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The Best Part of Losing You

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Debbie can’t remember the last time she travelled anywhere on a bus.

For as long as she can remember, it had always been… her and Mark in a car. Or just Debbie, in her car. Or Debbie and Ruth, occasionally.

Less frequently, now.

When two people are in a car, someone has to concentrate on driving. Someone is in control, and if the conversation dries up, it is because the driver has to concentrate. There’s no pressure of communication, in a car.

If two people sit side by side on a bus however… well. Then it is either polite conversation, or an awkward silence, or a comfortable silence.

The only person on this bus that Debbie has ever shared a comfortable silence with is Ruth, although that shit sure hit the fan after Ruth fucked Mark, and then every other fucking thing that has happened since then.

Eventually, Debbie is going to have to concede that maybe she just isn’t a person who is easily comfortable with others. But that is not going to be today.

So she’ll sit here alone, thank you. Besides, it’s not as though she can actually talk at the moment without weeping about leaving Randy, so alone seems to be the best option for everyone.

Ruth is up front, sitting with Sam. They don’t appear to be talking much. Debbie wonders if they are comfortably silent or otherwise.

It will take five hours to drive to Vegas. That’s a long time to sit in an uncomfortable silence.

It’s also a long time to sit alone.

….

Three hours in, they have to stop because Rhonda suddenly requires a comfort break. She exits the bus with a rolling monologue against the perils of long journeys.

“Oh my god, in England no trip lasts more than three hours, I thought you guys would have planned in toilet breaks, you’re a bunch of sadists, stop laughing at me and my tiny bladder, this is workplace discrimination…”

They all end up getting off, because god knows how long it’ll be before Bash deposits them in the much vaunted hotel once they arrive in Las Vegas, and this gas station looks like it’ll sell food.

Ruth approaches her. It’s strange how… somehow, Debbie can feel her coming. Debbie can tell five minutes prior to Ruth even taking a step towards her that Ruth is mentally weighing up whether to approach her. Just from the way that she is scanning the corn chips with an absent-minded concentration.

And Debbie is…. well, Debbie is studying this trail mix packet with more deliberation than is really necessary, whilst she loiters and waits for Ruth to decide to come and speak to her.

She wonders if Ruth has the same insight into her decision making process as Debbie does into Ruth’s.

God, and she remembers so vividly the way that they’d dance together at discos, years ago, bumping into each other and loudly yelling the lyrics into each others faces without a second thought, as though the first thoughts didn’t matter (because they never did).

It was Ruth who broke it. Debbie holds onto that thought, because that one does matter. It is Ruth’s fault that things are like this.

“Hey… how are you doing?”

Debbie blinks at her, and wonders if she held onto the trail mix for too long, wonders if it looks like she is actually having a break down over which snack to pick. Ruth elaborates.

“About…leaving Randy? That can’t be easy…”

Oh. Debbie gulps, and then moves away towards the cashier, in a way that doesn’t totally uninvite Ruth to follow, and lord, it is exhausting trying to calculate every implication like this.

Ruth follows her.

“Yeah, it’s… Mark said some good things for once. It’s forty minutes by plane. I could be home to put him to bed if I put my mind to it. But that doesn’t stop me from…” There’s a lump in Debbie’s throat, and she fights it down. “I know he won’t even notice I’m gone, not in any tangible way, but I’m not… I’m going to go visit at least twice a week, once we’re settled and in a routine. So. I’ll be fine” she concludes, trying to sound surer than she is.

Ruth nods sympathetically, as Debbie pays for the world’s most considered trail mix.

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

Debbie shrugs, because that’s the sort of thing people just say.

Outside, the other girls are slowly trouping back onto the bus. Sam is already in there, and looks to be talking loudly to the driver. Debbie heaves a sigh, and pulls up short for a moment. She doesn’t want to get back on yet, but there’s no plausible excuse she can think of.

Ruth gestures at the bus.

“Do you want me to come sit with you? We could, I don’t know, plan some more skits together? If you want distracting?”

And it is…tempting.

They’ve been in a better place, since the hospital. Something about the way that Ruth had yelled ‘bullshit’ at Debbie had helped Debbie understand that there was no point in pretending that Ruth had ruined Debbie’s perfect life. Because they both knew that it hadn’t been perfect.

But then Debbie remembers the other revelation of their shouting match in the hospital. That she’d been making Ruth feel like shit when all the time Debbie had thought they were good friends, friends that understood each other. But instead, it turns out that Debbie had just been absorbing all of Ruth’s support, and never asking the return question, never checking on how her friend was doing at the crucial moments.

So maybe she should be on her own. Just to feel sorry for herself (and make Ruth feel sorry for her as well).

She’s taking too long to answer a perfectly reasonable question. Debbie reaches for the nearest version of a non-answer she can find.

“No, I’m fine. Unless you want an excuse to not sit with Sam? In which case-”

Ruth shrugs. “Oh, no. I’m good sitting with Sam.”

Debbie can feel her jaw tighten, just at the thought of having to sit next to Sam for four hours. Debbie doesn’t have any strong feelings one way or another about Sam, but she’ll take him in ten minute chunks only. She’s still not really forgiven him for not turning up to eat the damn fondue.

She snorts.

“Oh, I’m sure he is quite the conversationalist.”

Ruth looks down at her shoes. “He is” she says, and why is there something weirdly hasty and defensive about how she is talking? “I don’t mind talking to him. I like talking to him.”

Debbie looks at the bus again. They are now the last ones to board. Sam is standing in the doorway, his hands on his hips, staring at them. He raises one hand in the air in a question. Debbie smiles blandly at him, and then turns back to Ruth. And now she has to continue this conversation, just to make the point that Sam doesn’t control when she gets back on the bus.

“What do you even talk about?”

Ruth glances quickly over her shoulder at Sam, and then shrugs.

“Oh, you know. This and that. Um. He’s a film nerd like me, so we do a lot of discussing which director makes the best choices, that sort of thing.”

Debbie feels her eyes widen, because she thinks she’d choose to walk to Vegas rather than have a five hour long conversation with Sam in which he blatantly fishes for compliments.

“Great, is that in between all the misogyny, or concurrently?”

“He’s not-” Ruth pauses, takes a breath, and then continues. “He’s not a misogynist. Well. He’s not as…. I mean.”

Debbie reads between the lines, because Ruth is too easy to read at times like this. A man has started to be nice to her? That means he must be A Great Guy.

“You mean, he’s not a misogynist to you anymore? That’s great.”

Ruth spreads her arms in a small gesture of incredulity, and then says “Well, none of us are as perfect as we could be, are we? We could all be better feminists.”

Debbie flushes hot at that, remembering the last time her and Ruth debated the concept of feminism. Ruth glances at her, as though trying to judge whether Debbie has anything else to say.

“Well, if you’re sure you don’t need company…” but it’s a cold sort of offer now, because somehow, once again, they’re in the opening stages of an argument.

Shrugging, Debbie tries to act like she doesn’t care.

“No, it’s fine. It’s not long now anyway…”

Ruth nods, and says “sure”, and walks away before Debbie has really even finished her sentence.

On the bus, as Debbie re-enters, Sam looks at her, eyebrows raised in some kind of enquiry. Next to him, Ruth doesn’t look at her at all.

At her seat, Debbie finds Sheila there. Sheila stands without a word, and lets Debbie retake her window seat. And then Sheila sits down next to her.

“I don’t plan on talking at all, by the way.”

Debbie nods.

“Great. Perfect.”

…..

After thirty minutes, Debbie realizes that she should have asked if Ruth was coping okay with leaving the camera guy (Russell?) That was the return question, and she missed it, yet again.

She sighs heavily, and leans her head on the window frame.

Sheila says nothing.

…..

The bus pulls up outside the forbidding bulk of the Hotel Grandé. It’s a step up from the Dusty Spur, but that’s about all that can be said for it. The building looms like a nightmare in concrete.

They’re greeted in the foyer by Ray, who seems to Debbie as though he believes himself to be an international man of mystery, but the mystery is just too many late nights pizzas.

Sam assumes ownership of the conversation, in the way that he always does, even though she’s pretty sure that the role of director doesn’t cover the question of accommodation.

“So, they’re perfectly happy doubling up, it’s what they were doing before, helps with the team bond, you know?”

Debbie feels her guts twist, just from the way they’re being discussed as cattle, but thankfully Sheila’s there to complain so Debbie doesn’t keep having to be the ‘difficult one’.

“But that doesn’t mean we want to, some of us like personal space.”

“Yeah”, chips in Melrose, “or some of us might want the option of being able to entertain visitors without their room-mate four foot away.”

Sam blinks at all of them like the cattle just started talking back, but Ray cuts right across him.

“Not a problem, I figured for a double room each, so no one has to share unless they actively want to. They’re never fully booked here, so there’s a full corridor of rooms waiting for you on the less scenic side of the hotel. You could change room every other night and still have enough rooms. Obviously if the show flops then we might have to look at the budget, but for now…”

Bash claps his hands together, Mr Enthusiasm.

“Okay, excellent! So who wants to share?”

Cherry and Keith put up their name forward, but that’s the end of it. Debbie remembers that she wasn't sharing with anyone in the Dusty Spur either, so her relief seems entirely unnecessary.

“Though it doesn’t matter if we want to share a bed with each other, does it? We can still keep the extra room space?” Yolanda has her arm around Arthie’s shoulders, and Arthie rolls her eyes and tips her head to rest against Yolanda’s temple, briefly.

Bash looks baffled, and then clears his throat.

“Uh… sure, but, why?”

There are some stifled giggles, and then Yolanda gestures at Sam. “Like he said, for the team bond.” This earns some more giggles, but Bash suddenly looks like he’s just swallowed a frog.

“That… I mean, we’ll have to consider the- this is a family show…”

Debbie hears herself snort loudly.

“They’re not proposing to share a bed in the ring, Bash.”

“But, but….” Bash’s face suddenly clouds over, falls a little, and then recovers. “I’ll have to review the contract…”

Ray laughs easily at this.

“The contract says, ‘Turn up, wrestle.’ First show is in two weeks. I’ll draw something up for you to all sign in a few days, but the rooming arrangements aren’t going to feature. Follow me, I’ll show you your rooms.”

…..

It’s a perfectly serviceable double room, with an en suite that doesn’t look as though someone died in it. Debbie puts down her bag with relief, checks the bed once to confirm it’s not several boxes covered with a sheet, and then returns to the corridor.

Ruth is rooming five doors down. Debbie doesn’t need this information, but her brain presents it to her anyway.

On one side of Debbie is Tammé, and on the other side, Sheila. Sheila is leaning on her door frame, watching Sam approach from down the corridor.

He also has to stay on this floor, Debbie realizes. And he does not look happy about it.

“Look, this isn’t ideal, and I’m going to talk to Ray and get myself put somewhere else, but while I am in this space with you, can we all just agree to a no nudity in the corridor, no loudly talking about tampons in the corridor, set of standards please?”

“So we can loudly talk about sanitary towels in the corridor?” Dawn asks cheekily, to general amusement.

Sam groans.

“Can someone please show me which available room is the furthest away from you all as is physically possible?”

Ruth comes out of her room, and glances down the corridor. She meets Debbie’s eye briefly, and a flicker of amusement passes between them. Debbie clears her throat.

“Maybe if you are going to live with the wrestlers, you should be in the ring with us as well Sam…”

Sam mutters darkly at that, and Debbie is rewarded with a grin from Ruth.

This is going to be interesting.

Chapter Text

Ruth wakes up with a start, and then panics briefly, because the shadows are in the wrong place and why is there a wall there and where did that door come from and-

And then she remembers where she is. She falls back on to the pillows.

It has been a while since she has woken up without someone else in the room. Either Sheila was there, or the all pervading imminent arrival of Sheila, as notable in her absence as her presence.

Or, recently, there had been Russell. Russell, who would run his hand gently down her back and kiss at her shoulder before getting up to make coffee.

Ruth rolls away from that thought, and turns on her side.

It’s a double bed. Ruth runs her hand over the smooth sheets, and unconsciously flexes her foot through different angles, just testing for pain.

The side light has an orange shade over it. There’s a book that Ruth had tried and failed at last night, her watch, and the other bits of her life that she drops just before sleep. There is a photo frame but it contains no photo.

Ruth is just absently considering the lamp shade, and what exactly that color of orange could be reminding her of, when there is an abrupt knocking on her door.

“Ruth! You awake? We’re going down to look at the training gym and theatre. You coming?”

It’s Cherry. Ruth gets out of bed, pulls on a sweater, and opens the door a crack.

“Sure, give me…oh. How come you are all ready?”

The corridor is filled with the other women, who have patently been awake for longer than two minutes. Debbie looks as though she’s been with a stylist for an hour already.

Reggie is pressing against the wall, stretching out her legs.

“Did you not hear all the loud singing at too early am?”

Jenny is interrupting before Reggie can even finish her sentence. “Look, its our first day, there’s going to be a bit of singing, we’re energetic people.”

Ruth’s glance finds Debbie, almost involuntarily. Debbie’s mouth twists into an weary smile, and then she looks away.

Ruth comes back to herself. And god, it is exciting. She can feel the emotion bubbling at her.

“No, didn’t hear anything…. I’ll need… two minutes, wait for me.”

…..

Holy…. shit.

Firstly, the changing rooms do not smell of piss. That, for some reason, is the first big indicator Ruth takes that things have gone up a level.

And then there’s a big room, bigger than their previous show space by at least double. It has been stocked with training mats and exercise equipment and there’s a wrestling ring in the centre. The walls are painted white but Ruth supposes it wouldn’t be too difficult to convert it into a venue for the shows.

In fact, she’s just scoping out the ceiling to try and judge how to set up the lighting rig (as though she has any knowledge in that area) when there is a commotion through the double doors to the back of the big room.

And, when she sticks her head through those doors…

“Holy shit.”

This…. now this is a big room. This room is so big that ‘big’ doesn’t even work anymore, and Ruth isn’t too sure about the word ‘room’ either.

This is a… theatre… an arena? It’s bigger than the Heyworth ballroom by at least four times, and lined with seats for an impossible number of people, more people than Ruth has ever had looking at her before. And in the middle, almost tiny looking… is a wrestling ring.

“Yeah… holy shit.”

It’s Debbie, standing just inside the door way, leaning back on the wall. She’s gazing around the room as though trying to weigh up which part to look at first.

Ruth laughs abruptly.

“This is insane, this can’t be for us.”

Debbie chews on the inside of her cheek for a moment, and then smiles.

“Things stopped being sane a while ago, don’t you think?”

In the centre of the….space, the rest of the team are running around, rolling around, bouncing off the ropes and sitting on the turnbuckle and gesturing at the non existent crowd, shrieking with excitement. The shrieks sound different, almost distant, as the cavernous space swallows them up.

Ruth starts to worry.

“How the fuck are we going to fill this every night?”

Debbie snorts.

“You read my mind.”

…..

Sam appears after another thirty minutes, in which time Cherry has managed to herd everyone back into the training room and tried to set them all to doing something.

Melrose is sitting on top of a pommel horse, moaning.

“Why do we have to do anything… can’t we just re-run the shows we have already done? That way; no planning.”

Sam scoffs at that, as way of announcing his presence, as he comes slouching through the double doors with a cigarette in his mouth.

“No, we cannot, because then you get lazy. We need to think bigger, better, and start with a bang, not ease ourself in because you are feeling like taking some time to start a knitting club.”

Melrose pulls a face.

“Okay, Sam, that insult doesn’t even come close to working on me, in what universe would I be starting a knitting club-”

“Shut up. Okay, here’s the thing. Turns out that doing a show four nights a week means that we have to do a show four nights a week. Wednesday through Saturday. And Ray’s already talking about matineé shows and what the fuck ever else, and the man is basically giving me a heart attack because he thinks that we can be a success straight out of the box. Because he unlike me, hasn’t see some of the shit that you have produced in the past. And you know what happens when you tank in front of 10,000 people? 10,000 people tell their friends not to come.”

During this inspiring speech, everyone has gathered around Sam. Tammé puts up her hand.

“What?”

“People kept watching our show on tv, even if you thought it was shit.”

Sam shakes his head.

“Not the same. Not the same. Different ball game, a live show in a town like this.”

Debbie makes a noise.

“No cameras, for a start.”

Sam, inexplicably, gives her a look of pure murder, which Ruth doesn’t fully understand because surely that’s one upside? One less thing to worry about?

He carries on.

“So, in our quest to not fall at the first hurdle, we start training today, and we have at least a basic show figured out by end of tomorrow latest, because that gives us a fighting chance of hammering it into something passable by the time the first show rolls around.”

“Wow, Sam, is this a pep talk or a pep kicking? Are you going to call us shit individually, or are you just sticking with the collective nouns for now?”

It’s Debbie again. And… Ruth has always known that Sam and Debbie haven’t found it entirely straightforward, being co-producers, but today she seems ready for a fight in public.

Sam blinks at her.

“Christ, who shat in your cocoa? Do you think we should stick to Captain Crochet’s plan instead?”

“What the fuck is up with the knitting references-”

Debbie folds her arms. Ruth catches Sheila raising her eyebrows at nothing.

“I just think it’d be more professional if you talked to us like professionals for once, rather than delinquent teenagers.”

Sam pinches at the bridge of his nose.

“Professional… you want to talk to me about professional….”

There is a heavy moment, but Sam seems to back away from whatever his next comment was going to be. He gestures around himself.

“Look, all of this… is great. Shiny gym, huge arena, great. But you can be damn sure that it all disappears in two weeks tops if we don’t put together a show that actually sells some fucking tickets. So, start planning some matches will you? Storylines, twists, bounce some ideas around. Everyone barring Ruth needs to be ready with something by tomorrow.”

Ruth opens her mouth, but Sam is already there.

“Not you Ruth, because your ankle needs more time to recover.”

“The doctor said I was fine for normal use?”

“Great, well I’m pretty sure that normal doesn’t cover wrestling. You can make your big come back in a later show. You just stay on strength training for a bit, everyone else, do your stuff.”

…..

After a week, it’s almost routine.

She wakes up, usually by her own body clock, occasionally by the sound of the others getting ready. She showers, in a shower that always has enough hot water.

They eat breakfast from the hotel breakfast buffet, trying not draw attention to themselves, because although nobody told them they couldn’t, nobody told them they could either. Ruth sees Bash down there a couple of times, but he’s distant, and staring at his croissant in a way that Ruth doesn’t recognise.

And then they go to the gym. And then Ruth spends a boring day flexing and stretching, whilst everyone else gets to… god, she knows it is painful, but she misses wrestling. She misses the adrenaline rush, the feeling of complete synchronicity.

(She also resents that everyone else gets to get better, whilst she is stuck at the same point, no chance to improve.)

Ruth watches Debbie’s training in a way that is bordering on hungry, and she knows that Debbie can tell she is watching, but god she just can’t help it. Ruth follows every move, desperate to participate.

Debbie’s wrestling with Dawn and Stacey, bouncing off the ropes as though they’re a trampoline and clothes lining both of her opponents in a way that genuinely does look like it is going to protect the American dream.

When they call a halt, it is to discuss what should happen next. Debbie is sucking in air, and rests her hands on her hips as she tries to steady herself. Dawn lies flat on her back, wheezing as she tries to talk.

“Okay. Okay. Maybe you could, I don’t know, pitch us out of the ring by -

Debbie shakes her head.

“No, we’ve done that too many times. We need something different if this is meant to be the headline match.”

Stacey pushes her hair back from her face.

“Well, we’re never headline match, so…”

“Also, we’re like, we’ve never won a match, so…”

Debbie nods, and then breathes in deeply.

“So you two should win. In a way that isn’t fair. So the crowd are indignant.”

Dawn and Stacey look at each other like they hadn’t even thought of that.

“How?”

Debbie shrugs, and then gestures at Ruth.

“Any thoughts?”

Ruth considers pretending that she hadn’t been paying attention to their training session, but from the look in Debbie’s eye she knows she’s got no chance of pulling that off.

“I… I dunno, they could, poison you, somehow? Toxic could. You could go full Sleeping Beauty.”

Debbie snorts at that, and then tips her head to one side.

“And then what?”

Ruth shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve only been thinking about it for ten seconds. Give me ten minutes.”

Debbie raises her eyebrows suddenly, and snaps her fingers.

“Ooh, I could go evil. Poison that corrupts my brain and then I’m under your control. I’ve wanted to play a heel for ages.”

Stacey sits up.

“What, really? You’d be doing my bidding?”

Ruth can feels the ideas turning over in her head, and she takes an excited breath.

“All the faces could be trying to save you. And all the heels could be trying to keep you evil! And each week could be a different attempt to save Liberty Belle’s soul, but then-”

“Ruth! Hoppity. Hop along over here will you?”

It’s Sam. Ruth looks around at him, and then back at Debbie, Dawn and Stacey, who are all staring at her. She gestures over her shoulder.

“I should… I should probably go see what he wants.”

Debbie shrugs, and then says “Bet you ten bucks it is nothing that he couldn’t have come over to you for.”

“Oh it’s fine, I don’t mind” Ruth hears herself saying dismissively, as she hauls herself upright and dusts herself down.

Sam hasn’t got an office anymore. He’s overcome this problem by collecting odds and ends of furniture from throughout the hotel, and creating a small nest for himself, a fortresses of cubicle dividers and old desks, none of which seem to have the same height as the others.

There’s paper everywhere.

“Okay, you okay? I wanted to throw some show arc ideas around with you, seeing as you have been watching the others rather than concentrating on your own routine. A bit of an over-view. We need more of a theme than… just wrestling every night. And the first show - what we’ve got is good, but we need, I don’t know, some kind of narrative thread other than ‘And then Liberty Belle saves the day’.”

Ruth doesn’t quite know how to say that she’s only really been concentrating on Debbie’s work, and besides, that isn’t exactly true, she knows the basics of what the others have been doing.

“Well, about a second ago, Debbie came up with something that we could pivot the whole run around, if Liberty Belle gets poisoned, and then she could be a heel whilst the rest of the faces keep trying to save her, and then-”

Ruth cuts herself off, because her mind is bouncing ahead fast than she can articulate. They could play the crowd big screen moments of Debbie being a hero, past wrestling matches from their old episodes, interviews with the other faces who have lost their leader, the American Dream literally dying in front of the crowd, the heels triumphant, Debbie (oh, and she’d need an alter ego name) taunting the crowd, the crowd desperate for her to be saved…

Sam frowns at her.

“You really want to base the whole run around Debbie again?”

Ruth shrugs.

“She’s the star, and the most popular character, and she can do some of the best moves. Why wouldn’t you base it around her?”

Sam grunts, and looks away from Ruth, shuffling some paperwork around.

“I don’t know. Maybe because… she broke your leg? Maybe we don’t reward violence with another starring run? Besides, the power might go to her head. I don’t want to have to manage that, she’s difficult enough as it is.”

And he looks at Ruth as though… inviting her to agree. And though this is a thing that they always do, moan about Debbie together.

But… god knows Ruth has moaned about Debbie to herself in her head for what feels like half a lifetime, but she’s not comfortable with other people attacking her.

She looks away, dismissive.

“If you have a better idea, you can go with that instead.”

Debbie is now sitting on the canvas floor with Stacey and Dawn, and Carmen has been drawn over, interested in the animation of their conversation. As Ruth watches, Debbie glances up, and meets Ruth’s eye with a smile.

God, she wants to be in that conversation.

Sam clears his throat. “Okay, let’s map out what an evil Liberty Belle arc looks like… lemme get you a chair.”

“Oh, no, it’s fine, I can stand.”

“No”, says Sam firmly, as he stands, “You are still badly injured. Look at that foot, it’s hanging on by a thread.”

Ruth grins at that, and Sam smiles at her as he passes.

Chapter Text

“And so, to wrap up…”

Debbie rolls her neck, because thank god for that phrase, it feels as though Sam has been talking for about 27 years.

“-if we go with ‘evil Liberty Belle’, we can have that as the storyline theme of the season. Ray’s got us booked in here for twelve weeks. We can run the same show four times a week, and tell the audience to come back next week if they want to know what happens next.”

It’s a meeting between the producers, although Debbie is entirely convinced that Sam doesn’t see her as a producer at all. They’re in the hotel foyer, which Sam is trying to use as a board room, to the barely concealed dismay of the receptionist. Empty coffee cups line the table. Debbie’s lower back is complaining about the lengthy time she has had to sit in a chair made for something other than sitting, possibly torture.

Although, it’s hardly a meeting. Sam has basically gathered them as an audience to sign off a plan that Debbie is pretty sure was her and Ruth’s plan to start with.

Bash nods his head after a moment’s pause, and leans forward, speaking in a hurried, distracted way.

“This is great, really great. If we get this right, we could have people trying to catch every show to stick with the story line. Repeat viewers are going to help fill the seats.”

Ruth pipes up.

“But we could do a video summary of the story so far each time, to help the new visitors get up to speed. On the big screens.”

That’s the other thing. Ruth is here now. It’s the producers, and Ruth.

“Why is Ruth here?” The question is out before she really reflects upon it.

Sam gives her a look, and draws himself upright.

“Because this is an idea that Ruth contributed towards, and I’d be insane to not make use of best creative minds on the team.”

