out with your parents and seeing how they treat you, and now me..." She looks out the window at the passing cars. "I don't know. It wasn't always bad. I know how that sounds."
"I get it," Whistler says gently. "You're allowed to have complicated feelings about people who've wronged you. Especially if they raised you."
Lucy leans her head against the window, letting the glass cool her temple. "I wish they would give me a proper apology, you know? One that isn't just handing me an early inheritance. They've used money their whole adult lives to fix their mistakes. It isn't enough."
At the next red light, Whistler turns to look at her. "Would you forgive them, if they apologized?"
Lucy lifts her head from the window and meets Whistler's gaze. "I don't know. Would you?"
Whistler takes a moment to choose her words carefully. "I think we get to see each other's parents as the people they are trying to be now, and not the people they were when we were young. I think viewing them without that history or context offers them a lot of leniency, deserved or not."
"What do you mean?" Lucy asks.
"I have a pretty good relationship with my parents now," Whistler explains, "but my dad was really strict when we were growing up, and my mom was a bit obsessive about planning out every little thing in our lives."
Lucy tries to imagine it. "How did they turn into the people I saw?"
"Their son died," Whistler replies quietly. "I guess none of that seemed important anymore." She turns her attention back to the street as the light turns green again and she accelerates out of the stop. "Your parents were incredibly kind to me, Lucy. If I didn't know anything about your family, I would've assumed they'd been upstanding parents."
Lucy frowns. "Is that a good thing?"
"I don't know. It's just a thing." Whistler glances at her with kind eyes. "I can't answer whether I'd forgive them, because it doesn't matter what I think."
"I care about what you think," Lucy tells her, fiddling with the cowboy hat carving.
"I think," Whistler says, "that sometimes people ask for forgiveness in the only way they know how."
Lucy looks out the window again. She thinks about what forgiveness looks like, and what it means to be forgiven. She thinks about Whistler in the break room with an olive branch straw, apologizing for hurting her feelings when neither of them wanted to acknowledge that there were even feelings to hurt, and about Whistler in a near-empty bullpen with tears in her eyes and a sincere apology on her lips, when they both knew there were definitely a lot of feelings to hurt, still. Lucy had practically had to ask for that apology though, genuine as it had been. Sometimes people are just bad at things they've never practiced.
"You gave up a lot to stay in Hawaii," Lucy says then, thinking about the week they've had, and the people she's met.
"I don't see it that way," Whistler replies. "I like my life in Hawaii, Lucy, even before we figured it out. I have no regrets."
Lucy really wants to reach out and touch Whistler, but from experience, Whistler does not handle being touched while driving very well, so Lucy keeps her hands to herself and settles for saying, "I'm really glad you stayed."
Whistler smiles. "Me too."
Lucy plays with the carving again, holding it up in front of her like she's appraising a jewel. "Do you think we could get a spotlight installed above this carving?" she asks seriously. "Just so everyone who visits knows how much your dad likes me."
Whistler rolls her eyes. "How about we toss out the couch and replace it with a glass display stand? Would that work for you?"
Lucy laughs brightly. "Now don't tease me with a good time."
RIP to the middle name I originally gave Kate (Elizabeth) and the joke Lucy makes about it in the final chapter. (Don't worry, it's an easy joke to pivot.)
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 9: December
Whistler's red cocktail dress is beautiful, her shoulders and collarbones on display against the twisted halter neckline. The dress ends just above her knees, a slit on her left side rising up to mid-thigh, and Lucy? Lucy does not have the mental capacity for her hot girlfriend to be wearing hot clothes.
Whistler is rifling through her clutch at the kitchen counter, her hair pulled up in a bun at the back of her head, two perfectly curled tendrils of hair framing her face.
"Lucy, do you know where my—" She looks up and sees Lucy standing a few feet away and stops talking, whatever she'd been looking for forgotten. "Wow."
Lucy is in a navy blue suit - single-breasted button-up jacket and a pair of pressed dress pants tapered just above the ankles. Her white dress shirt is tucked neatly into her belted pants, and she tugs nervously at the red bowtie around her collar.
"How do I look?" Lucy asks, even though she'd gotten the response she'd wanted.
"Lucy, you look..." Whistler openly trails her eyes down the length of Lucy's body, then back up, as she approaches. "You look really, really good. Devastatingly handsome."
Lucy beams. "Then you'll forgive me for admitting that I've been shamelessly staring at you for the last five minutes?"
"Like what you see?" Whistler asks, teasing. She's standing in front of Lucy now, close enough to touch.
Lucy reaches out and presses an open palm against Whistler's hip, sliding down until she reaches the slit on her dress. She dips her fingers underneath and raises her eyebrows suggestively. "Does that answer your question?"
Whistler laughs and swats her hand away. "I spent way too much time putting on my makeup for you to ruin it."
"I just wanted a small kiss," Lucy says innocently. "I don't know what you're implying here, Whistler."
Whistler rolls her eyes and leans down to press a soft kiss to Lucy's smiling lips. When she pulls away, her hands find Lucy's bowtie, readjusting, then the lapels of Lucy's jacket, tugging, and Lucy's smile grows as she rolls to her toes for another kiss. She can feel Whistler's fists tighten on her jacket as she gets pulled roughly against her, but the kiss remains quick, sweet.
"Thank you for braiding my hair," Lucy says when they pull apart, prompting Whistler to reach up and touch the sides of her French braid.
Whistler smiles. "It looks good on you."
"You look good on me," Lucy tells her in response, surprising herself with the earnesty behind her teasing words. She reaches up to twirl Whistler's hair around her fingertip. "I, um, last year—"
Whistler's eyes meet hers, the tiniest hint of nervousness in them. They'd been together at Christmas last year, but Whistler had said something about pressure, about professionalism, and Lucy had gotten the message loud and clear: interact platonically at work events, even festive ones, smile politely like they're colleagues, don't touch, don't stare, don't linger.
And Lucy had played her role patiently, keeping her eyes and her hands and their inside jokes to herself, because at the end of the night, she got to go home with Whistler, and in the privacy of Whistler's apartment, she'd let Lucy touch, and stare, and linger, and that had been enough for her, then.
"Do you remember last year's party?" Lucy asks, to establish a baseline.
"You wore a dress last year," Whistler answers, cautiously like she knows those aren't the details Lucy's asking about. "A dark green flared A-line dress. You looked really good in it as well."
"I wore it because I thought you'd be more likely to talk to me in it," Lucy admits with a small smile, tucking her hands into her pant pockets. "I thought it'd look less—" She shrugs. "I don't know."
Something about that confession seems to hurt Whistler deeply, her eyes blinking rapidly as her jaw shifts, and Lucy reaches out to touch Whistler's arm.
"I liked the dress," Lucy reassures quickly, anchoring. "I liked the way you looked at me in it, and I liked when you took it off me later that night, too."
Whistler takes a shaky breath. "Lucy, I wish—"
"Hey, no," Lucy cuts in, finding Whistler's hands, "let's not do that. That's not what I want. You look way too good to ruin your makeup like this."
That earns her a small laugh.
Lucy smiles up at her, quiet when she asks, "Can I hold your hand this year?"
Whistler nods and squeezes Lucy's hands tightly. "There is nothing else I'd rather be doing."
Lucy tilts her head, happily accepting the kiss when it comes. "You ready to go? What were you looking for before?"
Whistler walks back to her clutch. "Keys," she replies. "They weren't in the bowl."
"Oh." Lucy lifts her jacket and pulls Whistler's keys out of one of the inner pockets. "They were on your nightstand. You, uh—"
Whistler flushes with recognition as she takes the key ring. "Right, I brought them in there to jimmy open the battery compartment of my, um—"
Lucy laughs. "Listen, that thing needs to be replaced."
"It does its job," Whistler says defensively.
"I understand," Lucy placates, "you're emotionally attached to your vibrator, but—"
"I'm not emotionally attached to my vibrator!" Whistler protests, cheeks pink. She stuffs her keys into her clutch and presses it closed a little harder than necessary. "Let's talk about this later. We're going to be late."
They're not going to be late, because Lucy's learned to run on Whistler time for nights out, but Lucy lets it go for now. Whistler's vibrator has, in fact, been a champ in all the time Lucy's known it. She'll have to give Whistler time to mourn.
Whistler turns to the shoes she'd set out earlier. She slides into her strappy heels, immediately growing another four inches. As she leans down to buckle them up, Lucy slips into her block-heeled dress shoes. They're not as tall as Whistler's heels, but they even the playing field a bit. Still, Whistler hovers over her once they're done, an extra inch and a half of differential, and Lucy manages not to comment on how good Whistler looks from this angle, from every angle.
Lucy holds out her arm, and Whistler smiles as she links her arm easily through hers.
"Special Agent Tara," Whistler addresses.
"Special Agent Whistler," Lucy returns, grinning.
Lucy leads Whistler out of their apartment and locks the door behind them. In the elevator, Whistler runs her hand purposefully under Lucy's jacket, along her side to brush against her chest, and oh, Lucy realizes as their eyes meet and she finds Whistler smiling deviously, it's going to be one of those nights.
Lucy loses her bowtie half an hour in, because Whistler keeps playing with it when she thinks no one's looking, and Lucy simply cannot handle Whistler's hands on her neck when it'll be hours before Lucy can properly reciprocate. So she loses the bowtie, tucking the red fabric into the breast pocket of her suit, and unbuttons the top two buttons of her dress shirt. Whistler reaching over to discreetly pop a third button? Lucy will be trying not to think about that all night.
They mingle an appropriate amount, both together and apart, and Lucy actually really enjoys meeting new people when they're not stuffy and old and trying to hit on her girlfriend. But those people get a reputation, and Lucy manages to dodge them pretty easily.
Whistler, on the other hand, mostly sees these things as an opportunity. She likes to dress up, and she likes the attention when it's respectful, but Lucy knows she'll have spent all her social energy by the end of the night. She'll still curl up with Lucy though, and talk about nothing and everything with her, and that makes Lucy feel very, very good, and very, very special.
Lucy is talking to one of Whistler's colleagues from the FBI, an agent whose name she's already forgotten, when she catches Whistler's eye across the room. Whistler smiles at her before she starts heading out of the reception hall, and Lucy turns back to the agent in front of her.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Special Agent..."
The agent doesn't seem to be offended. "Ruiz."
"Special Agent Ruiz." Lucy flashes her best smile. "It's been lovely talking with you. I just, uh, I need to go take care of someone. I mean, something."
Ruiz glances over at where Lucy had been looking. He smiles pleasantly. "Of course, Special Agent Tara. Say hello to Whistler for me."
Lucy tries not to blush as she leaves. She finds Whistler in the bathroom a few minutes later, reapplying her lipstick in the mirror. Their eyes meet in the reflection, and Whistler slowly twists her lipstick back down and caps it. Lucy resists the urge to smear Whistler's perfectly applied lipstick with her mouth.
Whistler plops her lipstick back into her clutch and turns around, leaning back against the counter. She's smiling.
Lucy steps in front of a sink and waves her hand under the faucet until the water starts to run, just to give her hands something to do. "Ruiz says hi. He seems nice."
Whistler's smile widens, her heels clicking against the ceramic tiles as she walks around behind Lucy, purposefully close so her arm grazes Lucy's back, to grab her some paper towels out of the dispenser. She hands them to her, and Lucy dries her hands, wrestling with her heart rate as she tries to figure out Whistler's angle.
Whistler crowds into her space, pressing her hips lightly against Lucy's, her hands sliding under Lucy's jacket, around her torso to her back, and Lucy arches when Whistler's fingers flex against her spine.
Lucy swallows hard. "We can't do this here."
Whistler smiles. "I know."
"We agreed to go out for drinks with my team after," Lucy reminds her.
"I know," Whistler repeats, leaning down to press a soft kiss to Lucy's cheek, her jaw. "You're on my mind, that's all."
Lucy gets her freshly-washed hands up to Whistler's neck, fingers gliding over the base of Whistler's hairline. "Duly noted."
Whistler kisses her, lips soft despite the lipstick, and Lucy knows she's getting it all over her mouth when Whistler moves a little faster, pressing deeper, her hands sliding up to Lucy's shoulder blades and squeezing.
The bathroom door opens, and Whistler jumps, pulling away. An older woman in an elegant purple dress walks in, stopping short when she sees them. Lucy doesn't recognize her, and judging by Whistler's silence, neither does she. The woman smiles politely at them before heading into one of the stalls.
Whistler turns to Lucy, mortified. She digs out some makeup wipes from her clutch and hands one to Lucy, who quickly wipes off the smudges of lipstick around the contour of her mouth. Whistler, on her part, somehow manages to barely have any evidence on her face of being thoroughly kissed, so she just presses her lips together a few times to even out her lipstick.
They hurry out of the bathroom before they have to interact with the woman again. Whistler doesn't seem upset though, her hand clasped in Lucy's as they head back into the reception hall.
Lucy finds her team off to the side and leads Whistler to them. Tennant immediately pulls Whistler over to settle an argument between her and Ernie about which popular movie depiction of the FBI is the most accurate.
Jesse bumps Lucy's shoulder with his own. When Lucy turns to look up at him, he smiles.
"You got a little, uh," Jesse says, touching his own jaw with one hand and holding out a napkin with the other.
Lucy takes the napkin and rubs it over the spot Jesse is indicating. It comes away with a streak of ruby red.
"Oh, I—" Lucy tries not to glance at Whistler as she stuffs the napkin into her pocket. "The, um, hors d'oeuvres."
Jesse grins. "Right. Which one was it that came with a side of lipstick?"
Lucy elbows him. "Shut up, Jesse," she mutters, feeling the tips of her ears burn.
Jesse laughs. "I'm just teasing. Glad you're having a good time, Luce."
Kai approaches them then and smiles at Lucy. "Hey, haven't seen much of you tonight."
"I was mingling!" Lucy says loudly, probably more defensively than she would've if she hadn't just been called out for her extra curricular activities with Whistler.
Kai glances at Jesse, who hides a smile and shakes his head.
Lucy looks between the two of them and narrows her eyes. "Are you two wearing the same dress shirt in different colors?"
Kai groans and covers his face, but Jesse just grins.
"Yeah," Jesse replies, tapping the back of his hand against the front of Kai's burgundy shirt, "he's been dodging me all night. I think he's embarrassed of me."
"Dude, that's 'cause you're embarrassing," Kai argues. He turns to Lucy. "He's been telling everyone that we split a two-pack."
Lucy laughs. "Y'all are adorable."
"All right," Kai mutters. "I'm ready to go get some real drinks. You and Whistler in?"
Lucy smiles at being referred to as a pair. She likes it. "Yeah, we're in."
"I'm going to circle home and tuck the kids into bed first," Jesse tells them. "I'll meet everyone there."
"Can you please change your shirt while you're home?" Kai asks.
Jesse grins. "I actually have it in burgundy too, so if you wanted to be twins, Kai, you just had to ask."
"Get out of here," Kai says, laughing as he gives Jesse a light shove. "I'm burning this shirt as soon as I get home."
The sound of Ernie's voice getting louder catches their attention, and the three of them look over just in time to hear Ernie demand at a bewildered Whistler, "What do you mean you haven't seen Catch Me If You Can?"
Whistler is methodical when she removes her makeup, ritualistic. Lucy, who mostly just swipes a makeup wipe across her eyes and then splashes some water on her face, had been fascinated with Whistler's routine when she'd first noticed it.
Now, Lucy knows what to expect, but she still loves watching Whistler go through each step, long slender fingers moving over her face until she's stripped down to just her.
They'd driven all the way to the beach house for the night even though their apartment is closer to the bar, because they both have the weekend off, and Whistler had mentioning the surf forecast being good for the beach by the house the next morning, and Lucy is always looking to get Whistler into a bathing suit, even though tragically, she usually sleeps in and misses it.
They've been spending a few weekends a month at the house, and Lucy has been offering it up to her team and their families whenever they need a few days away from home, her only request being that guests leave behind at least one polaroid every time they stay. The fridge doors are full of photos of smiling faces tucked next to Jake's drawings of Pokemon and Julie's scented thank you notes.
But when it's just the two of them, the house is theirs, and Lucy gets to take her time watching Whistler work in front of the sink, her own shower forgotten until the glass door steams up enough to obfuscate her view.
Lucy wipes her palm against the glass. The movement catches Whistler's attention, and she starts to run through the rest of her routine quickly. Lucy turns back to the spray of hot water, closing her eyes as she lets it pelt down on her and wash away the day.
The knock on the stall door startles her, and she opens her eyes to find Whistler standing on the other side, the rest of her clothing discarded. Lucy pushes open the door in invitation, and Whistler steps in, pulling the door shut behind her.
Immediately, Whistler's hands cup Lucy's cheeks, and she leans down to plant a kiss on her lips. Lucy reciprocates in kind, letting herself touch Whistler the way she couldn't all night, hands burning paths across Whistler's skin.
Whistler pulls back, her palms sliding down to touch Lucy's collarbones, down over her breasts, her abdomen, her thighs.
"You almost got me in trouble at the bar," Whistler tells her with a smile.
Lucy hums, remembering her fingertips brushing under Whistler's dress, teasing higher and higher as she got progressively more tipsy, all while they sat across the table from her team. She doesn't regret it one bit, not for the look Whistler had given her then, nor for the one she's giving her now.
Whistler kisses her again, softly. Her eyes shift, dark and searching, when she says, "I'm sorry, Lucy, about last year."
Lucy wants to go back to kissing, but she can tell it's been weighing heavily on Whistler all night. She reaches up to push Whistler's wet hair behind her ears.
"I had a good time last year," Lucy tells her. "I didn't do anything I didn't want to do."
Whistler squeezes her eyes shut for a moment. "I would've talked to you no matter what you wore. It wasn't about that."
"You needed the separation," Lucy says, running her thumb over Whistler's chin. "I get it. I was okay with it."
Whistler stretches to run her face under the shower spray. Lucy knows she's crying and trying to hide it, so she twists them around until Whistler's the one with her back under the water.
"I wanted you to be comfortable," Lucy continues, hands on Whistler's cheeks, "with us."
"You sacrificed a lot for my comfort," Whistler acknowledges quietly.
"Come on, I wore a cute dress that looked good on me," Lucy dismisses with a small shrug. "Not exactly a huge sacrifice."
Whistler shakes her head. "Not just the dress. I know all the hiding and the secrecy hurt you, even before I sprung the big one on you, and I'm really sorry."
Lucy finds the back of Whistler's neck, pulling until their foreheads touch, the water rolling over Whistler's shoulders. "You were mine in private," Lucy murmurs. "I know you were trying."
Whistler's head tilts in a nod. "I was. Sometimes trying isn't enough."
Lucy pulls more, getting Whistler's lips within reach. She ghosts over them, forgiveness in her throat, before replying, "Sometimes it is."
They kiss softly under the cleansing water, the memory of Whistler's hand on the small of Lucy's back as she introduced her to her FBI colleagues bright and warm in Lucy's mind.
After, Whistler presses Lucy down on the bed and gets her mouth between Lucy's legs. She's slow in her movements, quietly concentrated as she watches Lucy with attentive eyes. And normally, Lucy would be impatient, grinding against Whistler's mouth, but she lets Whistler set the pace, and Whistler seems content to drag it out, using lips and tongue to drive Lucy higher but slowing before she can get over the edge.
"Whistler," Lucy whines.
Whistler hums, reaching up to get her hands on Lucy's chest, thumbs brushing over her nipples.
Lucy arches. "Kate," she tries again.
Whistler picks up the pace, bringing her hands back down to lift Lucy's legs gently over her shoulders. Lucy's thighs clench reflexively against Whistler's ears, and Whistler moans, hands gripping Lucy's hips.
Lucy's abdomen flexes, her upper body lifting off the bed in pleasure as she comes, every variation of Whistler's name falling from her lips. Whistler carefully, diligently strokes Lucy through with her tongue, until Lucy's legs fall slack and she has to nudge Whistler's head away.
Whistler leaves a trail of wet kisses up Lucy's torso, culminating in a messy one against her mouth. Lucy starts to move her hands south, but Whistler takes them and pins them above her head.
Lucy's stronger than her, could easily escape her grasp or flip her, but she lets Whistler rile her up again with her fingers, then her mouth, then both, until Lucy's spent body starts to drift.
Lucy makes one more attempt to touch Whistler, but she stops her and pulls her under the covers, holds her hands and presses kisses to her neck until she falls asleep.
Lucy wakes to the ocean breeze drifting in through the bedroom window, the sun warming her skin. Whistler is already up, but Lucy can smell the coffee brewing in the distance and sits up, blearily grabbing her phone to check her messages.
There's a missed call from her mother from an hour ago. No voice mail. No text.
Lucy digs out some clothes and pulls them on before heading downstairs. She finds Whistler at her usual spot at the breakfast bar, morning paper in hand. There's a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and twine on the counter next to Whistler's coffee mug. Lucy hops onto the stool beside Whistler and looks cautiously at the package, which just has her first name printed across the top.
"What is this?"
Whistler leans over to kiss her good morning. "Courier hand-delivered it about an hour ago. No return address."
"My mom tried to call me this morning," Lucy says, placing her phone down on the counter.
Whistler abandons her paper. "Do you think this is from them?"
Lucy moves the package closer to herself and trails a finger over her name. "I don't know, but it feels like too much of a coincidence."
Whistler gets up to grab Lucy a cup of coffee and a pair of scissors, then takes her seat again, hand soothing and steady on Lucy's back. Lucy takes a deep breath and cuts the twine, then slowly unwraps it, pulling away the foam padding to find a small but intricately built wooden box, the edges rounded, the base and cover slightly larger than the body. The top of the box is inlaid with veneer in a floral pattern, Lucy's name carved in cursive just underneath. The cover, hinged along one edge, flips open when Lucy lifts it, and immediately, a tune familiar to Lucy jingles into the kitchen. It's a music box, the machinery tucked to one side under glass, metal cylinder rotating as it plays. The rest of the box is padded with felt, half of it grooved like it would fit some rings, the other half divided into small compartments.
Lucy listens to the tune for a minute and has to wipe away an errant tear. She can feel Whistler slide her stool closer.
"This is beautiful," Whistler says, running her hand up and down Lucy's back. "What's the tune?"
"Ollie had this toy xylophone when he was young," Lucy replies, smiling at the memory, "and my dad composed a tune for each of us on it. This is mine."
Whistler listens carefully until the music starts to loop. "This is really intricate."
Lucy leans against Whistler, head on her shoulder. "Yeah, he's workshopped it over the years. I swear every time I heard it, he'd added a couple notes."
They listen for a few more loops before Lucy reaches over to close it.
"I'm going to call them," Lucy announces as she gets off the stool and takes her phone.
"Okay." Whistler's eyes pierce with concern, but she doesn't verbalize it. "Do you want some breakfast first?"
Lucy shakes her head, but she grabs her mug and presses a quick kiss to Whistler's cheek. "I'll be back. Thanks for the coffee."
Lucy steps out onto the patio, taking a sip of coffee as she hits the call button on her missed call. She holds her phone to her ear, nerves rattling inside her, as she listens to it ring.
"Lucy," Alma greets when she answers.
"Can I put you on speakerphone?" Alma asks. "Your father's here too."
Lucy takes another sip of coffee. "Yeah, that's fine."
There's some shuffling at the other end, and then Ali's voice rings through. "Lucy."
Lucy clears her throat and tries to focus on why she'd called. "I just got the music box. It's beautiful, thank you."
"A local woodworker made them," Alma tells her. "He sources his wood from old crown molding and cabinetry. Very sustainable."
The irony of talking about sustainability while running an oil empire isn't lost on Lucy, but she manages to hold her tongue. She waits a beat, then two, and when there's nothing but uncomfortable silence, she tightens her grip on her coffee mug.
"Okay, well, I should be off. Thanks again for the early Christmas gift."
"Lucy, wait," Ali says, sounding uncharacteristically frantic. "Could we—How have you been? Are you eating?"