Actually, Debbie is pretty sure that Ruth did a lot more than just ‘contribute’ to the idea, just as Ruth laughs self deprecatingly and says ‘“Well, it was Debbie’s idea really, I was just riffing on a theme.”

“Yeah, I’m not doubting that Ruth should be here, I’m just checking whether you are giving Ruth the due credit. Is Ruth a show writer now, or-”

Sam and Bash give each other a dark look, apparently as some kind of masculine gag reflex to the notion of not being able to assume credit for a woman’s work.

And then Ruth, feminist of the year, just blushes and shrugs and says “Oh, I don’t mind, I’m happy just to help.”

Sam gestures.

“See. All is well. Ruth is a team player. And seeing as she can’t get in the ring yet, she’s earning her wage by helping out with the story scripting.”

Debbie swallows this because she can’t fight it on Ruth’s behalf, if Ruth is going to be that complacent about things, and instead just says “But we are agreed that this was Ruth’s idea?”

“And Debbie’s idea.”

Sam runs a hand over his face.

“Yes. Which is great because it means I can concentrate on engineering the spectacle. Leave the soap opera side of things up to you two.”

Debbie’s hackles rise at that, because she knows exactly what Sam is thinking.

…..

They train, and they train, until Debbie has something that she is confident will stick with Dawn and Stacey.

The trickiest part is choreographing a top rope cross body splash that takes out both Dawn and Stacey, and they spend half a day just on that. Eventually, under Carmen’s guidance, they end up completing it so that Dawn does the required catch role, as Stacey is knocked down with a domino effect.

But the endless impact on her elbows and knees is taking it out of Debbie, and her joints creak like a haunted marionette, even with the safety padding she is wearing.

It’s five days until their first show, and Debbie’s body is crying out for a rest day.

They land it four times in a row before any of them are really ready to say they feel confident about it. Debbie rolls away from the last one groaning, not because of a specific injury, but just because everything hurts.

Cherry laughs sympathetically at her.

“Okay, good job Wonder Woman. You’re done for the day - if you get an injury then we’re all fucked. Go warm down.”

Debbie slides herself out of the ring wearily. Ruth has been there, as a constant audience, in between the time that she has spent with Carmen, working on a basic string of moves just to wind her back into full training.

“That looked really good” Ruth offers, following Debbie over to the warm down area. Debbie smiles.

“Yeah. Felt good. And, you know. Crippling. I need an ice bath or something.”

Ruth sits on a mat, and starts stretching out her hamstrings. Debbie manages to sit, rather than collapse, next to her.

“How are you planning to get poisoned?”

Debbie chuckles to herself.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe they could have a drink that maintains their power. And I drink it as a way of gloating, and then, boom. Evil Liberty Belle.”

Ruth nods, turning this over in her mind.

“Yeah, that’d work. Oh, and then you could turn on Keith, as a sign of total bedlam. And then… something else, Bash being Bash, match end. How will Liberty Belle’s soul be saved? Come back next week to find out. Etc.”

Debbie runs a hand around the back of her neck, grimacing at the sweat she finds.

“And then maybe we should run a video trailing what is coming up next week, so… we need to figure out what we are doing next week in time for this week’s show.”

“In five days.”

“Yup.” Debbie signs, and then she does collapse back on the mat, because gravity is just too tempting sometimes. “Good thing Sam has got us to sort out the inconsequential ‘soap opera’ side of things.”

Ruth sighs, and then says “He didn’t mean it like that.”

Debbie stares steadily at the ceiling.

“You know that he did. He’s never done the story line once - you organised the pilot episode, it was Tammé’s plan to have a long run into the Liberty Belle vs Welfare Queen match, we’ve all been coming up with our own ideas for individual matches, and all the stuff from when you broke… when I broke your leg onwards was basically us just goofing around and Sam recording all of it. Christ, Bash has contributed more to storylines, he cooked up half of that dummy weirdness with Rhonda.”

“Well, Sam has to do the editing, camera angles-” Ruth changes her tone suddenly, and says “anyway, my ankle is better now.”

Debbie grunts. “Good. I like wrestling with you. We can do something next week maybe.” She doesn’t know why Ruth defending Sam makes her want to keep this conversation going, but it does.

After a pause, Ruth twists around to look down at her.

“Do you want to come to my room after this? We could have a soap opera planning session, a real one, rather than just quick chats in-between warm up and warm down. I’ll order us some take out.”

And this is when Debbie would have made an excuse about babysitters, and said no. But Randy isn’t here, and Debbie increasingly finds that her anger over Ruth’s betrayal is becoming a memory, rather than an emotion she can base her decisions upon.

“Sure. Sounds good.”

Ruth blinks at her as though she really didn't expect Debbie to accept, and then it looks like the surprise allows her mouth to just carry on saying words without much overview from her brain.

“You could have have the ice bath in my bath, I’ll shout ideas through the door.”

Debbie snorts.

“Um, thanks for the offer, but no, I’ll use my own bath thanks. I’ll come to you afterward.”

…..

For some reason that she isn’t too keen to examine closely, Debbie waits until the corridor is empty before taking the long, five door walk down to Ruth’s room.

She’s in a shorts and a t shirt, but it’s shorts and a t shirt that she needed fifteen minutes to choose, and Debbie doesn’t really know why her brain is doing a thing, but it very much is.

This is the first time they’ve done something together without the cloud of show necessity to hide behind since… well. Since Debbie found out that Ruth had fucked Mark.

Twice.

It feels insane that nine months have passed, and then it feels insane that only nine months have passed, and Debbie knocks on Ruth’s door before she loses herself completely to the peculiar concept of linear time.

“Hey. Come in. Did the bath help?”

Debbie grimaces, and makes a show of flexing one of her shoulders around even though it doesn’t hurt, as she enters.

“Yeah, a bit. I feel less like a Jenga tower.”

Ruth’s room is… exactly like her own room, although Ruth has more paper and pens strewn around, and her suitcase is still open on the floor, only half unpacked. Debbie nudges it with her foot.

“Are you packing to leave?”

“Oh! No, I just… you know what I’m like- I’d stopped noticing that was there…”

Ruth is suddenly flapping around, trying to somehow make her suitcase cease to exist, and Debbie realizes that she is nervous. She didn’t mean to make Ruth feel nervous.

“Hey, don’t worry, you should see the state of my room.”

It’s a lie, because Debbie’s room is perfectly tidy, but it seems to wind Ruth down a notch, and she flips the lid closed and slides the case into the corner of the room with far less outward panic.

And then she straightens up, and puts her hands on her hips, and stares at Debbie.

Jesus, and there is something about the fact that the hotel door is closed…. the last time they were alone together in a room with no witnesses was in Ruth’s hospital room, and Debbie’s well aware of the huge success of that little chat.

They used to do this all the time. This is not a thing to panic about. This is certainly not the time for Debbie to unleash some of that anger that she always seems to keep in pocket for Ruth, just in case she needs it.

Why did you fuck Mark?

Why are you defending Sam so much?

Why didn’t you tell me I was ruining our friendship?

Why can’t I look at you without-

“So, I thought we could order asian, Reggie has given me the number of a place that delivers to the foyer, she said it was pretty good.”

Debbie nods, anxious for some kind of banality.

“Yes, good idea. And then I guess we should…plan a soap opera.”

…..

Ruth has found a flip chart from somewhere, and they end up sitting on the floor, scrawling out big ideas in small writing and small moments with exclamation marks.

After half an hour their food arrives. Ruth hasn’t got any cutlery, but the hotel teaspoons next to the instant coffee jar do the job, and Debbie has a cautious experiment with the chopsticks, before giving it up as a bad job.

It’s an easy, relaxed sort of atmosphere, as though the various issues have been put to one side for an evening, in order to work towards a common purpose.

They manage to plan up to the end of show three before calling a halt.

Debbie pops a prawn cracker in her mouth, even though she isn’t really hungry any more.

“Do you think we’ll be able to keep the story thread going if Liberty Belle isn’t wrestling every week? Not that I want to wrestle every week, at all. But do you think it’ll work with just… appearances and drama, in some shows.”

Ruth purses her lips, and then nods.

“Hopefully. Well. It’ll have to work like that. You can’t possibly maintain four shows a week, every week. Especially because you’re going to have to be learning a new routine before you’ve completed an old routine. The logistics of it…. it’s massively different from just one taping a week. You’ll need rest weeks, at least one every three shows. Everyone will, maybe we should insist on that with Sam.”

“Is he going to be that concerned with wrestler welfare?” Debbie stretches, and pulls the current sheet of paper towards her, writing ‘one rest week every three weeks’ and underlining the word ‘every’ twice. Ruth watches her pen carefully.

“He should be at least concerned with the notion of having half of his cast injured, if he wants to get to the end of run.” She sighs, and then tips her head back to rest it on the bed. “He does care. I’ll speak to him.”

Debbie files this under ‘Whatever’, and puts the cap on the pen.

“Okay. Well. We did a good job. Do you think Sam will just sign it off?”

“Probably. It’s that or come up with his own storyline - do you remember that script he gave us, when we’d all just started training?’

Debbie snorts.

“Oh yeah. That was… interesting.”

They don’t say anything for a while. There’s an unidentified thud and scream of laughter from out in the corridor, but Debbie is learning to tune them out.

Ruth clears her throat.

“How are you doing, anyway? Have you booked to go visit Randy?”

Debbie nods. “Yes. The day before the first show. I had a hell of a time explaining the concept of a day trip to LA to the woman on the phone, but… yeah. Not long. I miss him like crazy. Mark has been good about putting up with me calling every night, even though Randy just chews on the cord.”

Debbie takes a breath, and this time she remembers.

“And you? Are you okay, leaving Russell?”

Ruth snorts, and then says “I think you should maybe keep calling him Camera Guy, I’ve gotten used to it.”

Debbie smiles at that, and Ruth continues.

“No, it’s…fine. I guess. We’ve spoken a couple of times, but he doesn’t get back until late and I’ve usually fallen asleep. I keep trying to- I should have written to him by now, but I keep… uh.”

Debbie glances over at her, and Ruth is looking away, fidgeting slightly with the edge of her comforter. She shrugs.

“I’m not sure how to pitch the tone. I’m going to wait until he sends me a letter, and use that as baseline.”

After a moment, Debbie chuckles.

“Smart. Wouldn’t want to be tonally off.”

Ruth gives her a look, and Debbie smiles gently.

“Want me to help with that soap opera as well?”

Ruth smiles, and then covers her eyes with her hands.

“No. Oh, but it is going to be a soap opera, I can just feel it, because Russell is there, but here is-”

And she cuts off abruptly, sighing.

Debbie is suddenly highly aware that Sam is on this corridor somewhere, yards away, existing.

She clears her throat.

“Anyway. I should go, or I’ll fall asleep on your carpet.”

Ruth looks at her for a moment, and then nods.

“Okay.”

…..

Chapter Text

Sam sweeps a bit of stray cigarette ash from Ruth’s compiled set of notes, and looks up at her.

“You and Debbie did all of this?”

Ruth nods. Sam stares at her.

“When?”

“Last night? We got a take out, and just powered through it. We needed to do more than just chat about it now and then, and the girls need more than vague ideas to work their fights around.”

Sam continues to stare at her. Ruth wills herself not to fidget. She’s in Sam’s little makeshift office, and the structure of it makes her feel like she is visiting the headteacher, some how.

She feels like she is about to be in trouble.

Ruth leans against a table edge, and swallows.

“This isn’t us trying to grab power, you can oversee it, introduce it all to everyone else, and so on. But you said yourself that we should work on the soap opera side of it? Well, this is what that looks like.”

Leaning back on his chair, Sam reaches for a pen, and taps a couple times on the notes.

“Surprising, that when I put Debbie in charge of storyline design, she has the starring role.”

Ruth doesn’t know what to say to that, because she is pretty sure that Debbie is the star? That is Sam’s role for her.

Sam clears his throat.

“So are you and Debbie good now? I don’t need to have paramedics on standby?”

Across the gym, someone starts singing. Sam closes his eyes briefly, and groans. “Thank fuck I’m not running a musical.” Ruth laughs.

“I’m sure there’d be less singing in a musical. And, uh. Debbie and I… we have these… moments of being good, and then moments of being not so good. But the good moments are getting longer, I guess.”

Sam rubs at his chin, and gazes thoughtfully at her, looking… Ruth doesn’t know what word to attach.

“But are you okay wrestling Debbie?”

Ruth blinks, because the thought of not wrestling Debbie hadn’t even occurred to her. Sam nods past her shoulder.

“Look out, she’s coming.”

Debbie is wearing a blue leotard that Ruth doesn’t think she’s seen in a while. She gives Ruth a half smile, and then raises her eyebrows at Sam.

“So?”

Sam sits back in his chair, and squints.

“Yeah… I’ll have to have a think.”

Ruth can tell by the set of Debbie’s mouth that she doesn’t much rate Sam’s chances of coming up with another story line in time by the first show, and she concedes easily.

“Okay. But we really need an answer by the end of today, if you expect us to be ready.”

“Sure Debbie. You’ll have an answer.”

“And the rest week? One quiet show in three for everyone? Are you going to sign that off? Otherwise you are going to have more injuries than-”

Sam throws up his hands, looking exasperated.

“I can’t just make decisions like that on the fly. And Ruth has already asked about that, and in a nicer way, thank you.”

Debbie pulls a face.

“Well, Ruth is nicer than me. Plus I didn’t realize that any of us were here to be nice to you.”

Sam snorts.

“I might put it in the fucking contracts.”

Debbie just blinks at him, and rolls her shoulders, easing some unknown tension.

“Okay, whatever. We’re going to train on the basis of our-“ and here Debbie gestures between herself and Ruth “-show plan for today, let us know of any changes. Ruth, are you coming?”

Ruth glances at Sam.

“Yeah… I’ll be there in a minute.”

Debbie sets her jaw, nods, and turns on her heel. Her hair is in her usual training ponytail, and it bounces as Debbie walks away in a manner that feels more eloquent than usual.

“Jesus” Sam mutters, and Ruth gives a half chuckle. Sam continues “Why do I suddenly feel as though I am constantly on the verge of a fight to the death with Debbie Eagan?”

Ruth smiles, finding some camaraderie in Sam’s anxiety.

“Well, she’s missing Randy… I found that it helped not to make any unnecessary eye contact, when things were really bad between us.”

Sam snorts.

“Yeah, I’m not scared of her. Also, I haven’t done anything wrong, I haven’t fucked her husband, so-”

It’s a bit of a sucker punch, and Ruth doesn’t know if Sam was expecting her to laugh, but she certainly isn’t going to laugh just because it is expected. She looks coolly at him.

“Maybe you’ve fucked up in another way. Anyway. I’m going to warm up.”

…..

Honestly? Ruth doesn’t know why she bothers with him sometimes.

And now, for some unknown reason, Debbie is frosty with her as well… Ruth would like to go a day without feeling like she’s got to be permanently on the defensive.

She’s sitting on one of the benches, taking ten minutes to eat some food and catch her breath after the morning. In her mind, she’s trying to run through Zoya phrases for the first show, in which she doesn’t fight but does appear to randomly yell Communist nonsense at Liberty Belle.

She is just working up to something about farming with a scythe when Debbie appears from nowhere, and sits next to her.

“Fucking…hotel ice machine is broken.”

Ruth nods cautiously, and takes another bite of her banana. Across the gym, for some reason, Sheila is watching them.

God, and now she’s second guessing whether Debbie was being frosty with her, because why is Debbie sitting next to her? Maybe Ruth just imagined it all. Maybe Debbie was just cool towards Sam, and Ruth assumed some of it was for her. Maybe Sam’s comments about Debbie made Ruth feel like she should still be wary.

She sighs, suddenly exhausted by her own train of thought.

“Are we good?”

Debbie glances at her, and then says “What do you mean?”

“I mean, are we… it felt like you were… annoyed with me, this morning.”

Debbie dips her head a little, and now she is looking over in the direction of Sheila as well.

“Uh… I guess. I’m - wait are we talking big picture good, or small picture good? Because… big picture we probably do still have some things to… to hash out, you know? Because, I did, uh-” and here Debbie sighs, and seems to roll her eyes at herself slightly, before continuing. “I did break your leg. It’d be reasonable for you to not be ‘big picture’ good with me for a while.”

Ruth smiles, even as she flinches away from the memory.

“Well. I did fuck your husband. So, I’m not focused on the big picture, more…”

Debbie turns to look at her, and for a horrible moment Ruth wonders whether she’s gone too far, whether they aren’t at all in a place where Ruth can casually reference fucking Mark. Debbie’s face seems to struggle for a moment, and then she rubs a hand at her forehead, and just like that the concern is gone. Debbie allows a small, choked off laughed out of her mouth.

“Yeah, okay. Big picture we have some processing to do, I’d say. But, we’re just as good as we were last night? I have… I know I’m insane, sometimes, but I haven’t had a breakdown over your existence today. That I’m aware of.”

Ruth grins, because sometimes Debbie is just so… Debbie.

“But there’s still time?”

Debbie laughs.

“Yes. Exactly. I wasn’t… I was being an ass at Sam, but not at you.”

“Okay phew, I was worried that you were pissed at me because I’d gone to speak to Sam without you… why are you being an ass with Sam, out of interest?”

Debbie shrugs.

“I’ve used up all my ‘make nice’ quota on him. I’ve gotten bored of the whole, ‘traumatised artistic genius schtick’ he’s dragging around. And I don’t like how he is looking at you.”

Ruth swallows.

“How is he looking at me?”

Debbie gives her a dark look, and then looks away.

“You know. Anyway. More importantly, why the fuck is Sheila staring at us?”

When Ruth looks over, Sheila is blatantly watching at them. Ruth shrugs.

“Oh. She just does that sometimes. I think we might be part of her pack now, she likes to keep an eye on things.”

Ruth raises a cautious hand to Sheila, and waves. Sheila waves back, completely unabashed.

Debbie clears her throat.

“Okay. Well. I thought we should go through the storyline with everyone, seeing as Sam hasn’t told us not to. You okay to do that with me?”

“Sure. I’d like that.”

…..

Eventually, when it becomes apparent that Debbie and Ruth are essentially holding a team planning meeting right under his nose, Sam comes sloping over, and sits on a chair over to the side.

The rest of the girls look over at him, and then back at Debbie and Ruth. And there is something in the air now, a collective worry. Because no one is completely certain if they are allowed to take control like this.

Debbie pauses, but Sam motions at her to carry on, looking resigned. Ruth smiles at him, because sometimes he does look a little lost and Ruth can’t help but try to make him feel involved.

Debbie clears her throat, smiles tightly at Sam as well, and continues.

“So, that’s where we’re going. Sam’s agreed. We’ve got the main arc covered, but Sam’s said that if we come up with any ideas then he’d be happy to hear them.”

Sam hasn’t said any of this, but somehow Debbie gets away with speaking this state of affairs into existence. Sam grunts in agreement.

“I’ll need to film some kind of intro tape to Liberty Belle’s alter ego, if we’re going to keep the audience with us.”

Debbie makes a small noise of assent, and then says “Oh, and I’ll need a new name, I hadn’t even thought of that.”

Sam carries on.

“And we can go with the rest week idea, it’s for the best. Can’t have corpses littering the training room.”

Everyone nods, and there are some surprised looks on some faces as well, particularly Cherry and Carmen, who seem to not be able to believe the generous air with which Sam is making these concessions. Ruth is a little surprised herself.

Sam stands up, nodding to himself, as though everything is progressing exactly as he would have wished.

“Great. First show under control, I’ll speak to you all individually about the VTs and how we’re going to set that up. Start planning out some of the choreography of the fights for the next show now, seeing as we’ve got that pinned down. Any questions?”

There’s a general air of bemused satisfaction, and Sam nods, and makes to walk away, before pulling up short as though he’s just remembered something.

“Oh, but one change. Ruth and Debbie. Figure it out so that Zoya and Liberty Belle don’t fight each other.”

Debbie blinks. Ruth says “What, in the next show?”

Sam grimaces, as though this is all slightly awkward.

“Not in the next show, not in the one afterwards. Just… never. You two do not fight each other again.”

There’s a shocked silence, as all the girls look from Sam, back to Ruth and Debbie.

After what feels like a lifetime, Debbie says quietly “What the fuck Sam?”

Sam spreads his hands, and then enunciates slowly, as though Debbie is hard of hearing.

“Because, you broke, her fucking, leg, Debbie. Not doing that again. Not risking your anger management issues getting an airing in the ring again. No more fighting Ruth for you. Period. Work around it. Figure it out. Soap opera it. I’m sure that won’t be a problem for your creative minds.”

Debbie opens her mouth, and then closes it again.

Sam smiles, gives Debbie a thumbs up, and walks away.

…..

Chapter Text

She should have known.

Debbie smokes three cigarettes in a row in the hotel bar, before remembering that she is trying to give up and giving the rest of the pack to a seedy looking guy at the other end of the bar.

“Hey… can I get another one?”

The bar tender pours her another shot of tequila without a word, although he does smile at her in a way that Debbie recognises as flirting, for all the fucks she gives.

She doesn’t smile back.

She should have known that Sam was plotting something. There is always an affected air of generalised bullshit that comes with Sam, every time he thinks he has something up his sleeve.

And it turns out that the reason behind Sam’s calmness over Ruth and Debbie seizing creative control was the fact that he knew he was about to set Debbie’s head on fire.

Why the fuck does she even care? Except she does, she does care, this entire fragile truce she has with Ruth is built on the fact that they have to be at least part way functional in order to wrestle. Without the wrestling, Debbie doesn’t have a reason to talk to Ruth other than the fact that she wants to talk to Ruth, and that isn’t acceptable at all.

Debbie looks at her third tequila shot, sitting in front of her untouched.

She only drinks tequila when she’s trying to pump herself up for something, but what the hell does she think she is going to do? Storm into Sam’s room and loudly announce that she’ll wrestle Ruth with or without his permission, and fucking… wrestle Ruth in their down time? The whole thing is ridiculous.

“Hey. You look nice.”

Debbie glances around, and finds Sheila standing next to her.

“Oh. Hey. Thanks, I…. apparently when I’m angry or…angrier, I make sure I’m dressed for the Met Ball, so…”

“So if I ever see you dressed to kill it is because you are actually contemplating murder? Got it.”

Sheila sits on the stool next to her, despite all the clear indicators that Debbie has murder on her mind. Debbie sighs, and then pushes the shot of tequila over to her.

“You want this? I don’t… I don’t know why I needed it. And I don’t know why I’m dressed like this either, it doesn’t help anything, just means I have to convince men over and over again that I’m not interested in sleeping with them.”

Sheila shrugs, and then knocks it back.

“Ooof, hey, you don’t have to explain shit to me, I am dressed as a wolf, so I know all about outfit choices as an armour.”

“Excuse me miss, is this… is she bothering you?”

Debbie gives the bar tender her best death stare.

“No, but you are.”

That seems to do the trick. Sheila snorts at Debbie after a moment.

“You are actually terrifying.”

Debbie sighs, not entirely sure whether it is a compliment or not.

“I know, I have a rage setting.”

“It’s good, useful. You’ve successfully reclaimed the bar anyway. Sam was down here every night, but you’ve scared him off.”

“Good” Debbie says darkly. She half knew this was the case, and if she really examines her emotions, she knows that she came down here because she was hoping to force a confrontation with him. “I just… I don’t understand why Sam gets to make a call like that. Banning me from wrestling Ruth? And what the point is, and…. there isn’t even a tv show any more, so why does the tv director get to be in charge?”

Sheila shrugs.

“Because he’s Sam. Hard to get rid of. Why, do you want to be in charge?”

“No” Debbie blurts out before she’s really thought about it. “Christ no, I have… a baby. And. Ugh. Whatever. I just… don’t want Sam choosing who I wrestle. He’s never wrestled in his life, and doesn’t understand the dynamic, and the trust, and- oh god, I don’t know. I’m not making any sense. But I resent a man assuming authority over me in an area that he has no real life experience of…. Bash has more claim to be in charge than he does, at least Bash understands wrestling. Bash knows what is like.”

Sheila doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then shifts slightly on her seat, experimentally.

“Huh, these stools look like they should twist, but they don’t, that’s disappointing.”

Debbie looks down.

“Oh, no, I guess not.”

After a sigh, seemingly at the static nature of bar stools, Sheila rubs her hand across her mouth.

“Sam changes his mind a lot. I’d just wait until… whatever he was pissed at has passed, and then write the story line so you have to wrestle her. That’s what I’d do. Better than… well.”

Debbie looks at her.

“Better than what?”

“Well you guys are… you’re down here hoping Sam’s going to show up so you can murder him in front of witnesses. And Ruth is up with Sam in his room, trying to reason him into allowing you guys to wrestle, and that’s a dumb idea too because-”

Debbie groans.

“Because it puts all the power back in Sam’s hands… jesus.”

“Yeah… you guys never seem to make the right moves.”

“Well,” says Debbie, flagging down the now surly bar tender. “you can put that down to years of practice.”

…..

After another four shots of tequila (and whoa, this is now too many shots of tequila, and Debbie is drunk, and ready to fight the first person with a moustache that she encounters), she and Sheila approach Sam’s room.