"Good and yes," Lucy answers, offering the bare minimum.
There's another silence on the other end, then Ali seems to push through Lucy's brush-off. "How's Kate?"
Lucy flares with protectiveness. She wants to tell them that they haven't earned the right to know anything about her, but she thinks about Whistler sitting patiently at dinner with her parents, hand on her lap. Lucy takes a deep breath, recalibrating.
"Kate is fine," Lucy says stiffly. "She's reading the paper inside." She gulps down some coffee and returns politely, "How have y'all been?"
Lucy can almost see them exchanging a look as they silently decide what united front to present.
"We're well," Alma replies after a brief pause. "Your father has picked up the oud again."
"I'm out of practice," Ali laments. "My hands don't move like they used to."
"I bet it sounds beautiful," Lucy offers.
"You know, you were the only one among your siblings who would sit and listen to me play music for hours," Ali tells her, nostalgia heavy on his words. "We couldn't get you to sit still for anything, but the moment I picked up an instrument, I always had your full attention."
Lucy's heart feels tender. She remembers being completely enamored by the way her father's hands danced over instruments, and by the look of sheer joy on his face whenever he played them.
"I was young, then," Lucy says quietly. Too young to know the burn of rejection, of disapproval. She finishes her coffee and holds the mug to her chest. "I'm sure you'll get it all back, Baba."
"I hope so," Ali replies, and Lucy knows they aren't talking about playing instruments anymore.
Lucy blinks against her tears and wills her voice not to betray her. "I, um." She clears her throat, trying to soothe the sudden thrum of vulnerability in her chest. "I watched the Cowboys Thanksgiving game. Well, second quarter plus highlights."
It's a peace offering, one that Ali immediately takes.
"Did you see the fifty-yard touchdown pass in the fourth?" Ali asks. "Insane."
"Flag on the play," Lucy reminds him. "Didn't count."
"The refs were on one the whole game," Ali mutters.
Lucy smiles in spite of herself. "Does Ben still fly home to watch it with y'all?"
"He does," Ali replies, "but New York's made him soft."
Lucy groans. "Don't tell me he was rooting for the Giants."
"Oh, no," Ali assures her, "I would've booted him back to the east coast myself. Broken the NFL record for longest punt."
The laugh that comes out of her feels light, even when Alma pipes up to admonish her husband for cracking a joke at the expense of their son.
Ali falls quiet for a moment. "Your absence was felt, Lucy."
Lucy tamps down the wave of hurt that flushes through her. "Don't act like it was my choice to stop coming," she fires back, bracing for an argument.
"It was mine," Ali admits soberly, as remorseful as Lucy has ever heard him. "I pushed you away."
It's not an apology, but it's the first time Lucy's father has acknowledged his role in their fractured relationship. It's the first time it hasn't been about Lucy being an ungrateful, selfish daughter.
Lucy doesn't want her parents to hear her cry. "I need to go."
Ali sighs. "Lucy—"
"Thank you for saying that," Lucy cuts in, getting the words out quickly before she loses the steadiness in her voice, "and for the gift." She squeezes her eyes shut and hears her own thumping heart. "Take care of each other."
"Merry Christmas, Lucy," Alma says when she realizes the conversation is unequivocally over. "Please extend our greetings to Kate."
Lucy nods though they can't see her and swallows against the lump in her throat. "Merry Christmas."
Lucy ends the call and stands still for a moment in the shade of the patio, taking deep breaths in an effort to convince her body that tears aren't needed here. Lucy hears approaching footsteps, and then Whistler's arms wrap around her from behind, lips pressing soft kisses to the crown of her head. Whistler doesn't ask her how she is or if she's okay, and Lucy is grateful for it.
"Come have some breakfast," Whistler says, her hand moving to Lucy's abdomen. "I'll make you some waffles."
Lucy tilts her head to look at Whistler. "The French toast ones that put me in a food coma last time?" she asks hopefully.
Whistler smiles. "That can be arranged." She spins Lucy around in her arms and takes her empty coffee cup from her. "I'm here if you want to talk."
"I know," Lucy replies with a small smile, "but right now, I just really want to be taken out by some French toast waffles."
Whistler nods and leads Lucy back inside to dig a bottle of maple syrup out of the fridge.
They spend Christmas Eve at home, Lucy's selection of Christmas music playing through the speakers, mugs of hot cocoa - a pile of marshmallows in Lucy's - cradled in their hands as they enjoy the evening breeze on the balcony, seats pressed together as close as they'll go. Lucy even catches Whistler humming a few of the classics when they come on. Lucy doesn't say anything that could possibly break the spell, but even when Whistler catches herself, she just smiles at Lucy, mildly embarrassed, and keeps humming.
There's a small tabletop Christmas tree at one end of the dining table that Whistler had picked up unprompted a few weeks ago while out on an errand run. Lucy knows Whistler's never been big on Christmas, but she'd helped Lucy lightly decorate their home with some string lights and tinsel, a pair of stockings with their first initials monogrammed onto the cuffs hanging from a bookshelf. Lucy has been periodically stuffing Whistler's stocking with little items that remind her of Whistler, and judging by the growing size of Lucy's stocking, Whistler has been doing the same.
And of course, no Christmas decorating would be complete without a sprig of mistletoe above the entrance, though neither of them have ever missed an opportunity to greet the other with a kiss after a long workday prior to it being there. But they kiss just a little bit longer under it, and Lucy considers trying to convince Whistler to keep it up all year round.
"I really like you," Lucy says, watching Whistler take a sip of her cocoa, eyeing the curve of her neckline as she swallows.
Whistler's smile is affectionate and a little confused. "I'd really hope so."
"No, obviously, I like you," Lucy says quickly, rolling her eyes. "I just mean, I like you. I like spending time with you. I like talking to you. I like physically existing in the same space as you." She smiles. "I like you as a person, Kate."
Whistler's eyes soften, and she reaches over to take Lucy's hand, brushing her thumb over Lucy's knuckles. "The feeling is very much mutual."
Lucy tries to slide closer, but she's stopped by the two chair armrests between them. She eyes them resentfully. "Why do they design furniture to be so cuddle-resistant?"
Whistler laughs. "Beds are very cuddle-friendly," she points out.
Lucy narrows her eyes. "Smooth. Very smooth."
Whistler flashes her a grin and stands up, still holding her hand. Lucy lets Whistler pull her up and follows her to the kitchen, where Whistler rinses out their mugs, but not before Lucy tilts hers to her lips to pour the rest of the marshmallows into her mouth.
They get ready for bed, Lucy immediately lamenting the taste of minty toothpaste and marshmallows.
Whistler is already under the covers on her side of the bed when Lucy walks into the bedroom in her oversized sleep shirt. She slows as she passes the dresser where she's situated her music box. She's been listening to it for a minute or two every night before bed, because the tune is soothing and because it reminds her of better times. It makes her softer, sometimes.
Lucy lifts the cover of the music box and lets it play as she runs her fingertips over a few bracelets that she's placed inside. She's been replaying her father's words to her, his acceptance of blame, and the way she'd felt when she'd heard them.
"Have you ever been to Dallas?" Lucy asks, her back still turned. She can hear Whistler sitting up.
Whistler's response is cautious. "No."
Lucy nods to herself as she closes the music box. "Do you have any interest in seeing Dallas?"
Whistler takes a beat, assessing. "You want to go to your father's retirement party."
Lucy glances at Whistler. She's sitting forward on the bed now, attentive, the smallest hint of concern stitched across her face. Lucy looks back down at the music box and runs her fingertip over the edge of the cover. She doesn't know how to answer that. What she wants is to watch football games with her family before everything got so messed up, before every conversation became about what she was doing or not doing with her life.
"I'm coming with you," Whistler says when it becomes obvious Lucy isn't going to say anything.
Lucy turns to look at her again. "I'm planning to just go for a couple days, so if you have work, or other stuff going on—"
"Lucy, I'm coming with you," Whistler repeats firmly. She stretches out her arms. "Hey, come here."
Lucy sighs and climbs into bed, letting herself collapse into Whistler's open arms, her waiting body. Whistler pulls her close, pressing a kiss to her temple, squeezing her tightly. Lucy glides her hand to her favorite spot on Whistler's back.
"I've had that weekend blocked off since the invitation," Whistler confesses, brushing Lucy's hair off her face. "Just in case."
Lucy shuts her eyes and takes a deep breath, filling herself with the scent of Whistler's body wash and the comfort of her commitment. It soothes Lucy's nerves and makes her feel just a little bit braver.
Lucy tilts her head up to meet Whistler's eyes. "Thank you."
Whistler's gaze drifts curiously over Lucy's face. "For what?"
"For always being there for me," Lucy replies, leaning closer to press a kiss to Whistler's collarbone. "For your willingness to come to Dallas with me, even though I don't have a great track record of being a kind person to you when I'm around my parents."
Whistler tightens her grip. "A lot was happening all at once back then."
Lucy stretches to press a second kiss to Whistler's neck, then tucks herself against Whistler's chest. She senses the lightest brush of lips against her forehead and lets that drain some of the tension from her body.
"We've all done things we regret," Whistler continues softly. "If you want me in Dallas, I'm there."
"I want to show you all my favorite spots," Lucy tells her, pulling apart just enough to flash a smile. "Question: how do you feel about cowboy boots? Specifically, wearing them."
Whistler seems a bit caught off guard by the shift in tone, but she goes with it. "Uh, I can't say I've ever worn them to be able to make a proper judgment."
"We have to get you a pair," Lucy insists. She studies her for a moment, face scrunched up in thought. "Am I pushing my luck with denim?"
Whistler bites the corner of her lip to hide a smile. "I've been known to sport a pair of denim cutoffs or two in my sorority days."
Lucy gasps. "Where are the photos, Whistler?"
Whistler laughs, eyes twinkling mischievously. "Looks like you didn't grill my mom hard enough when we were in DC."
"I have her number," Lucy warns playfully, "and I'm not afraid to weaponize it."
Whistler's expression shifts, like she hadn't known that. She doesn't look upset, exactly, but her muscles suddenly feel tense under Lucy's fingertips.
"Is that okay?" Lucy asks carefully. "She slipped it to me before we left. We've mostly just texted about geraniums and the vegetable garden she wants to start in the backyard next spring."
"Lucy." Whistler takes a breath, her body easing again. She leans forward, pressing a reassuring kiss to Lucy's lips before her eyes flicker over Lucy's features, soft and sincere. "Of course you don't need my permission to talk to my mom. It's just... new to me, to have this."
Lucy smiles, lightly scratching Whistler's back over her shirt. "I won't use my power for evil, tempting as it may be."
Whistler rolls her eyes. "If you and my mom must bond over the fashion faux pas of my youth, I will endure."
Lucy's mouth drops open, affronted. "How dare you! Denim is timeless!" She smiles at Whistler's responding laugh and tries to pull her closer as though their bodies aren't already pressed firmly together. "What about belts with big buckles?"
Whistler grins. "I'll wear anything you want if you promise to take it off me later."
Lucy laughs and slides her hand under Whistler's shirt. "Deal."
Chapter 10: January
"Five, six, seven, eight!"
Dance music blasts from the speakers at the side of the field as twenty teenagers in perfectly pressed cheer uniforms flip and tumble across the makeshift stage, arms posing in unison. Three of the girls get lifted into the air, then thrown. The one on the right slips on the landing, and the trio who had been responsible for holding her up crumple, tumbling to the mat. The music cuts out immediately, but the girl bounces back up, unhurt.
"You were one of the ones in the air?" Whistler asks incredulously from where they're watching at the top of the bleachers.
"Yup," Lucy replies proudly. "But the routines have really amped up in difficulty in the decade or so since I've been in high school." She watches as everyone takes their positions and the music starts again. "Only a couple people on my old team could routinely hit those round off back handspring full twists."
"I'm sure you're saying real words," Whistler tells her with an amused grin.
Lucy laughs and gestures wildly at the field. "The flippy ones in the front."
Whistler nods, her eyes still nervously tracking one of the flyers. "Right."
Lucy hooks her arm around Whistler's as they watch the cheer team run through a few more tumbling passes. Lucy gets distracted, her hand drifting over to fiddle absently with Whistler's belt buckle as her eyes trace over Whistler's blue skinny jeans, the pant legs tucked into her cowboy boots. It would've been more authentic, probably, if they flared out over her boots, but Lucy is having a really hard time caring about authenticity when she has the opportunity to openly stare at Whistler's thighs.
Whistler's hand covers hers, and Lucy hadn't even noticed that her hand had followed her eyes down to Whistler's lap. She smiles sheepishly at Whistler's look of amusement.
"I'd be sorry if you weren't so hot," Lucy says with a shrug.
Whistler grins and reaches up to playfully tip the black cowboy hat resting at the top of her head. Lucy grips Whistler's thigh in response, and Whistler's smile widens as she plucks Lucy's hand off her lap and holds it.
"Behave," Whistler warns. "There are children down there."
"They're teenagers," Lucy argues, turning to look back down at the field in time to catch the coach indicating to said teenagers to run a couple cooldown laps around the field. Lucy groans. "The worst part of cheer practice."
The coach turns to look at them as though he'd heard her. He squints up at them, and Lucy finally recognizes him the same moment his eyes widen. He jogs up the bleachers to meet them.
Lucy beams and launches herself into his arms, nearly knocking him over even though he's twice her size. "Hey, Coach."
He laughs heartily. "Nah, no way you're calling me that."
Lucy grins as she pulls away. She turns to Whistler. "Andre, this is my girlfriend Kate."
Andre shakes Whistler's hand politely, then slaps Lucy across the back. "I knew you had a type."
"Shut up," Lucy mutters, cheeks warm like she's being teased in tenth grade algebra again. Whistler's smiling at her. Lucy pivots. "Andre and I were in cheer together, I was a year above him."
"Best flyer we had," Andre says, resting his elbow on Lucy's shoulder. "Absolutely fearless."
Lucy beams and motions at the field. "When did you take over?"
Andre frowns. "Take over? Oh, no, I'm just subbing in for Coach Pat for the week. I actually teach biology here." He laughs at Lucy's shocked expression. "I know, I know. I got my shit together after I met my boyfriend."
Lucy smiles fondly at him as she reaches up to pat him on the forearm.
"You really made me feel like things would be good after high school, you know," Andre tells her, sounding a bit embarrassed. "Didn't ever treat me like a scholarship kid. I never got a chance to tell you before you dipped out of Dallas and off social media."
There's an apology at the back of Lucy's throat, but she doesn't know how to explain the state she'd been in when she'd gone full scorched earth. Andre doesn't seem to be seeking an apology though, or anything other than an opportunity to offer some sincerity.
Lucy lightly punches his side and says, "Glad to see time hasn't made you any less sentimental," she teases. She takes a beat before adding, "Your friendship meant a lot to me too."
Andre smiles brightly at her before looking down at the field, where a small curious group has gathered near the base of the bleachers. He turns back to Lucy. "What do you say? You think you can still land a no hands backflip?"
"I haven't tried in years," Lucy admits, but she can already feel the adrenaline hitting her. "Spot me?"
Andre nods and starts to head back down to the field, announcing, "Lucy Tara, class of 2011, is about to show y'all how it's done!"
Lucy lingers for a moment to glance at Whistler.
"I don't have to tell you not to break your neck, do I?" Whistler asks with a small smile.
Lucy grins, reaching for the belt loops of Whistler's jeans. "Kiss for good luck?"
Whistler rolls her eyes, but she leans closer and presses a soft kiss to Lucy's lips. "Have fun schooling these children. Sorry, teenagers."
Lucy laughs as she reaches back to tie her hair up in a ponytail. "I'm fully expecting them to school me. Just hang around to soothe my wounded ego after."
Whistler's responding smile is warm and adoring. Lucy smiles back before turning around to join Andre near the mats and kicking off her boots.
Lucy lands her backflip on the first try, only needing to take a few wobbly steps on the landing, to the excited cheering of the group. A few of them approach her wanting to show off their own flips.
Lucy spends the next half hour trying to keep up with the handful of energetic teenagers who stay behind. She remembers cheer giving her focus and a sense of belonging when things got tough at home and hopes it offers these kids the same.
She's got a new home now, she thinks as she looks up at the bleachers to find Whistler's eyes trained on her, and maybe, if she can make it through the next few days, she can even start to repair her old one.
Lucy tugs uncomfortably at the neckline of her deep purple off-shoulder skater dress. She studies herself in the full-length hotel mirror. The hair at the top of her head is clipped back, the rest draped down over her shoulders. She's applied a little more eye makeup than usual, and carefully matched her earrings to her necklace.
She looks good, she self-assesses. She looks like a wealthy man's daughter. She feels like she's about to go undercover, which might not be so far from the truth.
Whistler is sitting on the bed behind her, already fully dressed, watching carefully, like she's trying to decide whether or not to say something. That hesitation is rare now, but Lucy still clocks it easily. She turns around to face Whistler.
"Just spit it out already," Lucy instructs, failing to mask her impatience. She recoils when she hears her own tone even before she sees Whistler's responding jaw clench.
"I know you're not annoyed with me," Whistler tells her tightly, "but I would appreciate if it also felt like you aren't annoyed with me."
"Sorry," Lucy breathes out, stepping toward her until she's standing directly in front of her. "Thank you for being here."
Whistler nods up at her, reaching for her wrists. "You look stunning."
"Why do I feel like there's a 'but'?" Lucy asks, trying to pick at her dress even with her wrists being held.
"But," Whistler continues, settling Lucy's hands at her sides, putting an end to her fiddling. Whistler waits until she has Lucy's full attention before asking, "Would you rather wear something a bit more comfortable tonight?"
Lucy takes a deep breath. "This is comfortable."
"For who?" Whistler asks gently, her hands sliding down to grip Lucy's fingers, squeezing. It's grounding, and Lucy can feel her heart rate start to slow again.
"I don't want this to be any harder than it has to be," Lucy admits. "I can make some concessions."
"Okay," Whistler accepts, like she doesn't want to fight the statement more so than she actually agrees with it. "Anything I can do to help make it easier?"
Lucy looks down at Whistler's outfit, quintessential little black dress, sleeveless but high-collared, and her usual dressy accessories, hair down and loosely curled at the bottom, makeup pristine. She's beautiful, even without all that. Lucy knows there'll be a lot of attention on both of them tonight, and only partially because of how good Whistler looks.
"Just be you," Lucy requests, reaching out to ghost her knuckles across Whistler's cheeks, careful not to smudge her makeup. "I don't want you to hide anything. I want everyone to know you're with me."
Whistler nods and rises to her feet, pulling Lucy into a tight, anchoring hug. Whistler has her heels on already, which lets her rest her chin at the top of Lucy's head.
"You are enough," Whistler whispers into her hair. "Whatever happens tonight, don't forget that."
Lucy shuts her eyes and lets Whistler's words drizzle over her like the first rainfall in spring. She presses her fingertips into Whistler's back in acknowledgment, then lifts her head up to face Whistler. She lets her gaze flicker down to Whistler's lips, and Whistler picks up the hint, leaning down to drop a soft kiss to her lips, then another, a little firmer. When Whistler pulls away, she smiles and brings the pad of her thumb up to rub over Lucy's bottom lip.
"I should just start wearing your lipstick," Lucy jokes, pulling away to look in the mirror. She presses her lips together and slides them across each other to even out the stain Whistler's left on them. It leaves her lips very lightly tinted.
"Something wrong with the way it's getting applied now?" Whistler teases, stepping up behind her and smiling at her through the mirror.
Lucy sucks on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from smiling, but she can see in her reflection that her eyes give her away. "Do not lure me into the bathroom to make out with me," she warns instead of answering. "I'm still getting crap from Jesse about the lipstick you left on my face at the Christmas party."
Whistler grins. "Lure is a very strong word."
"Lure, entice, seduce," Lucy lists, reaching behind to lightly pinch Whistler's side. "You know what you're doing."
Whistler hums innocently. "I'll be on my very best behavior, I promise."
Lucy leans her weight back against Whistler for a moment as she takes another look at her reflection. Her military-style watch doesn't go with the rest of her outfit, and she picks anxiously at it before unbuckling it and tossing it onto the bed.
"Here," Whistler says gently as she takes off her own bracelet watch, reaching for Lucy's bare wrist. She loops Lucy's hand through the watch, but before she clasps it, she leans down to press a kiss to Lucy's shoulder. "Is this okay?"
Lucy nods and watches as Whistler closes the clasp. "Thank you."
Lucy bends down to pull on her boots and zip them up. When she straightens back up, Whistler is holding open her denim jacket for her. Lucy slips her arms into it and senses Whistler's hands moving to her collar to help her adjust it, then down to her shoulders before dropping off.
"If you want to go at any point," Whistler says, pulling on a houndstooth blazer herself, "just say the word."
"Same applies to you," Lucy replies, though she knows Whistler will endure if Lucy hasn't thrown in the towel yet. She takes a steadying breath and adds, "I mean it. If anyone says anything—"
"I know," Whistler cuts in, offering a small, reassuring smile. "I've been navigating assholes my whole career, Lucy. You don't have to worry about me."
Lucy nods and reaches for the hotel room door without another word. Whistler's hand finds Lucy's before they even reach the elevators.
The retirement party takes place in a rented event space in a skyscraper in downtown Dallas. Their Uber driver drops them off at the corner, and they make their way inside the building.
Lucy's brother Oliver is standing near the elevators, eyes scanning the building entrances. His face lights up the moment he sees them approaching. Lucy runs across the atrium and jumps into his open arms. He has to take a step back from the momentum, but then he's lifting her off the floor and swinging her around. Lucy laughs, pushing off him to land back on her feet.
"Look at you," Oliver coos, "all dressed up."
"Shut up," Lucy fires back affectionately, glancing at his well-tailored and probably very expensive suit. "You're one to talk."
"This is my daily driver," Oliver tells her, jokingly brushing off his shoulders. "I work in corporate, remember?"
"I try to forget," Lucy replies dryly, and she also tries to soften the sharp edges of her words, but Oliver's face falls just a little.
Whistler has caught up, and Lucy takes the opportunity to pivot.
"Ollie, this is Kate," she introduces, swinging her hand from one to the other. "Kate, Ollie. My annoying older brother."
Oliver smiles warmly. "Kate, I've heard so much about you."
Whistler flashes a smile, tone light when she says, "More recent things than me being a mean girl, I hope."
Lucy and Oliver exchange a guilty look, and Whistler's smile grows fond but bittersweet, like she's unlocking a memory. Lucy slides her hand to Whistler's back instinctively.
"Oh, can't shut her up about how very not mean you are," Oliver finally replies with a bright, teasing smile.
Lucy mirrors his smile, dipping her hand just under Whistler's jacket. "Absolutely the least mean person I have ever met."
Whistler bites back a smile and turns to Oliver. "I can see why Lucy likes you so much. You two are the same person."
Lucy and Oliver both look equal parts offended and scandalized by the suggestion, which makes Whistler laugh. She reaches over to hit their floor number on the touchpad next to the elevators and leads them to wait in front of the indicated elevator.
They're still bickering over how completely unalike they are when the elevator arrives. Once they've stepped inside and the doors close, Oliver sobers and readjusts his tie.
"Hey, listen," he says, mostly directed at Lucy, "I'm really not supposed to tell you this, but uh, Dad has personally called every single invitee this week to inform them that you and your girlfriend were coming and to not bother showing up if they had any issues with that."
Lucy tenses, and she can feel Whistler's hand on her shoulder. "He did what?"
"I know you probably don't want any extra attention on you tonight," Oliver continues, almost apologetic, "but there were unsurprisingly quite a few people who changed their RSVPs, so it's probably best that they're not here tonight."
Lucy agrees with that in theory, but there's a part of her that sees this as paternalistic, as another way for Ali to control the narrative. Still, the image of her father working his way down a list of his colleagues, uninviting the ones who he deems not worthy to be in her and Whistler's presence, something about that makes her feel a little bit cared for.
The elevator dings on their floor, and they step out. There's a coat check set up near the entrance, and Whistler takes both of their jackets over. When she returns, she slides her hand into Lucy's, fingers interlacing.
Oliver leads them into the main event hall. There are tables set up on one side and a dance floor on the other. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking downtown Dallas line every side. Everything is just a touch too extravagant, too flashy. The guests are scattered about the hall in small groups, drinks in hand. By Lucy's estimation, there must be over a hundred people. Lucy recognizes most of them, had even been pretty friendly with some of them, back when she spent a lot of time shadowing her father, before she understood what that meant.
A few groups have taken notice of her, and they're not whispering exactly, because that would be uncouth to do in the open, but they're looking. Lucy squeezes Whistler's hand.
Ali and Alma approach them, walking tall like nothing could bother them, though their faces, not visible to the other guests, are drawn, tense.
"Lucy," Alma says, glancing down at her dress. "You look beautiful."
Lucy smiles tightly, wondering for a brief moment if her mother knows she'd put on the dress for them, for their comfort. That a small part of her will always seek their approval, even after all these years.
Alma pulls her into a hug, and Lucy makes an effort to at least pat her back this time. Appearances, Lucy reminds herself, are everything, and she hadn't come all this way to humiliate her parents.
Ali steps up to her next, hesitant, but Lucy can feel the watchful gaze of the other guests burning into them from every angle. She steps into her father's space and stretches to wrap her arms around his neck. Ali immediately embraces her back, the sigh he lets out against her shoulder deflating him of the tension he'd been carrying in his torso.
Lucy pulls away first. Ali's eyes are dewy. Lucy has never once seen her father cry. Not at sad movies, not while in physical pain, not even when Lucy walked out for the last time. He's not crying now, but he looks like he could, if Lucy says the right thing.
But Lucy doesn't trust herself to speak, so she just offers a small smile that she hopes is comforting.
Ali clears his throat. "Thank you for coming, Lucy," he says, only loudly enough for her to hear. "It really means a lot to me."
Lucy nods, taking a step back. She glances at Whistler, who is in the process of accepting a hug from Alma. When she pulls away, Whistler shakes Ali's hand and smiles politely like the last thing she'd said to him hadn't been an absolute condemnation of his character.
Ali says something to Whistler that Lucy can't hear, but Whistler tilts her head in a nod and responds with a polite comment about Dallas being lovely.
Lucy hates that they're being watched like circus animals, hungry eyes searching for an iota of drama to spice up their sad, boring lives, something they can take home with them and gossip over. Regardless how she feels, regardless where she's at with her parents, she refuses to give these leeches that satisfaction.
Another round of introductions when Lucy's other siblings approach - Hannah with her husband, and Ben with his date who seems upset about being introduced as just a date. Oliver's long-term partner is there too, arms squeezing tight when she hugs Lucy.
As soon as greetings are done, Whistler is back at Lucy's side, a hand on the small of her back. She's smiling pleasantly, but Lucy catches the tension in her shoulders and reaches up to brush her hair aside and press gently at the knots in her delts. Whistler's smile softens as she turns to Lucy, and Lucy wants to kiss her for being here, for offering herself up to be studied and prodded in the way she knows she hates.
Lucy wants to tell her that, too, in front of everyone, but Whistler's being pulled aside by Hannah, who's offering to get her a drink and to introduce her to some people. Lucy is about to intervene when Whistler presses her fingertips into Lucy's back and smiles reassuringly at her.
Lucy likes her sister, but they've never shared many interests, and Hannah's easy deference to the life plans their parents had set out for her always felt like a jab and a judgment, loading their parents up with the ammo they'd needed, angry whispers of why can't you just be grateful like Hannah? still sharp in Lucy's memory. But she lets Hannah sweep Whistler away, trusting that Whistler can handle herself and appease Hannah's curiosities.
"The prodigal daughter returns," Ben announces, a little too loudly, holding up his champagne flute and sounding like it probably hadn't been his first.
Lucy ignores him. She'd gotten pretty good at that. Hannah's husband shoots Lucy an apologetic look before leading Ben away, his now-grumpy date following closely behind.
Oliver's arm drapes over Lucy's shoulders, guiding her away from everyone else like he has something important to show her. But when they're out of earshot and standing next to the giant windows, he squeezes her bicep and asks, "You okay?"
Lucy looks out at the city, at the building lights dotting the skyline. She doesn't answer, but she does lean a little closer, wanting to remember the weight of her brother's arm and the comfort of his presence, in case they go another three years without interacting in person again.
"I've missed you," Lucy tells him without looking at him.
Oliver squeezes her arm again. "I've missed you." He takes a beat. "I put in my two weeks."
Lucy's eyes snap up. "What? When?"
"Yesterday," he replies, taking a quick breath. "I mean, I'll have to stay on much longer than two weeks so there can be a smooth transition to my replacement, but I've signalled my intention." He looks out at the city. "Early fortieth birthday present to myself, I guess."
Lucy watches him for a moment. "Downstairs, when I heckled you about your suit—"
"It's fine," Oliver reassures, turning back to her. "I deserved a bit of heckling for spending the last decade of my life being an oil exec."
"I assume Dad knows," she says, immediately resenting that it's one of her first thoughts, still. "Not that it matters, obviously."
Oliver lets out a breath. "Yeah. He didn't have much to say about it. I think being faced with retirement has given him some perspective."
"What are you going to do now?" Lucy asks.
Oliver smiles. "Steph and I are planning to travel a bit. Major upside of not having or wanting kids."
Lucy's hand slides around the back of his waist. "Make a stop in Hawaii?"
"Maybe for your wedding," Oliver teases, grinning down at her.
Lucy flushes and looks away again. "Who said anything about that?"
Oliver hums. "Are you saying you haven't talked about it?" When Lucy doesn't say anything, he sobers. "Does Kate not want that? I just assumed, because it's something you've always said you wanted."
"No, no, she does," Lucy replies quickly, "but she won't let me propose until our first anniversary in late May."
Oliver's eyebrows knit together in confusion. "I thought y'all had been together for longer."
"We were together for a few months a year ago," Lucy explains, "and then broken up for a few more. Sometimes it does feel like much longer."
Oliver strains like he can't quite make sense of the tiny fragments of timeline he's managed to pick up over the years. Lucy doesn't want to tell him about secret girlfriends, or about the occasional hookups between their first meeting and when they'd finally decided to give it a go the first time, or about how in the low light of her apartment, Whistler had always, always looked at her with the softest eyes, and that kept Lucy going back.
"Are you and Steph planning to get married?" Lucy asks, steering focus away. "I know you didn't want to until marriage equality had been passed in this country, but it's been six years now."
"We've talked about it." Oliver shrugs. "It's not a priority for either of us. We've fallen under common law for ages now, and you saw the prenup Hannah's husband had to sign. I don't want to put Steph through that."
Lucy stiffens. "I'm not making Kate sign a prenup."
Naturally, Whistler steps into view that very moment, the immediately alarmed expression on her face revealing that she's very much heard Lucy's statement.
Whistler stops moving. "Should I come back later?"
"No, we were just—" Lucy reaches out and finds Whistler's forearm. "Hey, stay."
The three of them chat idly about the venue for a few minutes before Oliver excuses himself. Lucy steps into Whistler's space, hand sliding to her lower back as she leans into her. Whistler's body is tense to the touch, but she visibly relaxes when Lucy's head falls against her shoulder. Whistler's arm slips across Lucy's back, her fingertips curling around Lucy's opposite side.
"What did Hannah want?"
"To bond," Whistler replies with a hint of amusement.
Lucy snorts. "And did you?"
Whistler offers a small smile. "I don't think we have much in common, but she seems nice. Your niece and nephew are adorable."
"They're not here, are they?" Lucy asks, craning her neck around the hall like she could've possibly missed two small children running around.
"No, their nanny has them," Whistler replies, "but I was shown many, many photos."
"I send them birthday and Christmas gifts every year," Lucy says, a flicker of guilt in her chest, "but my nephew was two when I left, and my niece hadn't been born yet."
Whistler tilts her head to plant a kiss to Lucy's hair, and Lucy can feel herself tensing in response, old anxieties bubbling at the pit of her stomach. She hadn't expected that, being back here, caring again about who saw her doing what with whose daughter.
Whistler gives her side a gentle, anchoring squeeze. "Do you want to see them? Hannah asked if we were free for dinner tomorrow."
"We're flying back tomorrow afternoon," Lucy points out.
Whistler shrugs. "Flights can be rescheduled."
"Work?" Lucy prompts.
"I asked for the whole week off," Whistler tells her. "Think Tennant will let you extend yours?"
"I'll call her tonight." Lucy lifts her head to look at Whistler. "Thank you. I know how important your job is to you."
Whistler smiles, far removed from the person who'd bristled and stormed away at Lucy's suggestion that she'd volunteered to be a tour guide for the benefit of her career.
"I can think of a few more important things," Whistler replies with a small shrug, her smile teasing and warm, and Lucy can't help but press a kiss to her shoulder, then another to her cheek. Whistler turns fully to her, and Lucy kisses her on the lips, once, softly.
Any anxiety remaining in Lucy's body whithers, because there could be a hundred people watching them or there could be none. It doesn't matter. Let them talk. Let them whisper about how Lucy Tara swept through Dallas like a hurricane and kissed her gorgeous girlfriend at her father's retirement party. She suddenly wishes she'd listened to Whistler and changed into a suit.
Someone's at the mic announcing that food will be served shortly and for everyone to find their table. Lucy takes Whistler's hand and leads her to the one where her parents are already seated. Ali pulls out the chair next to him and motions for Lucy to join him. She hesitates, eyes scanning the rest of the table. And there, between Lucy and Oliver's seats, rests a small unassuming place card with Kate printed on it.
Lucy offers her father a small smile and makes sure Whistler is settled before she takes her own seat.
The hotel television drones in the background, a late night sports highlight reel playing but ignored. The lights are dimmed, but their bodies are still five hours behind, two in the morning feeling like nine in the evening.
They'd stayed for the boring speeches and the flashy photo slideshow that some poor intern probably had to put together. They'd posed patiently for photos in various configurations. They'd even danced a little once people started doing that, Whistler laughing at Lucy's interpretation of hip hop over the mostly country music on the playlist.
They'd stayed until guests started clearing out, until a comatose Ben was stuffed into a cab and Hannah and her husband had to go take over parenting duties, until it was just the two of them, Oliver and his partner, and their parents. They'd sat around and talked about retirement plans, travel plans, and Lucy's parents had listened attentively as she explained what her work actually entailed. They hadn't seemed thrilled about the aspects of her job that put her in harm's way, even as she'd tried to downplay them, but they hadn't said anything explicitly disapproving, and that was more than she'd ever gotten from them.
They'd stayed until the staff politely kicked them out so they could clean up for the next day's events.
It had been past midnight when they'd finally made it back to their hotel room. They'd showered separately - Lucy making a quick call to Tennant to ask to extend her leave by a few days, which Tennant had happily granted - and curled into fluffy white bathrobes, Whistler leaning back against a pile of pillows and the headboard of their king-sized bed, Lucy seated with her back against her, nestled between her legs, Whistler's hands gently kneading into Lucy's neck and shoulders.
"You know I'd sign a prenup to keep the peace, right?" Whistler asks quietly, like she's afraid to disrupt the silence.
Lucy shifts, twisting her body to meet Whistler's eyes. "I'm not presenting you with a prenup, Kate."
"Prenups can be useful legal documents that protect both parties," Whistler says, continuing to press her fingers against Lucy's now tense shoulders. "It's not—I wouldn't see it any differently than a will."
"Morbid," Lucy mumbles.
Whistler's hands slow momentarily. "Lucy, I'm serious."
"So am I." Lucy sits up, spinning herself around to face Whistler. She crosses her legs in front of herself, her knees coming to rest over Whistler's thighs. "We're not signing prenups, Whistler," she insists, frustration coloring her words. She studies Whistler for a moment. "Unless you want to, to protect your assets?"
"My assets?" Whistler asks incredulously. "I'm not the one with a multi-million dollar beach house and presumably eventually a quarter of your parents' wealth."
Lucy lets out a sound of exasperation. "Then why do you care whether or not we sign a prenup?!"
Whistler takes a deep breath to calm herself. She reaches out to press a placating hand to Lucy's knee. "You're just starting to make up with your parents, Lucy. I don't want to derail that."
"I left them once because they were trying to control my life," Lucy reminds her, irritation still hot in her body. "Don't think I won't leave them again if they haven't corrected their behavior."
Whistler nods. "If you feel so strongly about this, I won't push, but I just wanted you to know that this is a concession I'm willing to make." She leans forward, her hands sliding up Lucy's thighs, just under the hem of her robe. "I wasn't suggesting it because I thought we'd need it," she adds quietly.
Lucy sighs, the anger immediately draining from her. "I know."
"Because I don't know about you," Whistler says, inching her hands a little bit further, "but I have plans to be married to you for a very long time."
Lucy covers Whistler's hands with her own. "We have the same plans."
"Good," Whistler whispers, leaning in to press a kiss to her lips.
Lucy reaches for the remote on the nightstand to turn off the TV before turning her attention back to Whistler, her hands moving to untie the belt of Whistler's bathrobe. Whistler watches her own robe fall open and Lucy's hands start to roam over her skin. Whistler pulls Lucy closer, and Lucy's belt had never been tied up to begin with, so Whistler pushes the robe off her shoulders, and Lucy shrugs out of it easily.
Whistler slides down until she's on her back, Lucy shifting to straddle her lap. Lucy looks down at Whistler, at her shallow breathing and her bare chest. Lucy's body is ready to be touched, but her mind is still processing, distracted by the day's conversations.
"Can we just cuddle?" Lucy asks, wincing at herself. "Sorry, I should've said something before I got you naked and turned on."
Whistler's expression softens. "Yeah, of course. Come here." She sits up, instinctively closing her bathrobe over herself. "Do you want me to get dressed?"
"No, I want—" Lucy tugs at Whistler's robe. "Can you take this off?"
Whistler nods, sliding out of her robe and tossing it aside. She reaches behind her to pull at the sheets until they come untucked from the mattress. Whistler waits for Lucy to climb under the comforter before she joins her, turning toward Lucy to gather her into her arms. Lucy tucks her head under Whistler's chin and lets out a breath against her chest.
Whistler presses a kiss to her forehead. "So Ben is a character."
Lucy snorts out a laugh, her hand sliding to Whistler's hip. "He's something."
"His date was weirdly nice to me all night," Whistler says.
Lucy lifts her head to give Whistler a pointed look. "C'mon, Kate, she was hitting on you."
"No she wasn't!" Whistler protests, flushing anyway. She takes a beat. "Is that why you kept standing between us?"
Lucy laughs brightly. "Yes! She was obviously a little drunk and you seemed flattered by her attention, so I let it go."
"Lucy, I thought she was just being friendly," Whistler insists with an embarrassed laugh. "I mean, I was holding your hand pretty much the whole night."
Lucy smiles, reaching up to run her hand through Whistler's hair. "I don't blame her for wanting you."
"Well, she can't have me," Whistler says firmly, sliding her leg forward until Lucy's ankles hook around hers.
"Oh?" Lucy asks innocently, grinning. "How come?"
Whistler rolls her eyes, pulling Lucy closer to press a kiss to her lips. "Because I am a kept woman," she says primly.
Lucy's responding laugh is muffled against Whistler's neck. She tightens her grip on Whistler's hip and presses a kiss to her pulse point, then her collarbone. Lucy starts to drift, and she's almost asleep when Whistler shifts next to her, leaning over her to turn off the lamp on her side of the bed.
"Sorry, go back to sleep," Whistler murmurs as she slides back into bed and notices that Lucy's eyes are open.
Lucy takes a moment to look at Whistler, eyes tracing over every feature in the dark, illuminated only by the city lights diffusing through the sheer curtains covering the window. Lucy's hand finds Whistler's cheek, and she keeps it there as she tucks her head back against Whistler's neck.
"You're my favorite person," Lucy mumbles sleepily.
Whistler pulls her closer, pressing a kiss to her temple. The last thing Lucy remembers before succumbing to sleep is the soft skin of Whistler's cheek flushing with warmth under her palm.
Chapter 11: February
Welcome to the last third of the fic. Is this the most self-indulgent chapter? Maybe. Is all fic really just self-indulgence? More at 7.
(Thank you, as always, for reading!)
"It just needs new batteries," Whistler insists, several levels of frustration evident in her voice.
"You just put in new ones last night," Lucy reminds her gently, pressing a kiss to her bare chest. "With difficulty, if I recall."
Whistler groans helplessly. "Lucy."
Lucy takes the dead vibrator cradled in Whistler's hands and places it on the nightstand closest to her, then climbs on top of Whistler, straddling her hips. Whistler's hands land on Lucy's thighs, rubbing distractedly.
"Do you want me to try mine on you?" Lucy asks, her hands finding Whistler's forearms to still them.
Whistler's body jerks, just enough for Lucy to catch it in the shift of her hips, but she shakes her head, changing focus to Lucy instead. Her hands slide higher, thumbs dipping to Lucy's inner thigh, but Lucy stops her.
Whistler sighs, flushing. "I don't think I can tonight without—" She waves a hand. "It's not you."
"Babe," Lucy says without thinking. Whistler's eyes are immediately on hers, and Lucy backtracks. "Kate. I know. It's okay. Do you want to keep going or stop?"
"Keep going," Whistler replies, hands flexing over Lucy's thighs. "But please don't take it personally if I don't get there. It still feels really good."
Lucy squeezes Whistler's forearms in acknowledgment before leaning down to press a kiss to her lips. Lucy starts gently, leaving a trail of kisses down the length of Whistler's body, slowing to pay extra attention to her chest and the sensitive spot below her left hip bone that makes her arch. Lucy parts Whistler's legs and settles between them, running her lips across Whistler's inner thigh from knee inward as her hand follows along her hamstrings. She repeats the motion on the other side, smiling up at Whistler before pressing her mouth down at the apex of her thighs.
Whistler moans softly, head falling back against the pillows. Lucy takes her time. It's only happened a couple of times before, but she knows that once in a blue moon, Whistler has an extra stressful week, gets too deep in her head, and needs a very specific combination of things and a little bit of patience to unlock her. Her beloved vibrator has a pretty stellar record, aided by Lucy's encouraging whispers about how good she's doing and how pretty she looks and all the things she wants to do to her.
Whistler always gets a bit embarrassed when she finally comes, but Lucy doesn't know why. It's so hot, and she'd tried to tell her as much, but Whistler is quick to distract, and Lucy is so easily distracted when there's a mouth on her chest and a hand between her legs.
But the vibrator is out of commission tonight, and Lucy knows there's no expectations here, so she focuses on slow, almost agonizingly so. She keeps her eyes on Whistler, using the responses of her body as guidance. Lucy gets her close a few times, hips lifting, but she loses her edge each time, and Lucy can tell that it's starting to frustrate her. Whistler reaches down to nudge Lucy away.
"I can keep going," Lucy tells her, pressing soft kisses to her inner thighs.
Whistler shakes her head. Lucy kisses her way back up the length of Whistler's heated body, settling on top of her. Whistler's hands come to rest at the small of her back, flexing anxiously. Lucy knows Whistler's about to apologize, so she kisses her to prevent that, lips moving slowly, reassuringly, until she can feel Whistler's body start to relax again.
"We'll get you a new one," Lucy murmurs.
"This model is discontinued," Whistler replies, glancing woefully at the nightstand. She sighs. "I don't know what it is about this one that just works for me when I'm... struggling."
Lucy leans down to mouth at Whistler's neck. "I know someone who can fix it."
Whistler stiffens, even as she tilts her head up to give Lucy more access. "If you think you're taking my vibrator out of this apartment—"
"I'll just tell him it's mine," Lucy tells her, dragging her lips up to Whistler's jaw.
Whistler's hand finds Lucy's shoulder and pushes gently. "It's not Ernie, is it?"
"No!" Lucy lifts herself up to rest her weight on her arms, eyes wide. "No, gross, it's not Ernie." She pauses. "Do you want to know who it is?"
Whistler grimaces. "No, you're right, I don't."
"I'm going to take good care of it, I promise," Lucy reassures, sitting back and stretching to grab the vibrator from one nightstand and its drawstring bag from the other. She slides the vibe in and pulls the bag closed before putting it back down on her nightstand.
Whistler pulls her close again, a hint of embarrassment lingering when she says, "Thank you for being so understanding about this."
"It's not a big deal," Lucy tells her, even though she'd taken a tiny hit to her ego the first time, before realizing it's not about her. She presses another kiss to Whistler's neck. "Thank you for trusting me."
Whistler brushes her hand absently through Lucy's hair. "I didn't mind, you know," she says then. "What you called me earlier."
Lucy lifts herself to look at her and racks her brain for a moment. "Babe?" she asks. When Whistler nods, Lucy's mouth drops open. "Kate Whistler, pet name aficionado?"
"Not quite," Whistler replies with an amused smile, "but I liked the way it sounded coming out of your mouth."
"Kate Whistler, mouth aficionado," Lucy amends.
Whistler laughs, the kind of bright, surprised laugh like she hadn't expected Lucy to say something funny. It's Lucy's favorite.
"Just the one," Whistler says, leaning in to press a kiss to Lucy's waiting lips.
Lucy grins into the kiss, letting Whistler flip her to her back.
"What about darlin'?" Lucy drawls, reaching up to push Whistler's hair away from her face. "Southern classic."
Whistler rolls her eyes playfully. "Pushing your luck here."
"Pun'kin?" Lucy teases, batting her eyelashes. "Sweet cheeks?"
Whistler laughs, leaning down to cover Lucy's mouth with her own, and Lucy has no issue whatsoever with being shut up this way.
"You and Whistler got plans?" Jesse asks as he hands Lucy her coffee at her desk.
"What?" Lucy asks, looking up. Her coffee cup, and all the coffee cups in the carrier he's balancing with one hand, have red and pink hearts around the rim, which Jesse is helpfully pointing at. "Oh! Valentine's Day."
"Yeah, it's next week," he says, plucking another coffee cup off the carrier and taking a sip. "I would've never pegged Whistler as the mushy type, but every time you've brought her over for dinner, she's said something to or about you that's made Heather look at her like she should've married her instead of me."
Lucy offers a small, amused smile. "We've got plans," she tells him. "Supposedly. Whistler wouldn't tell me what they are, but she says she made plans."
"A surprise," Jesse notes, his index finger lifting off his coffee cup to point at her. "You like those."
"I mean, depends on what they are?" She tilts her head at the report she's writing on her screen. "Not a fan when suspects we're chasing pull out concealed weapons."
"I'm sure Whistler's not going to surprise you with a concealed weapon," he replies, amusement in his eyes. "Not on Valentine's Day, anyway."
Lucy smiles up at him. "What about you and Heather?"
A relaxed look takes over Jesse's features. "Every Valentine's Day, we splurge on an overnight sitter, go on a romantic hike, pitch a tent somewhere secluded..."
"All right, okay," Lucy cuts in, holding a hand up to stop him. "I don't need the sordid details. I have to be able to look Heather in the eye after this."
Jesse grins. "We sleep, Luce. Best sleep we ever get all year. Wake up to nature. You know, the good stuff."
"Yeah, I'm spoiled by modern luxuries like a comfortable mattress and running water," Lucy tells him.
Jesse chuckles as he backs away from her desk to continue his coffee deliveries.
Dr. Tony Lee from the DARPA science lab, the one that Ernie had brought Lucy to when they'd been investigating sailors being blasted by ultrasonic waves, doesn't seem at all fazed by Lucy's request. He tells her he can work on it at home, discreetly, and all he wants in return is for her to hang out with him while he does so he has someone to talk to about all the projects he's been working on in his free time.
So Lucy tucks the drawstring bag in her backpack and spends a Sunday in Dr. Lee's home lab listening to him prattle on about his robots and his love for weapons engineering, Whistler's purple vibrator sitting on his workbench atop a clean towel, the overhead lamp shining a spotlight on it in a way that Lucy would find funny if it weren't happening to her.