“Okay. Okay. So. The plan is…. what is the plan again?” Debbie leans on the corridor wall in a way that is entirely intentional and not at all to do with gravity sneaking up on her, the faithless bastard.

Sheila squints, and then snaps her fingers under Debbie’s nose. And Debbie’s never seen Sheila drink, but she’s pretty sure that Sheila doesn’t usually sway like that.

“Focus. We knock on Sam’s door. We remove Ruth, like a stealthy, stealthy thing, and then, we… we don’t punch Sam, or shout. We just, say, things, and then leave with Ruth so she doesn’t accidentally sell her soul or somehow convince herself that not wrestling you is a good idea.”

“Because it is a bad idea.”

“Exactly. And we know this because…?” Sheila trails off, and then frowns.

Debbie fills in the gap helpfully. “Because things?”

“Yes. Because things. Excellent. Okay. Are you ready?”

Debbie squares her shoulders, because yes she is.

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Sheila scans the identical doors. “Okay.”

Debbie looks at her. Sheila coughs.

“Which one is Sam’s room?”

Debbie shrugs. Sheila stares at her. Debbie shrugs again, because that worked out well the first time.

“The door that’s covered in cocaine?”

Sheila looks around.

“None of them are covered in cocaine.”

Debbie shrugs again, having decided that she’s on to a winner with that particular gesture.

“I could knock on all of them until Sam opens one. And then we will have found him.”

Sheila makes a face. “No, because then we’ll have an audience of everyone else, when we are trying to be quiet…and… and…”

“Stealthy?”

“Yes. Now shush.”

Debbie promptly shushes herself. Sheila nods at her a few times, and then takes a couple of steps away from Debbie, creeping down the corridor, and listening at doors. Debbie follows, like a stealthy thing.

Debbie is about to unstealth herself in order to ask Sheila what they should do if Sam doesn’t answer the door, when suddenly they hear the faint but unmistakable sound of Sam swearing, and a continued sentence of something unintelligible.

Sheila points at the door. Debbie knocks, fighting down her sense of dread.

After a moment, the door opens, and here is is. Mr Moustache.

“Hello Sam.”

Sam frowns at her, and then looks at Sheila, before returning his gaze to Debbie.

“Hello Debbie. Are you… are you on your way back from… what is going on?”

Debbie draws herself up to her full height.

“I am here to… because… hello.”

“Hello” Sam says levelly. Behind him, Ruth appears.

“Debbie! Hi! We were just watching a movie.”

Debbie doesn’t know what to do with this information. Sheila mumbles something unhelpful behind her.

Stealthy, Debbie remembers, clinging to the concept like an inflatable ring in a tsunami.

“We were, I was, we need Ruth for… planning. Soap opera. You know.”

Ruth looks at her in a way that is extremely Ruth like, because of her face.

“Debbie… you okay?”

Debbie nods a couple of times, and then leans on the door frame in a casual, stealthy way.

“Yes I am. However, the soap opera is not. Testing times in the soap opera, which is why, which is why I need, we need, you.”

Ruth smiles slightly in a way which Debbie cannot fully translate, and then glances up at Sam.

“Okay, well I should go anyway…”

Sam shrugs.

“Sure. Good luck with… whatever is going on here. And I’ll consider, you know. What we were talking about.”

“Great” Ruth nods, and beams at Sam in a way that is completely unacceptable, but Debbie will have to accept it, because Ruth is out in the corridor, and Sam is closing the door, and haha!

Victory.

…..

Ruth takes Debbie to her room, which isn’t… entirely bad because Debbie isn’t completely sure which one is hers any more.

“Don’t you have… I thought you were doing a taping and then a final run through with Dawn and Stacey tomorrow? Why are you on the tequila?”

Ruth guides her to her bed, and Debbie sits down gratefully, because all that stealth really took it out of her.

“Why were you in Sam’s room?” She doesn’t mean for it sound angry, because she isn’t, she’s just…curious.

“Oh, there was a movie on that Sam had been telling me about, something about the editing, so I stayed to watch it.”

Debbie waves a hand, dismissive.

“No, but, I mean, great, but why were you in Sam’s room in the first place?”

“Because…” Ruth blinks, and then suddenly looks unsure of herself. “Because I was trying to talk him out of banning us from wrestling. I thought- I thought that’s what you’d want me to-”

“No.” Debbie snorts, and then rubs her hand over her eyes, and fuck eyeliner. “I mean, yes, but not by, going and doing ten rounds with him in his room, that’s exactly what he wants you to do, and all he gets to do is talk at you about how I’m some kind of threat to you…”

Ruth sighs. “I know you aren’t a threat to me.”

Debbie makes an animated gesture at nothing.

“Exactly. And so does he, he’s just being a dick, and, and, he can’t tell us that we can’t wrestle, we’ll wrestle in our own time if he is that determined to be an asshole.”

Ruth laughs at that, and then looks at her feet.

“He’s… he’s just trying to be, I don’t know. Chivalrous, or something. Trying to protect me.”

Debbie feels her brain flat line.

“Great. Let me just barf everywhere. That’s….he’s not a good idea Ruth.”

Ruth nods vehemently.

“Oh I know. I know.”

Debbie stares at her for a long time, because that’s where her eyes find it easiest to stay. Ruth meets her eye after a moment, and oh, she’s so obvious, Debbie doesn’t know how to keep Ruth away from bad choices.

And she can’t, Ruth isn’t hers to control.

“And, you have a different moustache in your life… hey, want me to write that letter to Camera Guy for you?”

Ruth laughs again, and then shifts her weight from side to side.

“Uh, not sure that you are going to completely nail the tone needed-”

Debbie gestures at the bed beside her, and pulls a scrap of paper and pen from her bedside table.

“No, I will, I’m feeling very Shakespeare right now, sit down, take notes, it’s going to be great.”

Ruth tilts her head whilst grinning and then rolls her eyes, but she’s sitting, okay, good.

“Okay. Ready? My dearest beloved…”

Ruth snorts.

“Oh, its a powerful start.”

Debbie nods, pleased with herself.

“I know. I told you. Shakespeare. Okay. My dearest beloved. Um. How my arms yearn to hold you again. I, um, I think your hair is great, very bouncy.”

Ruth laughs, and then diligently writes down ‘bouncy’. Debbie looks at her, looks at her smile.

“Um. Both my heart and my vagina are aquiver with-”

Ruth laughs loudly at that, and then puts the paper and pen into Debbie’s hands.

“Okay Shakespeare, I think that’s enough from you tonight. You should sleep.”

“No.” Debbie pouts. “I don’t want you to leave. You should stay here whilst I’m like this, this is better than sober me, sober me has to, I don’t know. Remember that I’m supposed to be angry with you all the time.”

Ruth sighs, and tips her head back, to look at the ceiling.

“Well, tell sober you that I’d really like for us to be back to how we were.”

Debbie bites her lip, and then says “What, with me being a terrible friend to you? Great.”

Ruth looks at her, and she’s close, and Debbie’s suddenly aware of an emotion, crystallising into something solid in her chest.

“Maybe we could try a different version of us.”

Debbie doesn’t say anything, because she can’t let any of her words out.

Ruth licks her lips.

And Debbie…Debbie kisses her.

She pulls her mouth away from Ruth’s almost immediately, and stares blankly at the wall.

“Okay, that’s… we don’t do that.”

Ruth doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then cautiously submits “No, we don’t.”

Debbie sighs heavily, and puts her head in her hands.

“Sorry. I was just… I’m sorry.”

Debbie hears Ruth swallow, next to her. And then Ruth stands up.

“Okay, well. I should go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye” Debbie manages, unable to look up. Ruth seems to wait a second longer than necessary, and then Ruth has gone.

Fuck, Debbie thinks. Fuck.

Chapter Text

The next day, everything is exactly the same.

That’s one of the good things about having a steady job, Ruth tells herself. She mustgo and train, and Debbie must be there, hangover or not. There’s no question of accidentally ignoring each other, or avoiding each other for a month or more. They live on the same corridor. They work together. Debbie kissed her last night, but she was drunk, and it didn’t mean anything.

This happens to other people all the time.

Nevertheless, Ruth does admit to being slightly relieved, for the first time since they arrived in Vegas, that she isn’t scripted to fight with Debbie for the first show. Ruth doesn’t think that her chances of being completely normal with Debbie would be all that high, if she had to go straight to butts and armpits with her this morning.

Instead she does butts and armpits with Cherry, who has become an incredible wrestler, and Ruth thinks that their scheduled match for the following week might be pretty fucking epic as long as she can think of a valid reason for them to fighting in the first place.

Cherry leans on the ropes, breathing hard.

“I mean, it could be heel against heel. Just make the crowd pick a side? Or… we could have a face come in at the end, like Debbie did when you and Jenny fought at the end of the pilot show?”

Ruth tries not to look at Debbie at the mention of her name, and besides, Debbie is on the other side of the gym, stretching out her legs with Melrose and a number of the other girls for company.

Ruth doesn’t think she’s made eye contact with Debbie once this morning.

“Uh. Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe Tammé could… or Carmen? It needs to make sense, in the story line. Maybe… somehow could we be fighting for who has control of Liberty Belle?”

Cherry grins. “Evil Liberty Belle? Maybe. Maybe we could be fighting over her… her cape, or whatever she wears.”

Ruth shrugs, and Cherry turns on the ropes, calling out to Debbie.

“This season is just going to end up with all of the heels fighting over you, you know.”

Debbie puts her hand to her temple briefly, and then drawls in her character voice “Well I do like to be the centre of attention…

Ruth snorts slightly at that, and then comes to lean on the ropes next to Cherry, and so what if she is using a professional, group conversation to start talking to Debbie this morning? It’s just how things have turned out.

“We might have a face shortage though, if we have Evil Liberty Belle running throughout the season. If the faces are supposed to save Liberty Belle, they need to have a valid team.”

Melrose starts counting on her fingers.

“Okay faces, we’ve got… me, I’m a face most of the time. Rhonda. Machu. Uh. Welfare Queen is pretty damn popular, Tammé could be a face. Uh. Yo yo? Yolanda, are you a face?”

Yolanda shrugs.

“I’m whatever. I guess so. But I’m not…I’m still catching up with you guys, wrestling wise.”

Ruth bites her lip, thoughtful.

“That’s not a lot of faces, though. And there’s no obvious ‘hero’ figure, you know?”

Debbie tips her head to one side, but she’s looking at Cherry, not Ruth, not really.

“It doesn’t have to… it can be against the odds. Better that way, if things are mismatched. And Evil Liberty Belle can be- oh jesus, I really need a better name than ‘evil Liberty Belle’, that’s ridiculous…”

There’s a pause, as everyone tunes their brain to the issue.

Suddenly, from behind a bleacher where she had been lying out of sight, Sheila sits up. She doesn’t look at anyone, just stares straight ahead.

“Got it. Liberty Hell.”

Everyone turns to look at Debbie.

Debbie pauses, and then points directly at Sheila.

“Sheila. You’re a fucking genius.”

Sheila looks back at her, face completely devoid of expression.

“Don’t ever make me drink tequila again.”

Debbie salutes. Sheila lies down again.

…..

After some further training, it becomes inevitable that she has to speak to Debbie, leaving things any longer would start to make it look like there is an issue, which that one hundred percent isn’t.

Ruth is just calculating the best way to casually go over and talk to Debbie without indicating any kind of internal crisis (because there isn’t anything like that going on here, just to be clear), when Debbie comes marching over to her as though she has been ordered there.

Ruth is standing in front of the drinks stand. She concentrates on not fumbling every cup.

Debbie clears her throat before speaking.

“Hi.”

“Hey.” And Ruth hates her voice, hates the way she decides to half sing this word for zero reason.

Debbie says nothing for the moment, and they both just stare at the drinks as though bottled water really is that interesting.

Debbie clears her throat again, and half turns towards Ruth, before seeming to think better of it and turning away again, back to the drinks.

“I meant to… I was going to speak to you before, but you were with Cherry, and then with other people…and I wanted to catch you in a quiet moment-”

Ruth shrugs, because lord knows she’s been carefully monitoring exactly who Debbie is speaking to in each moment.

Debbie shifts her weight from foot to foot, and then picks up a bottle of water, in a way that looks to be a lot to do with having something to occupy her hands. She untwists the cap, and takes a gulp, swallowing hastily.

“So. Look. I…I was drunk, and-”

Ruth instantly doesn’t want to hear the end of the sentence, doesn’t want to know how ridiculous the entire thing is.

“Debbie, it’s fine, it was nothing. I know it is nothing.”

Debbie nods, and manages to look at Ruth for the first time.

“Yeah? Well. Um. God, I’m so embarrassed, I clearly need to never drink tequila again, from now on I am teetotal.” Debbie offers up a half laugh, as though recognising the weakness of that pledge. Ruth smiles, forcing her face to remember how to look normal.

“Honestly? It’s fine. I don’t….I’m pretty sure we’ve kissed before once, ages ago at some party when we were both drunk, I have this, a kind of half memory-“

Debbie is suddenly watching her, rather than just looking at her. Ruth runs a hand through her hair self consciously, because she doesn’t really know why she brought that up, surely now is not the time to be mentioning that? Debbie replies slowly, as though rehearsing the upcoming sentence in her head first.

“Uh. Yeah. I guess, I have a half memory of that as well- had someone dared us?”

Ruth shrugs, because it doesn't really matter.

“Probably. We were young. Anyway, it’s nothing. We didn’t…have any problems afterwards. So, you don’t need to be…we won’t have any problems this time. Nothing is different.”

“Okay.” Debbie rolls her shoulders, and then nods. “Okay. I just didn’t want you to think I was being… I didn’t want anything to be weird.”

Ruth allows herself a genuine smile at that. “Weirder than usual?”

Debbie snorts, and then takes another swig of water, smiling at her and then looking away, towards the ring.

“Yes. Okay. Normal levels of weird are allowed.”

Ruth needs to be somewhere else.

“Okay then. Well. I’m going to…Sam needs us in full hair and make up this afternoon, he’s filming the pre match intros, so I need to go check the running order of that with him.”

Debbie’s voice is as smooth as steel, unwavering.

“Sure. I’ll catch you later.”

…..

Ruth does have a half memory of a time before. When she and Debbie had kissed.

In fact, in the immediate aftermath, Ruth had turned the half memory over in her mind so frequently that she is no longer entirely sure which bits happened, and which parts are details created by her brain to help understand the scenario.

They had been at a party. Some kind of theatre school…get together. Ruth doesn’t remember the occasion, but it was definitely before either Debbie or Ruth had properly entered the industry, and it was long before Debbie had encountered her successes and Ruth had encountered her failures.

And Debbie had been flirting with some guy. Some guy who she’d wanted to sleep with for a while, but he wasn’t interested (Ruth can’t remember why… did he have a girlfriend out of town? Oh the irony).

Jed. His name was Jed.

And so, Debbie had been in full Debbie mode, and Jed wasn’t stupid, and Ruth had just been drinking and watching because yeah, back then sometimes she did find her kicks in watching Debbie make guys want her. And she knows that it was fucked up, but they were young, they were all so young that it didn’t matter.

Back then, she’d been surprised every god damn day at how attractive Debbie was. Ruth couldn’t even imagine what that must be like.

But Jed was playing it cool, even as Debbie pretty much draped herself across his lap. And then, and here are the parts of the memory that Ruth is less sure about, but Jed somehow suggested that he would be more interested if Debbie would be into a threesome.

Ruth remembers half choking on an ice cube when she heard that. And she definitely remembers the way that Debbie looked at her, pinned her to her couch with a look that said don’t you dare fuck this up for me.

And Ruth does remember the way that Debbie had sat on top of her, warm and heavy and real, and kissed her with an open mouth and a tongue that tasted of tequila and cigarettes.

And she does remember about a half a dozen dudes in the background cheering and whooping, as Ruth had tried to keep up with Debbie, because she didn’t dare fuck this up for her.

And she does remember how Debbie’s fingertips had traced over the skin of Ruth’s cheeks, and how Debbie had gasped slightly, and then kissed her again, in a different way, in a slower way.

Ruth doesn’t remember whether she had touched Debbie at all, but she thinks she might have done, she thinks she might have rested her hands on her hips and accidentally slipped her fingertips underneath her top, because holy shit this is what it was like to kiss Debbie Eagan? This is what it was like to have all of Debbie’s want directed at you?

She doesn’t remember if Debbie had moaned; that memory felt slightly too invented to be real.

And she doesn’t remember what Jed says to get Debbie off her lap.

But suddenly Debbie is getting up, and she’s laughing. And Jed takes one of Debbie’s hands, and they’re disappearing into another room. There’s no mention of the threesome, and Ruth has served her purpose.

She does remember the look Debbie gives her, as she leaves with Jed. It’s half gratitude, half amusement, and here’s where the math breaks down, because it was half something else as well.

Ruth hasn’t thought about that look in in a long time, but she hadn’t been able to find any real meaning to it in the immediate aftermath either.

So yeah, Ruth does have a half memory.

Although she thinks it might have slid into a three quarters memory without her noticing.

…..

Chapter Text

And then it is the day of first show.

Debbie doesn’t know what kind of efforts Bash has been going through to get an audience in, but that must be why he looks so drained. The man looks positively exhausted, as he comes in to speak to Sam.

Ray had given him a promo budget to play with, and Debbie is pretty sure that Bash might be actually good at his job, because even Debbie couldn’t avoid the advertisements that had gone up all over Vegas.

She had run into a ten foot high poster of herself at the airport yesterday. That had been a heart stopper.

Debbie had been returning from LA, mind full of Randy and the weight of him still pulling on her chest and hands, when boom. Liberty Belle, right in front of her.

Debbie had stopped and stared.

The way she was smiling in the photo made her eyes look weird, and she was pretty sure that air traffic control needed notification of the wing span of her hair.

But. But…

Holy shit.

That’s her.

She’d told the cab driver all about it, as the poor man had nodded and observed with tiny glances the crazy crying lady in the back of his car. Debbie had felt ridiculous to be crying at this stranger, so she had then laid out the fact that she had a son who she couldn’t see because she was a professional wrestler, and maybe that was why she was this emotional.

This didn’t really help her attempt to convince the cab driver that she was sane, and Debbie lost sight of why she was even trying to convince him that she was sane.

And then, that night… there had been so much emotion sloshing around inside Debbie, she’d had to go and sit in the shower and cry, because otherwise she was going to start singing loudly, selling the hotel furniture, or knocking on Ruth’s door at half past midnight.

None of those were a good idea.

Besides, the nightmare of Ruth opening her door, but Sam is in her room as well… that hadn’t sat well with Debbie at all.

Tammé snaps her fingers in front of Debbie’s face. Debbie is dragged back into the here and now.

“Hey. You okay? You’ve been staring at Sam for the last ten minutes, and that’s something people don’t do willingly.”

Debbie nods, and musters a smile.

“Yeah… thanks. I’m okay. Just- god, nervous I guess. I didn’t sleep last night.”

Tammé hums an agreement, and sits down on the bench next to her, mumbling shit when it creaks loudly. Tammé is already in costume, although she’s not done hair and make up yet. Debbie briefly, ridiculously, feels a mess. She clamps down hard on the feeling, and gestures at Sam and Bash.

“What are they talking about?”

As she asks the question, something about Bash’s hand gestures make him look defensive. And Sam is leaning into the conversation, and they’re arguing, Debbie realises. But quietly, in an attempt to be subtle.

“Did you hear what they were talking about?”

Tammé dips her head to the side, and glances sidelong at Debbie.

“I took a slow walk past that particular corner of the gym, on my way over to you. Sounds like Bash hasn’t done too well on the pre-sales front. Sounds like we’re going to be way below half capacity.”

Bash covers up his eyes for a moment, and then looks up at the ceiling motionless, as Sam harangues, and harangues, and if Debbie didn’t know any better, she’d say that Bash was on the verge of…something.

Tammé clears her throat meaningfully. “You still a producer?”

Debbie blinks.

“Oh, yes. I am. I had forgotten about that.”

Tammé snorts, and shakes her head, before gesturing towards the conversation.

“Do you think you could go over and inject a bit of class and decency into that damn conversation?”

Debbie draws herself up, nodding. “Yes, I think I will. Thank you Tammé.”

As she walks towards Sam and Bash, Sam eyes her like Debbie is every piece of bad news he has ever had at once. Which, she concedes, she very much hopes to be.

“Hello boys. What are we talking about?”

Bash blinks at her. Sam rolls his eyes.

“Nothing for you to be concerned with, can you just concentrate on the wrestling side of this, please?” The ‘please’ sounds like it was dragged from Sam’s teeth with great difficulty.

Debbie smiles. “As a producer, I think I have a right, and a responsibility, to be involved if there are any problems with the show.”

Sam mutters “ fuck, I need to get those contracts reviewed.” Bash rubs at his eyes, and stares blearily at her, clearly expecting Debbie to be angry at him as well.

“Ticket sales for tonight would only fill the arena by a quarter. We’ll take more on the door, but-”

Sam snorts loudly.

“How the hell are we supposed to get the necessary atmosphere if we are a quarter full? Three quarters empty? Everyone keeps telling me that the wrestlers feed off the energy, so now I’m supposed to whip up energy when people are spread out one person to every four seats? This was your responsibility Bash, and-”

Bash flings his arms out wide.

“Look, Vegas is a competitive market! There’s a dozen shows every night, there was no way I was going to manage a sell out crowd-”

“Sure, and we never will, because the word on the street is going to be that there was no audience, and those that were there fell asleep!”

Debbie clears her throat.

“Just close off the back rows of the seats. Make people sit close together. And send out the wrestlers who aren’t wrestling tonight to drum up passing trade in the half hour before the show. Send out Ruth, people will buy a ticket just to stop her talking about the architectural triumph of the Kremlin, or whatever. It’ll work. Give everyone a free beer. Men will sit through anything for a free beer.”

Sam eyes her suspiciously. “Close off the seats?”

“Yeah, just promote it as intimate. Just… why are you looking at me like that, it is a good idea? Go and ask Ruth if you need someone else’s opinion.”

Bash starts shaking his head.

“This is my fault, I over stretched, we should never have agreed to this size of arena.” Bash covers his eyes with his hands, and then keeps them there, still.

Debbie realizes that she doesn’t know where Bash is sleeping. He isn’t on the corridor with the rest of them.

She turns back to Sam.

“Look, just… tell the stage crew to cover up the unnecessary seats with something. Give everyone a beer. Play your videos. We’ll wrestle, they’ll yell, it’ll be fine.”

Sam pinches at the bridge of his nose, and then shrugs.

“Okay. Fine. We’ll do it your way. Ruth, Carmen and Rhonda aren’t wrestling, they can go out and yell at people.” He stalks off, muttering to himself. Debbie doesn’t know what alternative way Sam was considering, probably cancelling the show and setting the building on fire, but whatever. She finds she doesn’t mind Sam’s incomprehensible constant irritation with her, she can go round for round with him easily.

When she turns back to Bash, he looks glumly at her.

“Do you think it’ll work?”

Debbie smiles at him, and then shrugs with one shoulder.

“Bash, at our first show we played to about thirty people, of whom a solid twenty percent were either homeless or vampires. We’ll be okay. And if you’ve got any spare money left from the budget, put it behind the bar.”

Bash smiles weakly, and… he’s not looking okay.

“Bash- are you okay? Are you okay for tonight? Where are you staying?”

“Oh, you know…I booked a room at a hotel nearby. I stayed here for a couple of nights, but I just wanted a bit more, space, you know. Didn’t want to have to always be… me. For everyone.”

Debbie grimaces slightly at that, because boy does she recognise that impulse. Bash continues speaking.

“I’m fine for the show. I get caught up in it. It’s when… it’s all the other times, that I’m struggling with.”

Debbie doesn’t know what he is struggling with, but her heart goes out to him.

“Do you want to get a drink, after the show? We could both be someone else for the evening?”

Bash chews on the inside of his cheek, and then nods cautiously.

“Okay. Sure. Though can I just clarify that this is not a date?”

Debbie feels herself blanche in horror, and then laughs.

“Oh my god… no, Bash. It isn’t.”

“Okay, phew” Bash deadpans. He summons something like his usual smile. “Because I am a married man.”

Debbie raises her eyebrows. “Oh yeah. I keep forgetting about that.”

Bash sighs heavily, and shoves his hands into his pockets.

“Yeah. Me too.”

…..

And then time blurs slightly, as Debbie’s nerves prowl in the pit of her stomach.

Her hair is…fine. Her make up is…fine. Her costume… still fits.

Debbie inspects herself in the changing room mirror, turning this way and that, taking in her profile that has caused her so many conflicting emotions throughout the years. Is it really necessary for her tits to be this big? Debbie feels she could have lived an entirely different life if she had smaller tits. She could have been an entirely different person.

When the door to the changing room opens and closes, Debbie can hear the crowd. It’s Cherry verses Melrose in the ring, and god knows what they’ve cooked up, but the crowd seem to be enjoying it.

Apparently the show is close to half full, but with half the seats out of commission, it looks like a full house. Near enough anyway. It’s certainly the biggest crowd Debbie has ever done ridiculous things in front of.

She looks at herself in the mirror, and then tries the Liberty Hell face that she has been practicing. It makes her look like a stoned psychopath; determined to do evil but only once she’s finished this edible.