He snaps on a pair of latex gloves and takes it apart carefully. Lucy leans in to watch.
"Aha! This wire is loose," he says, delicately lifting a dangling wire off the computer chip embedded inside. "This controls the vibration settings. No connection, no vibration." He peers at the chip. "Doesn't look like it burnt out. Might just be a shoddy soldering job."
Dr. Lee rolls his task chair away from his workbench to dig in one of his many cabinets. He pulls out a soldering iron and a roll of solder before rolling himself back. He turns the iron on and waits for it to get hot before carefully pressing the tip of the iron and the end of the solder wire against the broken connection, fusing them together. Lucy winces when a tiny puff of smoke billows up from the point of contact.
"Not to worry," Dr. Lee tells her as he puts his iron down and starts to reassemble the vibrator. "Perfectly normal." Once everything clicks back into place, he struggles to open the battery compartment.
"It's been like that for a while," Lucy tells him. "Whis—I mean, I usually have to use something flat to force it open."
Dr. Lee doesn't seem to catch her slip-up as he pulls out a screwdriver. "Do you want me to replace it with a USB chargeable battery?"
"Can you do that?" Lucy asks.
He turns to look at her impatiently.
"Right, DARPA scientist. Dumb question." She glances at the vibrator. "If it won't change the, um... vibration pattern, then sure, please make it rechargeable."
Dr. Lee pries open the battery compartment with his screwdriver and loads in a fresh pair of batteries. He holds the vibrator out to Lucy. "Let's make sure it works before I make the replacement. Will you do the honors?"
Lucy takes it from him and hits the power button. The vibe immediately buzzes to life. Dr. Lee claps his hands together in excitement and grabs it back from her.
The battery replacement takes a bit longer to complete and looks a little scarier, especially when Dr. Lee takes out a drill and punches a hole through the end of the handle to make a charging port.
Lucy watches anxiously as he clips pieces out and fits a small battery pack in their place. He's talking the whole time, and Lucy tries to focus on his chatter as she watches him work, instead of the pieces of discarded metal and plastic on his workbench.
Dr. Lee manages to close everything back up once the replacement is done. He offers it to Lucy again. Lucy takes it from him and turns it on. It's a bit heavier than before but the buzzing feels the same in her hands.
"Any standard USB-C cable will charge it," Dr. Lee explains. "I'd expect it to last a good two, maybe two and a half hours, on one charge. Port should be waterproof, but I wouldn't go using it in the bath."
"Thank you," Lucy says, turning it back off and feeling a tiny bit embarrassed for the first time. She tucks Whistler's vibrator back into its bag and then into her backpack. "I really owe you one."
Dr. Lee shucks his gloves into the trash. "Anytime, Special Agent Tara. Now, will you stick around for dinner? I've been tinkering with my robot vacuum to allow it to climb walls and have been dying to show someone my progress."
Lucy smiles. "Sure, please show me your weird mutant vacuum. I'm going to order us some food."
Love ballads are playing through the speakers as Lucy and Whistler enter the bowling alley, the walls decorated with chains of paper hearts. The distinct sounds of bowling balls rolling down the lanes and smacking into pins ring out through the room, cheers and laughter accompanying them.
Whistler is studying Lucy's reaction when she looks up at her. Neither of them has ever brought up even the concept of bowling to the other since Whistler had shut down Lucy's invitation to Rock N Bowl what feels like ages ago.
"I booked online," Whistler says, still watching her carefully. "We've got the lane at the very end."
"You're going to willingly put your feet into communal shoes?" Lucy asks, tone light.
That seems to soothe some of Whistler's nerves, and she finally smiles. "Don't laugh, but I bought us both bowling shoes," she admits, patting her giant purse.
Lucy grins. "That makes way more sense."
They make their way to their lane, and Whistler hands her a pair of brand new shoes.
"I don't mind renting them, you know," Lucy tells her as she couches down to lace them up.
"It seemed rude to only get myself a pair and make you wear rentals," Whistler replies with a small shrug. She brandishes a second pair of shoes and sits down to change into them.
Lucy flexes her feet and poses in front of Whistler. "How do I look?"
"Like you're ready to kick my ass at this," Whistler replies, taking an appreciative look at her.
Lucy laughs. "I never said I was good," she point out, walking over to the touch screen nearby. She enters her name, then turns back to Whistler. "What's your nickname going to be?"
Whistler looks up in confusion. Lucy motions at the screen hanging from the ceiling that already has one registered player, king pin.
Lucy taps away at the screen. A moment later, a second name pops up on screen, queen pin.
"How very heteronormative," Whistler teases. She rises from her seat and approaches, hugging Lucy from behind. Her lips ghost Lucy's ear. "Show me how it's done then, kingpin."
"Oh," Lucy says, her nerve endings lighting up despite her best efforts. "We're playing that game tonight."
"Bowling?" Whistler asks innocently. "That's the idea."
Lucy refuses to cave. She hits the start button on the touch pad and spins away from Whistler's embrace to pick out a bowling ball. She walks back past Whistler with it in hand, and Whistler definitely stares at her arm as it flexes against the weight of the ball. Lucy lines up her shot and slides across the approach zone, releasing the ball before she reaches the foul line. She watches the ball hurtle down the lane, turning slightly left near the end but still knocking down seven pins.
Whistler is waiting with a smile and a high five, which Lucy happily accepts before heading to grab another ball. This one manages to graze one pin just enough to knock it down.
The pins are reset, and Whistler steps up. With perfect form, she bowls a strike.
"Beginner's luck?" Whistler suggests as she walks back, glancing up at the scoreboard to see an X appear next to her name.
Lucy is already grabbing the next ball. "If I find out you were on your high school bowling team, none of this counts."
"I went to public school," Whistler counters with a smile. "I was, however, Wii bowling champion of my sorority house."
"Those skills don't transfer!" Lucy argues.
Whistler shrugs. "I might have also googled some things."
Lucy narrows her eyes as she passes Whistler. With renewed determination, Lucy sends the ball flying down the lane. It knocks down all ten pins.
"Nice throw," Whistler comments, reaching out and pulling Lucy close when she returns. She presses a quick kiss to Lucy's lips. "You are very cute when you're harmlessly competitive."
Lucy smiles as she loops her arms around Whistler's torso. "Harmless? Is my bowling prowess not harming your ego?"
Whistler laughs. "Not sure I'm impressed yet."
Lucy tries to look affronted. "Fine, what would impress you?"
Whistler leans closer, pressing a kiss to Lucy's jaw right under her ear. "If you topped me," she says slowly, pausing deliberately before adding, "in this game."
Lucy flushes, fingertips pushing reflexively against Whistler's back. Whistler's smiling when she straightens up and frees herself from Lucy's grip to grab another bowling ball, leaving Lucy to attempt to compose herself. She watches Whistler knock down four pins and makes sure to wait until Whistler is on her way back before pulling her own top up over her head. Whistler immediately stops, eyes drifting over the black tank top Lucy has underneath.
Lucy tosses her top onto Whistler's purse on the bench. "What, not gonna bowl a perfect game?"
Whistler opens her mouth to say something, then closes it again, eyes still moving indiscreetly.
"Take your second shot, Kate," Lucy encourages with an amused grin.
Whistler shakes herself out of her trance and grabs another ball. She emphatically doesn't look at Lucy as she walks back past her. But the distraction is effective. Whistler's ball careens into the gutter.
Lucy is beaming. She scoops Whistler into her arms, leaning in to kiss the scowl off her face.
"You wanted me to top you," Lucy murmurs as she pulls away.
"I said I'd be impressed if you did," Whistler counters.
"Oh, so you don't want to be topped?" Lucy asks innocently.
Whistler glances up at the scoreboard. They're tied, but Lucy has a strike in hand for the next frame. "A little early to be making any claims, don't you think?"
Lucy grins. "I have a couple more tricks up my sleeve."
Whistler runs her hands over Lucy's bare arms. "Hm, I don't see any sleeves."
Lucy laughs as she pulls away for her next shot. "Guess you'll just have to rely on your vivid imagination."
The rest of the game follows much the same pattern, kissing and teasing in between shots, trying to rile each other up to gain the upper hand. The scores remain close frame by frame, and Lucy is up by three heading into the final one. She manages to bowl a spare despite Whistler pulling her aside to make suggestive comments in her ear.
"Pressure's on, Whistler," Lucy taunts as she circles back.
Whistler already has her ball in hand, waiting for the pin reset. She's hyperfocused, eyes trained on the lane. As soon as the screen indicates that she can go, she steps up and sends her ball barreling down. It clatters against the pins, knocking nine of them down. The last one wobbles dangerously but remains upright.
Lucy winces. "Ooh, so close!"
Whistler approaches, slowing as she passes Lucy to silently look her up and down, eyes drifting with promise, smirking with the confidence that regardless of the outcome, she'll get to go home with Lucy tonight and touch her and fall asleep next to her.
Whistler's arm flexes as she picks up a bowling ball. She carries it to the lane, turning over her shoulder to smile at Lucy before launching it. The ball seems to curve in the right direction, but then narrowly misses the single pin, sinking into the gutter right before it makes contact.
Lucy raises her arms in victory. "Bowling champion of the Tara-Whistler household!"
Whistler grins as she walks back, clearly not too heartbroken by her defeat. "Are we hyphenating? Because Whistler-Tara sounds much better than Tara-Whistler."
"I think the Tara-Whistler bowling champion gets to decide the order," Lucy states with a serious nod.
Whistler laughs. "How awfully convenient for you."
Lucy beams, then looks up at the scoreboard. "Impressed yet?"
Whistler's hands find Lucy's hips, and she tugs until their bodies are touching. "I'll be even more impressed if you top me again later tonight," she says lowly. She kisses Lucy's cheek. "Go take your extra shot."
"Extra shot," Lucy repeats, distracted by the very enticing thoughts racing through her mind. "I, um, what?"
"You had a spare last frame," Whistler reminds her in amusement. "Or does the Whistler-Tara bowling champ need a rules refresher?"
"Tara-Whistler!" Lucy insists, pulling away to grab one last bowling ball.
Lucy lets the ball fly but doesn't even wait for it to reach the end of the lane before she shoves herself back into Whistler's arms.
"Thank you for planning this," Lucy says softly, her own arms curling around Whistler's torso.
"I owed you a bowling date," Whistler acknowledges. She offers a small, regretful smile and leans her forehead gently against Lucy's. "I wanted to say yes, back then. I was just so... in my head about every little thing."
Lucy shuts her eyes momentarily and takes a pained breath through her nose. "It's okay. We don't have to revisit that."
Whistler nods and lifts her head, sounding a bit nervous when she says, "I made a reservation at Hau Tree tonight."
Lucy huffs out a laugh. "We're really doing the whole tour, huh?"
"We don't have to go," Whistler tells her, like she's suddenly realizing that maybe Valentine's Day isn't the right time for this. She starts to reach for her phone. "I can call that seafood place that opened down the street from us and see if they've still got a table."
"Kate." Lucy tightens her grip, drawing Whistler's attention back to her. "Let's go to Hau Tree. I really miss their miso eggplant."
Whistler's smile is tentative. "I've actually never been."
"No time like the present, then." Lucy reluctantly pulls her arm away to glance at her watch. "When's the reservation?"
"In about an hour," Whistler replies, tilting her head to read the time on Lucy's watch, "but I want to go home to take a quick shower and change."
"So enough time for me to win you something from one of the claw machines before we go," Lucy says, finally letting go of Whistler to grab her shoes and change back into them.
Whistler looks skeptical as she does the same. "I've never once seen anyone actually walk away from one of those things with a prize."
Lucy flashes a playful smile. "You've never seen me handle one."
Whistler neatly folds Lucy's top that she'd left crumpled on top of her purse and tucks it inside, then produces a plastic bag to put their shoes in. Lucy doesn't know how Whistler manages to get everything to fit back inside her admittedly gigantic purse, but she likes a woman who's organized and resourceful.
Lucy leads Whistler to the handful of arcade machines in the corner. It takes three tries on the claw machine, but Lucy snags a stuffed sea turtle, which she gives to Whistler in exchange for a slow, sweet kiss. They head toward the exit, stopping by the front desk where there's an arrangement of bowling-themed valentines. Whistler picks out one with a pair of smiling bowling pins that reads, you're right up my alley! and hands it to Lucy, who laughs brightly when she sees it.
Whistler leans over to press a kiss to the crown of Lucy's head and to murmur, "Happy Valentine's Day, babe."
Lucy's eyes light up. "Did I hear that right?"
Whistler is grinning as she presses a second kiss to Lucy's temple.
Albert the stuffed sea turtle finds a home on Whistler's nightstand. The bowling shoes get tucked into the closet near the entrance, Whistler already having made a formal challenge for the prestigious bowling championship title the moment they'd left the bowling alley. Leftovers from Hau Tree are sitting in the fridge.
Lucy looks up from the bed when Whistler walks out of the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around her torso. Her hair is pulled back in a bun and mostly dry, but there are droplets of water on her shoulders and arms. Whistler smiles at Lucy before disappearing into the closet.
"You know whatever you put on is going to just come off in a few minutes, right?" Lucy asks, shifting forward to rest her weight on her knees.
"You're still wearing clothes," Whistler calls back.
"I can take them off," Lucy replies, immediately pulling her shirt over her head. "See? No shirt."
Whistler pops her head out of the closet and takes a slow, purposeful look at Lucy kneeling topless on the mattress before walking back to the bed. Her hair has been freed of its bun, but she still has her towel on when she climbs onto the bed and crowds into Lucy's space, hands finding her cheeks as she leans down to kiss her. Lucy tugs at the towel as she returns the kiss, but Whistler has it tucked so tightly that Lucy can't make any progress. She pulls away for a moment so she can look at what she's doing, but that doesn't seem to help either.
"Kate, what—" Lucy runs her hand over the top edge of the towel, looking for any way to get in without scissors. "What kind of sociopathic towel-wrapping technique did you employ here?"
Whistler reaches under her arm and pulls, and the towel falls easily from her body.
Lucy glances at the towel suspiciously. "How did you do that?"
"Should I put it back on to show you?" Whistler teases, reaching down for it.
Lucy's eyes widen, hand snapping to Whistler's wrist to stop her. "No! No. This is very good."
Whistler grins, moving her hands back up to Lucy's cheeks to continue their kiss. Lucy drags her palms over Whistler's sides, her skin still heated from the shower, and down to her hips. Lucy squeezes them as she leans into the kiss, and Whistler falls back onto her ankles. Lucy straddles her lap without breaking the kiss, but Whistler groans and slides her hands down to Lucy's waist, jostling for a moment to stretch out her legs in front of herself before pulling Lucy down onto her lap again.
Reluctantly, Lucy pulls away for a moment. "Wait, before I forget again," she says, rolling off Whistler to open her nightstand drawer and retrieve a familiar drawstring bag. "I got your sweetheart fixed this past weekend."
Whistler looks down at the bag, then back up at her. A slow flush creeps up her cheeks. "Please don't personify my vibrator," she mumbles as she takes the bag from her and opens it cautiously. "Not to mention the sweetheart position in my life is already taken."
Lucy slides closer, caught between a smile and rolling her eyes. She watches as Whistler takes out the vibrator and turns it on for a second, thighs shifting at the momentary buzz it produces. Whistler notices the charging port and her eyes snap back up to Lucy.
"With a can-do attitude," Lucy teases. "I told you, I know someone."
Whistler slides the vibrator back into its bag and pulls it closed, then leans over her side of the bed to tuck it away in her nightstand drawer. Before returning, she stretches to pick up Albert the sea turtle and turn him around so he's facing the wall.
Lucy laughs. "Don't you want to give it a test run?"
"No," Whistler replies, reaching to pull Lucy back onto her lap. She slides her hands over the tops of Lucy's thighs. "Thank you. I—" Her cheeks are a bit flushed, still. "Thank you for doing this for me."
Lucy smiles. "It was no big deal. The actual fix took no more than fifteen minutes, and it was actually kind of cool seeing the internals."
Whistler watches her for a moment, hands absently moving over her legs. "Nothing makes me feel as good as you can. You know that, right?"
Lucy reaches up to stroke over Whistler's heated cheeks. "I'm not jealous of your vibrator, Whistler."
"I know. I just, even when I'm—" Whistler's hands slide back to Lucy's waist, gripping urgently like she needs Lucy to understand. "I'm always thinking about you."
Lucy stretches her fingertips to the back of Whistler's head to pull her close, leaning down to press their lips together. The kiss is gentle, reassuring, even when Lucy's hands slide down to Whistler's ribcage and thumb over her nipples. Whistler moans into Lucy's mouth before pulling back.
"How do you want me tonight?" Whistler asks breathlessly, her eyes always seeking, but with reverence now, too.
Lucy's knees press against Whistler's hips when her thighs clench reflexively. "I want you exactly how you are," she murmurs, still playing with Whistler's chest. "I also want you to lean back and spread your legs so I can touch you."
Whistler keeps her eyes trained on Lucy as she complies.
Chapter 12: March
Lucy turns thirty on a cool day in spring, and for once on a Saturday, Whistler is still in bed when she wakes, sitting up against the headboard and reading the morning paper.
Whistler's attention turns to Lucy the moment she stirs, and she folds up the paper and drops it on her nightstand before leaning down to press a kiss to Lucy's forehead.
"Happy birthday, sleepyhead," Whistler greets. "Welcome to your thirties."
Lucy groans and sinks deeper into the covers, reaching to curl her arm around Whistler's thigh. "No surfing today?"
"Wanted to watch you wake up instead," Whistler replies, running a hand over Lucy's hair, pushing it away from her face.
Lucy cracks open an eye to look up at her. "I'm awake."
Whistler hums skeptically. "If you say so."
Lucy tightens her grip around Whistler's thigh. "Kiss me more. Maybe that'll help."
Whistler laughs softly and does as she's told, sliding herself down into the covers until her hips are lined up with Lucy's. She starts peppering light kisses across Lucy's face, and Lucy hums happily, eyes drifting closed.
"Don't think it's having its intended effect," Whistler murmurs.
Lucy grins without opening her eyes. "Try kissing me elsewhere."
Whistler rolls Lucy to her back and moves down to kiss her neck, her collarbones, her shoulder. Whistler is making her way over the top of Lucy's breast when the doorbell interrupts them.
Lucy groans again, this time in agony, and finally opens her eyes. "Are we expecting anyone?"
"Early party guests?" Whistler suggests.
Lucy glances at her watch. "Six hours early?"
Whistler shrugs and runs her hand down to Lucy's abdomen. "Maybe they're as excited to celebrate your birthday as I am." Then, a look of panic crosses her face. "It's not your parents, is it?"
Lucy sits up. "I gave them very clear instructions not to show up until the time specified on the invite!" The doorbell rings again, and she rolls out of bed and starts to look for some presentable clothes. "Is it your parents? Isn't DC six hours ahead?"
"My parents know what timezones are, Lucy!" Whistler argues, getting up to help her find clothes.
Lucy pulls on some clean underwear and a sports bra, then the shirt and pants Whistler's holding out for her.
"This isn't mine!" Lucy hisses, looking down at the West Point shirt hanging down past her hips. The doorbell rings again, twice in quick succession. "It'll do."
Lucy runs downstairs and to the front door. She pulls it open to find Ernie standing on the porch, tapping away at the tablet in his hands. Lucy pokes her head out the door and looks around for anyone else, but it's just him. She breathes a sigh of relief.
"Ernie, what are you doing here? Party starts at four."
"You told me to get here early to set up the outdoor VR station," he reminds her, finally looking up. He points at her outfit. "Nice get-up."
Lucy scowls. "We were sleeping."
"Whistler was sleeping at ten in the morning?" Ernie asks with genuine disbelief. He takes a moment, and his eyes widen with understanding. "Oh, you were sleeping. Sorry, I can come back later."
"No, it's fine," Lucy tells him, "we're wide awake now. Come on in."
Ernie points at the wagon near the carport, piled high with gadgets and cables. "I actually just need to wheel everything to the back, but I know how on edge everyone gets when I don't announce my arrival, hence the doorbell."
Lucy takes a step off the porch. "Need any help?"
"I've got it," he replies, tucking his tablet under his arm and turning toward the wagon. "You and Whistler can go get some more sleep."
"We really were sleeping!" Lucy calls out after him as he disappears around the corner of the house.
Lucy reenters the house to find Whistler at the base of the stairs, dressed in a sleeveless blouse and pressed slacks, hair brushed, light makeup on.
Lucy plucks her oversized shirt off her chest emphatically. "You let me answer the door in this so you could get dressed up? On my birthday?"
Whistler bites back a smile and reaches for Lucy, trying to soothe her indignation with a kiss. "I think you look incredibly cute."
"Wouldn't have been cute if it had been your parents at the door," Lucy grumbles, even as she submits her face to be kissed.
"I'm pretty sure my mom is this close to filing adoption papers," Whistler tells her, "so you probably could've answered in a potato sack without altering their view of you." Whistler glances past Lucy at the front door. "Who was it?"
"Ernie," Lucy replies, motioning toward the backyard, partially visible through the sliding glass doors. Ernie's head pops up for a moment, then disappears again. "I asked him to come early to set up, but I should have specified how early. That's on me."
"Is he going to be out there for a while?" Whistler asks, her grip tightening around Lucy. "Like maybe a solid half-hour?"
"You're not going down on me while Ernie's puttering around in our backyard!" Lucy admonishes.
Whistler flushes and clears her throat. "Right. Of course not."
"But I appreciate your enthusiasm, and..." Lucy rolls to her toes, her lips ghosting across Whistler's. "I'll be all yours tonight."
Whistler's eyes light up, and her lips press together as her tongue runs over them. "I'll be on my best behavior," she promises.
Lucy beams. "Good. Now, will my best-behavior girlfriend please make me some coffee while I shower and change into some real clothes?"
Whistler smiles. "I'll even make you some pancakes."
"Chocolate chip?" Lucy asks hopefully, pressing her hands together under her chin.
"Anything you want," Whistler tells her.
Lucy tilts her face up. "I want another kiss."
Whistler cups Lucy's cheeks and leans down to press three consecutive kisses on her mouth, each softer than the last. "All good?"
Lucy stretches to steal one last kiss before pulling away. Whistler taps her lightly on the butt as she starts up the stairs.
The guest list had seemed manageable on paper, but as more and more cars fill up their driveway and spill into the street, Lucy starts rethinking the whole thing. The irony of a beach birthday party for someone who hates beaches isn't lost on her, but it's the only way to fit everyone she wants to invite, and yes, she absolutely did have to invite the owners of her favorite pastry shop. They always slip her an extra lilikoi bar 'for your girl', and Whistler will do almost anything for one of those, so it's only right.
Whistler is on top of it, greeting people as they arrive, introducing people to each other, sometimes introducing herself to them if they've never met. She steers everyone out back, and people mostly learn to mingle. Even Lucy's parents, who had been one of the first to arrive at four on the dot, seem to have somehow earned themselves places on the judging panel of the impromptu sand sculpture competition.
"No, Mom, it's fine, you can wear a lei," Whistler is saying from somewhere behind Lucy. "You're in Hawaii."
Lucy turns around, and Christie, aforementioned flower garland around her neck, smiles brightly when she sees her.
"Lucy! Happy birthday, sweetie," Christie greets, pulling Lucy into a hug. "Oh, it's so nice to see you again."
Lucy beams. "It's nice to see both of you, too. Welcome to Hawaii."
Over Whistler's shoulder, Rob offers Lucy a small smile.
Christie releases her and starts scanning the backyard and connected beach. "Now, which ones are your parents?"
"I'll, uh, I'll go get them," Lucy says, taking a quick glance at Whistler. "Why don't y'all go inside? It'll be quieter."