Fuck she’s nervous.

The changing room door bangs again, and Ruth comes in. Five minutes ago she was riling up the crowd, Debbie could hear her over the loud speakers. Something… about a bear? Debbie had only been half listening. Debbie had heard the crowd reacting though, pantomime boos ringing out.

Five minutes ago… Ruth had probably spent those five minutes with Sam, talking footage and angles and whatever Sam likes to talk about at Ruth.

Debbie catches Ruth’s eye in the mirror, and coolly says “Zoya” in her stage voice. Ruth doesn’t miss a beat, just nods at her and greets her with a “Capitalist Scum, how are you being?”

Smiling, Debbie turns back to her own reflection, tugging at the edges of her costume slightly. Ruth comes to stand next to her after a moment. When she speaks, it’s in her normal voice.

“It’s going well. The crowd are really… into it, you know. Not like the LA punters who need winning over each time. This crowd were ready for ridiculous from the word go.”

Debbie grunts slightly, and bites her lip.

She suddenly remembers kissing Ruth. That had been… stupid.

Thank god they don’t seem to be dwelling on it.

Ruth clears her throat, and then half whispers, as if she’s worried about the rejection.

“You look great. You’ll be… great.”

Debbie smiles tightly, and meets Ruth’s eye.

“Thanks… I don’t know why I’m so… thanks. You sounded good as well. That bear stuff…”

Ruth shrugs, and then just murmurs “You’re nervous because you are doing a new character.”

Debbie sighs heavily, and then nods.

“I just… sometimes I remember how weird my life has gotten.”

From a distance, the crowd reaches a crescendo. Melrose must have won her match.

Debbie’s up next.

Ruth is watching her.

Fuck she’s nervous.

After a long moment, Ruth blinks, and then looks down at her feet.

“You’ll be great. And- I mean, I’d say break a leg, but-”

Debbie snorts abruptly, and feels some of the tension ease.

“Yeah, I’m bit of a risk with that particular platitude…”

Ruth grins at her, looking relieved that her joke hasn’t backfired. And why does Debbie always create that uncertainty in Ruth? She wish she knew how to…. oh, she wishes for a lot of things.

They stare at each other, but because the stare is bounced through a mirror, it feels a great deal safer than doing it face to face.

Debbie doesn’t know where her brain is going.

She clears her throat.

“Anyway. That’s my cue. I should… go and be insane.”

Ruth smiles.

“Can’t wait to meet Liberty Hell.”

“Oh, she and Zoya are going to get on like a house on fire.”

“Sure, screams, people running for safety, irreparable damage, that sort of thing.”

Debbie snorts, and gestures Ruth away.

“Get away, you are ruining my focus.”

Ruth grins, and turns on her heel. “I’ll be watching…” she calls over her shoulder.

Debbie smiles at herself in the mirror.

Good.

…..

Chapter Text

The first show works, of course it works.

Ruth always forgets how much realer the wrestling looks, when the lighting is right, when the sound is right, when Bash is yelling his reactions to every move.

The crowd shout and boo and yell, and some people actually gasp in horror, when Liberty Belle transforms into Liberty Hell, shoves Keith out of the ring, and flips Bash’s table. She climbs up onto the turn buckle and screams at the audience, whilst Dawn and Stacey laugh manically in the ring.

The three of them come storming out of the arena as the crowd boo and recoil, and Ruth and the rest of the girls are watching and cheering, because that was a show. A real, actual, Vegas show, and they just did that.

In the distance, Ruth can hear Bash teasing next week, encouraging people to come back to see the next instalment of Liberty Belle vs Liberty Hell. But in the training room, everyone is yelling and hugging, because that was a show.

Ruth doesn’t try to force a direct moment with Debbie, there’ll be time enough for that later, and besides, Debbie’s fielding enough congratulations from everyone else.

In an echo of previous times, Ruth finds herself stepping back, and just watching Debbie, watching her with a smile on her face.

She wants-

“Hey.”

It’s Sam.

“Oh hey! Good job, it was good, wasn’t it?”

Sam grimaces, and then nods cautiously.

“Yeah… it was. I think. I don’t know. I haven’t… you know. Had enough time to process it yet.”

“Well. I think it was good” Ruth says stoutly, determined for Sam to be positive, for once.

Sam doesn’t reply, just stares in the direction of the girls, who are hugging, and congratulating each other, a real team. A team that Sam has made, and yet a team that Sam doesn’t seem to be part of.

He must be lonely, Ruth realizes suddenly.

“Hey… we should go out for a drink? Tonight, you and me. To, you know, de-brief. Talk about how great I was, that sort of thing.”

“Yeah?” Sam has his eyebrows raised in surprise, but he looks pleased.

“Yeah! I mean, if you want to?”

Sam smiles.

“Yeah, that sounds… I’d like that. That sounds good.”

“Okay” Ruth replies, determined not to think too much about it, because what is there even to think about? It’s just co-workers, going for a drink.

…..

Russell calls her that night, just as Ruth is getting ready to leave her room.

“Hey… how did it go?”

Ruth sits down on the bed, surprised. It’s only the third time they’ve managed to speak directly, their schedules don’t overlap in helpful ways.

“Hi! It went great, oh my god… wait I thought you were working tonight?”

“Yeah, I managed to get permission to leave early, so I could speak to my Vegas headline act girlfriend.”

Ruth laughs. “Wow, that does not roll off the tongue.”

“No, it doesn’t, you should quit and come back to me.”

Russell is joking, but the yearning in his voice is plain to hear. Ruth bites her lip, because… she’d like Russell here, but she certainly doesn’t want to go back to LA. Not after tonight.

“You’ll have to come and see a show. It went really well, you should have seen the way Debbie-”

Russell chuckles at her. “What, I have to pay to see my girlfriend now? This is a terrible situation.”

“Well…. it’s a good show. Worth the money. I’d be extra Russian for you.”

“Hot” Russell says mildly. “And then you’d do an extra show for me afterwards? ‘Cause that’s the one I’m more interested in”

Ruth hesitates, her fingers twirling in the cord. She’s still not used to this kind of direct flirting, even though Russell is her boyfriend for god’s sake.

“I… yes. And that one would be less Russian.”

“More… Slow-ian?”

Ruth snorts, and laughs at him. “That was terrible.”

“No it was pretty good.”

“No, terrible. No more jokes from you.”

Russell laughs, and then sighs. “I miss you.”

“Me too”, Ruth whispers, because god, it’s so easy with Russell. And he’s calm, and relaxed, and consistently supportive, and-

Ruth doesn’t know why she is trying to convince herself to like the man that she is already in a relationship with.

She clears her throat.

“Anyway, I’m sorry, I’m heading out- with the girls, a post show celebration. But it was really good to speak to you.”

Russell says “that’s cool” easily, as the lie (and why is she lying?) twists in Ruth’s throat. “I thought I’d be lucky to catch you. Go have fun, you’ve earned it.”

Ruth bites her lip.

“Bye Russell.”

“Bye. Love you.”

…..

And then, she’s in a different hotel bar, with Sam.

Sam only seems to drink serious drinks, whiskey or bourbon or whatever it is, dark and brooding, at the bottom of the glass. He teases her about the vodka soda that Ruth orders because she heard somewhere that it is basically a health tonic, extremely good for you.

After half an hour, when the bar tender places Ruth’s second, and last drink in front of her, he gestures at it with his lighter, and then leans away to light a cigarette.

“Is there any joy to be had in that at all?”

Ruth shrugs. “Nope. But we have another show tomorrow. I can’t turn up hung over.”

Sam takes a drag, and then blows the smoke away out of the side of his mouth.

“Yeah you could, you aren’t wrestling this week, just raving about bears and socialism. You’d be better hung over. The Russians are powered on vodka.”

Ruth smiles, and takes a sip of her drink.

“It went well, didn’t it? Admit it, don’t you your usual, ‘it was shit, but could have been shitter' routine. We did good.”

Sam shrugs, and gives a half nod.

“It was good. Very impressive. Debbie didn’t kill anyone. All good.”

Ruth snorts, and then shakes her head.

“Why are you on Debbie all the time at the moment?”

Sam grimaces at her, and then tries to look innocent, a look that slides off his general demeanour like grease off a hot pan.

“I’m not- she’s the one gunning for a fight with me? I don’t know which of her three feelings I have stepped on, but it’s like she sees me, and then instantly starts her period.”

Ruth half chokes on her drink, and then slaps him on the arm, as Sam laughs and grins at her reaction. Ruth points at him.

“That is gross, and… not okay.”

“But it’s true, right?” Sam asks, smirking at her in a way that Ruth can’t help but return. She sighs, and looks away from him.

“Oh, you are bad news…”

…..

After another four drinks for Sam, and another one drink for Ruth (and this one is the last one), they decide to go to another bar in another hotel.

Sam slouches along next to her, jacket slung over his shoulder like a varsity football player.

“This is only for reconnaissance purposes you understand? No more drinks for you before a wrestling match…”

Ruth scoffs at that. “You are the one who wanted to go here in the first place?”

Sam pulls at his chin, and smiles across at her.

“Well, it’s important to know what your local drinking choices are, so you can tailor the experience to your mood- oh shit look who it is.”

They’re only ten steps away from the entrance to the hotel they were heading for, when Debbie and Bash emerge, a pairing that somehow makes Ruth’s brain short circuit just as her stomach turns cold.

Her first instinct is to try and hide on the sidewalk, even as she accidentally meets Debbie’s eye. And Ruth can tell, from the flicker in Debbie’s eyes, that she’d prefer to do the same thing, she would easily pretend to be blind rather than force a social interaction in the current situation.

Unfortunately, Sam has other ideas, and flags them down with sarcastic bonhomie.

Debbie still looks as though she is considering stepping into traffic, but Sam seems determined on awkward small talk.

“Wow… look at this… Vegas’ hottest new couple! Bash, you dog, what have you done with Rhonda?”

Bash’s mouth seems to drag down for a second, and Ruth suddenly realizes what the redness of his eyes means.

She squeezes Sam’s arm slightly, trying to move them away from this terrible, terrible chance encounter, just as Debbie starts talking.

“We were just discussing show ideas. You know. Direction. Producers meeting.”

Sam laughs shortly, and then looks around himself, taking in the lights, the noise, the traffic, the strangers, every element that allows this conversation to be private.

“Without me? Really? So you aren’t on a date, you’re planning a coup?”

Debbie sighs heavily.

“No Sam, just talking about wrestling, something Bash and I happen to have ideas about… and you two? Are you having your own producers meeting? Or something else?”

Ruth almost falls over herself in an effort to start talking before Sam can say whatever he is going to say.

“No, just, um, scouting out other bars. Whilst talking. About the show. What to improve, that kind of general area.”

Debbie barely looks at her.

“Sure. Whatever. Do you think Russell would have liked the show?”

The pointedness of the question makes Ruth wince, even as Sam knocks it away with barely an effort.

“Yeah, he would, shame he’s not here. That way he and Ruth and me and you could go on double dates Debbie. Unless you’d rather take Bash?”

There’s a dark fury building on Debbie’s face, and she seems to be about to lay into the idea that Debbie even wanted to go out for a drink with Ruth in the first place, when Bash clears his throat.

“Anyway, I’m pretty tired, so I’m just going to…”

Debbie struggles for a moment, clearly with the idea of being seen to back down from a fight with Sam, but then she draws herself upright, cool and composed.

“Of course. We are going to go. I hope you two enjoy the rest of your evening. Congratulations on the show Sam.”

Sam grins.

“Thanks. Congratulations on not hurting anyone.”

Debbie gives him a look that would have melted steel, and then glances at Ruth. And oh god, the disappointment in her eyes is almost too much, anger would be better than this.

But she walks away, with one hand on Bash’s arm in a comforting gesture, although Ruth can’t tell if she’s comforting Bash or herself.

Sam turns to look at her.

“See? Instant period.”

Ruth isn’t in the mood for jokes.

“I want to go back.”

Sam rubs at the back of his neck, and then glances at the disappearing form of Debbie and Bash. He turns back to her, and his voice is low, comforting, gentle, the version of Sam that she likes the most.

“You shouldn’t let her ruin your evening, she’s been… she’s been ruining things for you for too long. Come on - one soft drink? To celebrate that we just survived that conversation?”

…..

It is another drink, but as it is a soft drink it doesn’t count.

Sam has finally convinced Ray to put him on another floor, so they part ways at the door to Ruth’s corridor.

Sam clears his throat.

“I had fun. Thanks for this. I’d have just… drank myself stupid and concluded that the show was shit, if I’d have been alone. I needed some of your positivity.”

Ruth doesn’t feel very positive at all.

She gives Sam a half smile.

“I had fun too. But I don’t think we should… this shouldn’t be a regular thing.”

“Sure.” Sam nods his head a couple of times, and stares at her for a second too long. And oh no, Ruth can feel it. The slightly unsettling desire to take some comfort from someone willing to give it.

Clearing his throat again, Sam takes a step back, and gestures upstairs.

“Anyway, I’m going to turn in… night Ruth.”

“Good night.”

The door to the corridor can be made to close silently, despite its heaviness, so that’s a relief.

Ruth eases it shut carefully with an internal sigh of gratitude. People must be asleep. She should be asleep.

But then she turns around to find Debbie coming out of Sheila’s room. And great, great. When is timing ever going to do anything other than fuck Ruth over?

Debbie stops, and stares at her. And Ruth can’t ignore her, she can’t.

So she whispers helplessly “It wasn’t a date.”

Debbie clenches her jaw, and then shrugs.

“I don’t care if it was.” She turns away from Ruth, and walks towards her door, fumbling in her bag for the key. Ruth follows, why is she always following?

“But it wasn’t.”

Debbie shrugs again, not even looking at her, and whispers back “Okay. Fine. You and Sam weren’t on a date, Bash and I weren’t on a date, everything is normal.”

Ruth’s brain provides her with a question.

“Why were you in Sheila’s room?”

Debbie gives her a withering look, and then says “Talking. We were talking, okay? You and Sam weren’t on a date, Bash and I weren’t on a date, Sheila and I weren’t on a date. I’m going to bed now, I have to wrestle tomorrow.”

Ruth sighs, and wants, anything, just a moment of peace with Debbie, as Debbie’s bedroom door swings open.

“It really wasn’t a date.”

Debbie stops, and stares briefly at the door frame, breathing in through her nose as though trying to summon some kind of inner strength.

“Ruth. I don’t care, what you do. Bye.”

“Bye.” Ruth whispers mournfully, as Debbie closes the door in her face.

……

Chapter Text

And she’s just busy.

She’s busy.

Jesus, she’s been doing a wrestling show every night, she doesn’t have time for… god, whatever Ruth is asking for, every time she so much as blinks in Debbie’s direction.

So Debbie does the show. She flips, and slams to the floor, and hurls people over her shoulder, and transforms from the American Dream into the American Nightmare in front of everyone’s eyes. She roars at the crowd, and they yell back.

It’s fun. It’s amazing. Debbie would happily do this forever, if she wasn’t horribly aware of the pain that comes crashing in the moment the adrenaline stops coursing through her body.

Maybe that’s the solution. Maybe she should just never stop wrestling, that way she never has to come down again, never has to look at Ruth and explain exactly why she is so angry with her.

Besides, she isn’t angry. She’s just disappointed.

Also, she doesn’t care what Ruth does.

And, anyway.

She’s busy.

…..

Sheila doesn’t give her any advice at all, when Debbie essentially storms into her room out of the blue and announces that “I’ve just seen Ruth out for a drink with Sam, for god’s sake.”

And frankly Sheila’s complete absence of advice is ideal, Debbie doesn’t know why she didn’t start sharing her problems with Sheila sooner. Debbie doesn’t want to be told what to do or what to think.

“She’ll probably sleep with him soon.” Sheila says this from her prone position on the bed, that she had resumed the moment she had let Debbie into her room.

Debbie puts her hands on her hips, squaring up for a fight like Liberty Belle, even though the only opponent in front of her is her own reflection in the wardrobe mirror.

“Jesus…christ.” The phrase escapes her like air escaping a balloon. “Why… why would you say that? Why would she do that?”

Sheila shrugs.

“Because she feels sorry for him. Because she does like him. And also, maybe, because she wants the show to work, and she thinks the only way the show can work is if Sam is happy.”

Debbie doesn’t know what to do with that, and feels her guts twist with rage.

“What the fuck.” It’s not a question, but a statement.

Sheila sits up, and reaches for a bottle of water. She glances at Debbie.

“You want one?”

“No, I-” Debbie folds her arms across herself, and tries to regain some self-control while Sheila carefully unscrews her bottle top. Sheila takes a swig.

“It’s not, like, a conscious motive, that last one. It’s just… Ruth associates the show going well with her own happiness, and therefore she is going to create some happiness for herself by giving Sam what he wants.”

Debbie is choking against her own words.

“For fuck’s sake… we could use Sam as the turn buckle and the show would be as successful - his only purpose is to be the man that talks to Ray so we don’t scare off the man with the money with all our ovaries…why the fuck would she even-”

Debbie cuts herself off abruptly, and then rubs her hand across her forehead. “I don’t care” she says firmly, although Debbie isn’t sure who she is reminding. “I don’t care.”

Sheila shrugs after a moment, but says nothing. Debbie stares at her.

“How do you know all this, anyway?”

Sheila looks away from her, clearing her throat.

“Oh, you know. Body language, I guess. I’m good at reading people.”

“Yeah?” Debbie says, awkwardly, focusing every fibre of her being on not being read. “That’s an unusual talent.”

“I guess so” Sheila gestures at Debbie suddenly. “You look nice. Have you been out as well?”

Christ, she’d nearly forgotten about Bash. Bash, and his grief for Florian. Grief that Debbie doesn’t think he even understands himself yet, although it all looked pretty obvious to Debbie.

Bash is allowed to be having an emotional crisis. Debbie feels horribly self indulgent for a moment.

“Oh! Thank you. Uh, yeah, I just went out for a drink with Bash. Not in that way, not like Ruth and Sam went for a drink, just a drink and a talk.”

Sheila nods her head mournfully.

“Yeah? He’s not doing too good is he?”

Debbie bites her lip.

“No, he’s really not.”

Sheila sighs.

“I’ll be nice to him.”

…..

Sunday rolls around. Today is the final airing of their opening show. Debbie’s final moment of transforming into Liberty Hell.

Ticket sales are up. Maybe that’s why Sam is walking around with a spring in his step. Maybe that’s why he’s actually handing out compliments as though they are deserved, rather than some kind of learned attempt to be an actual human being.

(Maybe there’s another reason too.)

“This is an intervention.”

Debbie sighs, and leans over, stretching out her other hamstring. That way she doesn’t have to look at Cherry and Carmen, who have approached her across the training gym with the inevitability of tectonic plates.

She’s known that this was coming for ten minutes or so, because Sheila had strolled passed her and mumbled “Cherry and Carmen are going to come and make you talk about Ruth, just a heads up”. And Debbie was grateful for this, because it meant that she had had time to formulate her responses.

“Yeah? How am I in need of intervention?”

There’s a silence, and Debbie relents, and looks up into Carmen and Cherry’s stoical faces. She looks back at them.

“No, seriously? I’ve never trained harder, I am one hundred percent on board with the wrestling thing, I’m not starting any drama with people… so what?”

She knows what. Carmen and Cherry know what. But Debbie is going to make them say it.

Cherry rolls her eyes after a moment, and turns pointedly to Carmen, who relents.

“This is… we’re not interested, you understand. You guys can deal with your weird friendship stuff in your own time. But we do all collectively really need you to drop the hostilities with Ruth on a professional level.”

Debbie looks steadily up at her.

“What have I been doing that is hostile?”

Cherry laughs shortly.

“Oh my… you aren’t speaking to her. You’re blanking her all the time. It’s… pretty childish.”

Debbie shrugs, because she has faced worst accusations.

“I think you guys might be reading a bit too much into the situation here, I mean, for example, I barely speak to Reggie on a regular basis, that’s just how things are in a big group dynamic like this-”

Carmen interrupts her. “This is different, and you know it. It’s never ‘just because’ with you and Ruth, there’s always eighteen layers of angst and drama andmystery to be waded through before you will make eye contact again.”

Debbie swallows suddenly, because that one hits a bit close to home. She makes a show of standing up, because that allows her to hide her face briefly.

“Okay, well, sounds like we are very entertaining for you, but I promise that you are going way too deep with this.”

Cherry rubs a hand to her temple briefly.

“Look. This isn’t about us trying to fix whatever the hell broke this time. You’re missing the point. You and Ruth are writing the show together, apparently, Sam keeps swatting all of our questions about future matches to you two, god help us. And we need some specific answers about show three real fucking soon if we are supposed to choreograph it, and that means that we need you and Ruth to be able to function. So can you just… drop the cold front? Just professionally. For the good of the show.”

Debbie shifts from one foot to another, and then folds her arms. She tries to remember that there isn’t a problem here, she has to behave as though there isn’t a problem.

“Fine. And besides, there isn’t… I’ve just been busy, it’s been hard to schedule any kind of planning meeting…”

Carmen nods, apparently content to swallow any level of bullshit in order to get Debbie to agree to speak to Ruth again.

“Okay. Great. That’s all we wanted.”

Debbie gestures behind her, suddenly anxious to get away.

“I should start with hair and make up…”

Cherry nods cooly.

“Sure. And feel free to maintain your feud with Ruth on a recreational level, if that’s what you need to do.”

Debbie rolls her eyes, great, she’s surrounded by therapists.

…..

She’s just busy, Debbie thinks, as she strides out into the ring, the noise of the crowd close to overwhelming.

Debbie had passed Ruth in the changing room on her way out, and forced herself to make eye contact, forced herself to smile.

She’s just busy.

Besides, its not as if she has anything to be angry about. Ruth can sleep with whomsoever she wants to. It’s just… things will be complicated, if Sam and Ruth get messy. For the show. It’ll be bad for the show.

Also, Debbie was pretty sure that the last time she checked Ruth had a boyfriend. A nice boyfriend. One that Ruth likes. A boyfriend that Debbie had thought she hated, but no, it turns out it was only low level disapproval, compared to the notion of Sam.

Why Ruth can’t ever have a simple personal life is beyond her.

It’d be bad for the show.

Besides.

She’s busy.

“Welcome to the ring, the all American Dream… Liberty Belle!”

…..

“Debbie, come on…. it’s a party! To celebrate the successful first show. You gotta come, you’re the star!”

Jenny is hanging on to her arm. Debbie winces slightly, despite the lack of pain.

“A party? In Melrose’s hotel room? Sounds glamorous.”

Melrose groans at her, two mirrors down in the changing room. Debbie is taking her makeup off, wiping away the sweat. Melrose appears to be putting more make up on.

“A gathering, Debbie. A soireé. A festivity. We’re all going to get drunk and cry about how awesome we all are, and then there’ll probably be some singing. Come on, everyone is doing it. Sheila’s coming. Ruth’s coming.”

Debbie feels her jaw do a small sideways shimmy as her adrenaline addled brain tries to find an appropriate response for that. She pointedly doesn’t look for Ruth, who she knows is in here somewhere, listening.

“Great, sounds great, but I have a flight in the morning, I can’t be hungover.”

“What, are you flying the plane? Come on Debbie… if you come we’ll all put in a double shift crying over how amazing you are, you know you can’t resist an offer like that.”

Debbie sighs heavily, even as Melrose sarcastically grins at her.

But the thing is, she really can’t resist it.

“Fine. But you’d better be crying first.”

“Deal! Shit, I’ll start now, oh Debbie, the way you flew through the air, so graceful and terrifying, half the men in the audience are now pregnant-”

“Oh my god.”

…..

See, this isn’t a good idea. Debbie knows that it isn’t a good idea, and that’s why she firmly decides, after a private moment of self reflection, that she isn’t going to go to Melrose’s room. She going to get some sleep in her own bedroom, and if anyone comes knocking on her door she is going to damn well pretend to be dead.

Somehow, however, this excellent decision turns into Debbie knocking on Melrose’s door. Inside she can hear a Madonna song blasting out.

No-one answers, it’s probably too loud in there.

And that’s when all of Debbie’s excellent decision making skills just flat line, because she opens the door anyway, and lets herself in.

“Debbie!”

“I’m only staying for one drink, okay?”

…..

After an hour, someone yells “Spin the Bottle! We should play Spin the Bottle!”

Okay, Debbie really needs to leave now.

…..

This is a really terrible idea.

She allows herself to be bullied into staying, mainly because the protests get so loud when she starts trying to excuse herself that she thinks she might burst an eardrum.

Not everyone is protesting though. Sheila looks like she literally couldn’t give a shit. Tammé is silent. Ruth isn’t even looking at her, even though Debbie has specifically made an effort to make nice and she has even talked to her once or twice, to exchange banalities.

But now, (and really, fuck everything, at this point), she has ended up sitting next to Ruth during spin the bottle, because that’s how the seating fell and Debbie couldn’t sit further away from Ruth without making A Scene. And she nearly did, but Cherry had just stared at her and said “You cool Debbie?”, and then Debbie very much had to be cool, because, as she keeps reminding everyone, things are fine between her and Ruth.

She’s just been busy.