Whistler takes her parents into the house while Lucy momentarily gets over her distaste of sand to plod over to where her parents are studying what looks like a sculpture of a dolphin as Julie Tennant stands next to her creation eagerly.
"Sorry, Julie," Lucy says as she approaches, "I need to borrow the judges for a bit."
"But I was about to win!" Julie protests.
Lucy pats her shoulder somberly. "I know. I'll bring them back soon, I promise."
Lucy starts to lead her parents back to the house, and as soon as they're out of earshot, she explains, "Kate's parents are here. I thought you might like to be introduced."
Lucy's parents exchange a look before silently following her across the backyard, narrowly dodging Ernie and Alex swinging their hands around, their eyes covered by VR headsets.
Whistler's parents are at the breakfast bar laughing at something Whistler's just said, when Lucy and her parents walk in. The room falls silent for a moment save for the noise filtering in from the backyard.
Lucy opens her mouth, but when nothing comes out, Whistler quickly rounds the kitchen counter to introduce everyone by name, and with that out of the way, they ease into greetings, handshakes, polite smiles, and then light conversation.
Whistler drifts over to Lucy and gets a hand on her back. "You okay?"
Lucy lets out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Yeah, I just got nervous about all this and froze."
Whistler gently scratches Lucy's back. "So far so good."
Julie pokes her head into the house and looks around until she spots Lucy. "You said you'd give the judges back!"
Lucy winces, adequately scolded. "You're right, Julie, I'm sorry."
Alma turns to Rob and Christie. "Y'all want to judge some sand sculptures?"
The three of them follow Julie outside, but Ali hangs back. Whistler takes one look at him and turns to Lucy, seeking instruction.
"It's okay," Lucy reassures.
Whistler nods. "I'll be right outside," she tells her, pressing a kiss to her temple. She shoots Ali a silent warning before she leaves.
"I can see that you are surrounded by love here," Ali starts once they're alone. "I'm very happy to see it."
"I really miss Dallas sometimes," Lucy admits, motioning for them to sit on the couch. "I liked that it was a four-hour drive to the nearest large body of water."
Ali chuckles as he sinks down onto the couch. "Always did wonder how you ended up working for the Navy with your aversion to water."
Lucy smiles and sits next to him. "I'm full of contradictions."
"There's always a home for you in Dallas," he tells her. Then, after a beat, he adds, "You and Kate both."
Lucy nods in acknowledgment. "My home is in Hawaii now," she says, glancing outside and catching a wave of blonde hair. "My home is with her," she finds herself saying.
Ali takes another beat. "Maybe next Thanksgiving, then."
Lucy turns back to meet his eyes. She smiles, and she allows herself to hope. "Maybe for the Cowboys." She takes a deep breath, then. "Baba, I'm planning to marry Kate."
Ali glances down at Lucy's hand as though expecting a ring to materialize.
"We're not engaged yet," Lucy continues, covering her ring finger, "but we've talked about it, and I just wanted you to know that I won't be asking her to sign a prenup. I don't care about getting an inheritance."
Ali is quiet for a long time. Finally, he tilts his head in a nod. "Okay."
"Okay?" Lucy asks, the adrenaline of anticipating a fight keeping her on edge. "But you made Hannah and her husband sign one."
"I didn't force them," Ali says evenly. "They agreed to sign."
"To make you happy," Lucy argues, the remnants of old wounds reopening. "You never forced me to do anything either. But I knew the consequences of not doing them. I lived those consequences for years."
"Lucy," Ali says quietly. "Live the life you want to live. I won't make that difficult for you anymore." He pauses, as though turning something over in his head, then reaches across and covers her hand with his. "I'm sorry that I ever did," he adds, the words stumbling out unpracticed but sincere.
Lucy blinks against the tears prickling under her eyelids and takes a shaky breath. "Don't let Kate know you almost made me cry on my birthday or she might kick you out," she says lightly. She flexes her hand under his and swallows hard. "I appreciate that."
Ali squeezes her hand before pulling away. He lifts his suit jacket and reaches into one of the inner pockets, pulling out a small ring box, which he hands to Lucy.
"My mother's engagement ring," Ali explains, watching as Lucy pops open the box. "I was saving it for Oliver, but he told me to offer it to you."
Lucy looks up. "But Hannah, and Ben..."
"I spoke to them," Ali reassures. "They want you to have it."
"Ben wanted me to have it?" Lucy asks in disbelief.
"I know you don't always see eye-to-eye with him, but yes, he wants you to have it." Ali pauses. "And frankly, I wasn't asking for their permission."
Lucy studies the ring for a moment, a simple gold band with a modest pear-shaped diamond inset, before closing the box. "I don't know how Kate would feel about wearing this."
"It's yours to do with how you wish," Ali tells her. "Happy birthday, Lucy."
Lucy reaches over and pulls her father into a hug. He momentarily tenses with surprise, but then his arms come to rest against Lucy's back, squeezing her close.
When Lucy pulls away, she offers him a small smile. "I'm going to go hide this upstairs," she announces, lifting the ring box. "Thank you for bringing it."
Ali nods and starts to get up. "I'd better go check on your mother."
Lucy watches him disappear outside before making her way to the bedroom to tuck the ring box into her nightstand drawer. It's not exactly well-hidden, but Lucy's planning to move it back to the apartment anyway, and she's pretty sure Whistler never digs around in her drawers because she only just tolerates the mess in them.
The sound of laughter drifts in through the open window, and Lucy rushes back downstairs to rejoin the party.
"Jake, leave Whistler alone!" Jesse calls out, his loud booming voice catching Lucy's attention.
She looks over just in time to see an excited Jake jump onto a crouching Whistler's back. He's carrying a water gun, which he starts to pump up as Whistler steadies his legs at her sides and lifts him up as she stands.
Across the backyard, Julie is already piggybacking Kai, her own water gun resting over Kai's shoulder and aimed directly at Jake and Whistler. Julie opens fire, but the jet of water doesn't quite reach them when Whistler turns and runs barefoot out onto the beach with Jake on her back, her laughter bright and clear across the yard.
Kai chases after her, Julie brandishing her water gun threateningly above her head.
The last thing Lucy sees before Whistler disappears out of view down the beach is her lifting a squealing, excited Jake onto her shoulders to give him a little extra height.
Jesse approaches Lucy with a grin on his face. "Didn't know Whistler was good with kids."
Lucy tries to say that there's a lot he doesn't know about Whistler, that she's good with everyone, but what comes out of her mouth instead is, "I'm gonna marry her."
Jesse laughs like he hadn't expected her to respond with that. "Yeah, I mean, I figured. You got a ring yet?"
"Yeah." Lucy looks up at him. "Were you nervous?"
"I didn't think I would be," Jesse replies, "but in the moments leading up to it, I was pretty close to blacking out." He studies her for a moment. "Asking someone to spend their life with you, that's not nothing."
Whistler's laughter drifts over as she reappears into view, Jake still on her shoulders. They're both soaked from head to toe, Whistler's hair clinging to her cheeks. Jake leans down to whisper something in her ear, and she smiles and charges toward an incoming Kai and Julie as Jake empties his water gun at them.
Jesse follows Lucy's line of sight and leans over to drape his arm across her shoulders. "I'm pretty sure there's no way you can mess this up, Luce," he reassures. "Whistler's got it bad for you."
Whistler and Kai start walking back toward the house, the children they're carrying having apparently declared truce over their empty water guns. Whistler's smiling at Lucy as she approaches, leaning over enough so Jesse can pick Jake off her shoulders and set him on the ground. Kai crouches down to let Julie slide off his back, and the kids rush off to refill their water guns at the garden hose, Jesse yelling after them to slow down and be careful.
"You wanna go catch some waves since you're already drenched?" Jesse asks, glancing at Kai as he rubs a beach towel through his hair.
Kai dumps his towel with a smile. "Let's go."
Jesse turns to Whistler questioningly.
"Go on ahead," Whistler tells them. "I'll join you in a few minutes."
Jesse and Kai rush off to grab their surfboards, and Lucy turns to take a slow, appreciative look down Whistler's body.
"It is very hard not to jump you right now," Lucy says.
Whistler grins. "I won't apologize for that."
"Oh, absolutely no apologies needed," Lucy reassures, stepping closer. "But if you are feeling inclined, I do accept birthday kisses."
Whistler fails to hide her adoration as she pulls Lucy closer, dropping a soft kiss to her lips.
"Kisses," Lucy emphasizes when they part. "Plural."
Whistler rolls her eyes and presses two more kisses to Lucy's mouth, the last one lingering when Lucy's hands grip into her wet shirt.
Lucy pulls away first. "Think it's too late to tell everyone to go home so we can lock ourselves in our room for a marathon sex sesh?"
"I think you are definitely not using the phrase sex sesh around our parents and esteemed colleagues," Whistler replies, a hint of genuine warning behind her playful tone.
Lucy laughs. "Have fun with Jesse and Kai, and try not to bruise their egos too much."
Whistler smiles. "No promises."
Lucy watches Whistler walk to the back wall to grab her surfboard and strip down to the bathing suit she has underneath. Whistler flashes Lucy one last smile before following Jesse and Kai down to the beach with her surfboard tucked under her arm, her thighs flexing as she moves, and Lucy is just shameless enough to stare.
Lucy's team stays behind to help her clean up, insisting that she and Whistler start winding down for the day. So they take showers, separately to be polite, and change into sleepwear.
But when they make their way back downstairs to check on progress, while the yard and connecting beach are pristine, Jesse and Kai have claimed the bunk beds in the downstairs room, their limbs comically hanging off the sides of the twin-sized mattresses. Jesse is already snoring lightly from the top bunk, and Kai is out like a rock on the bottom one.
Tennant is apologetic because Alex had taken the car when he drove himself and Julie home earlier, and Kai, who she'd planned to get a ride home with, clearly won't be driving her anymore. Tennant is pulling up a rideshare app when Lucy offers her their one furnished guest bedroom.
Ernie doesn't seem to mind the couch, already having curled up with his tablet and a pair of headphones leaking what sounds like Mandarin into the living room.
Lucy is in the kitchen filling the recycling with some empty bottles when Whistler's arms wrap around her from behind, and a light kiss is pressed to her shoulder.
"Hey," Whistler greets, sounding sleepy and very, very cute.
"Hey," Lucy replies, smiling as she abandons the recycling and leans back into Whistler's body. She tilts her head to look up at Whistler before she quietly says, "I don't think I can be all yours tonight with Tennant in the next room."
Whistler presses another kiss to her shoulder, her hands sliding under the hem of Lucy's shirt, thumb brushing a teasing circle around her navel. "It's nice out. You want to curl up on the hammock for a bit?"
"The homophobic one?" Lucy asks.
Whistler laughs softly next to Lucy's ear. "I'm willing to give it another chance if you are."
Lucy turns around in Whistler's arms, and Whistler immediately presses her back against the counter gently and leans down to kiss her. Lucy reaches up to grab Whistler's neck and pull her closer, but the kiss remains slow, touching just for the pleasure of touching, and Lucy sinks into the feeling of being in love.
"I love you," Lucy murmurs against Whistler's lips.
Whistler's eyes flutter open as she lifts her head. "I love you. So much. And I'd like to think you're all mine tonight, even if we don't get to finish what we started this morning."
"I am," Lucy says easily, "and you, Kate Whistler, are all mine."
Whistler grabs a couple blankets from the closet and leads Lucy out to the hammock. She lays one blanket down before climbing on top and reaching for Lucy, who carefully and suspiciously lowers herself into the wobbling hammock. Whistler manages to pull Lucy partially on top of her and drape the second blanket over their bodies.
They lie quietly for a few minutes in each other's warmth, Lucy pressing her ear against Whistler's chest to listen to her heartbeat as Whistler runs her fingertips slowly over Lucy's spine with her free hand.
"I think I've been all yours since the night after the Kayla Barlow case closed," Lucy admits quietly.
Whistler's hand stops moving against Lucy's spine, the only indication that she's heard her. "That was a long time ago."
"Yeah, well." Lucy shifts, her hand pressing into Whistler's side. "You probably shouldn't have touched me like that if you didn't want me to fall for you." Her teasing tone turns serious. "I wasn't in love with you back then or anything. I just... stopped thinking about other people."
Whistler slides her hand under Lucy's shirt again, fingers curling around her waist. "Do you remember," she starts slowly, "after I moved to Hawaii and was reintroduced to you at work, we met up to talk about what we should do."
"We decided it was too complicated," Lucy recalls, carefully navigating the memory, "but you came home with me that night anyway." She tilts her head up to look at Whistler, at the shadows of her face under the moonlight. "And you left before morning."
"I thought that was what you wanted from me," Whistler confesses, her grip tightening. "Something simple, just to take the edge off." Her chest rises and falls as she takes a deep breath. "Anyway, if we're sharing when we stopped thinking about other people, that was when, for me."
"Kate," Lucy murmurs, stretching to bury her face against Whistler's neck just to breathe her in, pressing her lips gently to her throat. Lucy believes her. For all the secrets they'd kept, she believes her.
"I don't regret that time," Whistler reassures, and Lucy takes in the shift of Whistler's muscles as she swallows hard. "I liked having you in the moments that I did."
Lucy exhales against Whistler's neck, old sometimes-complicated feelings resurfacing in her chest. "Me too."
"I do regret some things, obviously—"
"I know, babe, we don't—"
Whistler's grip tightens again. "—but not those moments with you."
Lucy presses another kiss to Whistler's neck, squeezing her eyes shut as she waits for her heartbeat to steady.
Whistler shivers, shifting to pull Lucy fully on top of her without disturbing the delicate balance of the hammock. Lucy's thigh dips between hers under the blanket, and Whistler's whole body flexes involuntarily.
Lucy grins. "Emotional intimacy turn you on?"
A deep blush rises up Whistler's neck, one that Lucy feels on her skin more so than sees in the dark.
"Just you," Whistler responds sincerely, a soft, affectionate smile adorning her lips. Her fingertips brush at the back of Lucy's shirt, and she lowers her voice. "I don't like that I didn't get to get you off a single time for your birthday."
Lucy's laugh is muffled against Whistler's skin. "I'm pretty sure my last one last night was past midnight, so on a technicality, I think you did."
Whistler frowns. "Technicalities are not very romantic."
"I don't know," Lucy teases, "I'm feeling pretty romanced tonight."
They settle into calmness, Whistler's hands sliding down to Lucy's waist to anchor her. Lucy starts to drift off, thinking about Whistler checking up on her throughout the day, keeping things organized so Lucy doesn't have to, and talking to her about feelings and about intimacy. To her, that's romance.
Lucy remembers the ring box in her nightstand and reopens her eyes, pushing herself up to meet Whistler's drowsy gaze.
"How would you feel about wearing my grandmother's ring?"
Whistler's hands press into her skin. "What?"
"My father gave me her ring today," Lucy explains, "for me to propose with, but is that something you would want?"
"A proposal or her ring?" Whistler asks slowly, confusion heavy in her sleepy voice. Then, with a self-conscious laugh, "I don't know why I'm asking for clarification. The answer is yes to both."
"Okay," Lucy says, fighting the sudden urge to run upstairs, grab the ring, and get on one knee in front of this stupid wobbly hammock.
She's pretty sure Whistler would say yes, now.
But Whistler had wanted to wait, so Lucy tamps down the urge and tries to remain patient. She reaches to her back and moves one of Whistler's hands to her side so she can hold it comfortably.
Lucy falls asleep against the crook of Whistler's neck, her thumb pressed to Whistler's ring finger.
Chapter 13: April
Happy anniversary to the parking lot scene that had me so fucked up I ended up here.
To those of you tracking word count, editing has pushed the total to 73k (sadly not nice anymore), so don't fret.
"Financial goals," Lucy recites, then frowns. She looks up from her phone, feet pressing into the bar stool foot rest. "Do we want to combine finances?"
Whistler glances at her over the rim of her coffee cup from across the kitchen counter. "Lucy, what are you reading?"
Lucy flashes her phone screen. "Questions we should ask each other before getting married."
Whistler stills, her fingers flexing against her cup as she places it down on the counter. "Did I miss a proposal?"
"We were both there when you requested we wait," Lucy says, waving a dismissive hand. She takes a beat, trying to get a read on Whistler, suddenly unsure. "Do you want to wait until after, to have this conversation?"
"No, I just—" Whistler shakes her head, reaching up to run her hand through her own hair. She sounds a little self-conscious but quietly sincere when she says, "Sometimes I forget for a moment that I get to just build a life with you."
Lucy's smile brims with affection. "We're doin' it. And I want to be doin' it for a very long time, so..." She taps on her phone screen.
Whistler takes a sip of coffee. "I don't want to combine finances. Do you?"
"No," Lucy agrees, "but it might be easier to have a separate joint account for fixed expenses? I mean, venmoing half the rent to you every month is fine, but."
Whistler nods. "That makes sense. Okay."
"Can I—" Lucy hesitates. She doesn't know why she's suddenly nervous, but she pushes through. "I want to put your name on the house."
Whistler purses her lips. "I don't know, Lucy. It's a really, really expensive house." She takes a beat, eyes searching. "Is it important to you?"
"Yeah, it is," Lucy replies.
"Okay. Then yes, you can," Whistler decides. "But it's important to me to be financially independent."
Lucy nods. "Me too." She plays idly with her phone. "I don't like accepting things from my parents because of what it used to mean."
"I know," Whistler says gently. "Rebuilding trust takes time and effort."
Lucy offers a small smile. "Yeah, it does."
Whistler reaches across the counter for Lucy's hand, which she lets her have. She pulls Lucy's hand closer and leans down to brush a kiss over her knuckles, then a firmer one over her bare ring finger.
"Let's keep going," Whistler says without letting go of her hand.
Lucy looks down at her phone and reads the next topic. "Children." She pauses for a moment, then keeps scrolling. "We already talked about that."
"Wait," Whistler cuts in, her thumb pressing into Lucy's hand, "that was almost a year ago. Can we check in?"
Their eyes meet, and Lucy thinks about the one room at the house that they'd laid in all those months ago, before the house even belonged to her, whispering cautiously into a new-again relationship. That room has remained empty since the furniture in it had been moved to fill the master, and no one ever goes in there, but once in a while, walking past it, Lucy thinks about that conversation, about Whistler's hesitation, her fear. Everything had seemed so abstract, then, even as they talked about very real things.
"Okay," Lucy says, trying to sound composed through her nerves. "Has anything changed for you?"
Whistler nods. "Do you still want them?"
"Yes," Lucy answers, "but like I told you then, it's not a deal breaker, and even less so now. There are a lot of very cute children in my life that I get to spoil, and—"
"I want them too, with you," Whistler rushes to say. Her grip is firm around Lucy's fingers, her voice steady. "I'm sure."
Lucy glances down at their hands before meeting Whistler's eyes again. "What made you sure?"
Whistler smiles like it's the easiest thing she's had to answer. "Waking up to you snoring next to me every morning."
"I don't snore!" Lucy protests. "I'm a heavy breather in my sleep."
Whistler's eyes are fond, even as tries to look exasperated. "Okay, waking up to you breathing heavily in your sleep every morning, then." Her features soften. "Something about having you there with me reassured me that we could do it."
Lucy narrows her eyes. "So you saw me sleeping peacefully and it made you want a screaming baby. Interesting."
Whistler smiles. "Maybe we'll be lucky and get a quiet one."
"Don't think there's such a thing," Lucy replies.
Whistler half-shrugs. "I've been told I was a pretty happy, quiet baby."
"Must've been nice for your parents, but the Taras were all loud, fussy babies," Lucy says with a laugh, "and I've been assured by every single person who was alive for my birth that I was the loudest, fussiest one amongst my siblings and cousins."
Whistler's eyes are warm with affection when she says, "Not much has changed, then?"
Lucy's mouth drops open. "I'm not fussy!"
Whistler laughs brightly. "No, you aren't fussy. Except when you catch the mildest cold. Get into a fistfight with a suspect and you'll barely sit still after, but one sneeze and it's lights out."
"It's the congestion!" Lucy explains. "I like being able to use my nostrils for their intended purpose of breathing. It's not that bad, is it?"
"I like playing nurse," Whistler reassures, her thumb grazing absently over Lucy's knuckles.
Lucy leans forward. "You look really good doing it." She smiles at the flush that almost immediately colors Whistler's cheeks. "Have I ever told you that my gay awakening might have been a really cute nursing resident who took care of me when I was briefly hospitalized for bronchitis when I was twelve?"
Whistler hums knowingly. "And is all the fussing when sick just an attempt to recreate that experience?"
"No! I—" Lucy laughs, feeling her neck getting warm. "I was a very good patient. Her repeatedly telling me so was a major part of the problem, actually."
Whistler smiles. "Should I be taking notes?"
"I like encouragement sometimes, sue me," Lucy dismisses. She fixes Whistler with a sly grin. "And if I'm remembering last night correctly, I'm definitely not the only one in this conversation who likes to be told they're doing a good job."
Whistler's hand jumps against Lucy's, eliciting a laugh. Whistler clears her throat and motions at Lucy's phone, pivoting. "Anyway, what's next?"
Lucy presses her thumb against the screen to unlock it, then reads, "Deal breakers." She looks up and smiles. "Unless you're planning to commit some heinous crimes, Whistler, I think we're good."
But Whistler is quiet, eyes fixated on Lucy's phone like she's working through a bevy of anxious thoughts in her head.
Lucy sobers. "Something on your deal breaker list?"
"No, not—" Whistler shakes her head. "Not my list."
"Well, I just gave you mine: heinous crimes," Lucy says slowly. She waits a beat, but when Whistler remains silent, she adds, "And being rude to wait staff. Which I guess is a heinous crime, so that's already covered by the—"
"I will never hurt you the way I've hurt you before," Whistler blurts out.
Lucy stills, her eyes meeting Whistler's. "I know that, Kate," she says quietly.
"What happened was a one-time lapse in judgment," Whistler continues, momentum building. She clasps Lucy's hand between her palms, gripping it tightly. "I don't take lightly how close I was to losing you forever. I need you to know that."
Lucy aches at the thought that they so easily could have ended up spending their lives apart, if a few knobs turned one way instead of another. She's never been a believer of soulmates, but the way her heart reaches for Whistler, has always reached for her, she could be converted.
"I know, and I believe you." Lucy reaches over with her free hand to cover one of Whistler's. "What does this have to do with deal breakers?"
Whistler swallows hard. "It was a deal breaker once."
Lucy softens, tugging gently at Whistler's hands. "Babe, you have spent every moment since then showing me that you value honesty and that you want to be with me and only me. This isn't something I worry about."
Whistler's grip tightens. It clicks for Lucy, then. It's something Whistler worries about. Whistler's the one seeking reassurance that what she's done is settled between them, that she's proven herself and done it right this time like she'd promised. That Lucy doesn't hold her hurt like a loaded weapon anymore.
"I'm sorry for what I said last year," Lucy tells her then, remembering the devastated, stricken look on Whistler's face when Lucy had made those implications based on nothing but poorly-managed emotions. "That won't happen again, I promise. I trust you from the bottom of my heart, and I have no doubts whatsoever about your feelings for me. Okay?"
Whistler nods, her jaw clenched like she's trying not to cry.
Lucy pushes her phone aside and squeezes Whistler's hand. "We can finish this later."
"No, I can keep going," Whistler insists.
Lucy rounds the counter without letting go of Whistler's hand and pulls her down for a soft kiss. Whistler sighs at the contact, something like relief, and leans into it, reaching up to cup Lucy's cheek. They get lost in the kiss, but it isn't hurried. Lucy takes her time, trying to affirm her words with gentle kisses, and when Whistler starts to pull away, Lucy's lips chases hers for a moment.
"Let's finish the list," Whistler murmurs. "How many more questions?"
"Seven," Lucy replies breathlessly, "but it was written by straight people, so probably actually five."
Whistler smiles and presses a kiss to Lucy's cheek where her hand had just been. "Come to the couch."
Whistler picks Lucy's phone off the counter and leads her to the couch, where they sit cross-legged and facing each other, knees touching. She hands over the phone.
"I know these are hard conversations," Lucy says as she unlocks it.
"I want us to have them," Whistler replies, reaching over to hook her hands over Lucy's calves. "You know, between the two of us, I thought for sure I'd be the one with the checklists."
"You don't own the concept of personal growth, Kate," Lucy tells her with a smile as she looks down at her phone and scrolls to the next section.
Whistler doesn't say anything about it, but she doesn't have to. Lucy has had the date saved in her phone for almost two years. She'd added it right after the careless google search that had led her to the news article about the ambush that took Noah's life, labeling the annually repeating calendar event be nice to Whistler today, with a red heart emoji at the end.
It had been an uncomfortable reminder the first year, because they'd been long broken up by the time the notification appeared, the heart in the title feeling like a cruel taunt. Lucy had spent the entire day anticipating what she'd say to Whistler, but she hadn't come down to NCIS that day.
Lucy had kept the date in her calendar though, taunting red heart emoji and all. Just in case.
So when Lucy wakes and finds Whistler curled away from her at the far side of the bed, a cursory glance at her phone notifications confirms why.
Lucy slides closer under the covers until she reaches Whistler's back and touches her shoulder with a gentle hand. Her muscles feel tense under Lucy's plying fingertips.
Still, Whistler turns around and offers a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.
"Morning," Lucy greets softly, hand drifting to find purchase on her back. "Do you want breakfast? I can make you something."
"Lucy," Whistler says, voice scratchy, hoarse.
"I know, babe," Lucy murmurs. "I'm right here."
Whistler pulls Lucy close and takes a deep inhale against her hair. Lucy brushes her hand over Whistler's back, squeezing against her shoulder blades when she reaches them. Lucy holds her for a minute, wishing she could help shoulder some of the pain emanating off Whistler's body.
Whistler's eyes are red-rimmed when she pulls away and starts to sit up. "I have to call my mom," she says, clearing her throat to compose herself. "With the time difference, they'll be asleep by the time I get off work."
Lucy frowns. "You're going to work."
"I do every year." Whistler's shoulder lifts in a one-sided shrug. "It keeps me busy."
Lucy sits up, curling a hand around Whistler's forearm as she leans over to press a soft kiss to Whistler's cheek. "Don't stay at work as late as you did last year."
Whistler studies her for a moment, eyes piercing. "How do you know about that?" she asks quietly. "This time last year, we weren't—"
Lucy slides closer. "I came by to check on you that night," she confesses, squeezing Whistler's forearm. "You weren't home. I drove to the FBI field office after, and your car was still there."
Whistler takes an even breath, then another. "Why didn't you come in?"
"I don't know," Lucy answers honestly. She'd driven home that night and typed out several text drafts she'd never sent. "We weren't in a great place. I didn't want to make your day any harder."
"You wouldn't have," Whistler reassures, digging Lucy's other hand out from under the covers and interlacing their fingers. "I didn't know."
"I should've called first," Lucy says, sliding her palm up to the inside of Whistler's elbow, then down to her wrist. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Whistler tries to clarify, "I didn't know that you still—"
"I never stopped," Lucy says without waiting for the end of the sentence. "Kate."
Whistler lets out a sharp breath, like she hadn't been sure, and she tugs gently to gather Lucy into her arms. Lucy goes easily, and they do nothing but hold each other for a few minutes, Whistler's face tucked against Lucy's neck, her breath heavy against her skin.
Lucy picks Whistler's hand off her hip and pulls it to her lips, pressing kisses to her open palm until Whistler's breathing evens out and she lifts her head.
"Could I have a fruit smoothie?" Whistler asks, finally addressing Lucy's question about breakfast.
Lucy nods eagerly. "Mango blueberry okay?"
"Sounds perfect," Whistler replies, returning a kiss to Lucy's wrist before getting out of bed.
Lucy follows quickly to avoid having the bed made around her. While Whistler disappears into the bathroom, Lucy heads to the kitchen to dig out the fancy blender that a color-coded spreadsheet courtesy of Whistler had determined was the most optimal one for their needs.
Two mason jars of double-layered smoothies are waiting for Whistler when she steps out of their bedroom in her pantsuit, hair pulled back into a ponytail. Lucy had heard her on the phone with her mother just before she'd left the room, a very brief check-in spoken in soft, hushed tones.
"How's she doing?" Lucy asks, glancing at the phone in Whistler's hand.
Whistler slides onto one of the bar stools. "About how you'd expect. But she's tough. Today's just hard."
Lucy pushes both mason jars toward Whistler. "How are you doing?"
"Better than last year," Whistler replies with a small smile. She reaches out and picks out the smoothie with the purple berry layer at the bottom. She takes a sip out of the included bamboo straw. "Thank you for this."
Lucy nods and slides the remaining jar toward herself. "You're welcome. Can I make you dinner tonight?"
Whistler's eyes soften. "I'll be fine, Lucy."
"I know you will," Lucy says easily, taking a sip of her drink. "I can't treat my girlfriend to a home-cooked meal?"
"Okay," Whistler relents, eyes still soft like she's processing that this year, she doesn't have to be alone for this. "Barring an all-hands-on-deck emergency, I'll be home in time for dinner tonight."
Lucy beams. "Great. Any requests?"
Whistler momentarily abandons her smoothie to round the counter and stand next to Lucy. She leans over to press a gentle kiss to Lucy's lips.
"Your company is all I need," Whistler says.
Lucy smiles up at her. "Very cute, but some of us subsist on more than just vibes."
Whistler laughs softly, the smile reaching her eyes this time. "A bowl of your famous Texas chili would be amazing, actually."
Lucy clasps her hands together in delight. "Ooh, gonna fill you up good tonight." Her eyes widen when she hears it. "With chili, I mean. Obviously."
"Obviously," Whistler echoes in amusement, leaning in to kiss her again, lightly still. "I'm looking forward to being filled up with a little bit of Texas tonight," she teases.
Despite her best efforts, Lucy flushes, but that seems to be the reaction Whistler had been looking for, because she smiles and walks back to her smoothie, sipping away at it innocently, eyes still locked on Lucy's. Whistler's posture is relaxed, the tension from this morning shed somewhere between the bed and the smoothie, and while Lucy knows that grief can ebb and flow and hit when it's least expected, she relishes what appears to be a moment of reprieve.
Whistler glances at her watch. "I have to go. Nothing the FBI loves more than their morning debriefs."
Lucy circles the counter and touches Whistler's arm. "Text me if you need me?"
Whistler nods. "Thank you for offering to take care of me today."
"Get used to it," Lucy tells her with a bright smile. "I'm going to be right here next year, and every year after that, filling you up with smoothies and chili."
Whistler's arm curls around Lucy's waist, pulling her closer. "Every year?"
"Every single year," Lucy confirms, the permanence of it settling in her chest, warm and calming.
Whistler smiles and leans in for a quick kiss. "Have a great day."
Lucy smiles back and steals a second kiss. "You too."
Lucy waits until the front door closes to fire off a quick text to Whistler's mom. She pulls up her calendar app next and changes the name of the recurring event to, take extra care of Kate today. A second red heart emoji joins the first.
Another day, another case.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa Archives and Collections Reading Room is quiet when Lucy steps inside, Whistler trailing behind. Tennant had gotten them special access before official opening hours of the reading room so they could look through the archive's Japanese American Veterans Collection for some records connected to a cold case that hadn't yet been digitized.
Whistler starts to scan the shelves, then skips a few to reach a file cabinet near the back. Lucy follows her halfway, then starts looking at the shelves herself.
"Here it is," Whistler says, quietly even though there's no one else nearby.
Whistler pulls open a drawer and starts skimming the folder tabs. She locates what she's looking for and takes it out, then moves to a nearby table to lay it open and start going through the records inside. Lucy joins her a moment later and watches her work. Lucy tries to help, but she isn't as familiar with the records as Whistler, who scans through them and quickly identifies the ones they're looking for. Lucy takes out her phone to snap some photos to send to the team.
Whistler is in her element, commenting on a few of the other records in the file before she starts to pack it away, meticulously rearranging the records in the same order she'd found them.
"Do you mind if I look around for a bit?" Whistler asks as she returns to the cabinet to put the folder away.
"No, go ahead," Lucy replies.
Whistler smiles and starts fluttering around the reading room, picking books off shelves just to read a few pages, carefully thumbing through old manuscripts, occasionally asking Lucy to come see something she finds interesting.
"Do you miss working in intel?" Lucy asks, browsing the shelf opposite the one Whistler's facing.
Whistler quiets. "I still work with intel sometimes."
"Not the way you were when you were DIA," Lucy points out. "Do you miss it?"
The book in Whistler's hands closes and slides back to its place on the shelf. "Where is this coming from?"
Lucy takes a breath and turns to face Whistler. "I know you joined DIA partially because of Noah, and you moved to FBI partially because of me, and I just—"
"I don't regret that," Whistler cuts in.
"Do you miss it?" Lucy presses.
"I don't miss my team. You remember Peterson? Sexist pig." Whistler pauses, taking in Lucy's stance. "Lucy, there are aspects of my job at the FBI that I like better, and aspects that I don't, but I knew I was making the right decision, even before I started getting to go home to you every night."
They exchange a small, comforting smile.
"I didn't enjoy getting in yours or anyone else's way," Whistler adds quietly. "I know you thought I did, but I was just doing my job."
"I'm sorry I made your job harder," Lucy tells her.
"I had to deal with a lot of vile people. Most of the time, interacting with you was one of the easier parts of my day." Whistler's features soften. "You have an effect on people, you know?"
Heat radiates up to Lucy's cheeks. "Even when I was reading your autopsy reports upside down?"
Whistler's expression shifts, like she's being brought right back to that case. "Most of the time," she emphasizes. "I got majorly chewed out for that one."
Lucy winces. "Sorry."
"You already delivered an apology." Whistler's smile is easy again, teasing. "A very compelling one, as you'll recall."
The memory is seared into Lucy's brain - Whistler surprising her with a desperate kiss in the hallway, her whispered apology, eyes shut, hands hovering, and the burn of Whistler's skin under her fingertips.
Lucy nods slowly. "I do very much recall."
Whistler's eyes move quickly over Lucy's face. "I was incredibly... impulsive that night."
"I didn't mind," Lucy says, taking a step closer. "Obviously."
"It scared me, then," Whistler admits. "Wanting you the way I did."
Lucy looks up at her. "And now?"
Whistler studies her for a moment, eyes dark and still seeking.
"Does it still scare you?" Lucy clarifies.
"A little, sometimes," Whistler finally says. She reaches up to brush her thumb lightly across Lucy's cheek and smiles. "But the scariest thing is that I've watched you drool all over yourself and still want to kiss you."
Lucy laughs, flushed. "I told the dentist I was numb enough after the first shot!"
"Maybe she couldn't hear you through your excessive drooling," Whistler teases.
"Shut up!" Lucy's still laughing as she takes another step closer, very intentionally glancing at Whistler's lips. "Are we at work, here?"
"Work-adjacent," Whistler decides.
Lucy grins. "What are the rules for work-adjacency?"
Whistler's hands find Lucy's waist, tugging to close the distance between them, and she leans down to drop a tiny kiss to her lips.
"No rules, but—" Whistler glances up at the ceiling. "—every corner of this room is covered by security cameras."
"Bummer," Lucy replies, hands sliding around Whistler's torso to hug her. Lucy tilts her head down to press a kiss over Whistler's heart. "You don't have to be afraid. I'm not going anywhere."
Whistler takes a breath, her lips brushing into Lucy's hair. "I know," she murmurs. "Now, let's get you back to NCIS before blaming the traffic becomes unrealistic."
Lucy lifts her head again and reluctantly takes a step back. She lets Whistler lead her out of the reading room, through the library, and outside into the morning air. They fall into step on the sidewalk as they head to where Whistler's vehicle is parked near the end of the street.
"What you said," Whistler says then, "about me joining DIA because of Noah." She glances over. "There's some truth to that, but I don't think he would've wanted me to dedicate my life to a job that wasn't making me happy."
Lucy slips her hand into Whistler's, squeezing in acknowledgment.
Whistler looks down at their joined hands. "I can honor his memory in other ways."
"Tell me something about him," Lucy suggests, "if you want."
"He was a bit of a romantic," Whistler says with a nostalgic smile. "He would've gotten a kick out of our story, especially the part where I serenaded you in your boss's backyard."
Lucy mirrors the smile.
"As soon as he got his license," Whistler continues, "he'd take me to Blockbuster every Friday after school to each pick out a movie for a double feature that night."
They arrive at Whistler's car, which beeps as she unlocks it. Whistler reaches to open the passenger's side door for Lucy, but she stops her.
"Finish the story," Lucy requests gently.
"I was always choosing these painfully long documentaries," Whistler says with a short laugh, "so he got into the habit of picking up rom coms to counterbalance."
Whistler nods. "I came out to him the week before he left for basic training. He was the first person I told. That Friday, he queued up But I'm a Cheerleader."
Lucy smiles. "A classic."
"I miss him," Whistler says quietly, even though it's all over her face.
Lucy pulls her close and hugs her, and she feels a puff of hot air hit her skin as Whistler exhales shakily against her neck. Lucy rubs Whistler back gently, until Whistler starts to pull away.
Whistler extracts herself gingerly. "I don't think anyone is going to buy that there was traffic."
Lucy shrugs as she reaches for the car door. "But you got to be a giant nerd about the Institute of Pacific Relations, so I think it was worth it."
Whistler looks at her with affectionate eyes as she starts to round the car to the driver's side.
They'd been making vague plans to get away for their anniversary, just the two of them, no family obligations, no cases, no responsibilities. Whistler, ever the organizer, comes home one day with a stack of pamphlets and lays them out neatly across the dining table.
"Where did you get all this?" Lucy asks, staring down at the dozen pamphlets, each with a different vacation destination.
"Travel agency on my drive home," Whistler explains, a little guiltily. "Don't tell them I'm not planning to book through them."
Lucy narrows her eyes. "So what you're telling me is that you're a thief who doesn't support small businesses."
Whistler bites back a smile. "Yes, Lucy, I'm definitely the sole cause of the recent struggles in the travel industry."
"I wouldn't put it past you," Lucy says with a teasing shrug. "I mean, you're probably single-handedly keeping the newspaper industry alive on Oahu, so who knows."
"Print media is important!" Whistler argues.
Lucy laughs and touches her hand. "Hey, I didn't say it wasn't. I think it's nice you read the paper every morning and complain about the conservative bias."
"I don't—" Whistler huffs out a quiet laugh, like she knows Lucy's just teasing. "It's really obvious once you start noticing it."
Lucy grins up at her. "I like that you care about the objectivity of print media, and that you can never make a grocery run without picking up a pack of Tic Tacs from the display by the cash register, and that you organize your blouses by arm length like a weirdo."
Whistler shrugs, but she's smiling back. "I just like the way it looks."
"What if the hanger is tilted, Whistler?" Lucy asks. "What then?"
"Who's going around tilting my hangers?" Whistler counters.
Lucy laughs. "I might start."
"And the Tic Tacs are for you," Whistler reminds her.
Lucy eyes her suspiciously. "You trying to tell me something?"
Whistler laughs and leans over to drop a soft kiss to her temple. "No, now please focus."
Lucy turns to the display in front of her and picks up the pamphlet closest to her. Tokyo. She puts it back down. "Why are all the cool places on islands?"
"Water sustains human life?" Whistler suggests. "Historically easier to defend?"
Lucy waves her hand dismissively. "All right, I get it, water rules."
Whistler smiles. "Tokyo can be experienced without once going near the ocean. But if you want to visit the island with all the cats, you'll have to hop on a ferry."
Lucy makes a face. "I think you already agreed to go see those cats with me on our honeymoon, so let's put a pin in Japan until then."
"Should I be concerned that you'll bail just so you won't have to ride a half-hour ferry?" Whistler asks light-heartedly as she slides the Tokyo pamphlet to the side to form a no pile.
"You know I would dive the ocean depths for you," Lucy dismisses, and she can feel Whistler's eyes snap to her. Lucy turns to look back at her. "What? Really? I mean, we'd probably both die unless a third person jumped in after us, but I would still do it."
"I, um—" Whistler clears her throat. "Me too. Not the ocean diving thing, I'd probably do that for fun, but the, uh, the concept."
Lucy starts laughing, and Whistler tries to look offended for a moment before joining in. Lucy reaches up to cradle Whistler's cheeks, smiling as they warm up under her palms. She rolls forward onto her toes and waits for Whistler to meet her halfway.
"The concept of saving my life, very romantic," Lucy murmurs before their lips touch.
Whistler smiles into the kiss, one that lingers just a touch too long, wandering hands finding the back pockets of Lucy's jeans. Whistler pulls Lucy's phone out of her pocket and drops it on the table before shamelessly replacing it with her hand.
Lucy laughs again as she pulls away. "We have to focus!"
Whistler gives her butt a tiny squeeze before extracting her hands and turning her attention back to the table.
Lucy picks up her phone and smiles as she tucks it back into her pocket. "Got anything landlocked?"
Whistler scans the pamphlets and pushes the one labeled Paris toward her. "How's your French?"
"That depends entirely on how much you're willing to subsist on cheese omelettes for the duration of our trip," Lucy replies with a straight face.
Whistler laughs. "Lucky for you and both of our stomachs, my French is serviceable."
That piques Lucy's interest. "Did I know that about you?"
"That I speak some French? I don't think it's ever come up," Whistler replies.
"Could've just started whispering it to me late at night," Lucy suggests, voice low with intention.
"I can engage in polite conversation and make a semi-complicated food order," Whistler says with an amused grin. "Not exactly the material you're looking for here."
Lucy laughs. "I wouldn't know the difference! Just tell me the weather in a sexy voice."
Whistler clears her throat, a dust of pink on her cheeks as she considers it. "Let's talk about it later. So is that a yes on Paris?"
"No, it's very literally on the other side of the world. It might take me the whole week just to recover from the jetlag." Lucy slides the pamphlet over to join the Tokyo one. "But this has been a very productive conversation."
They eliminate a couple more destinations for proximity to large bodies of water and gay-unfriendliness, and place a few into a maybe pile.
Lucy picks up the last unsorted pamphlet. Banff National Park. Landlocked, only four hours ahead, and if the photos on the cover of the pamphlet are anything to go by, breathtakingly gorgeous.
"Do we have to camp outside?" Lucy asks.
"No," Whistler laughs, "we can rent a cabin with all the amenities or stay in hotels along the way."
"A cabin sounds cozy." Lucy opens the pamphlet to look at some more photos. "This is beautiful. A lot of lakes though."
"They'll be too cold to enter," Whistler reassures. "You like looking at the ocean from our balcony. It's like that, but with mountains, and probably some snow."
Lucy's eyebrows stitch together in confusion. "In late May?"
"It's Canada, and in the mountains," Whistler explains. "We'll need jackets, trust me. Temperatures can still fall below freezing at night."
Lucy hums. "Cuddling up in front of a fireplace sounds nice though."
Lucy skims a few paragraphs, then rifles through the rest of the maybe pile. They're mostly big cities, bright lights, loud streets. Lucy loves to be surrounded by people and the bustle of a city, but she gets the impression that Whistler would prefer something quieter to kick back and relax, the spotty cell service in the mountains an excuse to eschew responsibilities and the American work ethic of never really disconnecting.
"Let's go look at some nature," Lucy announces, holding up the open pamphlet.
Whistler's eyes light up. "Yeah?"
Lucy nods. "Yeah, I'm tired of big cities. I want to see a bear."
Whistler takes out her phone and pulls up the notes app. "Bear spray," she recites as she types. "Starting a list of things we'll need to pick up."
"Ooh, snacks!" Lucy tells her, wide-eyed. "And um, boots and stuff. Both equally important."
"Warm clothing," Whistler translates with an affectionate smile as she taps away. "I'm sure there'll be snacks we can pick up there."
"Canadian snacks!" Lucy says excitedly. She points at Whistler's phone. "Write it down! We're not carrying bear spray across borders and you wrote that down."
"Okay, okay," Whistler relents, "separating into two lists." She drags her thumb across her screen a few times, then places her phone down, eyes serious as they find Lucy's. "Are we ready for this?"
And Lucy's pretty sure she doesn't mean this trip, so she volleys back with, "Do you feel ready?"
Whistler nods. "Yeah. You?"
"Never been more ready for anything in my entire life," Lucy replies.
Whistler beams. "Pretty strong feelings for some rock formations," she teases.
"What can I say? I really love rock formations," Lucy says, laughing brightly. "We're getting back before our actual anniversary, right?"
"Yes, unfortunately I have a work thing I can't miss that day," Whistler replies. "It'll only take a few hours in the morning though. I'm taking the afternoon off."
Lucy thinks about the ring in her nightstand. "Okay, just checking."
Chapter 14: May, part 1
I asked Louie if I had to bump the rating for this chapter, and he lovingly called it a "sleepy E," but I think I prefer to think of it as an "ambitious M." Happy reading!
Calgary, Alberta delights the Texan in Lucy for the short time they're there to pick up their rental car. Whistler had arranged a surprise White Hat Ceremony for Lucy at the airport, where a group of Calgarians presented her with a white cowboy hat and had her recite a pledge to western hospitality, complete with a Stampede-standard YAHOO cheer at the end. Lucy had put some real spirit and drawl into it, sheer joy in her limbs as she'd posed for Whistler's phone camera.
It is the exact perfect mix of campiness and charm to start their trip.
With their rental in hand and loaded up, Lucy drives them out of the city. They'd had to do a layover in Vancouver, so they'd flown overnight without getting much restful sleep, their bodies thinking it's the morning while the clocks read early afternoon. But there's nothing else scheduled for the day, so at the end of this two-and-a-half-hour drive that Lucy is trying to make in two hours, there's a cabin waiting for them, and exactly zero responsibilities for a whole week.
They make a pit stop in the town of Banff to eat and pick up some overpriced supplies. It's the end of shoulder season, so the place isn't overrun with tourists yet. Lucy catches Whistler eyeing a few of the museums as they drive pass them, so she circles back and asks Whistler to pick a few to visit. The smile Whistler flashes her in response makes Lucy regret leaving her ring at home.
Having embraced being shameless tourists, they ride the gondola up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain and take selfies in front of the mirror bear statue there, trading easy kisses against the backdrop of snow-topped mountain ranges. When Lucy starts to shiver because her body isn't made for anything below room temperature, Whistler produces a matching knit hat and scarf set from the gift shop they'd visited earlier, the Parks Canada beaver logo embossed into both.
It gets close enough to dinner that they decide to sit down and eat at the restaurant at the summit. It's the most expensive pan-seared salmon Lucy has ever paid for herself, even accounting for the currency, but Whistler's smiling at her over the rim of her wine glass, cheeks cutely tinted pink, and even though the view outside the giant window next to their table is breathtaking, Lucy barely registers anything except the woman sitting across from her.
The sky is streaked in pinks and oranges when they finally pull into the parking lot to check into their cabin. Lucy rejects the wagon offered to them in favor of trying to carry in all their luggage and grocery bags with her arms like it's a personal challenge. Whistler rolls her eyes affectionately at the sight of Lucy loading herself up, but she also isn't shy about her appreciation of Lucy's arm strength as they find their way to their cabin.
The log cabin that will be their home for the next week is fully decked out with a small kitchenette and dining table in the back corner, and a couch and armchair in front of a stone fireplace. Up a set of stairs, there's a loft space that houses the bed.
Whistler immediately cranks up the heat and tries to figure out the fireplace. Lucy keeps her jacket and hat on as she starts to put the groceries away. By the time she's done, Whistler has a fire going, and Lucy finally strips off her jacket and crouches down next to the fireplace to warm her hands.
"You want the first shower?" Whistler asks, a change of clothes already in hand.
"No, go ahead." Lucy motions at the fireplace. "I'm going to defrost for a bit."