She barely hears the various cries of encouragement, as various people lick various earlobes. Because she knows what’s going to happen, the second the bottle lands on her. It’s all just a bit too fucking obvious.

It’s Yolanda, who is in charge of the spin, when it does finally land on her. Everyone falls silent. Yolanda grins, and tips her head to one side.

“Debbie. I really think you should make out with the person next to you.”

Debbie sighs heavily. Because although things are fine between her and Ruth (clearly) she’d very much like to avoid having to make out with her in front of everyone. That’d probably be a stretch too far for the fineness that Debbie keeps clinging to so determinedly.

So thank fucking god for leeway.

Debbie downs the rest of her drink, tips the empty bottle in a half salute at the crowd, and turns the other way, away from Ruth.

“Come on then Melrose, and I swear to god if you give me mouth herpes I’m going to fucking sue you.”

Melrose looks at her in surprise for a second, and then laughs.

“Sure, whatever. Bet I’m a better kisser than your husband.”

Debbie snorts, and then says “well probably, but so is, like, a lettuce, so-” but she’s leaning into Melrose, who presses her mouth to Debbie’s with a casual sort of enthusiasm.

There are cheers.

Debbie doesn’t know what they are celebrating.

Chapter Text

Ruth goes a peculiar sort of numb, when Debbie kisses Melrose.

She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, suddenly. She’s hyper aware of her elbows. Her ankles seem to be unnecessarily present.

She’s being watched. Not by everyone. But by enough people for Ruth to be beset with panic, because how hard is it to be normal? What the fuck even is normal?

Ruth picks someone at random, and tries to copy Dawn’s reactions to Debbie making out with Melrose, but no sooner has she begun organising her elbows than Debbie breaks away from Melrose, and says flatly “I need another drink.”

Ruth smiles at that, in a way that feels like it could be normal if viewed from the outside.

And then Debbie doesn’t look at her, doesn’t look at her, doesn’t look at her. She accepts her drink, swats away Melrose’s marriage proposal, and doesn’t look at Ruth.

The game continues, and Debbie doesn’t look at her.

After ten minutes, Debbie does look at her, a half sideways glance, completed when the others are focused at the other end of the group.

And now Ruth feels slightly more normal, because the way Debbie looked at her? Half challenge, half guilt, half maddened bravado? That’s familiar territory, for all the bad math in the world.

…..

Anyway. Anyway. Anyway.

It’s fine.

Spin the Bottle plays its way out, and the signal for the party to come to a graceful end comes when Jenny abruptly retches, and then dashes for the bathroom, as everyone else recoils.

“Jesus” Tammé mutters next to her, and then says “I’m too old for this.”

“Yeah” Ruth manages, “I think we all are.”

God, and now that the party is breaking up, why is it so hard to even look at Debbie? And she’s angry, not because she wanted Debbie to kiss her, but because Debbie chose to kiss Melrose over her? Ruth can’t think of a more effective way that Debbie could have publicly snubbed her, even though this whole thing is fucking stupid and extremely high school and god Ruth wishes she’d never agreed to come to this ridiculous party.

It’s a pathetic thing to be angry over. And yet… and yet…

Her room is only three doors away from Melrose. It’s an easy walk.

Somehow, though, Ruth ends up staying too long (because she’s talking to Rhonda, who is asking for advice on how to extract herself from her sham marriage to Bash), and then she ends up making a half hearted effort to clear up some of the mess in Melrose’s room, because she isn’t a complete heathen.

It’s annoying that Debbie is still here. She was relying on Debbie to leave first, so Ruth can wave a cheery goodbye and everyone will know that she’s fine, she barely even registered the kiss between Debbie and Melrose.

Ruth is diligently doing as much tidying up as she can do whilst facing the wall (she’s considering wiping down the skirting boards), when Debbie appears at her elbow.

“So, can I talk to you, for a moment?”

Debbie is the picture of studied politeness, but the question certainly implies a private conversation. And Debbie’s asked it whilst in earshot of Cherry, so of course Ruth replies in kind, politeness dripping from her ears.

“Sure, in my room?”

That sounds weird only after Ruth has made the suggestion, but what else was she going to say? Let’s have a private conversation in the corridor?

Ruth firmly tells herself that no one is paying any attention to her, although it feels like they are. And Ruth could swear that Debbie has just given Cherry a meaningful look, although what meaning Cherry is supposed to divine is beyond her.

Debbie grabs her by the elbow, and firmly guides her out of Melrose’s room, throwing a few goodbyes over her shoulder. Ruth allows herself to be led.

In the corridor, Debbie manages, through gritted teeth, to grin out “Do you think you could have managed to have less of a nervous breakdown in there? People were staring at you.”

Ruth yanks her elbow away from Debbie’s hand, and fumbles for her key, twisting it in the lock with unneeded violence.

“I was not having a nervous breakdown” she whispers back sharply. Debbie scoffs, and follows Ruth into her room, suddenly eloquent.

“Yes you were, you looked like you were on acid, you being all… you know, Ruth-like, but multiplied by ten. I thought you were going to climb up a wall and start quoting Sylvia Plath.”

Ruth sighs, and throws her keys on her bed in exasperation.

“Yeah, well, excuse me for not knowing exactly how you wanted me to play ‘normal Ruth’ in that scenario, I must have missed the workshop you offered for that particular role-”

Debbie spreads her hands wide.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about” and Ruth only manages to not turn the end of her sentence into a shout by the skin of her teeth. “You’ve been blanking me all week, everyone has noticed. And then suddenly you make nice for about ten minutes at a party, and everyone noticed that because you kept making sure everyone was noticing how nice and civil you were being to me, and then you make out with Melrose instead of me? And I do not need you to make out with me, I truly don’t. But there isn’t a fucking manual on how to respond to my occasional best friend choosing to not make out with me even though everything between us is fine, apparently, whenever Debbie decrees it so, and I just… god. I just didn’t know how to act normal.” Ruth gulps, and then deflates suddenly. “Sorry.”

Debbie looks at her for a long moment, and then looks away, finding the wardrobe mirror and checking her face.

“Well. I don’t know. I was just…I kissed Melrose because I figured I didn’t want to complicate anything for you, not with Russell, and, you know. Whatever is happening with you and Sam.”

Ruth sighs heavily.

“Nothing is happening with me and Sam. It was… jesus. It was just friendly drinks Debbie. And why the fuck do you care?”

Debbie rolls her eyes briefly.

“Because I would like your life to be drama free for once, god it is exhausting…”

Ruth doesn’t want to talk about this.

“Whatever. I get it. I wasn’t saying… I wasn’t reacting weirdly because you rejected me in spin the bottle, I’m not a child. I was just annoyed that… god only you could manage to passively aggressively make out with Melrose to make a point at me.”

Debbie snorts, and then turns back to her, leaning on the mirror behind her. “Well I do have a flair for the dramatic.”

Ruth raises her eyebrows at that, and sits down on the bed.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

Nothing is said for a long time. Ruth runs her hands through her hair a couple of times, and then rubs her palms over her face, suddenly tired and lurching, punch drunk, back towards sanity.

When she looks at Debbie, Debbie immediately looks away from her, and laughs a little, to herself.

“Anyway, what the fuck ever, we’re both over thirty, why the hell is spin the bottle still a thing in our lives at all?”

Ruth smiles cautiously at that.

“Oh god blame Dawn and Stacey, I don’t know when those two are ever going to grow up…”

Debbie bites her lip. “I should have just gotten drunk, and tried to make nice at you that way. I find it easiest to forgive you, when I’m drunk. I can forget all the other stuff.”

The last time Debbie was drunk, she had kissed Ruth.

Ruth almost mentions this, but shies away at the last moment.

“I think… I’m not sure that the drinking post show is going to be a good idea. I think there’ll be some regrets tomorrow. And I think… I don’t know. Maybe Melrose really should set up that knitting club Sam kept talking about. I’m not sure alcohol is the best for us, collectively.”

Debbie doesn’t say anything in response. And this time, when Ruth does look at her, she doesn’t look away. Debbie opens her mouth to say something, but just as she does this there’s a knock on the door.

Ruth hesitates, caught in a moment, but then social conventions take over. She gets up, makes her way over to the door, and opens it.

It’s Sam, jesus christ it’s Sam. He smiles hopefully at her, and he’s holding a bottle of wine, and he immediately launches into what sounds like a pre-prepared sentence.

“I was just wondering, if you would be interested in toasting the end of the first show together, seeing as it was your design and - oh. Debbie.”

Behind her, Debbie doesn’t say anything at all. Sam blinks a little, and then looks vulnerable, embarrassed somehow.

“Oh shit, sorry, I didn’t-”

Ruth starts speaking, anxious to hammer this moment into something normal shaped.

“Sam, oh that’s really sweet, thanks, come in, we can all have a drink…”

Debbie makes a small noise, and then comes smoothly up behind Ruth, smiling tightly at Sam.

“Yes, thank you Sam, that is sweet, but I was just leaving, I’m flying early tomorrow.”

Sam clears his throat, and there’s the usual rasp back in his voice, the tone that he uses when he speaks to them as a group.

“Yeah, I mean, I was also just coming up because I wanted to check about the uh- the running order for next week’s show with Ruth, and-”

“Sam” Debbie says flatly “I really don’t care... Ruth, do you want me to stay?”

Ruth… it’s a lot. She doesn’t know what she wants anymore.

Ruth latches on to the one question that is always the most important thing between Debbie and herself.

“I don’t know… are we good?”

Debbie shrugs, and then smiles at her, in a way that almost looks normal. She shrugs.

“Of course. We are whatever you want to be. I’m sorry for all the… you know. I’ll just… I’ll see you later Ruth.”

Ruth nods once, sensing a moment, gone forever.

“Sure. See you later.”

…..

Ruth sleeps with Sam that night.

She doesn’t mean to, she didn’t plan to, but….

He’s not unattractive, in a craggy, rough hewn granite sort of way.

And he is gentle with his hands, and doesn’t do or say anything to make her feel insecure.

It is... Ruth feels like she’s falling off a cliff, and she’s not entirely sure if she has a parachute attached. Because it’s Sam, and he’s her boss, but also her friend, and... he’s really kind, in surprising moments when she expects him to be the opposite.

But he’s also a pretty messed up grouch with a tendency to verbally lash out if he feels threatened.

He’s not unlike Debbie, she muses, as he kisses her neck and fumbles, fumbles.

And the terrible thing, the truly horrifying thing, is that the sex is just as pleasant as it is with camera guy.

Ruth would give anything to be certain of anything, for once.

But she supposes that everyone is messed up in some way. Everyone has their own personal messes.

…..

Chapter Text

It’s three twenty three am. If Debbie falls asleep now, she’ll get three hours and thirty seven minutes sleep.

Debbie sighs into the darkness, sits up slightly to try and fluff up her pillow into something resembling comfort, and lies down on her other side, facing away from the digital clock.

“Sam” she’d said flatly “I really don’t care... Ruth, do you want me to stay?”

It was a weird question, although Sam is so dense that Debbie is pretty sure it bounced off his skull like a ping pong ball.

Ruth had bitten her lip, and then said “I dunno, are we good?” And Jesus, why is it always Debbie deciding whether things are fine or not? Why can’t Ruth just confront her for once? Call her out on the bullshit, and power through the ensuing argument, until they are fine again, but to Ruth’s schedule, not Debbie’s?

Instead Debbie is stuck with the patient Ruth, who avoids confrontation and just waits around like a sentient statue until Debbie is so bored of her own rage that it just dissipates into nothing, unfulfilled and unheeded and unresolved.

But of course, they were good, there was no way Debbie could claim anything else, and so Debbie had shrugged, and agreed, and departed. Left Ruth to get on with the next terrible mistake.

“We are whatever you want to be.” How pathetic.

Debbie readjusts her pillow again, and lies back down, sighing.

Of course, the problem isn’t the pillow, or the bed. It’s her own brain, refusing to let her sleep. And it would seem that she can’t readjust her brain.

She turns over.

Okay. If she falls asleep now, she’ll have three hours and twenty eight minutes before she has to wake up.

Debbie closes her eyes tightly, and tries to fill her mind with Randy.

That’s a different sort of ache, but at least it is one she is more used to dealing with.

…..

The next morning, Debbie definitely doesn’t think about anything other than Randy.

Bash is waiting for her at the front of the hotel. He springs forwards to take her bag from her, and puts it into the cab’s trunk.

“Morning Debs, best get in, the driver has his meter running and doesn’t like me at all, can’t seem to charm him.”

Debbie smiles at him, and slides into the backseat, making sure to be extra beautiful in the direction of the greasy cab man in the hope that he doesn’t press a button to somehow charge them double.

At the end of their drinks together, Debbie had arranged for them to fly together, the next time she travelled back to LA. When he gets into the car Bash smiles brightly at her, in a brittle sort of way. Debbie smiles back gently, scared of fracturing him.

Bash looks away hurriedly, and suddenly delves into his bag.

“So, I have, um, a crossword book, and sweets, and, ooh and travel scrabble, I thought that might be fun, and if you want to listen to my walkman I have a Commodores tape-”

Debbie snorts slightly, and then smiles at him.

“Bash, it’s a forty minute flight. I was planning on mainly, you know. Napping.”

“Oh.” Bash deflates suddenly. Debbie feels her heart pang.

“But I would not be adverse to a crossword.”

“Oh! Excellent, excellent… oh wait, do you have a pen?”

…..

Debbie doesn’t know much about grief.

She’s not known anyone die who wasn’t due to die, if that terrible sentiment makes any sense.

Both of her grandparents on her mom’s side passed away at a good age, when Debbie was in her early and mid twenties. She had never known her father, so that’s fewer people to mourn.

Her dog died suddenly, when she was fifteen. Hit by a car. That had broken her heart, but Debbie is aware that there might be further, more devastating ways for her heart to be broken, just over the horizon.

She’s lucky to have never felt real pain, not really.

In fact, if Debbie really considers it, the worst emotional pain she’s ever felt is when she discovered that Mark had cheated on her with Ruth. That Ruth had torched their friendship all for the lowly sake of Mark’s dick.

But Debbie isn’t completely insane, and so she doesn’t try and bond with Bash’s grief over that.

Bash is still speaking, having abandoned the crossword about two minutes into the flight. Debbie is letting him, because he’s talking about Florian.

“So, I was thinking about what you said, about finding someone to knew Florian, and then I had a brainwave: Gary! Birdie’s… man. In the house. Butler? I don’t know what his official title is, but whenever Florian at my house after school it was Gary who was feeding us carrot sticks, you know? So I got in touch with him and we’re going to have a great time. And we’ll have plenty of Florian things to talk about, like how, oh god you should have seen how Florian reacted to bees when he was younger, although not much has changed, he still completely freaks out-”

Bash lapses suddenly into silence. Debbie tries not to pay too much attention to the tenses.

“He was, I mean, I’ve already told you this, but he was really kind when I was at your house that time. Florian…. he let me talk to him for about five years on why Mark was a terrible husband, and then, when I’d drunk even more… I mean, I think I was pretty much ready to pick a fight with a tree, but I’m sure I was asking for Ruth as well, because Florian went to find Ruth and called a cab for me and made sure the cab driver had my address and…well. Looked after to me. He was a good guy, Bash.”

Bash nods, and gulps a couple of times, before looking away, out at the blank blueness of the sky. He doesn’t say anything for a long time.

Debbie is almost considering closing her eyes, taking a pretend rest just to give Bash some privacy. But then Bash speaks again, addressing the window.

“It’s just… all the things that will not happen, now. All the future that was supposed to be there, isn’t there, now that he… he isn’t here. I can’t get over the… maybes, you know?” Bash glances at her in enquiry, and his eyes are red.

Debbie remembers the way she felt, in the ring opposite Ruth for the first time. The way she had felt like Ruth had ruined everything, as though things would never be the same again, as though the one part of the future that Debbie had thought she could rely upon had been ripped away, all for the sake of Mark’s dick.

“Yeah. I think I understand.”

Bash nods a couple of times, although Debbie can tell that he doesn’t fully believe her. And then his mouth twists, and he looks away hurriedly, out of the window again.

Debbie places her hand over Bash’s. Bash takes hers after a moment, and holds on, tightly.

…..

So yeah, Bash isn’t doing so well.

Debbie waves him off with a hug and a kiss to his cheek, because she really hopes that he finds something of what he needs at home, for these too few hours.

“I’ll see you on the plane tonight okay? Don’t do all the crosswords with Gary, save some for me.”

Bash smiles weakly at that, and waves forlornly once, before walking away.

…..

It’s a long journey to Mark’s house from the airport. The traffic is conspiring against her.

But honestly, any journey time at all would be too long, she can’t wait to see Randy, she finds she’s literally aching all over in a way that has nothing to do with wrestling and everything to do with the way her son grins at her when he sees her face.

And god, Debbie has her own personal meltdown ready, because when she finally arrives she finds out that Mark has taught Randy a new trick.

“Look, look…Randy, Randy, you listening?” Mark starts singing to Randy in Debbie’s arms “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the river, if you see a polar bear, don’t forget to shiver”, and on the last word Mark does an exaggerated shiver, and Randy copies him, wiggling about in Debbie’s arms with a grin on his face.

“Oh, my god-” Debbie cuts off abruptly, because she’s caught between hysterical laughter and floods of tears.

“Yeeeaah, good boy Randy, showing mommy how clever you are, shall we do it again, row row row your boat gently down the river…” This time Mark doesn’t get further into the song before Randy starts wiggling around, waving his arms in the air as though he is having the best time.

Debbie feels her heart burst, and then she wonders if she is doing the right thing, if she really should be in Las Vegas wrestling for cheers when she is clearly missing every important thing in her life at home.

“Oh my god, Randy, who said you could be so smart, who said you could be so smart oh I’ve missed you so much.”

…..

By the afternoon she’s on the verge of calling up Sam and just cancelling the whole thing.

“Hello, Sam? Yes, hi, it’s Debbie. So I’m not coming back, you’ll have to find a new Liberty Belle, you can FedEx my stuff back to me, good luck with the show, and whatever joy you are hoping to find with Ruth, no I’m not coming back ever again, my son has learnt how to wiggle on demand and I refuse to miss any more crucial milestones.”

She manages not to, and instead calls up Mark at work, weeping because Randy keeps on wiggling to try and make her laugh.

“Mark, I can’t… we have to figure out a way for me to see more of Randy, I can’t get back on the plane if he’s going to keep wiggling like this and I’m not going to be able to see him for another week at least, I’m going to call that asshole producer, I’m going to quit…”

Mark talks her down, in that way that he always was so good at, whenever Debbie exploded and had a meltdown over something inconsequential. She doesn’t know what she was so angry at, all those times.

“Hey, don’t be… look, you can if you really want to, but you know that you’ve got a quiet week coming up, after the next set of shows. You can come and spend a few days at home, have him all the time if you want… and Susan and I, we can take a look at spending a weekend out in Vegas, maybe come and see a show, you know… you can even have Randy stay the night in your hotel room, if that’s something you’d like?”

Debbie laughs, and dabs at her eyes with a tissue.

“Oh god, I would like that… I could get you into the show for free, if Sam says anything I’ll fucking kill him.”

Mark snorts at her, and then cautiously asks “Uh, everything okay with you and Sam? I thought you two were… working together without any problems, the last time I checked? You said he was listening to you, last we spoke about him.”

“Yeah, well” Debbie mutters darkly, fiddling with the phone cord whilst Randy gurgles at her “That was before he started… you know…”

Debbie doesn’t finish her sentence. Mark prods her along after a moment.

“He started what?”

Debbie sighs. “Oh, just… he’s controlling. I need to get over it. It’s nothing.”

Mark grunts. “Well, I mean. He is technically in charge, isn’t he? Surely he’s meant to be a bit controlling?”

“Yeah. I guess so. I just wish… I didn’t have to witness it.”

…..

She doesn’t want to get on the plane.

But she manages it. Bash offers her his arm, and Debbie tucks her hand into the crook of his elbow. Bash sighs wistfully as they approach the check in desk.

“Nothing seems real in Las Vegas. It’s like a dream. But here… it’s all too real.”

Debbie bites the inside of her cheek, thoughtful.

“Maybe we could just stay on the plane then. Conduct a sit in. Just… boycott reality.”

“That sounds good.”

The woman on the desk looks worried as they approach.

“Um, Mr Howard, I’m afraid that the seating on the plane has filled up unexpectedly, and error in the booking, we are going to have to seat you and your girlfriend on separate aisles.”

“Oh, we’re not-”

“I’m his fianceé” Debbie says coolly, with zero hesitation. “We’re getting married tomorrow. Vegas. You know.”

The woman’s face barely rearranges itself, but Debbie can see that she isn’t believing her. Bash doesn’t help, he just coughs a couple of times, and then says in a falsely pitched voice “Yes, that’s right. Debbie is… my fianceé.”

Debbie gazes blankly at the woman, certain that she won’t have the guts to call Debbie out on the blatant lie. Her gaze flickers down to Debbie hand, to the conspicuous lack of an engagement ring, and then back to Debbie’s face. Debbie smiles blandly.

Eventually the woman looks away, and presses a button on her computer.

“Okay… I’ll see if I can find someone else to rearrange. And… congratulations.”

“Thank you so much” Debbie simpers, and then rolls her eyes the second they move away. Bash snorts at her, and then giggles slightly.

“Rhonda is going to be so upset when she hears.”

Debbie loses her grin for a moment, and then she squeezes Bash’s arm gently.

“Bash-” she says lowly “She really won’t be upset. You know she won’t be upset.”

Bash sighs.

“Yeah. I know. I should really…. I should do something about that.”

…..

“…and it’s so weird, you know? Hearing your life from someone else’s point of view? Gary has been living it all with me, and I never even knew, never even noticed… we talked forever, you know? But he thinks-” Bash swallows abruptly, and holds his hand to his mouth for a moment, looking one hundred years old. Debbie waits.

“He thinks that Florian was in love with me.”

Debbie does her best to look surprised, does her best to look as though this was an angle that she’d never considered, but she’s pretty sure that it is a poor attempt she’s making of it.

“Oh?” she manages. Bash nods mournfully, toying with one of the plastic champagne glasses that they’d been presented with on seating to celebrate their upcoming nuptials.

“Gary said that he thinks Florian had always been in love with me. And I….jesus…” Bash opens his mouth a couple of times, but no sounds come out. Debbie takes his hand, and grips it tightly.

“You don’t need to do it all in one day Bash. You don’t need to get to the end of that sentence yet. There’s no rush.”

“Right. You’re right.” Bash nods, his mouth turned down and quivering. His voice is suddenly cracked. “Time is suddenly irrelevant. There’s no… finish line.”

Debbie can’t think of anything to say. Bash sighs, and tips his head back, to rest on the seat.

“What about you?” he asks after a long moment. “What reality are you trying to boycott?”

“Ah, we don’t need to talk about me-”

“No, please. I want to talk about someone other than, me, or Florian.”

Debbie bites her lip, and then sighs.

“I don’t know. I’m just… some days are fine, I’m doing a job I enjoy, I like the people I work with, I’m in a good place with the ex husband, my son brings me joy… but some days, I feel like… I could knock over a building, just through sheer rage. I’m so angry, even though it’s not my life, it’s nothing to do with me…”

Bash looks towards her, but thankfully doesn’t look at her face, instead just watches her hand on the arm rest.

“It’s Ruth?”

Debbie rolls her eyes, and then holds up her empty glass in a sarcastic toast.

“To Ruth; somehow still fucking me up even when she’s finished fucking me over.”

Bash taps his glass against hers, and then sighs.

“But I thought you were friends again?”

God-” Debbie pinches at the bridge of her nose briefly. “That’s what I want. That’s all I want, and when I do manage to not be a complete bitch to her we are friends, but I can never seem to make it last for more than two days before I get enraged about something that I have no right to be angry over, like who she sleeps with or why she’d be nice to Sam or-”

Debbie sighs, and bites her lip. Bash says nothing. Eventually Debbie starts filling the silence again.

“We used to be… so in sync, you know? Best friends. I miss it, I miss the closeness. But now… it’s never going to be that way ever again, and it’s her fault. I can’t seem to get past it, and now it is new betrayals, and…I want her to… see me. I want to be the important one. Not Russell, or Sam, I just want her to…”

Debbie cuts herself off, when she realises what category she is putting herself in.

Bash takes her hand, and squeezes once, before looking away from her, at the seat in front of him.

“We’re in Vegas for a while. It’s a long time. A lot of stuff can happen, change, you know. Don’t try and force it. And…you don’t need to get to the end of that sentence yet. There’s no rush.”

…..

Chapter Text

The morning after the night before.

Although it is barely morning, it’s not morning by a long stretch, the curtains aren’t covering anything other than darkness outside.

Ruth blinks into the darkness, wondering why her body has just shaken itself awake as though a fire alarm was going off.

There’s a quiet snore next to her, and Ruth freezes, before remembering… oh fuck, all of that really did happen.

Sam is in her bed. And she is wearing… she checks herself…. exactly zero clothes. Great. Great. Good job Ruth.

Her first thought is; Debbie is going to be furious with me.

Her second thought is; I’ve cheated on Russell, what the fuck is wrong with me?

Her third thought is; pretty sure the order of those two thoughts should have been reversed…

But it is the thought of Debbie that reveals to Ruth why she’s just jolted herself awake. Debbie is flying today. This morning. Early this morning. Ruth doesn’t know how early counts as early, but she knows full well that if she gives fate the slightest opportunity, the more likely it’ll be that Sam will leave her room the moment that Debbie is leaving hers.

Her sleepy brain toys with the idea of letting Sam stay in her room, in her bed, until it is no longer early morning. But even if Sam avoids Debbie that way, there’s no way he’ll manage to avoid being seen by another of the girls on the corridor, and Ruth knows exactly how that’ll play out. Not a chance of it staying secret.

Nope, no, there’s no way around it, Sam has to leave now.

”Sam? Sam. Wake up.” Ruth reaches out cautiously towards him, hoping to find a neutral place to poke him. She encounters his shoulder, and taps him.

“Sam? Wake up. You have to leave.”

Sam grunts, and then groans, and then says “Wha?” Ruth sighs, and turns away from him, reaching for the side lamp and flicking it on.

“Sam. You have to leave. Before… you just have to go. Back to your room. Bed.”

Sam mumbles something inarticulate, and then half sits up. He blinks around himself, and then says “Where are my glasses?”

They’re on the side table next to Ruth. Ruth passes them to him, and then pulls her sheet up around herself, suddenly self conscious at how naked she is.

Sam rubs at his eyes, and then pushes his glasses onto his face. He stifles a yawn, and then manages a half grin at her.

“Hi. Good morning. Um.”

Ruth nods a little at that, because um indeed.

“Sorry to wake you, but you should really go now, before people start waking up and see you leaving…”

Sam scratches at the back of his head, and says “Sure, that’s not something that should happen… christ, it’s not even five am yet? How early do you think people wake up?”

“No, I know, it’s just, I don’t know how early Debbie is leaving to get her plane, and I really don’t think that you bumping into Debbie is a very good idea… please. I’m sorry.”

Sam sighs at her, and then looks down at himself, anxious.

“Okay, but I’m not… my clothes are not on my body, they are on the floor, and-”

“I’ll look away” Ruth says abruptly, and promptly rolls onto her side.

She hates how vulnerable she feels, how naked she feels… she wishes that she’d had the presence of mind to put some clothes back on afterwards.

It’s just Sam, Ruth tells herself. It’s just Sam, who is surprisingly sweet, and surprisingly gentle, and nice, nicer than Debbie even gives him credit for…

Ruth can hear him moving around, picking up his clothes and dressing himself. After a few moments Ruth feels the bed shift, as Sam sits on the far edge of it with a grunt.

“Okay, so…”

Ruth looks back around, and then, finding Sam fully dressed, she moves into a sitting position, gathering the bed clothes to her until she probably looks like a comforter with a head.

“So.”

Sam clears his throat.

“This… probably shouldn’t have happened. From a professional point of view, this is… probably not good.”

‘Not good’ sounds like the understatement of the year. Ruth laughs slightly. “Yeah, um. I am… I’m still with Russell.”

Sam raises his eyebrows, as though he hadn’t even remembered about Russell. He grunts in recognition. “Yeah, there’s that. And uh. I’m pretty sure Debbie might have some things to say.”

Ruth rolls her eyes, irritated that her own irrational focus on Debbie’s feelings have been passed on to Sam.

“Debbie… doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

Sam smiles slightly at that, and then shuffles a bit closer to her.

“I had a good time though. I… I can cope with the professional fall out, if you ever… if the situation with Russell ever changes.”

“I’ll…” Ruth rubs her hands over her face. “I don’t know what I think about that, right now.”

“That’s okay.” Sam smiles cautiously at her. “I just wanted you to know where I stood. I like you. I think we could be good.”

Ruth smiles back at him.

“Okay. I’ll… there’s no rush.”

Sam nods.

“Okay. I’ll just be going then.”

He makes to get up, but Ruth reaches out to him suddenly, and puts her hand on top of Sam’s. Sam takes it immediately, and brushes a kiss across her knuckles.

“You are… really something, Ruth Wilder. I enjoyed last night, very much.”

Ruth grins shyly, despite herself.

“Bye Sam. Try to be quiet.”

…..

The next week is exhausting.

And it’s not just the physical, although the physical is exhausting.

Ruth is due to do her first fight in…two days. Forty eight hours, until she’s in the ring for the first time since Debbie grabbed her foot, and twisted too hard, too far-

She isn’t wrestling with Debbie though. It’s Cherry that she’s facing down, in a weird fight over…something to do with whether or not Black Magic can do actual magic. Zoya is a philistine, unsurprisingly.

“So, your plan for keeping Liberty Belle as evil can be magic, you want to have her under constant voodoo, whereas Zoya can be all-” and here Ruth adopts her Zoya voice- “No, an empire cannot be built on little tricks and foolish magics, we must win Liberty Belle over, hearts and minds: I will deliver to her lecture, on the triumphs of Communism, then she will convert, and poof no more magic required. Empirical data only.”

There’s a loud guffaw of laughter, and when Ruth turns around she finds Sam standing at the edge of the ring, grinning at her and pointing.

“That’s funny. That’d be funny. Someone write that down; Zoya gives Liberty Hell lecture on the finer points of Communism. Debbie… Debbie… hi, yes, good morning… write this down will you; Zoya lecture on Communism.”

Sam turns back to Ruth, and grins at her. Over his shoulder, Ruth can see Debbie look around herself in disbelief, share a dark look with Sheila who is on the training mat next to her, and then sarcastically mime writing something on the palm of her hand with an invisible pen.

She drags her attention back to Sam.

“You like that idea?”

Sam nods, glancing between Cherry and herself. “Yes. Very much. You managed to be funny. Good job.”

Ruth smiles back at him, because it is so hard not to, not when Sam is like this, excited and passionate about their show.

Sam walks away after a moment, having lingered slightly too long, clearly hoping Ruth would say something else. Ruth watches him go, feeling… oh, too many things.

But then she accidentally catches Debbie’s eye. And then all the positivity turns sour, because Debbie grimaces slightly, and looks away from her.

Ruth sighs, and turns back to Cherry, who has been watching all of this with a judgement free gaze.

“You ready to go again?” she asks. Ruth nods.

“Yeah.”

……

So like she says; exhausting.

But it does feel great to be wrestling again, and Ruth is feeling so good that she manages to be more excited than nervous, as the hours tick down.

The match is in thirty six hours, and then twenty four hours, and then twelve hours, and then six hours, and then she’s in full hair and make up, and it is one hour until curtain up.

She goes to find Sam. He’s in his makeshift office, chewing on the end of a pencil as he runs his fingers down a sheet of paper that contains the cues and order of the show. He’s wearing a sweater that Ruth remembers from before, and he looks good. Focused.

Faced with a lack of door, Ruth knocks on the table nearest to her instead. Sam looks up, and when he sees her, he smiles momentarily, positively beams, before arranging his face into something slightly less radiant.

“Oh. Hello. Are you good to go? Zoya ready to make her grand return to the ring? You look good, the fight you’ve been choreographing with Cherry looks great.”

Ruth grins.

“Thanks… I just wanted to come and say… thanks, I guess. For not firing me, after I broke my leg. Because- god I’m so excited to wrestle again, and I wouldn’t have been able to if you hadn’t, you know. Rearranged things for me. So thank you.”

Sam puts down his pencil, and rubs at the back of his neck.

“Well, I mean, shit. You are one of the best wrestlers. I’d have been insane… also, what kind of boss would I be, firing you because you broke your leg?”

Something turns sour in Ruth’s mouth when Sam says ‘boss’, because that is true, that is what Sam is to her, and things can only turn out badly, if she allows this to go any further.

Sam smiles softly at her after a moment.

“Besides, you didn’t break your leg.”

Ruth turns away, tuning her ears to the muted sound of the crowd building up.

“Anyway. I just wanted to say thanks. I appreciate it.”

Sam nods at her.

“Have fun. You’ll be great.”

…..

She almost doesn’t remember to notice the show.

God, she’s too busy, remembering this cue, and that cue, and when to yell in exaggerated pain, and when to spit insults at Cherry, and when to jeer at the crowd…

Debbie’s fight is only a short one, and is halfway through the running order. The Toxic Twins bring out Liberty Hell as back up when their fight against Fortune Cookie and Beirut starts to go south. The script means that they still lose, and Liberty Hell has now pledged allegiance to Fortune Cookie. The crowd are horrified, and cheer madly when Machu gathers the remaining faces in the ring, swearing to undo the wicked deed that has left Liberty Belle on the side of evil.

It’s the kind of terrible scripted storyline that wouldn’t even make it past pilot season, but it works here, somehow, with the lights and the gasps of shock and the spluttering incandescence of Bash.

Liberty Hell and Zoya gesture furiously at each other as Liberty Hell leaves the ring and Zoya enters. Because Debbie and Ruth decided, what feels like a long time ago now, that they still wouldn’t be on the same side even if Liberty Hell was evil.

Zoya wins her fight against Black Magic, and then swears to the skies that she will capture Liberty Hell, force her to convert to the glories of Communism, whilst the boos ring in her ears. Welfare Queen appears, right at the very end, to clothesline her and give the crowd something to cheer about, and then that’s it. The end of the show.

It’s not until the moments after the show that all the emotions come crashing into Ruth, because now that she isn’t concentrating so hard she can appreciate the noise of the crowd, the energy-

She gets picked up in a hug by Cherry, and Tammé deliberately squashes her hair down flat and says “good to have you back in the ring Zoya” with a laugh.

All the girls give her little gestures of congratulations, whether it is rubs on the back or slaps on the butt or smiles and words. Ruth feels incredible, and just joyful, that she gets to do all of that again, tomorrow.

…..

Debbie approaches her last, when Ruth is by the sinks in the changing room, slowly trying to wash her make up off.

“Hey. You did great. You were really good.”

Ruth laughs a little self consciously, and then says “You were too, I’m obsessed with Liberty Hell, I love how you are playing her as a drunken frat boy.”

Debbie snorts, and then says “Oh, you spotted that? Yeah, I only have about three characters.”

“Well” Ruth says with authority, “It is a triumph. I’m obsessed.”

Debbie makes a small noise, and then when Ruth glances across to her in the mirror, she realises with a shock that Debbie’s mouth is working in the way it always does when Debbie is trying not to cry.

“Hey… hey, are you okay?”

Debbie grips at the sink in front of her, and then wipes something away from her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m just… god I didn’t realise how relieved I’d feel, to see you wrestle again, it was-” Debbie stops, and then gulps a little. Ruth reaches out to her, rubs a palm over her shoulder.

“It’s fine… I felt fine” she says. Debbie nods at this, and then straightens herself up, in a movement that takes her away from Ruth’s hand.

“No… I’m just-” Debbie flaps a hand vaguely, and then sighs. “I’m … missing Randy, I guess. I’m going to go visit him, in the gap between this show and the next one. And I’ll be able to stay longer, because I’m not wrestling in the next show. And thank god, because every time I call him I end up speaking with Susan, who keeps telling me how cute he is, and I’m having… my emotions are going in every direction at once.”

Ruth smiles, wanting to ask more.

“How’s Randy doing?”

Debbie laughs helplessly.

“Oh god, he’s… Mark has taught him how to wiggle. If you sing to him “row row row your boat, gently down the river, if you see if polar bear don’t forget to shiver”, and then Randy will-”

Debbie starts rocking her body back and forth, shivering, and Ruth laughs at her, before clutching her hands to her chest.

“Aw, that’s so… can I see him? When I fly back? If you uh-” Ruth hesitates, wondering if she’s made an assumption too far, but Debbie just smiles, and shrugs.

“Of course, if you would like to.”

It has become a pleasant, easy moment, and Ruth wonders yet again (and how many times exactly is she going to wonder this?) whether she had just been imagining the tension between Debbie and herself. Whether the feeling of vague worry is now such a learned reaction that Ruth will never be able to throw it off.

Debbie clears her throat, glancing around the changing rooms.

“Um. Did you want to get a drink after this? I’m… not just me, I was doing something with Sheila, and Bash, if you wanted to join?”

Ruth grins.

“Yeah, yeah, I’d like that, um… Sheila and Bash, huh? That’s an unusual set of people for you to be hanging out with.”

Debbie shrugs, looking around herself cautiously. “I guess so. Um. About eight?”

Ruth nods, feeling happier than she has felt in a long time.

“Of course.”

…..

Chapter Text

Debbie sighs, and then sighs again, stands up briefly, sits down again, and then picks up her phone with abrupt exasperation.

She jabs the number in, and then waits. 

Sheila answers the phone with a cautious “Hello?”

“Sheila. Hi. It’s Debbie. Debbie Eagan.” Debbie rolls her eyes at herself, because which other Debbie could she be?

Sheila pauses, and then says “Debbie Eagan the wrestler?” and Debbie could pass out, she really could. 

“Yes, Sheila, it’s me? Debbie.”

“Oh” says Sheila, and then asks “why are you using the phone? You know that you are on the other side of the wall, I think if we talked loudly enough we could probably-“

“I know, I know, it’s just, a phone call felt more civilised than yelling through a wall.”

“Or you could have knocked on my door, that would have been an option for you. Or, oooh, we could develop a knocking code, like the prisoners in the Bastille-“

“Okay Sheila” Debbie interrupts, “so, I was wondering what you were doing tonight? Now? And if you would like to go out for a drink with me?”

Sheila hums thoughtfully.

“Uh, I was going to get an early night actually Debbie, I’m feeling pretty tired.”

Debbie pinches at the bridge of her nose, and closes her eyes.

“Are you sure? Because, I really do kind of need you to say yes.”

“Why?”

“I, um. I asked Ruth if she wanted to go for a drink, and then I said that I was already going for a drink with you and Bash, and asked her if she wanted to join us, and so… you need to be there if she is going to be able to join us.”

Sheila seems to absorb all of this for a moment, and then laughs.

“You asked Ruth for a drink and then pretended to already be going for one with us?”

“Yes, you know-” Debbie finds herself gesturing in an animated way at the wall. “So it didn’t become a thing, you know?”

Sheila snorts. “Sure, this is truly de-thinged. Does Bash know Ruth is joining us for a drink?”

Debbie sighs, and rests the receiver against her forehead for a moment.

“No, Bash doesn’t know that he is joining us for a drink yet, I haven’t - I haven’t called him yet.”

Sheila laughs again, and then says “Okay, this is great. I’m not tired any more, give me five minutes to eat some coffee grains and I will be with you.”

“That’s-” Debbie heaves a sigh of relief, and says “That’s great Sheila, thanks.”

“If you really want to thank me, please let me come over and listen to you have this exact same conversation with Bash.”
“What? No?”

…..

And so, here they are.

Debbie thinks she’ll commit a double murder if Bash and Sheila give the game away and somehow point out to Ruth that they were forced to be here at the last minute, just because Debbie’s mouth had become nervous when she was talking to Ruth.

She briefs them thoroughly.

“Remember; this was planned in advance.”

Both Bash and Sheila nod. Bash gives her a thumbs up.

“Got it.”

“And….” Debbie casts around for a way to explain her terrors. “Try not to be, you know… not normal. Just regular, normal Bash and Sheila, behaving in their normal ways.”

They both nod again. Sheila calmly says “I am very good at monitoring my own body language.” Bash nods a couple of times at Sheila, and then says “And I… am wearing my most normal jacket. Classic ‘Bash going for a normal drink’ jacket. Nothing unusual happening here.”

Debbie nods, and then looks up at the ceiling, before twisting around in her seat to check that Ruth isn’t sneaking up behind her.

“And, uh. Thank you for playing along with this. I know… this is a weird request and you both probably had other plans.”

Bash shakes his head, dismissing her gratitude.

“No, you don’t understand, of all the options available to me tonight, this one is by far the most interesting. By far.”

“Okay, well… I should, look, I’ll get the drinks, okay?”

….

After another five minutes, Ruth appears, looking…

Debbie can’t even describe what her chest does in this moment. Drops and swoops and somehow turns in on itself, all at once.

She’s nervous, she supposes.

Ruth looks like Ruth. She’s wearing one of her nicer tops, one that Debbie recognises as official ‘making an effort’ Ruth wear, but not all out ‘this is as dressed up as I can be’ Ruth.

Debbie doesn’t even know what kind of subconscious catalogue of knowledge she has been keeping about Ruth.

Bash has his back to the entrance, but must see Ruth’s arrival in Debbie’s face, because he turns to Ruth and greets her and pulls out a chair for her, and generally eases everyone through that moment of transition without any input from Debbie at all, who is suddenly rooted to her chair.

After the initial round of greetings, all three of them look at Debbie. And Debbie-

Jesus. What the fuck is happening in her head? Why can’t she talk?

Sheila clears her throat after a second, and then plunges into some slightly desperate sounding small talk, asking how Ruth likes having a room to herself, compared to sharing with Sheila. Ruth laughs, and then suddenly they’re reminiscing about what terrible roommates they were for each other, and there’s some weird reference to a dead rat that Debbie doesn’t understand, can’t understand, because for some reason she seem to need about thirty minutes run up just to have some kind of shot at normality.

After a few minutes of that, plus a debrief of how the show went, there is another lull in the conversation.

Talk, Debbie. Words, Debbie.

Ruth clears her throat.

“So… what’s the occasion? Why are you guys out together?”

Both Bash and Sheila look at Debbie, and Debbie needs to be a million miles away, she can’t do this, why the fuck did she think this was a good idea?

She shrugs, and then looks down at her drink.

“I um. No real… occasion, just. Um.”

Fuck.

Bash clears his throat.

“Actually, it was me. I called a conference.”

Debbie breathes, looks at him. He smiles faintly, before addressing Ruth more directly.

“I needed, the finest brains, you know? To help me… figure out what to do about my marriage. And to uh. Plan how to go about getting a divorce.”

…..

By the time they’ve all reached the bottom of their first drink, Debbie is breathing in a slightly more regular way.

She offers to go and get the next round of drinks, and stands after she’s checked that Ruth still drinks those vodka sodas. Bash stands abruptly too, and follows her over to the bar, leaving Ruth to talk to Sheila about up coming wrestling plot lines.

Bash leans on the bar next to her, looking back across the room.

“So people really aren’t that shocked that my marriage to Rhonda isn’t going to make it to our first anniversary.”

Debbie dips her chin and then sighs.

“Well, the fact that you haven’t spoken to Rhonda for nearly a month was a bit of a telling indicator.”

Bash nods to himself vaguely, and says “Sure. Reasonable point.” He sighs, and pushes his hand through his hair, before half turning to Debbie.

“Ruth thinks I should, you know, talk to Rhonda. Lay it all out, I just got swept up in the moment…”

Debbie lets out a little half laugh and then catches the bar tender’s eye.

“Well of course Ruth thinks you should talk to Rhonda, Ruth thinks all the problems in the world can be solved if everyone just sits down and talks about their feelings for long enough… hi, could I get-”

Debbie orders another round of drinks. Bash waits until she’s finished, watching her. Debbie swallows self consciously.

“What would you do then?”

Debbie feels her eyebrows raise. “Oh, you really don’t want my advice on how to deal with an ill considered marriage. You probably don’t want to live with each other for four years, have a baby, and wait until one of you cheats on the other one in the most devastating way possible with the person that you thought-” Debbie cuts herself off.

The man behind the bar passes her two of their drinks. One of them is hers, thank god. She takes a grateful sip, and then clears her throat.

“So yeah. You don’t want my advice.”

Bash looks away from her, and grins, finding something funny.

“Yeah, god no, that sounds like a terrible plan.”

Debbie snorts, and then they are both laughing.

When their other two drinks arrive, Bash takes two, and starts walking Debbie back to their table.

“You should talk to Ruth. About more than just… you know. The small stuff.”

Debbie smiles tightly.

“Yeah, well, we all should be doing a lot of thing that we’re not Bash. And things are going fine with just the small stuff, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, hmmm?”

Bash starts shaking his head as they approach the table.

“Oh Debbie. You are… you are not going to like my next move.”

“Wait, what?”

“Sheila! Sheila, they have a Mrs Pac Man game in the back room, I’ve just seen it.”

Sheila stands up abruptly.

Mrs Pac Man? You sure it isn’t just regular Pac Man?”

Bash puts his hand on his heart.

“Word of honor. Also - no one is on it at the moment.”

“Holy shit” mutters Sheila, and takes her drink from Bash’s hand. “Okay, bye you guys. We’ll be in the back room. Eating ghosts.”

“Eating all of the ghosts” Bash agrees, nodding. And then, suddenly, Debbie is alone with Ruth.

Ruth looks up at her, and laughs nervously.

“Do you also want to go and eat ghosts?”

Debbie pulls an incredulous face, and then sits down, sliding Ruth’s drink over to her.

“Um, no.”

…..

They manage. Debbie manages.

It’s easy enough to talk about wrestling with Ruth, that has become safe, normal territory, the sort that they can do without Debbie having to monitor her own reactions too carefully.

They’re half way through planning their fight, and the preceding lecture, when Debbie remembers with a jolt that they are still technically banned from wrestling each other. That Sam has declared that it cannot happen.

“Oh, geez… do you know where Sam is in relation to the apparent life time ban on wrestling that he has imposed upon us? I’d ask him myself, but he never seems to want to give me good news, at the moment.”

Ruth laughs slightly too herself, and then stares despondently into her drink.

“Yeah… what is up with that? I can’t… I wish you two were, I don’t know. Not butting heads so much.”

Debbie widens her eyes at nothing.

“Well, it’s not me.”

Ruth looks at her. Debbie rolls her eyes, and looks away from Ruth, hiding a smile.

“Okay, it’s not just me. He’s not playing nice either.”

There’s a noisy laugh, over by the bar. Debbie glances that way, somehow expecting to see Sam bearing down on them, ready to interrupt and piss all over the situation. But there’s no one here that she recognises. They could be alone.

Ruth clears her throat.

“Yeah, well, um. He’s probably forgotten about the lifetime ban, or whatever. He’s, I… oh jesus-” Ruth stops, and then pinches at the bridge of her nose, before glancing apologetically at her. “Look, I’m only telling you this because if you find out another way then I think you’d like it even less, not because… I swear I’m not trying to ruin this, I’m having a really nice time, I just think that… we don’t deal well with secrets, and I don’t want us to be constantly, you know, and Sam might tell you, accidentally-”

Debbie discovers the end of Ruth’s garbled sentence like an oncoming train in a tunnel. She sighs, because she knew this was going to happen.

“You’re sleeping with Sam?”

Ruth flinches, and then takes a hasty gulp of drink, looking away from Debbie.

“Okay, no, ‘sleeping with’ implies an ongoing… it was once. It happened once, and it’s not happened again, and…” Ruth laughs shortly, “It mustn’t happen again, because he’s my boss, and-”

Debbie chews on her lip, trying to figure out the correct response.

There isn’t the anger, that she expected. Debbie half feels as though she has already known that Ruth has been sleeping with Sam, this is old news, somehow. She just feels… weary.

“Yeah - no good things can come of that.”

Ruth blinks a little, and takes a small glance at Debbie, as though trying to gauge if and when a bigger reaction is going to come. Debbie picks up her glass, but doesn’t do anything with it. She looks away, because it turns out that looking at Ruth’s mouth is difficult, all of a sudden.

“Besides, I thought you were with Russell? I thought you were happy with Russell?”

Ruth shrugs, looking mournful.

“I am. It just…. it was one time. I didn’t mean to.”

“Fuck, that sounds familiar.” Debbie says bitterly, and this time she does take a swig of her drink. Ruth frowns at her, and it seems that Ruth has decided that if Debbie isn’t going to be angry with her then maybe Ruth will be angry with Debbie. There’s a sharpness to her voice now.

“Look, I thought you didn’t care about what I do?”

Debbie spreads her hands in response, and sits back in her chair.

“Well I clearly do, so-”

She sighs. Ruth looks at her, for what feels like a long time. Debbie rubs a hand over her own mouth.

“I wish I didn’t care what you do. And I just… I don’t know, maybe if I say it often enough it’ll come true.”

Ruth looks away from her, blinking, all of her passive aggressive tendencies on show at once.

“That’s… I’m sorry I keep doing things that make you hate me so much.”

Debbie rolls her eyes. “For god’s sake Ruth, you cannot seriously believe… I obviously don’t hate you, if I hated you I wouldn’t be having a fucking meltdown every two minutes-”

Debbie allows that sentence to collapse in on itself, under the weight of its own pressure, forming a black hole in her head that roars, and roars…

“If you don’t hate me then-” Ruth doesn’t get to the end of her thought, because here’s Bash, trailed by Sheila. And Bash looks apologetic, but Debbie has never been more grateful for an interruption.

“Sorry Debbie, I just, I really do have to go, I’m meant to be meeting with Ray and the management in the morning.”

Debbie stands, she practically throws herself into his arms for appearing at just the right moment. And Bash’s goodbye becomes everyone’s goodbye, as there are sudden recollections of the time and the fact that there is yet another show tomorrow, and etc, etc…

If you don’t hate me then…?

Thankfully Ruth has forgotten her question, or seems to have done at least. She is hugging Sheila goodbye, and god only knows why seeing as they’ll be training together again in the space of a few hours.

If you don’t hate me then…?

But Debbie knows the answer now, it’s burning in her like a newly formed supernova.