Whistler approaches and leans over to press a kiss to Lucy's beanie. "Defrost? It's fifty degrees outside."
"Do you think it's ever been fifty degrees in Hawaii?" Lucy counters.
"I'll warm you up later," Whistler promises with a teasing smile as she heads to the bathroom.
"Hey," Lucy calls out before the bathroom door closes. Whistler's head pops back out, and Lucy grins. "Can we drag the mattress down here?"
"Will we be able to get it back up there?" Whistler asks, eyeing the ninety-degree turn in the stairs.
"I'm pretty sure?" Lucy replies, not at all sure.
Whistler seems to weigh the possibility that they won't be able to return the mattress to its proper spot against the idea of cuddles in front of the fireplace. Finally, she shrugs. "What's the most they could surcharge us for displacing some furniture?"
Lucy laughs. "That's the spirit."
While Whistler showers, Lucy pushes the living room seating to the walls. She runs upstairs to strip the sheets from the mattress and then manages to maneuver it down the stairs. She sets it up in front of the fireplace, then replaces all the bedding. There's even enough space to squeeze the couch against the head of the mattress as a makeshift headboard.
Whistler reappears with a buttoned long-sleeve pajama shirt and a pair of sleep shorts. Lucy resists the urge to jump her, but Whistler doesn't make it easy, pawing at Lucy as she heads to the bathroom.
Lucy showers quickly and changes into her new pajamas, the thickest ones she could buy in Hawaii. She finds Whistler sitting on top of the covers, leaning back against the couch, looking through a hardcover photo book Lucy had gotten her at one of the museums they'd visited. The moment Whistler sees her, she shuts the book and tosses it onto the couch.
Lucy climbs onto Whistler's lap, and they kiss heatedly for a few minutes, hands exploring liberally over each other's bodies. Just as Whistler gets her hands under Lucy's pajama top, Lucy has to pull away to let out a full-bodied yawn.
"Sorry, sorry," Lucy mumbles.
Whistler laughs, pressing her face against the front of Lucy's shirt. "Rain check?"
Lucy scowls, but then Whistler yawns too, which makes Lucy yawn again, and Lucy laughs and takes the loss, rolling off to curl into the covers. Whistler joins her a moment later, their legs slotting together. Lucy slides closer, tucking herself against Whistler's body.
"Today was really nice," Lucy says, struggling to keep her eyes open.
Whistler's hand presses to the small of Lucy's back. "It was."
"I love you." Lucy yawns again and gives up trying to open her eyes. "Goodnight, Kate."
Lucy falls asleep before she hears Whistler's response, but her dreams are filled with familiar laughter and soft kisses pressed to her skin.
Lucy wakes to Whistler trying to gently extract herself from Lucy, who has attached herself to Whistler like a backpack. Lucy tightens her grip for a moment, breathing in the scent of Whistler's shampoo, before releasing her. Whistler turns around to face Lucy and presses a soft kiss to her forehead.
"I'm going to go for a quick run," Whistler whispers.
Lucy groans and rolls to her back. "What time is it?"
"Early," Whistler replies with another kiss. "Go back to sleep."
Lucy forces her eyes open to look at her watch. "It's barely four, Whistler. That's still yesterday."
"We've slept for seven hours," Whistler points out, rolling out from under the sheets and reaching to tuck Lucy back in before heading to the bathroom.
Lucy hears the tap turn on and groans again. "Wait, I'll come with you."
Whistler's head pops out of the bathroom, toothbrush dangling from her mouth, the bathroom light behind her creating a halo around her head. "You'll what?"
"We're in the woods in the middle of the night," Lucy says pointedly. "I'm coming with you."
Whistler disappears into the bathroom again, returning a few minutes later to dig around her suitcase for a change of clothes. Lucy tries to push herself up but mostly just flops over, spreading out across the bed as she buries her face into Whistler's pillow.
Whistler laughs. "Go back to sleep, Lucy. I'll take bear spray."
Lucy jolts up, suddenly wide awake. "I didn't even think about the bears!" She scrambles to her feet and heads to the bathroom. "Give me five minutes."
"I was just going to go to the road and back," Whistler calls out after her.
"Five minutes!" Lucy reiterates.
Lucy brushes her teeth and washes her face with cold water to wake herself up, squinting against the harsh light above the mirror. She digs a hair tie out of her toiletries bag and steps out of the bathroom, starting to pull her messy hair up into a ponytail.
Whistler is standing next to the dining table, getting something out of her purse. Lucy approaches.
"If you're looking for the bear spray," Lucy offers helpfully, "it's by the front door."
Whistler is decidedly not looking for bear spray, because she produces a ring box and gets down on one knee in front of Lucy.
Lucy freezes, her hands abandoning the half-made ponytail. The cabin is so silent that she can hear the brush of her hair as it falls back down over her shoulders. Lucy is, for possibly the first time in her life, rendered speechless as she tries to process the scene in front of her. The floorboard under Whistler's knee creeks as she readjusts her weight and takes a deep, steadying breath.
"What are you doing?" Lucy asks, barely above a whisper.
Whistler pops open the ring box in her hand, tilting it up toward Lucy, but Lucy can't tear her eyes away from the look of certainty on Whistler's face, a hint of nerves bubbling below the surface, but mostly just certainty and devotion, eyes wet with unshed tears.
"Lucy Tara," Whistler starts.
"No, no, no," Lucy cuts in.
Whistler bites her lip, stalled. "No?"
"Our anniversary isn't for another week!" Lucy argues, her heart beating out of her chest.
Whistler tilts her head in a nod. "I know, but—"
"You were the one who imposed this rule!" Lucy continues in a frenzy, shaky hands finding the sides of Whistler's face.
Whistler swallows hard. "Lucy."
Lucy sinks to her knees in front of Whistler, her palms shifting against warm cheeks. "I'll marry you, but only if you marry me first."
"I asked first," Whistler counters, laughing tearfully. "Or I'm trying to, if you'll let me finish."
"You broke the rules!" Lucy tightens her grip on Whistler's face, fingertips curling into her hair. Her voice softens. "You love rules, and you broke this one."
"I love you more than I love rules," Whistler replies gently, dropping to both knees for balance.
Lucy pulls until their foreheads are resting against one another. "You packed the ring even though we were going to get back before our anniversary," she says into the space between them, "which means this was pre-meditated. A first-degree rule-breaking."
Whistler's breath is hot when she exhales a quiet laugh. "You got me. I've committed a felony. Are you going to arrest me, Special Agent?"
Lucy scrunches up her face to stop herself from laughing. "I'm being serious, Kate."
"So am I." Whistler closes her eyes and sucks in a shaky breath. Her knuckles are white against the ring box. "Lucy. Please be my wife. It's all I've wanted since you kissed me in Tennant's backyard."
Lucy trembles at the confession, at Whistler's sincerity. "Why did you make me wait?"
"I made myself wait," Whistler replies, eyes drifting open again. She bites the corner of her lip. "I needed the time to show you I could do better, and I wanted you to be sure."
"I'm sure," Lucy tells her. "I've been sure. Kate."
Whistler lifts her head and holds up the ring box again. "Marry me, Lucy."
Lucy nods. "Yeah, okay, I'll marry you."
Whistler beams. "Yeah?"
"Yes! Put—" Lucy's pretty sure she's crying now. "Put the ring on me."
Whistler fumbles with the ring and takes Lucy's hand. They're both still shaking a bit, and Whistler pulls Lucy's hand to her lips in an anchoring kiss before slipping the ring on her finger and smiling brightly at her.
Lucy stands, pulling Whistler up with her, grabbing her face to kiss her, the dizzy feeling of forever swirling in her head. Whistler's hands are at her back, in her hair, and even after all this time, Lucy's insides still flip like she's kissing her for the first time outside that bar almost three years ago. But there's an undercurrent of comfort now, too, of knowing exactly where she stands, and it's almost enough to make Lucy forget that she's been workshopping her proposal for weeks only to be one-upped by Kate Whistler, apparent resident rule-breaker.
Lucy pulls away, hands still firm on Whistler's face, and Whistler smiles at her, a little breathlessly, fingertips pressing into Lucy's shoulder blade like she wants to keep her in this moment forever. Lucy lifts her left hand, stretching out her fingers to take her first good look at the ring. Simple platinum band with a pair of small pear-shaped diamonds flanking a central claw-set round-cut diamond. It's beautiful.
"How did you know my ring size?" Lucy asks, instead of what she really wants to ask, which is, what the hell, Whistler.
Whistler turns her head to glance at Lucy's hand. "You tried on one of my undersized rings once and it seemed to fit well. We can get it resized if it's loose."
"No, it's perfect." Lucy drops her palm on Whistler's shoulder, but she can't tear her eyes away from the ring. "When did you get this?"
"The day before your birthday," Whistler replies. "My parents had flown in that morning, and I took them with me. Picked it up a week later."
Lucy's eyes snap back to Whistler's. "Your parents know?"
Whistler's expression softens. "That I intended to marry you? Yeah, they do. I think my mom even suspected at Thanksgiving. Probably why she came in firing on all cylinders at dinner."
"So they really just wished me a happy birthday like they hadn't helped you pick out a ring the day before," Lucy says. Her eyes widen. "And you! I can't believe I didn't figure it out the moment you got back."
"The Whistlers can keep a secret," Whistler replies lightly, a hint of playful self-deprecation decorating her words.
Still, Whistler's hands tighten over Lucy's back, her eyes silently seeking something, permission maybe, to make the joke she's making. Lucy smiles reassuringly, pulling her down for another kiss, one that turns urgent when Lucy lets her hands palm down the length of Whistler's torso to tug at her hips.
Lucy walks Whistler to their bed and gently sits her down before climbing onto her lap. Whistler's mouth immediately slides to Lucy's neck, pressing soft kisses down one side then up the other.
"I was going to propose to you when we got back," Lucy says, her hands moving to the buttons of Whistler's pajama shirt.
"I know," Whistler murmurs against Lucy's skin. "You've been all but telling me for weeks."
Lucy laughs as she starts to unbutton. "Because I thought I had to wait!"
Whistler lifts her head to look at Lucy, then reaches down and gently presses her hand against Lucy's, stilling them. "I really was going to let you propose, Lucy. I got the ring because I wanted you to have something to wear too. I packed it because I like to be prepared. But then we got here and you were physically ready to fight a bear in the middle of the night, and I just—" Her thumb traces over Lucy's ring. "I couldn't go another day."
Lucy continues to unbutton Whistler's shirt. "Would you have said yes, if I'd asked on my birthday?"
Whistler smiles. "You were very drunk, so no, but if you'd asked the next morning, then yes."
Lucy pushes the open pajama shirt over Whistler's shoulders. "Thanksgiving?"
"Yes," Whistler says again, getting a grip on Lucy's shirt, "but I would've been embarrassed if you'd done it in front of my parents."
"I wouldn't have done that," Lucy says distractedly, letting her gaze drift down as she pulls it away.
"My eyes are up here," Whistler teases, sliding her hands under the hem of Lucy's shirt and pushing it up.
Lucy flushes and lifts her arms so Whistler can take her shirt off. Whistler leans forward to flutter a kiss to her sternum.
"I love you," Lucy says softly.
Whistler's eyes meet Lucy's. "I love you too."
"Still want to go on that run?" Lucy asks, hands teasing over Whistler's chest.
"Maybe later," Whistler answers with a smile. "A little preoccupied here."
Lucy laughs as Whistler slides back against the bed, taking Lucy with her, until she's in the middle of the bed, Lucy still straddling her. Whistler immediately gets a hand between Lucy's legs, over her pajama pants. Lucy's so sensitive already that she's pretty sure a bit more pressure and Whistler's mouth on her chest would be enough, but Whistler slows, then slides her hands to the waistband of Lucy's pants, tugging hard.
"Take these off," Whistler says in a rush.
Lucy plucks Whistler's hands off her hips and brings them up to her chest. "Where are your manners?"
Whistler gently pinches Lucy's nipples in protest, even as she obediently amends, "Take these off, pretty please."
"Better," Lucy assesses, rolling off momentarily to slip out of the rest of her clothes.
Whistler breathes hard as she watches Lucy start to reapproach, but then she stops and reaches down to tug at Whistler's shorts.
"Lift," Lucy tells her, delighting in the immediate response of Whistler pressing her weight back onto her arms to raise herself up enough for Lucy to pull her shorts and underwear down past her hips, then her knees. "Takes instruction so well," she teases as she watches the shift of Whistler's thighs when she kicks them off.
Whistler reaches for her, flushed. "Get on top of me. Please."
Lucy climbs back on top, knees bracketing Whistler's hips, before pushing her down onto the bed. Whistler's hands run up Lucy's thighs, her eyes staying on Lucy's face as she looks up at her reverently. Lucy brushes her fingertips over Whistler's chest, lightly enough that Whistler arches for more contact.
Whistler starts to squirm, hips canting as they seek friction, and she grabs Lucy's forearms and pulls her down and into a heated kiss.
Lucy slides her leg until it rests between Whistler's, and she flexes hard just to feel Whistler's body clenching under hers and to hear Whistler moan against her mouth. Lucy lifts her leg away and replaces it with her hand, but she keeps her touches feather-light, teasing because she loves the sounds it pulls out of Whistler and the urgency with which Whistler's hands dig into her skin.
Whistler breaks away from the kiss with a gasp. "Lucy, please. I need you."
Lucy shifts against the thigh she's straddling as she sinks two fingers into her, burying her face against Whistler's neck at the feeling. Whistler moans as Lucy starts to move slowly, her palm grinding down on every thrust.
Whistler brings one hand to Lucy's hip, lifting her just enough to slide her hand between their bodies, fingertips angling. Lucy groans at the contact, raising her head and seeking Whistler's lips.
The kiss is soft, slow, everything the burn at the pit of Lucy's stomach isn't. Whistler's fingers move delicately, touching gentler than Lucy usually likes, but she's so sensitive that it's enough to bring her to the edge, and Lucy moves faster in response, eliciting another moan muffled against her mouth.
Whistler's body trembles as she comes, and Lucy tries to kiss her through it, but the hand on Lucy's shoulder blade slides down to Lucy's hip, pressing Lucy down onto Whistler's other hand, and Lucy comes undone, grinding hard against Whistler's fingers as pleasure floods every inch of her body.
They ride it out together, lips still touching like no amount of contact is enough. Whistler twitches, clenching like she could go again, and Lucy obliges, dragging her lips down the length of Whistler's body so her mouth can join her fingers.
Whistler is noisier this time, tells Lucy what she wants and how she wants it, gets her hands into Lucy's hair, grinds against her tongue, and Lucy happily lets her. Lucy lifts Whistler's thighs over her shoulders, relishing in the press of Whistler's ankles against her back. She slides her left hand over Whistler's abdomen to keep her still, the ring glittering into view. It catches Whistler's attention. She takes Lucy's hand into hers, and Lucy can feel her fluttering around the fingers of her other hand, thighs clamping. Lucy keeps steady pressure with her lips, until Whistler is panting and squeezing her hand, Lucy's name tumbling from her throat when she climaxes.
Whistler's legs drop off, spent, and she pulls Lucy up to kiss her, needy moans pressed into her lips. Whistler flips them over and sits up on Lucy's hips just to take a look at her.
"You're so beautiful when you let go," Lucy tells her.
"You're always beautiful," Whistler murmurs, reaching down to touch Lucy's ribcage.
Lucy laughs. "Is this proposal the beginning of you one-upping me for the rest of our lives?"
Whistler takes Lucy's hand again, presses a smiling kiss to her knuckle next to the ring. "I can't tell my fiancée that she's beautiful?"
Lucy beams. "Say it again."
Whistler leans back down to leave a trail of teasing kisses along Lucy's neck. "Will my beautiful fiancée please sit on my face? Is that well-mannered enough for you?"
Lucy twitches in response, and Whistler laughs, letting Lucy push her to her back again.
They keep going on and off until the sun starts to rise over the mountains, morning light filtering in through the curtains and across already-glowing skin. Whistler gets up briefly to rekindle the fireplace, then curls around Lucy's back, her hand draping over Lucy's abdomen.
Lucy plays with the fingers of Whistler's left hand, thumbing over her ring finger that remains bare. "I wish I brought my grandmother's ring."
"You didn't know I was going to spring this on you," Whistler points out, pressing a kiss to Lucy's bare shoulder. "I didn't know I was going to spring this on you."
"I only kept it home because I knew I wouldn't make it the week," Lucy explains, pulling Whistler's hand up and holding it against her chest. "Do you think I could get it overnighted?"
"Internationally to the middle of the Canadian Rockies?" Whistler asks skeptically.
"USPS works miracles sometimes." Lucy reaches up and feels around the couch for her phone. "What do you think is a reasonable amount of money to spend to get this ring on your finger before the end of the day?"
Whistler laughs, nosing into the nape of Lucy's neck. "Zero dollars? We'll be home in a week. I can wait."
Lucy frowns. "But I want everyone we pass to know."
"We'll know," Whistler murmurs, lifting herself up to kiss Lucy's neck.
Lucy rolls to her back, tilting her head to give Whistler more room. Whistler leaves a slow trail of kisses down her neck and across her collarbone, the hand still on her chest sliding up to the side of Lucy's face. Lucy turns to meet Whistler's lips, drifting into a lazy kiss.
When they pull apart, Lucy shifts until they're facing each other. She tucks her hand under her pillow and smiles, eyes tracing over Whistler's features.
Whistler smiles back. "What are you thinking about?"
"You," Lucy answers easily. Her smile turns sheepish. "And how fast private jets are."
"Lucy," Whistler laughs. "We're not sending a private jet to Hawaii to pick up a ring. How would we even pay for it?"
Lucy shrugs. "We can take out a line of credit on the house."
"And which bank is going to overnight approve you for a HELOC?" Whistler asks, eyes affectionate.
Lucy smiles again, softly. "You know I'm this close to calling my dad."
"I know, I know!" Lucy laughs. "I'm not going to. But he likes you. He would do it."
Whistler slides closer until their knees touch. "It's just one week," she reasons, "and it doesn't change how I feel about you." She leans in to press a kiss to the space between Lucy's eyebrows. "Or should I sharpie the word engaged on my forehead?"
Lucy grins. "Don't threaten me with a good time." She reaches out to run her fingertips over Whistler's forearm. "Will you wear my bracelet, in the meantime?"
Whistler immediately holds out her arm between them. Lucy unclasps her bracelet and wraps it around Whistler's wrist before clasping it again. She leans closer to seal it with a kiss, first on her wrist, then on her lips.
Whistler raises her hand in the air to admire the bracelet. "Is this the one you lost at my place that one time?"
"You mean the one you used as an excuse to flirt with me at my desk?" Lucy counters playfully. "Yes, that's the one. It looks good on you."
"Probably not as good as the sharpie would've," Whistler teases.
Lucy laughs. "It's not too late." She turns momentarily to the window nearest them and squints against the bright early morning sun. "So what's on the agenda for today?"
"A couple of famous lakes," Whistler replies, starting to sit up.
"Never mind," Lucy mumbles around a yawn, "engagement cancelled."
Whistler laughs. "You gave me your tennis bracelet. I'm pretty sure that means you're stuck with me now."
Lucy grins. "Oh, are those the rules?"
"Wouldn't know," Whistler replies with a playful shrug. "Not sure if you've heard, but I'm a bit of a rule-breaker."
Lucy laughs, head light, heart full, and ready to follow her fiancée to the ends of the earth.
Chapter 15: May, part 2
Lucy drops her bags and kicks off her shoes near the entrance of their apartment the moment they get home and rushes into their bedroom. Her grandmother's ring is where she'd left it in the nightstand. She grabs the box and turns around. Whistler is standing in the doorway looking at her, and even though Lucy already has a ring on her finger, nerves bloom at the pit of her stomach.
Whistler takes a few steps inside the bedroom and smiles, glancing down at the ring box clutched in Lucy's hand. She's waiting, and Lucy's mouth suddenly feels too dry.
"I had a whole day planned," Lucy tells her. "This isn't my proposal."
Whistler's smile widens, but she doesn't say anything.
"I mean, it is," Lucy clarifies. "You should definitely say yes. But I had plans."
"You can still show me those plans on the day of our anniversary," Whistler says gently.
"Okay," Lucy agrees, trying to soothe the adrenaline pumping through her body. "I don't know why I'm so—" She takes a shaky breath and steps closer. She's about to get down on one knee when Whistler stops her with a hand on her elbow. Lucy swallows hard and stays standing. "Whistler. Kate."
"I also go by Special Agent, if you want to try that," Whistler supplies helpfully, teasing.
"Don't make fun of me!" Lucy protests. "What about the three months in middle school when you insisted on going by Kathy?"
Whistler flushes all the way up to the tips of her ears. "I'm going to kill my mom."
Lucy laughs, her nerves melting away. "Kate," she tries again, smiling now. "This past year with you has has been the happiest of my life."
Whistler's grip tightens around Lucy's elbow. "Mine too."
"I know we've worked really hard to get to where we are," Lucy continues, "but being with you somehow feels like the easiest thing in the world." Tears form stubbornly at the corners of her eyes. "Coming home to you every day, falling asleep next to you every night, I want to keep doing that for the rest of our lives."
Lucy opens the ring box and holds it between them. Whistler's crying silently now, and that makes Lucy start to cry too.
"You are the love of my life, Kate Whistler," Lucy manages through her tears. "Will you marry me?"
Whistler doesn't make her wait a second longer. "Yes."
With shaky hands, Lucy takes the ring out of the box and slides it onto Whistler's outstretched finger. She reaches up to pull Whistler down for a kiss, but Whistler's already pushing her down onto the bed and climbing on top of her.
Whistler's elbows bracket Lucy's shoulders as she brushes her thumbs gently over Lucy's tear-streaked cheeks. She leans down to follow up with soft kisses. Lucy's fingertips press into Whistler's back, but they're both too tired from the long trip back to do anything more than make out for a few minutes with wandering hands.
Whistler rolls to the side and props her head up with her arm. Her other hand comes to rest against Lucy's abdomen, and Lucy immediately picks it up and holds it in front of her to admire the way the ring looks on Whistler's finger. She turns to smile at Whistler and finds her already smiling back.
"You know, our anniversary isn't until Tuesday," Whistler points out, "so technically, we both broke the rules."
Lucy stills. "The rule was null and void the moment you broke it," she insists.
Whistler hums. "So if I commit murder—"
"Not this," Lucy groans, covering her face. "If you successfully kill someone, and I try to kill the same, now-dead person, I'm pretty sure I'm not getting charged with murder."
"Attempted murder still carries a life sentence if convicted," Whistler argues light-heartedly.
Lucy peeks at Whistler from behind her arm. "I'd only be charged with attempted murder if it can be proven that I didn't know the victim was already dead at the time of my attempt," she counters, dropping her arm. "Which, extending this extremely shaky metaphor, I very much knew they were already dead. Thus, no attempted murder charge. I rest my case."
Whistler looks at her with soft, affectionate eyes. "You're right. I guess I'm going to jail alone."
"I mean, I was an accomplice to the original crime," Lucy points out. "Lock me up."
Whistler captures Lucy's hands and pins them down on the sides of her head, then leans in to press another kiss to Lucy's lips, which she returns eagerly. Whistler's fingers intertwine with hers, squeezing, and the heat and weight of Whistler's body makes Lucy momentarily not so tired. But Whistler seems to sense this and pulls away with a small smile.
Whistler presses a quick kiss to her jaw before climbing off her and heading toward the bathroom.
"I'm going to take a shower," Whistler announces, eyes flashing with a lack of subtlety.
"Want some company?" Lucy asks, sitting up. "No funny business, I promise. But that shower in the cabin was so small, and I miss taking them with you."
Whistler tilts her head toward the bathroom in invitation, and Lucy hops off the bed and follows her in.
Under the warm shower spray, Whistler kisses her again, wet hands gliding over her sides, her back.
"What if I don't mind your funny business?" Whistler asks.
Lucy grins and reaches for the shampoo. "Then you'll have to be a little bit patient."
Whistler's hands flex eagerly against Lucy's spine. "I can do that." She watches Lucy lather shampoo into her hair for a moment before pumping some body wash onto her palm. "May I?"
Lucy nods and tries not to recoil when the cold body wash touches her skin.
"Sorry," Whistler murmurs, soothing it over with gentle hands.
Whistler works efficiently at first, rubbing the body wash over Lucy's hips and abdomen. But then she slides slippery fingers over Lucy's breasts, eliciting a visible reaction as Lucy's hands slow in her own hair, and Whistler gets distracted, keeping her palms on Lucy's chest to thumb over her nipples.
"Don't start something you don't intend to finish, Kate," Lucy warns.
"Oh, I have every intention for you to finish," Whistler says lowly, hands drifting again.
Lucy almost trips trying to get under the spray to rinse herself off. Whistler laughs and quickly grabs some shampoo and body wash for herself.
Whistler makes good on her intentions thirty minutes later, head between Lucy's thighs, hands gripping her hips, and when Lucy reaches down to touch the ring on her finger, Whistler offers her hand and hums in delight at the squeeze of Lucy's legs as she moans and shudders with pleasure.
Lucy pulls Whistler up to kiss her, laughing brightly when Whistler has to pause to wipe her chin. Lucy's hands find Whistler's hips, readjusting her until she's straddling Lucy's thigh. But before Lucy has a chance to properly reciprocate, Whistler stifles a yawn and rolls off.
Lucy makes a sound of protest, even as she has to cover a yawn of her own. "Why are we always proposing in the middle of the night?"
Whistler smiles and starts to dig them into the covers. "You want your ring back so you can try again in the morning?"
Lucy snorts, turning to face Whistler as she settles under the sheets. She finds Whistler's left hand and brushes her fingertips over the ring in question.
"Hey, wifey," Lucy says, mostly to get a rise out of Whistler, which she does. Lucy laughs and wrinkles her nose. "Too much?"
"No," Whistler replies simply, giving Lucy's hand a squeeze. "I'll answer to anything you call me." She catches the look on Lucy's face and quickly tacks on, "Within reason."
Lucy slides closer, her arm circling Whistler's waist. "I will certainly not abuse my power, snookums."
Whistler bites back a smile. "Goodnight, Lucy."
"Wait," Lucy protests, palming down to Whistler's hip. "I didn't get to—"
"Tomorrow," Whistler cuts in, plucking Lucy's hand up and returning it firmly to her back.
Lucy twists her upper body to reach for her phone on her nightstand. She unlocks it and makes a show of setting an early morning alarm before dropping it back down and curling into Whistler's arms again.
"Tomorrow's Saturday," Whistler reminds her.
"What?" Lucy asks innocently. "I can't get up early on a Saturday to spend some quality time with my soon-to-be wife?"
Whistler pulls her close and kisses her gently. "Hm, sounds a lot like funny business."
Lucy beams. "Which you like."
"Only yours," Whistler mumbles around a yawn, sleepy affection in her eyes and in her grip at Lucy's side.
Lucy watches Whistler drift off, her breath shallowing but grip still tight, before pressing a light kiss to her forehead. Lucy touches Whistler's hand again, thumbs over her ring, and falls asleep to the slow, steady sound of Whistler's breathing.
The bullpen is silent when Lucy enters bright and early on Monday morning. Emphasis on early. Her internal clock hasn't fully recovered from being four hours ahead, and Whistler's apparently hasn't either, if her getting up before the crack of dawn for her runs is any indication.
Lucy finds her desk mostly untouched and drops her backpack down next to it. She logs into her computer and pulls up the case she'd handed off before she left, skimming over Jesse's reports to understand how it concluded.
Ernie wanders into the bullpen, mug in hand. He starts to head toward the break room before noticing Lucy and changing course.
"Hey, stranger," Ernie greets as he approaches. "How was your trip?"
Lucy smiles. "Really, really nice."
"The wilderness isn't for me," Ernie tells her, lifting his mug, "but I'm glad you and Whistler had a good time."
"We had the best time." Lucy shifts her hands. "Ernie."
"Your ring," Ernie notices then, eyes widening. "You didn't—"
Lucy beams in confirmation.
Ernie lights up. "Lucy, you got engaged?"
Lucy laughs. "Might have, yeah."
"How did it happen?" Ernie asks, leaning over her desk in excitement. "Tell me everything."
Lucy regales him with a story about bears in the woods in the middle of the night, Whistler getting down on one knee in her pajamas, and Ernie grins throughout the whole thing.
"You and your prying contributed to us getting back together a year ago," Lucy tells him, "so I guess I have you to thank."
Ernie smiles thoughtfully. "I think you two would've eventually gotten back together, with or without my intervention."
Lucy touches her ring. "Maybe."
"Anyway, kissing the girl is the easy part, right? Making it work long-term is the real challenge." Ernie glances at Lucy's hands. "But I think you and Whistler have it figured out."
Lucy smiles. "It feels easy, this time. All of it."
Ernie returns the smile like he believes her. He reaches over to touch her forearm. "I gotta go get a refill and check on the facial recognition search I'm running, but congrats, Luce. I'll be on the lookout for a save the date."
Lucy watches him disappear into the break room.
Jesse arrives shortly after, gripping one backpack strap as he enters the bullpen. He sees Lucy at her desk and immediately grins.
"Hey! Welcome back!" he calls out as he approaches. "How were the Rockies?"
"Breathtaking," Lucy replies.
Jesse nears his desk and drops his backpack. "The Canadian side is on my camping bucket list for sure. We still need to get the kids passports."
"Or sitters," Lucy suggests.
Jesse quirks an eyebrow. "You volunteering?"
"I don't think Gracie would take too kindly to it being called that," Lucy points out, "but if your regular sitter ever bails, we've got a beach house with spare rooms, and a dock for Jake's Switch."
Jesse smiles. "You know, Jake's still talking about Whistler this and Whistler that and the water gun fight at your birthday party."
It's Lucy's turn to quirk an eyebrow. "Jake calls her Whistler?"
"No, I call her Whistler," Jesse replies, pointing at his own chest. "Jake calls her by her first name. I did too a couple times when talking to him, and I have to say, felt weird." He pauses thoughtfully. "You think she wants to me to call her by her first name?"
"Nah, either is fine," Lucy tells him. "I still call her Whistler sometimes too."
"What, even at home when it's just the two of you?" Jesse asks skeptically.
Lucy tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear as she opens her mouth to answer, but Jesse's eyes grow comically wide as he stares at the hand in her hair, and the ring on her finger.
"Did you and Whistler—"
Lucy doesn't try to hide her bright smile.
"Luce," Jesse says softly, circling the desk to stand next to her chair. He drops his hand on her shoulder and squeezes tightly. He's grinning. "How'd it go?"
"She beat me to the punch," Lucy replies with a short laugh.
Jesse chuckles. "No way. How pissed were you?"
"Furious for about ten seconds." Lucy glances at the ring and smiles. "But I got over it pretty quickly."
"I'll bet." Jesse taps her on the arm with the back of his hand. "Feels pretty good, right?"
Lucy beams. "Yeah, feels amazing."
"What feels amazing?" Kai asks from the entrance of the bullpen, coffee carrier in hand.
Jesse takes Lucy's left wrist and holds it up for Kai to see. It takes him a few more steps to approach and realize what he's looking at, but the moment he does, he breaks out into a grin that mirrors Jesse's.
"Wow," Kai breathes out, placing the coffees down on her desk. "Whistler?"
Jesse fixes him with a pointed look. "Who else, man?"
Kai waves a dismissive hand at him. "Obviously Whistler, but I thought your anniversary wasn't until tomorrow. Didn't you two have a bet or something?"
"It wasn't a bet exactly," Lucy clarifies, "but whatever it is, she broke it last week."
Kai smiles again and hands her a coffee. "Congrats, Lucy. Drinks after work to celebrate? Jesse's buying."
"For the newly engaged, maybe," Jesse replies, turning to Kai, "but you can pay for your own drinks."
Lucy offers Kai a sympathetic pat on the arm. "Worth a shot. I'll check what Whistler's up to, but I'll be there."
Kai hands Jesse his coffee, and Jesse keeps grinning at him, until Kai rolls his eyes and pulls his wallet out of his pocket. He extracts a crisp twenty-dollar bill and shoves it at Jesse's chest. Jesse takes it, folds it up, and tucks it gingerly into his shirt pocket.
Lucy narrows her eyes, swinging her index finger back and forth between the two of them. "Explain."
"Your fiancée's trigger finger lost me twenty bucks," Kai tells her.
"Kai thought he was hustling me," Jesse says, patting his shirt pocket, "but as someone who planned a fancy proposal only to toss it all out the window a few days early, I knew one of you would cave. Didn't expect it to be Whistler though."
Lucy smiles. She hadn't either.
Tennant approaches them on her way to her office. "Morning, team."
"Hey, Boss," Jesse greets.
"Welcome back, Lucy," Tennant continues, smiling warmly. She tilts her head toward her office. "You have a moment?"
Lucy nods and stands to follow Tennant into her office. Tennant moves to close the door, then turns to Lucy with a bright smile.
"First of all," Tennant says, "seems congratulations are in order."
"Oh!" Lucy grins, feeling herself flush. "Yes, we had a busy week away." She clasps her hands together and fiddles with her ring. "Got any tips for me?"
"Are you asking me what you shouldn't do?" Tennant asks light-heartedly.
Lucy winces. "Sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"No, Lucy, you're fine," Tennant reassures. She watches Lucy for a moment, then reaches over and touches her forearm. "Talk to each other. Be honest. And make an effort to spend quality time together, whatever life brings you."
"And Lucy?" Tennant lowers her voice like she's imparting a secret. "Off the record, if DIA ever tries to court her again..."
"I'll be on it," Lucy says with a short, knowing laugh.
Tennant clears her throat. "Didn't hear that from me though."
"Hear what?" Lucy asks innocently, bringing her hands behind her back and rolling onto the balls of her feet.
Tennant bites back a smile and turns back to her desk. "Let me catch you up on our latest case."
"Rob, rotate the phone," Christie instructs, the side of her head coming into focus on Whistler's phone screen.
"If I rotate it, they become upside down," Rob explains.
The video flips several times as he shows her what he means.
"Mom, Dad," Whistler says, trying to catch their attention. "Just—"
"Got it," Rob says proudly, their faces still too close to the screen, but Whistler seems to take it as a win that they've figured out rotation.
"We're going to loop in Lucy's parents," Whistler tells them. "Is that okay?"
"Of course, sweetheart," Christie replies.
Whistler glances at Lucy, who tilts her head in a nod. Whistler adds Lucy's mother to the call, and Ali and Alma join in a moment later.
Greetings are exchanged, and Christie and Alma immediately launch into a conversation about gardening, familiar like they've been communicating since they met on Lucy's birthday.
"Mom," Lucy and Whistler say at the same time.
Their mothers fall silent and hand over their attention.
Whistler clears her throat. "Thank you for making time for us today." She turns to smile at Lucy. "We have some news to share."
"We got engaged!" Lucy announces, holding up her ring-clad hand. She reaches over with her other hand to lift Whistler's ring into view.
A flurry of excitement fills the call, and Lucy can barely make out anything their parents are saying over each other, but Whistler's laughter is bright and enthusiastic beside her, and Lucy leans over to kiss her cheek. Whistler squeezes the top of Lucy's thigh, eyes wandering down to Lucy's lips, before turning her attention back to her phone screen as she leans the side of her head against Lucy's and tries to tell everyone to take turns asking questions.
"Do you really have a work thing?" Lucy asks, squinting up at Whistler as she makes her side of the bed.
"All-hands," Whistler tells her, looking over at Lucy's responding groan. "I know. The FBI does not care that I won back the love of my life exactly one year ago." She circles the foot of the bed to stand by Lucy's side and bends down to press a kiss to Lucy's forehead. "I'll be back before lunch. Text you when I'm done?"
"Okay," Lucy murmurs, tilting her head and reaching up to pull Whistler in for a kiss against her lips. "Happy Serenade Day."
Whistler bites back a smile and presses another kiss to Lucy's cheek. "Happy anniversary."
Lucy watches Whistler disappear into the bathroom and closes her eyes, listening to the shower when it turns on. She starts to drift off again, only waking briefly when Whistler kisses her on the temple and tells her she'll be back soon. Lucy opens her eyes just long enough to check out Whistler's work attire and make a comment about how good her skirt looks on her.
Lucy listens for the sound of the front door closing before curling deeper into the covers, intending to take advantage of her morning off, but her phone starts buzzing on her nightstand. Lucy groans and picks it up, expecting a work emergency, but it's her brother Oliver.
As soon as Lucy answers, before she even has a chance to say hello, Oliver jumps in.
"You got engaged."
Lucy laughs. "Sure did. You didn't hear it from Mom and Dad, did you? I sent you a photo three days ago."
"We're in Tanzania," Oliver explains. "Just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, so no cell service for a week. Called as soon as I saw." Lucy can practically hear him grinning. "Congrats, Lucy. Not that it matters what I think, but I like her a lot."
"Yeah, me too, obviously." Lucy smiles. "Thanks, Ollie."
"So," Oliver starts, teasing, "when's the wedding?"
Lucy tries not to flush. "You'll be the first to know. Unless you happen to be climbing Everest when the invites start going out."
"My legs are jelly," Oliver groans. "I never want to see another incline ever again."
"Where's the goofy photo of you at the summit?" Lucy asks.
"Incoming as soon as this call ends," Oliver tells her. There's a faint voice in the background. "Speaking of, it's actually pretty late here and we haven't had dinner yet, so I'd better go. I miss y'all, and say hi to Kate for me."
"I miss y'all too and I will. Later, Ollie."
Lucy ends the call and smiles at her phone, anticipating a postcard from Tanzania in the mail soon to add to her growing collection. Her phone buzzes in her hand and she checks it to find a photo of Oliver leaning against the wooden Kilimanjaro summit indicator, exhausted grin on his face. Lucy heart-reacts to the message.
Lucy gets up and decides to burn some time and energy at the gym in their building. She makes her way slowly through a weight training circuit, trying to focus on the burn of her muscles instead of Whistler in that pencil skirt from earlier in the morning.
When Whistler texts that she's leaving the office, Lucy rushes back home and hops into the shower.
Whistler is already home when Lucy steps out of the bedroom. She's changed out of her work clothes and is pouring herself a glass of water when Lucy approaches and slides up to her.
"Hey," Lucy greets, smiling into the kiss when it comes. "How was your meeting?"
"Could've and should've been an email," Whistler replies, rolling her eyes. "How was your morning off?"
"Much better now," Lucy replies coyly, leaning in for another kiss, which she is granted easily.
"What's the plan for the rest of the day?" Whistler asks when they pull apart. "I'm all yours."
Lucy almost tosses all her plans out the window in favor of pulling Whistler back to bed and staying there until evening, stopping only for food, much like the first full day they'd spent together in Whistler's hotel room.
But Lucy manages to resist. "Lunch first. You ready to go?"
They have lunch at the pan-Asian seafood restaurant where Lucy had taken Whistler out on their first real dinner date. Or tried to, before responsibilities got in the way. There's no chef Dax takeover this time, but it doesn't matter, because Whistler's ring shines brightly on her finger, her love even brighter, and Lucy beams at her from across the table.
After lunch, Lucy takes her to the bar where they'd attempted to sit for a beer after they'd kissed in the parking lot outside DIA. But three sips into her first drink, Whistler had gotten her hand on Lucy's thigh, dangerously close, and Lucy had immediately abandoned her drink and taken Whistler home with her.
But now, they get to take their time and enjoy their drinks and laugh about how easily Whistler had fallen apart under Lucy's fingertips and praise.
Lucy backs off after a couple of drinks because she still has to get behind the wheel, and they dip out just as the happy hour crowd starts arriving.
Lucy drives them out to the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden next, and as they're going past the visitor center, Whistler lights up with recognition.
"This place," Whistler says, head turned to look out the side window. "You took me here when we first met, the night before I flew back to DC."
"You wanted to take a walk on the beach at sunset," Lucy reminds her, "and I absolutely did not want to do that."
"If I recall correctly," Whistler replies, turning back with a small smile, "I got made fun of for being a cliché."
Lucy grins at the memory. "I mean, it is kind of a sappy, romantic thing to want to do with someone you just met."
"Yeah, well." Whistler laughs softly, like she's had enough time and growth away from it to admit, "I might have been a little bit smitten."
Lucy gasps, moving her right hand off the steering wheel to clutch dramatically at her chest. "Katherine Whistler! Did you like me like me?!"
Whistler reaches over to pull Lucy's hand to her lips, dropping a quick kiss before placing her hand back on the steering wheel. "I didn't spend the weekend with you for your jokes, that's for sure."
Lucy laughs and glances over just in time to catch the soft look of affection in Whistler's eyes, and still now, ring on her finger, Lucy flushes under it.
Lucy parks the car and steps out, stopping only to grab her backpack from the back seat and sling it over her shoulder. Whistler is waiting for her when she shuts the door, hand outstretched. Lucy smiles and takes it, and they start down the trail.
"Why did you spend the weekend with me?" Lucy asks then, quietly.
"You made me feel really good," Whistler replies, then lets out a short, embarrassed laugh. "Not like—I mean, that too, but—" She takes a breath and squeezes Lucy's hand as she turns to look at her. "You made me feel like I could be the person you thought I was."
Lucy offers a small smile. "I still think that's the person you've always been."
"Maybe." Whistler returns the smile. "It was just nice to let go and be someone I didn't usually get to be, to say the things I never let myself say."
"I think we were both looking to be someone else," Lucy admits. She takes a beat. "What didn't you let yourself say?"
Whistler shrugs, a little playful, a lot sincere. "I didn't have a habit of asking women that I had just met to take a walk on the beach with me at sunset, for one."
Lucy grins. "Even incredibly charming women who are also incredibly good in bed?"
"Even then," Whistler replies, slowing down enough to lean over and press a kiss to Lucy's cheek. "But all of it felt easy with you that weekend."
"It did," Lucy agrees. "Took us a while to get back there, huh?"
"I think," Whistler says after a moment, "that we took exactly the journey we needed to take."
"I mean, there were probably a few months we could've skipped," Lucy counters light-heartedly, and the distance away from those months allows them to share a soft laugh.
The trail opens into a clearing with a lake in the distance. Lucy leads them to an area a healthy distance away from the water and pulls a blanket out of her backpack to drape over the ground. She drops the backpack down on the corner and plops herself down onto the middle of the blanket. She glances up at Whistler over her shoulder and smiles, and Whistler slots in behind her, legs bracketing Lucy's hips as she wraps her arms around Lucy's torso and drops her chin down on Lucy's shoulder.
Lucy curls her fingers over Whistler's wrist, tilting her head just enough for Whistler's lips to catch her cheek, then her mouth. They kiss slowly, Lucy's thumb brushing gently over the back of Whistler's hand. Whistler's grip tightens, leaning in to deepen the kiss, and Lucy has to pull away with a breathless laugh.
"You can't kiss me like that if we want to make it to the end of the sunset," Lucy admonishes.
Whistler hums, still holding Lucy tightly, and presses a firm kiss against her shoulder in acknowledgment.
Lucy turns to look out at the scenery, at the Ko'olau mountain range beyond the piercing green vegetation, all against the backdrop of a darkening sky. It's as beautiful as Lucy remembers, and when she turns back to tell Whistler as much, she finds Whistler already, or maybe still, looking at her. Whistler's cheeks tint pink when she's caught, and she leans down to press another kiss to Lucy's shoulder.
The sky shifts around them, golden as the sun starts to disappear behind the mountains, but Lucy keeps her attention on Whistler's features, on her gentle eyes and her tiny, affectionate smile.
"This is when," Lucy says softly.
Whistler lifts one hand up to brush Lucy's hair away from the side of her neck, leaning down to drop a kiss to the exposed skin there. "When what?"
"When I would've asked you to marry me," Lucy replies, "if you hadn't beaten me to it by a week and a half."
Whistler smiles against Lucy's neck and reaches back down to touch Lucy's hand, fingertips circling her ring. "I got to be engaged to you for eleven days longer, so I have no regrets."
Lucy reaches up to cup Whistler's cheek with her palm. "Me neither."
They sit and watch the rest of the sunset in silence, Whistler occasionally pressing more kisses to Lucy's neck and shoulder. And when the sky is dark and Whistler asks Lucy to take her home, Lucy has no doubt exactly where home is.
The evening breeze drifts across the balcony, and Lucy snuggles into Whistler's side on their shared seat. Two empty mason jars sit atop the table beside them, and Lucy, pleasantly wine-buzzed, shuts her eyes against the feeling of Whistler running her fingertips absently over her upper arm.
"Can we get a dog?" Lucy asks suddenly. Whistler's hand stops moving, and Lucy sits up to look at her, wide-eyed. "Hang on, did I get engaged to a cat person?"
Whistler laughs softly and pulls Lucy back against her side. "I like dogs."
"But do you like cats more?" Lucy asks urgently. "Because if so, that makes you a cat person."
Whistler leans down to drop a placating kiss to Lucy's temple. "I can't be both?"
"No!" Lucy laughs. "I don't know, maybe." She curls tighter against Whistler, tilting her head up to catch the faintest remaining whiff of Whistler's perfume. "You smell good."
Whistler hums in acknowledgment, her fingertips resuming their path up and down Lucy's arm. It's comforting, and Lucy's eyes close again, the warmth of Whistler's body and the gentle swirl of wine drawing her toward sleep.
"Lucy," Whistler says then, "let's get a dog."
Lucy's eyes drift open. "Yeah?"
Whistler presses another kiss to her temple. "Yeah."
Lucy shifts to meet Whistler's eyes. "Do you think we have enough time to take care of one?"
"We'll probably have to hire a walker on the long days," Whistler replies, "but we can make it work."
"Can we find one who can go on your morning runs with you?" Lucy asks.
"I don't think that's generally in a dog walker's realm of responsibility," Whistler tells her, teasing, "but maybe if we pay extra."
Lucy rolls her eyes. "The dog, babe."
Whistler laughs. "I know." Her features soften. "I'd love that."
"Okay," Lucy murmurs, stretching to press a kiss to Whistler's neck. "Let's adopt a distance runner."
Whistler tightens her grip around Lucy. "I love you."
A fleeting memory of Whistler whispering those words for the first time, eyes bright with tears, flashes in Lucy's mind. They're far removed from that, from the heartache, now.
"I love you," Lucy echoes, words easy.
"I'd probably follow you to North Korea now," Whistler tells her.
Lucy's laugh is caught against the front of Whistler's shirt. "I don't think I need to move there anymore."
Whistler smiles. "Well, that's a relief."
Lucy's hand finds Whistler's, fingers lazily intertwining. She feels settled, in all the ways that matter - with her life in Hawaii, with her parents in Texas, and most importantly, with her person anywhere.
Lucy flexes her fingers against Whistler's hand and smiles when Whistler flexes back.
Well, friends. We've reached the end of this journey. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you all tag along. Thank you for reading, yelling, dragging your friends in kicking and screaming, and everything in between. Thank you for the kudos and the comments that have been the highlight of my day to read.
I started writing this about a month into summer hiatus mostly to give these hopeless lesbians something happy in case the show doesn't. (Tag your wlw trauma. Mine is Clarke and Lexa.) But I'm delighted with what we've been given so far this season, and beyond grateful for the incredible reception to this fic despite it running divergent from a solid canon.
Again, big thank you to Kay for pointing out the wonky stuff so y'all wouldn't have to read them, and to Louie for all the reassurances that I can still string gay words together after a lengthy break from writing.
Here is a Lucy & Kate playlist Louie and I threw together as fic writing mood music, which I listened to exclusively while writing this. The title is from Better Off by Sjowgren (track 24).
Thanks again for the love, be kind to yourselves, and I'll catch you on the other side.