It’s the opposite.

Debbie grips her glass tightly, and finishes the last of her drink.

She’s fucked. She’s so fucked.

Chapter Text

The day of the final show of week two, as they’re getting changed into gym clothes, Sam half pushes open the changing room door and calls through it.

“Ruth and Debbie, I need a word when you’re both ready.”

Ruth bites down on a sigh, because she doesn’t know how much more peace keeping she can do. She meets Debbie’s eye across the bench. Debbie rolls her eyes, looking resigned.

“I’ll be good, okay?”

When they approach, Sam nods at both of them, and then looks back at the sheaf of papers in his hands.

“Okay, so I’ve been looking ahead for the next few shows. Next week, week three, it says that Debbie isn’t fighting.” Sam glances at her, clearly expecting Debbie to elaborate.

She does so, with a half glance at Ruth.

“No, we thought… it’s a rest week. For me. I’m not working on any fight. It’s been planned in from the start. But I’m still in the show, we’re going to do that Communism lecture thing. Ruth’s idea.”

Sam grunts, and then says “So you aren’t doing anything next week.”

Debbie pauses. Ruth can see her chest move, as Debbie takes a deep, controlling breath.

“Well. I am. Just not as much. I’ll still be… acting. And I’ll be preparing the fight for week four.”

Tapping the paper, Sam says “Yeah, between you and Ruth? I’ll come back to that. But I think you need to fight in week three, as well. People are paying to see you. The buzz is all about Liberty Belle, Hell, who ever you are right now. You need to do the show. You need to wrestle in every show.”

Ruth opens her mouth to remind Sam of why he agreed to rest weeks in the first place, but Debbie is too quick for her.

“Okay, if I wrestle in every show, with this frequency of shows, I’ll probably die before I’m forty, so you can cool off that idea right now.” And god, Ruth thinks, if Debbie would just smile at him, or something, just to soften how she is speaking to him…

But obviously there is nothing to smile at, and Debbie is clearly done with accommodating to Sam’s preferred method of conversation. He grimaces at her, glances at Ruth as if to say see? and then tries a different tack. His voice becomes wheedling, persuasive.

“Debbie, come on…you’re the star performer... if we’re meant to be doing a show every night we need a star every night. You can’t take a week off, we’ll lose the whole momentum-”

Debbie cuts across him.

“I am not the only star performer, and you know it. Ruth can be. Tammé can be. Carmen, Cherry, Rhonda, Sheila…. any of us can bring the house down if you frame the storyline correctly. But if you rely on me to be show finale in every show, I will break something-”

Sam snorts, and then laughs, casting around the room for an audience. Which is developing, because there is no way for Sam, Ruth and Debbie to have a private conversation. They’ve collectively been on a knife edge for weeks now, and the other girls know it. They’re all watching, some more discreetly than others. Rhonda leans into Melrose, whispering something. Sam opens his arms up to them as though inviting the audience to marvel at something, and then turns back to Debbie, laughter behind his eyes.

“What, you’re going to deliberately break your own ankle now? To make a point?”

It’s laziness, Ruth realizes. Sam is mainly accusing Debbie of being lazy. Of not helping the show. The fact that he can make a dig at her over Ruth’s ankle is just an added bonus.

Debbie’s nostrils flare, and she doesn’t look around at the audience, too righteous to need encouragement.

“Fuck you Sam, this isn’t about…. look, for tv we did one show a week. This time around, we’re doing four. We’ll each need at least one week’s recovery time; one week of just working on one routine rather than two, otherwise this” and Debbie flicks her finger around in an all encompassing circle, “isn’t sustainable. And you would know that if you’d ever done a back bump in your life…”

Sam scoffs a little at that, and once again, Ruth is too slow to say a conciliatory word. In fact, she doesn’t really know why Sam needed to have her in this conversation at all. Did he think that she would be on his side?

Cherry speaks instead, probably doing Sam a significant favor because Ruth wouldn’t put it past Sam to completely dismiss the various physical demands that wrestling puts their bodies through.

“Yeah, Debbie’s not wrong, or do you want to have to cancel shows because everyone’s carrying an injury after six weeks on your schedule?”

Sam turns to her, exasperated.

“Look, the rest of you can have rest weeks, but Debbie… Debbie, if you want the whole show to be built around you, you gotta face up to the responsibilities of that. You have to fight every show.”

Debbie crosses her arms, suddenly looking like a petulant teenager.

“No” she says flatly. “I won’t. Next week is my rest week. I’m not training for a fight. I’m flying back to LA for a couple of days between the shows. I have booked the flights, I’m not cancelling them.”

It’s the thought of Sam insisting, forcing Debbie to miss her time with Randy, that has Ruth stepping forward to intervene. She grabs on to Sam’s arm, and half pulls him towards her, away from Debbie. Ruth can see Debbie look away in disgust, but she hasn’t got time for that right now.

“Sam, listen, if the audience don’t see Liberty Hell fight, and they want to see her fight, maybe they’ll come back to see another show? And Liberty Hell will be in the ring, just not fighting, we can figure something out so our bit doesn’t end up with Debbie fighting. And, you know, we can record some VTs, trail up-coming fights for Liberty Hell, and play those to the audience between the live fights-”

Debbie interrupts this, seemingly unable to stop herself. Her voice is dripping with sarcasm.

“Yeah Sam, the backstage videos? Remember? The only reason we need you anymore, considering this is now a live show without any cameras?”

Sam gives Debbie a scathing, acidic look, glances around at their gathered audience, and then says “I need a fucking drink.” He walks away, muttering, and slams the training room door behind him, hard.

Ruth mumbles “oh, great”, before casting an accusatory look at Debbie.

“Was that last bit really necessary?” she asks. Debbie holds out her hands in confusion, and then gestures after Sam.

He started it!”

Ruth cannot believe this.

“What, are you nine, now?”

Debbie looks away from her, and then turns away from everyone, with her hands on her hips.

The rest of the girls look at Debbie, and then look at Ruth.

Ruth can’t deal with this anymore.

“I guess I’ll go and talk to Sam then, huh? Seeing as that’s my job, designated Sam pacifier, jesus christ.”

No one says anything.

After waiting a moment, Ruth leaves, following Sam.

…..

She finds him in the bar.

“It’s a bit early for this, don’t you think?”

Sam looks cooly at her, and then blows a cloud of cigarette smoke out of the side of his mouth, away from Ruth. He flicks his glass, making a soft ping sound.

“Yeah, that’s why I’m on the soda water. Disgusting stuff, don’t know why you drink it.”

Ruth doesn’t say anything, in fact she has found Sam before she has fully planned out exactly what she is going to say to him. After a moment Sam clears his throat, and takes a sip of his drink.

“You here to tell me that Debbie is right, and I am a fucking waste of space on this show?”

Incredulous, Ruth laughs.

“Uh. No. We need a leader. That’s your role.”

“Fuck” Sam mutters softly. “A leader who people follow only when I tell them to do what they already want to do.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is for Debbie… I should fire her. I can do that, you know.”

“Well yeah, if you want to destroy your own show, go for it… she is the star, Sam. You do need to face up to that. The show doesn’t work very well without Debbie.”

Sam squints at her.

“You could be the star. You should be the star.”

Ruth laughs, and then, on impulse, reaches out to his drink, picking it up and stealing a sip. She smiles at him as she places it back down.

“No, I couldn’t. I am extremely unlikeable, it is one of my best qualities.”

“No you are not.”

“Yes I am, you told me yourself.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth twitches, and he reclaims his drink, glancing at her curiously.

“Well, I was not in possession of all the facts.”

Ruth shrugs, and then gestures over her shoulder.

“Look, Debbie is going to fly to LA unless you shut down the airports, and if you do that she’ll book a taxi, or, you know, walk. You might as well go with it. And she’ll be in the week three show, and still probably be the highlight even if she doesn’t fight. We going to argue over communism Sam. Debbie and I can make a verbal argument look like a title fight. We have incredible chemistry, when it comes to yelling at each other.”

“Yeah” says Sam, a little flatly. “I had noticed that.”

Ruth smiles, and spreads her hands.

“See. It’ll be fine.”

Sam sighs heavily, and then looks away. He shrugs.

“Yeah. Fine. I’m going to bow gracefully out of that confrontation. Be the bigger man, you know? Debbie can win.”

Ruth steps towards the bar, leaning on it in relief.

“I’m sure she’s not actually playing to win, she just wants to see Randy.”

“Sure, she strikes me as the nurturing type” Sam says shortly. He holds up a hand, cutting off the defence of Debbie that Ruth is about a second away from launching into. “It’s fine, you don’t have to do all that. Tell her I’ve changed my mind, tell her that her insightful reasoning has won me over. I’m meant to be in a meeting with Ray anyway, Debbie can have the gym all to herself.”

“But you’ll be back for the show?” Ruth can’t imagine doing the show without the knowledge that Sam is out there watching; most invested fan and worst critic combined.

He grins. “Of course, someone has to hold the camera for all of those videos that Debbie keeps referring to. I mean, seriously; does she think I just weave them out of thin air…?”

…..

It takes nearly a day for Ruth to go and speak to Debbie.

She’s there, obviously. Debbie is literally just over there, on the other side of the gym. And then in the changing rooms, as they get ready for the show with insane levels of hairspray and glitter.

She’s just over there.

But she seems to be in a permanent conference with Tammé and Sheila; probably discussing the unknown perils of motherhood and alpha male behaviors respectively.

They’re meant to be planning out the general shape of their show down during Zoya’s lecture today. Ruth guesses it’ll have to wait for another day.

Eventually, with only half an hour to go before the show, Ruth tells herself that she is being stupid, that she and Debbie are fine, and approaches Debbie. She’s lacing on her wrestling boots, an activity that takes a few minutes. She glances up at her.

“Oh, have you decided I’m not nine any more?”

Ruth rolls her eyes, and sits next to Debbie.

“He says that it’s fine for you to not fight next week.”

Debbie snorts.

“Great. So glad to have his blessing. God Ruth, you don’t have to fucking…. run after him, every time he decides to go through man menopause.”

“Yeah, well…” Ruth watches Debbie’s fingers, the quick efficient movements they make. “I thought things would be better if you and Sam were willingly on the same page, for once. I was just…trying to make your life easier.”

Debbie laughs a little, and switches boot.

“My life, or your life?”

Ruth sighs slightly, facing up to the truth.

“I don’t know. Both, hopefully.”

Debbie’s mouth curves into something like a smile, but it is a joyless mirth. She clenches her jaw, and then nods.

“You do lots of things Ruth, but I’ve never known you to make my life easier. I think we both need to face up to that, and stop laboring under the impression that we simplify each others lives.”

And then Debbie is looking at her, as though willing her to understand something. And god, Ruth misses the days when she knew Debbie, could read her easily. Now Debbie’s a book with every other page missing, and Ruth isn’t even allowed to know the title.

She feels a lump in her throat, as her heart is suddenly pounding in her ears. Debbie looks at her, watches the obvious and shameful way in which Ruth glances at Debbie’s lips, desperate for any kind of smile. But there’s no comfort there.

She aches.

“Well. I’m sorry. I’m going to go and warm up.”

……

Wrestling Cherry isn’t the same as wrestling Debbie.

It’s still insane, it’s still exhilarating, but it isn’t… the same.

The crowd seem to go just as wild though, seem to hate her just as much as when Zoya was fighting against Liberty Belle.

And Ruth is forced to admit, that maybe the level of intensity that she feels when her and Debbie are in synch isn’t projected to the crowd in the undeniable way that she’d always imagined. Maybe it’s just her own head, telling her that Liberty Belle and Zoya are different, that she and Debbie are special

Just like that, it’s over, and Ruth has taken the boos and jeers that she has to accept as applause. And then it is gone, and the week two shows are over.

Debbie gives her a tight little smile in the changing rooms, but she’s far away, and Ruth is as suddenly as weary of Debbie as she is weary of glitter. The way that it lingers and gets stuck in the corners of her eyes.

Ruth leaves the changing rooms without saying a word to Debbie; she’ll shower and de-Zoya in her own rooms for once. Besides, she is pretty sure that Debbie is getting on the last plane that leaves for LA tonight. There will be no question of sharing a friendly drink with Debbie and politely chatting about how awful it is that Ruth can’t even seem to look at Debbie without going through the seven stages of grief simultaneously.

It’s forgiveness, Ruth realizes. She’s yearning for forgiveness, not just the slow drip of forgetfulness that Debbie seems to be operating on. Debbie has completely forgotten that Ruth slept with Mark, until she needs to be angry again, and then suddenly the wound is just as fresh.

And besides, Ruth tells herself petulantly in the shower, trying to rinse all the damn glitter down the drain, it isn’t as though Ruth has forgiven Debbie for breaking her leg. But no, apparently that’s just something that Ruth has to wash off, if she ever wants to reach a peaceful moment with Debbie ever again.

God, she just wants to… curl up on a couch with her and watch crappy television and laugh at Debbie as she complains about everything with a bone dry sense of humour, and find the bright side of things until Debbie accuses her of having a personality disorder with an unwilling smile on her face…

It feels years distant. Years in the past, Ruth cannot imagine it happening in the future.

She should call Russell. In fact, she should probably get on the same plane that Debbie is taking, and fly to LA, take the comfort that he is offering.

There’s an easier option though.

And she shouldn’t. She shouldn’t.

She does.

…..

Afterwards (and this time it was in Sam’s bed, so this time it is Ruth sheepishly gathering up her clothes from the floor in the half light whilst Sam studiously looks away) Ruth can’t help but have Debbie come tripping off her tongue.

“So, week four - can Debbie and I wrestle?”

Sam sighs, and then he reaches out for his pack of cigarettes, on the side table.

‘’Jesus fucking Christ… I’ll think about it.”

Better than a flat denial, Ruth thinks to herself.

She’ll take it.

“Okay. Bye Sam.”

“Bye.”

Chapter Text

“Look, can you just… calm down. There’s a flight that leaves an hour after this one. If you miss this one, you can just get on the next one.”

“Great” says Debbie baldly. “Great. I’ll just turn up to the show thirty minutes into it, shall I? Can you just shut up and drive the damn car.”

Mark sighs heavily, and flicks on his blinker, switching to the inside lane of the freeway.

“I am driving the damn car. And it is not my fault that your taxi didn’t show up. And, if you are going to be late, Sam can just delay the show.”

“No he can’t, and fuck, anyway, I was meant to be using this time to plan with Ruth what we were going to say in this stupid skit we were doing…”

Mark rolls his eyes. “So freestyle? Improv, whatever. You always said that you guys could do that with your eyes closed.”

“Yeah, well. We aren’t as in sync as we used to be, can’t imagine why…” Debbie subsides into grouchy silence. Mark, wisely, says nothing. Ten miles to the airport, according to a sign they pass.

It’s Debbie’s fault. She had been going to get on the earlier plane, but it had been too hard to rip herself away from Randy. So she’d told herself that she would catch the back up plane, the last minute plane, but then her taxi had fucked up, and now Mark is belting out to the airport just to try and make sure Debbie arrives at the show at all.

She sighs, and tips her head back onto the head rest.

“Sorry. Look, thank you for doing this. Thank you for everything that you are doing.”

Mark doesn’t speak for a moment, and then chuckles.

“Well, I mean. Thank you for everything you are doing. You know, fighting for justice. For the American way of life.”

Debbie whacks at his shoulder a little, and then laughs.

“Whatever. I’m actually not currently fighting for that, I’m currently, um, brainwashed and evil and fighting against the American way of life.”

“Oh man that sucks” says Mark, with a completely straight face, and then says “Maybe it would be my patriotic duty to make sure you don’t get on this plane.”

“Jesus, I can’t believe how profoundly dumb this whole thing is.”

“Yeah” says Mark evenly. “Good thing you love doing it.”

Debbie doesn’t say anything, and then sighs, rubbing her hand over her brows to ease the sudden pressure.

“Yeah. Good thing.”

…..

She makes the plane, just, by running through the terminal and begging her way to the front of a queue.

Debbie had barely said goodbye to Mark, just slammed the car door in his face as she left. It’s only when she collapses into her seat on the plane, having fended off the extremely sour welcome from the air hostess, that she can spare a thought for him.

He’s doing a wonderful job with Randy. And Debbie… Debbie should be nicer to him.

She would be nicer to him, if she could stop picturing him fucking Ruth whenever he speaks to Debbie.

That’s an old haunting, a plague from a past life, but it turns out the image is back with a vengeance.

Only this time, she’s figured out that she wasn’t angry with Mark.

She was jealous of him.

…..

But jealously is a self indulgent, introspective emotion. One that is more suited for sitting quietly on a plane, rather than barrelling into the backstage area at a half run with her life gathered in a holdall at her side.

“Oh my god - Ruth, she’s here…

“We thought you weren’t going to show up, Sam is trying to force Cherry and Carmen to debut their week four fight early just to fill the gap-”

“I know… I know…. the plane was delayed-“ Debbie lies easily as she tosses her gym bag onto the bench and starts hauling out her costume. “Fuck, I’m going to have to skip make up.”

“No, you can just get a palmful of glitter and smear it across your face, it’d have the same effect.”

Debbie rolls her eyes at that one, delivered by Yolanda as she saunters across the changing room. Artie comes over to help her though, and gets to work on her boots, loosening the laces so they’ll be easy to slip on.

“Thanks” Debbie mutters, and then says “Where’s Ruth? How’s Ruth?”

“Ahhh…” Artie looks as though words temporarily escape her. “She’s a bit… frazzled. I think she was relying on you getting here a couple of hours earlier so you could both go through the general shape of this lecture thing-”

“I know, I know, I know, I was going to get here, it’s just the plane was delayed, and I couldn’t get here any faster.”

“Well Ruth was saying how you guys were supposed to plan it the day before you left, but I remembered that you had that argument with Sam, and then you wouldn’t talk to Ruth all day after that, and-”

“That is not what happened- oh. Thank you.” Artie deposits her loosened boots on the ground, and then says “Well. Maybe I read it wrong.”

“I… yes. Maybe” Debbie says flatly, simultaneously furious and apologetic.

Thankfully Ruth arrives at this moment, in full Zoya regalia. She has Sam in tow.

“Oh thank god, you’re here.”

“Shit, yes, sorry, hi, the plane-”

“It’s fine, I mean, but we really need to talk about the scene.”

“Yes, I was thinking on the way over that-”

Sam interrupts Debbie.

“No, sorry, this is bullshit, we have twenty minutes until curtain up. You cannot plan this in twenty minutes, it isn’t professional.”

Debbie widens her eyes at him.

“So delay the show Sam.”

“Sure, I can do that for a maximum of ten minutes before we run into issues. Any other great ideas?”

Ruth coughs.

“But it’s like I was just saying, we aren’t due out until the end of the show, that gives us an hour to plan.”

Sam gestures at Debbie dismissively.

“But she isn’t even ready… she hasn’t done hair, make up, not in costume-”

Debbie rolls her eyes, and in the most unusual power move she’s pulled in a long time, she starts pointedly taking her clothes off, pulling her top over her head with barely restrained frustration. Sam mutters “oh for godssake” and carefully turns his back to her.

“I can get ready and plan Sam. I can multitask. And if you weren’t in here I’d be significantly further along to being in costume, if you catch my hint.”

Sam doesn’t say anything. Ruth is by his side again.

“Sam. Seriously. We have time to figure out something. I’ll do Debbie’s make up, and we can talk it through. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be close enough. Better than forcing Cherry and Carmen to fight, they aren’t ready and the storyline isn’t there yet.”

“Alright” says Sam gruffly, still with his back to her. “Alright. If you tank there’s no do over. Debbie, next time try to remember that there are people here relying on you to show up and do your fucking job.”

“I told you, the plane was-”

“Whatever. Get on with it. Everyone else, places in ten minutes.”

…..

Ruth does her make up. Sheila ends up coming over to do her hair.

“I’m not great at hair, but the theme is basically just… big, yeah? I can make it look big. But it won’t be pretty.”

Debbie shrugs. “It’s fine, Liberty Hell isn’t meant to be as well put together as Liberty Belle. Big and not pretty is fine.”

Sheila nods.

“Okay I’m going to steal some hairspray.”

“Try Melrose’s locker” Ruth calls after her, before sitting down on a stool in between Debbie’s legs. Debbie smiles at a memory, unwillingly.

“Remember when we used to do each others make up all the time?”

Ruth’s lips twitch.

“Yeah, I always tried to make you look insane.”

“Well, this is the moment for it. Finally all that training paid off.”

Ruth delves into Debbie’s make up bag, which now contains colors Debbie wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing a year ago. She coughs, self consciously.

“How’s Randy?”

Debbie sighs, watching the bend of Ruth’s wrists. The dip of her collar bone.

“He’s… great. Perfect. I… it wasn’t the plane, I just couldn’t bear to leave him.”

Ruth smiles softly, and then turns to her, make up brush in hand. “Look up” she instructs gently, and then says “close your eyes.”

Debbie does so.

It’s not Ruth’s fingers, its just a make up brush, that strokes gently over her cheek bone. But… but…

Debbie keeps her eyes closed. After a moment, Ruth murmurs “I knew it wasn’t the plane. It’s fine. Randy’s more important.”

In the silence that follows, Debbie wonders what would happen if she kissed her now. Just… kissed her, and to hell with all the intervening explanations.

They’d never get the scene ready in time, for a start.

In the distance, Debbie can hear Bash’s first words into the microphone, the muted cheers of the crowd.

A locker door slams, and Sheila calls “Found some.”

Ruth clears her throat a little and then says. “Okay. So we should figure out what we are doing in the ring. You can open your eyes now, by the way.”

…..

Once again, they manage.

Thankfully their innate sense of synchronised drama is still intact, even if their ability to communicate about any other aspect of life lies in tatters.

As Ruth shares her plans, it becomes clear to Debbie pretty quickly that they’ve both been operating on the same general vision. And suddenly all the tension drains out of the moment, as they structure some kind of scene whilst Ruth applies Debbie’s make up. There’s no mirror, so Debbie is just going to have to trust that Ruth knows what she is doing.

They conclude with only moments to go, as the crowd ebbs and roars in the arena. Reggie sticks her head through the swinging doors and tells them they have five minutes.

Ruth is due out first, to spout nonsense for a bit at the crowd before Debbie arrives. She stands up, and stretches out her back.

“You okay then? Happy with the cues?”

Debbie nods, suddenly feeling ludicrously grateful. As Ruth turns to go, she reaches out, and grabs Ruth’s hand, gripping tightly.

“Hey. Thank you.”

Ruth smiles at her, and squeezes her fingers gently.

“It’s okay. I’ll see you out there.”

Debbie watches her go, and then sighs.

After a moment, Sheila clears her throat.

“Looking good Debbie.”

“Yeah?” says Debbie, reaching up and encountering her hair a half foot further out from her head than it usually is. Sheila tips her head to one side, and then nods.

“You’re doing fine.”

…..

And then it is afterwards.

Debbie and Ruth end up in the centre of a circle of the other girls, who seem determined to re-tell them what they had just done in the ring, as though Debbie and Ruth hadn’t just done it.

“Oh my god Debbie, and then the way that you kept on deliberately mispronouncing Communism….”

There’s laughter.

“Consumerism, conversationalism, contraceptionism, combustablism, cannibalism…”

“And then Zoya started trying to read Dr Zhivago to you-”

And then Debbie fell off her chair-”

“And then Rhonda appeared to be all ‘Education is important!’, oh my god I was crying by then-”

“And then the yelling, Zoya was yelling and Liberty Hell was like ‘I am smart enough already you aren’t my mom’-”

“And when you said-”

“It was amazing, amazing, how the hell did you plan that all out in the space of five seconds…?”

“I cannot wait to see you guys fight next week, is that happening? That has to happen, I will not accept anything else.”

Debbie doesn’t really know what do say to this garbled, overlapping rerun of what they have just done, but the girls seem to think that it went well, and that’s a relief. Debbie is pretty sure that Sam wouldn't have allowed them to fight next week if this week hadn’t worked.

But god, as nice as all this praise is, she just wants to be alone with Ruth, so Debbie can catch up with her brain and somehow find a way to say something good to Ruth, something that doesn’t involve three rounds of disappointment and forgiveness first.

Debbie’s just mustering the courage to grab Ruth’s hand, pull her away from all this, when Bash walks in, carrying a large box.

“Ladies! Great show, amazing, spectacular… and, Ray has been hard at work with some merchandise, so who wants to see the first edition of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling actions figures? You’re all in here!”

There’s some shrieks, and then a rush, and then Debbie and Ruth are alone, thank god. Ruth holds her hand up to her ear.

“Wow, okay, they were loud.”

Debbie grunts in agreement. “Yeah, louder than the crowd, I don’t know how they managed that….” She trails off, because Sam is across the room, looking at her with his arms folded.

Ruth notices her stillness, and follows her glance. She smiles when she sees Sam, and then holds out her hands, as if saying ‘acceptable?’

Sam meets Debbie’s eye, and then nods once. He then turns away from them, and walks over to Bash, and his armfuls of merch.

Ruth clears her throat.

“Come on, let’s go and get rid of some of this glitter.”

The changing rooms are empty asides from Sheila. Debbie doesn’t know why Sheila uses the changing rooms, she always seems to wear the same clothes whether in the ring or out of it.

She stands up as they enter. “Oh hey, you guys did a great job. Really great. I’m just going to… I’m going.”

“Thanks Sheila” Ruth calls after Sheila’s disappearing form, and then turns to Debbie. “Rave reviews…”

Debbie smiles.

“Maybe from now on we should plan everything with only minutes to spare.”

Ruth snorts at this, and then heads over to the sinks. Debbie follows, and laughs when she catches sight of herself in the mirror. Ruth had really gone for it with the makeup.

“It seems a shame to wash off this masterpiece”. Ruth grins, turning on a faucet. “Well” she says, “luckily for you, you look pretty good underneath it as well.”

Debbie doesn’t know what to do with that, so she just gets to work, rinsing as much of the sparkle down the sink as she can manage. Ruth copies her after a moment, standing at the sink next to her.

They’re sharing a mirror. And then, five minutes later, and with wet, scrubbed faces, they’re just staring into a mirror, side by side.

Debbie’s heart is tight, constrained by too many things for too long.

Somehow, Debbie reaches for Ruth’s hand again, but at the last second it’s all a little bit too difficult, and so she just ends up holding on to Ruth’s thumb with two fingers. Ruth sighs, and turns to Debbie, leaning on the sink next to her.

Debbie can feel her face doing a veritable cartwheel as she struggles to keep a lid on things.

“Look, I just want to say… you really saved my ass with Sam tonight. And I owe you. And I’m sorry, for… oh jesus the list is too fucking long to even begin itemising, but- I was wondering if you wanted to go get a drink? Now? Without… Bash and Sheila.”

Debbie’s thumb seems to have a clearer grip on her emotions than the rest of Debbie, because it strokes gently over the knuckle of Ruth’s thumb a couple of times.

When Ruth looks at her, her face is… difficult to describe. There’s an anxious sort of hope there, but also, she looks- frustrated, Debbie decides upon. Ruth looks down at their hands, and then looks up again, an internal dam failing somehow.

“Why do I feel like I’m cheating on you?”

What? Debbie blinks, and then cautiously opens her mouth.

“Uh. What?”

Ruth looks away from her, over Debbie’s shoulder, and then throws her gaze back at Debbie with the determination of a firefighter walking into a burning building.

“I fucked Sam again. A couple of times, actually.”

Debbie drops Ruth’s hand, and grips onto the sink instead. She grimaces, and and then frowns in confusion at Ruth, who makes no sense, why does she never make any sense to her?

“What…. what? Why are you… why are you telling me this? Why do you need me to know this, you know what I think about this.”

Ruth gasps a little, and then dips her chin slightly, sucking in a breath as though it can help her. She shrugs, looking away again.

“I don’t know, I guess I enjoy pain?”

Whose pain? Debbie wants to ask, because this is painful, Debbie can feel the pressure tearing into her heart.

“What the fuck is wrong with you… it’s Russell, you are cheating on, by the way. Russell. Not me.”

Ruth sighs, and turns fully away from Debbie, leaning her back on the sink so she can stare at the empty changing rooms. Debbie watches her profile, aches for her profile.

“I know, I know… it’s just…. I feel like it is you that I’m letting down.”

Debbie doesn’t know what to do with this, and her anger is here now, because why is it that Ruth gets to fuck up over and over again and it is Debbie who has to hand out absolution, Debbie who has to find a sensible way to react even as her soul has jumped the tracks and is barrelling over the edge of a cliff.

“Why the fuck would you- why are you fucking Sam?”

Ruth shrugs, as though she can’t decide between two mundane choices.

“Guess... I mean, I like him. Enough. I just want him to feel good? And you sure as hell aren’t doing anything to make him feel good, and if he doesn’t feel good then the show becomes difficult, and he won’t let us wrestle, and-”

Debbie’s hand curls up into a fist, and then she slaps the porcelain in frustration at everything, at every fucking thing that life seems to want to throw at her. Her voice is choked now, as though the words are awkward, obstinate things.

“It’s not our job to make Sam feel good, are you insane?” Ruth glances at her with this question, but there’s no answers in her eyes. Debbie sucks in a deep, controlling breath. “It’s our job to do our job. And don’t you dare fucking put this on me, these are your fucking choices, not mine.”

Ruth spreads her hands, almost laughing at the situation, as though she knew that Debbie would react like this and she’s pleased that her predictions have come true.

“I know, I know all of that, I just really needed a friend to talk to about it, and I thought…”

A friend. Debbie is close to exploding.

“Find another friend” she manages, flatly. Ruth looks at her, and oh god it’s the eyes, those fucking eyes. Debbie looks away, gesturing at the doors. “Talk to Carmen. Who ever else you think might have the ability to put up with your bullshit. I don’t know. But I don’t want to hear about it.”

Ruth reaches out for her, her fingers brushing the back of Debbie’s hand, hesitantly.

“But I want you-

“No you don’t” says Debbie. “You don’t. I’m not the one for this.”

Ruth is still looking at her.

Debbie leaves.

…..

Chapter Text

Once again, the job comes to their rescue. For all that Ruth would like to disappear for a month, refuse to see Debbie until she isn’t stinging all over with rejection, she just can’t.

Because they have to wrestle. And wrestling requires a basic level of trust and communication, so Ruth has to find that somehow.

It takes less than twelve hours, in reality. Ruth has one evening of crying in her bedroom, one evening of calling Russell and making him worry about how upset she is about things she can’t even tell him. One evening, of lying in bed and desperately wondering about Debbie, about what Debbie would do if Ruth went and knocked on her door and forced them both to figure out why they keep crashing and burning in their attempts to rebuild normality.

Oddly, and in what feels like the first time ever, it’s Debbie who makes the first move.

Ruth has collected her breakfast (and they’ve been eating breakfast free in the hotel for too long now for anyone to say anything to stop them), and is heading for a clear table, when Sheila flags her down, and pulls out a chair at the table that she and Debbie are occupying.

“Debbie wants to talk to you.”

Ruth stops. Debbie rolls her eyes, and then glares at Sheila briefly.

“Wow, yes, okay, thanks for going straight for the very first opportunity…”

Sheila shrugs. “What? I’m impatient.”

Ruth doesn’t understand this, and so just asks Debbie “Do you? Want to talk to me?”

“I…” Debbie clears her throat, and then looks away briefly, before meeting her eye again “Yes, but for the record I would have engineered this in a more subtle, casual way than Sheila the SheBulldozer over here-”

“Stealth”, Sheila says, profoundly and to no-one in particular. Debbie stops talking, and briefly looks as though she’s trying not to laugh for some reason, before gesturing that Ruth should sit down.

Ruth does so. Sheila stands up. “Okay guys… bye.”

After a moment of silence, Ruth snorts, and pours herself some water from the jug on the table.

“How did you steal Sheila from me, I thought Sheila was my friend…”

Debbie chuckles, and then sighs a little.

“I don’t know, she seemed to just… decide that she was going to also be my friend. She is still your friend as well, all she does is sit me down and give me advice on how I should… you know. Behave towards you.”

Ruth doesn’t say anything to that. She concentrates on her food, buttering some toast with vigilant care.

After a silence that can’t possibly last for a year in reality, Debbie clears her throat, and starts speaking.

“Look, I’m trying…. I’m working on a few things, and I shouldn’t have… lashed out at you like that, yesterday. I’m sorry. It’s your business, what you do with Sam, and I shouldn’t have made it about me. So, if you still want to talk about it with me- I mean, I’ll need a heads up and a valium, but-”

Something inside Ruth rejects that notion, the idea of discussing something that makes Debbie feel that uncomfortable is a solid no from her.

“No, I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it with you. I think… maybe we need to recognise that there are now certain areas of our lives that we don’t do well in talking about. Maybe we should work on being friends with, you know, conversational limits in place, for a while. Stick to what we are good at.”

Debbie bites the inside of her cheek for a moment, and then picks up her own fork, toys a little with the fruit salad in front of her.

“And what’s that?” she asks. “What are we good at?”

Ruth shrugs.

“Plenty of stuff. Um. wrestling, for a start. We need to plan our match. And we-”

Debbie interrupts her.

“Are we even allowed to wrestle? Has Sam given the go ahead?”

“Well, not exactly, but I figured… we should just start planning and training anyway? It’s harder to stop momentum than start it, you know? Sam will probably just go for the easiest option of letting us get on with it, if we don’t force a show down with him.”

Debbie is smiling, weakly. “You know him well.”

“Well… yeah.” Ruth saying, awkwardly. “It’s fine, I wasn’t trying to… anyway. I think we should do that. Does that sound… like something you want to do?”

Debbie nods slowly, and then summons a smile from somewhere.

“Yeah. Sounds good.”

…..

In fact, the hardest thing turns out to be deciding what they should wrestle over. Because Ruth and Debbie are now technically both heels. They should be teaming up to wrestle a face.

After a couple of hours of ineffectual workshopping, lying on the mats whilst they do some strength training, Ruth comes to the conclusion that nothing they do is going to make sense.

“I think Zoya just wants to fight her. I don’t think there necessarily has to be a sensible reason. We can fight over the fact that you weren’t paying enough attention in my lecture on the birth of the bolshevik movement.”

Debbie snorts, and then says easily “Well, it was as boring as fuck.”

“Hey, I did actual research on that. Ask me about Trotsky, honestly, I can tell you anything…”

And so, they wrestle. Over the correct pronunciation of Communism.

“Jesus Christ this is stupid, this has to be the most stupid match set up in the history of-”

“Oh please, next week Melrose is fighting Britannica over a can of hairspray, this is nothing…”

Debbie rolls on to her side, slightly winded from her impact on the canvas, moments before. She sucks in a couple of breaths, before pushing herself up onto her knees. She glances at Ruth, straight faced.

“Ah, but isn’t it like, magical hairspray? With magic powers to bring me back to my senses?”

Ruth snorts “Sure, because the fact that it is magic hairspray makes it far more plausible… you ready to go again?”

Debbie nods, getting up off her knees.

“Ready when you are.”

….

They train together in the day, and then plan together at night. Plan the upcoming weeks, because although it feels like Zoya and Liberty Hell’s fight is the finale, it really isn’t, and there are weeks of shows to go.

For a couple of days, it feels like Ruth spends all her time with Debbie. It’s the longest time Ruth has spent with Debbie in a good while, the highest ratio of ‘Debbie time’ to ‘everyone else time’ that she can remember. Certainly since before Randy was born. Probably since before Debbie started dating Mark.

And they’re good, they’re operating well, as long as they stick inside the boundaries of forbidden conversations. Ruth’s infidelity with Mark. Debbie injuring Ruth in the ring. Ruth’s confusing entanglement with Sam. If they avoid all the big subjects, its just like home for Ruth. She could do this version of life with Debbie forever.

Kurt, Carmen’s brother, comes to visit for one day, and he is happy to help Ruth and Debbie learn some new moves. A handful of the girls, all the ones who aren’t training, gather on the ropes to watch, clapping and cheering whenever something goes right.

“Yeah, but with more of a leap, rather than just a fall.” Kurt demonstrates, and throws himself backwards into Debbie with such violence that Ruth honestly can’t believe it when Debbie somehow hip tosses him to the floor. He gets up with a groan, gives Debbie a low five, and gestures at her.

“The momentum comes from your legs, you have to be the initiator. She’s just there to guide you through the air and make sure you don’t land on your head. Here, bring that crash mat here…”

And then, after an hour of effort, Ruth is doing it; she flings herself from the second rope, Debbie catches her around the waist, and then, in a shocking, all embracing slam, Ruth is flat on the floor, yelling in fake (and partially real) pain. Debbie makes a quick eye contact to check that she is okay, and then she turns away, and parades around the edge of the ring, arms spread to invite the cheers. The girls happily provide them, and this might be the stupidest reason to have a wrestling match, but it also feels utterly convincing.

Ruth is soaring, even as she struggles to her feet, completely winded. Debbie meets her eye, and then drops character, grins, and offers her a high five. Ruth rejects this, and turns it into a one armed hug instead, by grabbing Debbie’s wrist and just rolling herself bodily into Debbie. Debbie laughs at her, and gives her a little squeeze, before releasing her.

“Okay, we should… we should go again. And we need to decide how we end this match.”

“Sure” Ruth says, nodding. Debbie turns away, says something that Ruth doesn’t fully catch to Sheila, and then strolls over to Kurt, who accepts her high five without turning it into a hug.

Ruth suddenly feels… strange, and she looks over to the corner of the gym that has become Sam’s office.

Sam’s there, sitting in front of some papers. As Ruth looks over towards him, Sam immediately looks away.

Ruth waits for a second, but Sam doesn’t look back up.

…..

She knows it is coming, she knows what Sam is going to do, but she doesn’t share it with Debbie, because maybe… maybe she’s wrong? Maybe she’s just so used to dealing with the catastrophe that she now expects it, she now predicts it from the smallest sign.

Ruth should go and see Sam, that’s what would head off the moment. But she’s busy, busy with Debbie, and it is so good to just be with Debbie without having to think about Sam, about what Debbie thinks of Sam, and on, and on…

It happens two days before the week four opening show, in which Debbie and Ruth are due to fight for the first time in this run.

For some reason, Sam starts the conversation with Debbie whilst Ruth is using the bathroom, meaning that she hears the raised voices before she can see the body language.

She approaches the ring at something like a run. The audience has gathered, because nothing happens in private anymore, they’re all so far up in each others business that Ruth barely notices the other girls watching any more.

Debbie’s in the ring, hands on her hips, facing down Sam. Sam, wisely, has decided to not get into the ring, because this time Ruth isn’t entirely sure that Debbie wouldn’t just try to clothesline him.

Sam is mid gesture, mid speech.

“-why are you always like this, why is it always the most dramatic version of life with you… I’m not cancelling your match, I am delaying it, until next week, maybe the week after, as long as it take for you to convince me you aren’t going to maim Ruth again.”

Debbie throws her hands up in the air.

“Are you out of your mind? What… at what point have I looked like I was going to do anything other than approach this match professionally? What is this white knight bullshit you keep-”

“Shit Debbie, that would work with me, except I didn’t have any indication the last time that you were about to go fucking apeshit mid-match, and that ended up with Ruth peg-legging around for three months like she was auditioning for the Pirates of Penzance.”

Ruth slides herself into the ring, meets eyes with Debbie, and then comes over to the rope closest to Sam, trying to make this conversation slightly more normal.

“Sam, seriously, Debbie and I are fine, nothing is going to happen.”

“Yeah? What if she doesn’t break your leg so tidily next time? What if she does irreversible damage and you can’t wrestle again, your career is done?”

“I am not going to break Ruth’s leg, what the fuck is wrong with you? We’re doing great, the routine is done-”

Carmen breaks in at this point. “They look incredible Sam, they’ll bring the house down, you can’t just bump them off the set list.”

Sam smiles tightly at Carmen, and then points at himself.

“I can. I will. Because, in case anyone has forgotten, I am running this fucking thing, okay?”

Debbie snorts, and then says “Sure, try the dictator route, that always works out so well.”

Sam rounds on her again.

“Look, Debbie- you broke her fucking leg. You got mad, you broke her leg. And… the reason that you got mad is still there, I can’t go back in time and scrub out the fact that she fucked your husband-” Sam holds his hands to his chest at this moment, trying to look genuine. “I would, if I could, but I can’t. And in the grand total of three fights you guys have done, you have broken a bone in one of them. One in three. That’s not a great ratio. That doesn’t scream ‘safe working environment’ to me.”

Debbie holds up a hand to him, and looks at the ceiling for a moment. When she does speak, it is low, and contained, and dangerous.

“Okay, firstly, don’t bring up things which are private between me and Ruth, and don’t assume you know shit about our personal life. Two, you know damn well that I arrived at that match on the verge of a breakdown, so that was not a normal match and I was not in a normal head space. I will happily submit to a fucking psych evaluation if that’s what it takes for you to give us the go ahead. Three, why the fuck are you making this call? Have you consulted Bash? Ray? Have you even spoken to Ruth about this or are you just trying to kick the world until it is a shape that you prefer?”

Sam throws his hands out wide.

“Debbie… you broke her fucking leg! You got mad, you broke her fucking leg, you can’t just-”

”I was high, okay?” Debbie yells this at him, and seems to sway on the balls of her feet, briefly horrified at herself before continuing. “I had arrived in your office having an emotional breakdown because of Mark, and you didn’t do anything about it other than offer me alcohol and walking away, and I found some of your shit and, and…. I was high. I broke Ruth’s leg because I was operating on about ten percent of my conscious brain, and if you had just been a slightly better human and delayed the taping by thirty minutes none of this would have fucking happened.”

Debbie stops talking abruptly. There’s a stunned silence.

Ruth feels… hollow, somehow. She looks down at her leg, as though expecting to find it broken all over again.

“You were high” Sam says, flatly. Debbie puts her hands on her hips again, and then looks away, but the problem with being in the centre of a wrestling ring is that there is nowhere to look that doesn’t have someone looking right back at you.

After a moment, Debbie’s eyes meet Ruth’s. Ruth doesn’t know what to think, hasn’t figured out her response yet. Debbie’s face works restlessly for a second, and then she says “I didn’t mean to.”

There’s a general shifting, and clearing of throats. Cherry looks away. Artie bites her lip.

Only Sam seems to know what to do, and god, doesn’t he do shit like this well? It’s the worst version of Sam, the gloating, sarcastic, omniscient Sam, who slowly grins.

He claps his hands together once.

“You were high. Great, Debbie. All is forgiven. If only you’d said that you had deliberately compromised yourself in a wildly unprofessional manner before doing a high risk contact sport, we’d have all understood.”

Debbie looks broken, lost for words. Ruth speaks.

“Sam. You can leave it now.”

Sam shrugs, blasé.

“Sure. But, you understand now? Why I’m not going to let her wrestle you? Because she clearly doesn’t give a shit about your welfare.”

Ruth feels a tiny shoot of rebellion rise up in her.

“Yeah, well, I’m not sure you come out of this too great either. You saw that Debbie was struggling, and your solution was alcohol pre-match? I don’t think you should be talking too much about your concerns for welfare.”

Sam stares at her for a long time, long enough for Ruth to panic, about all the potential things that could come out of his mouth next.

And then he shrugs.

“You know what? Fuck it. I’m going. Cherry, figure out who can replace their match.”

……

Chapter Text

Debbie sits in her room.

She sits on the floor actually, next to the door. Because never let it be said that she doesn’t know how to hit all the tragedy tropes.

Okay, so. To review.

Ruth knows that Debbie didn’t make a deliberate and rational choice to break her leg. That’s good. That’s a solid positive.

However. Ruth does know that Debbie chose to get high before their wrestling match; not the safest choice she’s ever made and one that shows a significant lack of care for Ruth and her well-being. That’s not so good.

And, however number two, Sam also knows that Debbie was high, because uh, she told him, and so now Sam can legitimately ban Debbie from doing anything ever again in the wrestling ring, if he really put his mind to it. Which is another down side.

And, everyone else also knows all of this, and here’s where the list collapses and just becomes a roaring hole of shame in her chest, and frankly Debbie doesn’t feel like she has a chance of being normal ever again, with anyone.

Debbie cries for a bit, something that she doesn’t often do when she isn’t directly arguing with someone, but it sure as hell feels like she’s been arguing with herself for a while now.

And then, once the initial wave of misery passes, she just sits there, with her head against the door, trying to pick out any passing conversations from the others.

She imagines they’ll all be talking about her, how reckless she was, how stupid, how uncaring-

Debbie can’t make anything out though. There’s a few sets of footsteps, and some low murmuring, but nothing to satisfy her desperate, all consuming desire to hear people talking shit about her.

…..

She almost falls asleep. In fact, maybe she was asleep, because she jerks her head away from the door with a start when someone knocks gently on it.

Go away she thinks, whilst her heart is aching oh please, oh please, oh please…”

The tap comes again. And then its Ruth’s voice, through the plywood.

“Debbie? Are you in there?”

She could pretend to be out. But what is she going to do, hide in her room forever?

“Hi” she whispers, but makes no effort to open the door.

There’s a pause, and then something about the way the door shifts in its frame suggests that Ruth is now leaning on it.

“I think the rest of the girls went out. Sheila suddenly remembered it was her birthday, they’re doing birthday drinks.”

Debbie raises her eyebrows, and wipes underneath her eyes.

“God, is it her birthday? I didn’t even… I should get her something.”

“Yeah, I think you have time, I’m pretty sure that her birthday isn’t for another three weeks, I think she was just, you know… getting everyone out of the corridor.”

Debbie bites her lip, and then says “I think Sheila is auditioning for the role of our Fairy Godmother.”

Ruth snorts, and says “Weirdest Disney movie ever.”

Debbie laughs a little despite herself, and then sighs, tipping her head back on the wall behind her.

Nobody says anything.

After a long pause, Ruth shifts against the door again.

“Do you think you could let me in? I mean, I could sit on the floor, but I’m not sure how often they clean this carpet, and-”

Debbie hesitates for a second, and then drags herself upright, stepping away from the door so she can open it.

Ruth leans on the door frame, hesitating.

“Can I come in?”

Debbie shrugs despondently.

“Sure. But I should warn you, I’m going to sit on the floor and mope around, it’s been that sort of day…”

They both end up sitting on the floor, backs pressed to the same side of wall between the bathroom and the window.

Ruth’s legs are stretched out in front of her. Debbie wonders if she is trying to subconsciously show Debbie that she still has two legs.

After what feels like a long time, Ruth sighs, and says “I knew you weren’t okay. When we were wrestling, that time. I knew you weren’t okay, I should have stopped the match, it’s my fault…”

Something inside Debbie flinches away from the notion of Ruth taking responsibility for this.

“No, it wasn’t… it was my fault. I tried for a long time to put the blame on Sam, because he saw what emotional state I was in, but it wasn’t him. Not really. It was me, I was…reckless and irresponsible and there’s no way I should have- I really could have- jesus Ruth I’m so sorry, maybe Sam should just ban me from wrestling full stop-”

Ruth silences her by reaching out, and resting one hand on top of her own. Debbie goes still.

After a moment Ruth says “It’s okay. God, it’s actually better this way than… I thought you’d just snapped my leg because you were pissed at me and didn’t like me-”

Debbie gulps, fighting off the tears again.

No, I would never, I’m so sorry Ruth, I’m so-”

Ruth shushes her, and then grips at bit more firmly at the back of Debbie’s hand. Debbie sniffs, and allows herself to take Ruth’s hand, smiling when Ruth squeezes slightly.

“Look-“ and this time Ruth does actually gesture at both her legs “It still works. It’s still attached. And now I know that you were just… you were high. And it won’t happen again.”

“Never” Debbie mutters. Ruth nudges at her with her shoulder.

“See? No drama. It was a mistake. And it’s over.”

Debbie nods slightly, but then says “Not for Sam it isn’t.”

Ruth sighs, and then starts levering herself upwards. “Well, we’ll figure out Sam later. But you and I are good, that’s what’s important. Here-” and Ruth offers Debbie her hand to help her up. “Come on, we have to get ready and you have to look less like you’ve been sobbing.”

Debbie gives a little half laugh, and wipes away a stray tear.

“Why, where are we going?”

Ruth gives her a look.

“To Sheila’s not birthday drinks? Come on, it’ll be fun, and it’ll show Sheila our appreciation for her fairy godmother tactics…”

……

When Debbie and Ruth arrive, thirty minutes later, in the hotel bar, they are greeted with cheers and whoops and cries of “Debbie!” and “Liberty Belle!” by the awaiting crowd of girls. Dawn and Stacey are drumming their hands on the table in front of them. Melrose performs a small jig, before ushering Debbie into the booth with warm hands. Jenny snuggles into her side, and gives her a little squeeze. Sheila grins at her.

Debbie’s heart feels so full, she thinks it might burst. Because none of these girls are that good at acting, which means that they all do genuinely like her. The drugs revelation has not lost Debbie the place in the family.

“Guys…” Melrose half drawls, half sings, taking charge of the moment as she usually does “Look, it’s Debbie and Ruth, together at last… Ruth has both her legs, Debbie’s pupils are the normal size, this is a great moment…”

Ruth laughs at this, and sits on the edge of the other side of the booth, next to Bash, who Debbie just notices is there as well. Bash meets Debbie’s eye, and smiles a knowing smile that has Debbie rolling her eyes away from him, towards Sheila.

“Happy birthday Sheila.”

“You’re welcome.”

…..

They’ve not just been drinking, Debbie discovers.They’ve been plotting as well.

Bash taps the table in front of him with a coaster, calling the meeting to order.

“So, we have a plan. A great plan. For this emergency.”

Ruth clears her throat.

“Uh, what emergency?”

Carmen sighs. “Sam banning you from the next show? Remember?”

Debbie does, vaguely. Ruth nods. Bash continues.

“Okay, so, it was Sheila’s idea, mainly-”

Sheila interrupts, just to say “I’m sneaky.” Debbie snorts, and then motions for Bash to continue, curious. He grins.

“Yes. So! Sam has banned you, but we all want you to wrestle because frankly it’s going to be incredible, so…we are going to pretend that you are not going to wrestle. But then…. ha ha! Rhonda is going to have to pull out of her match with Dawn and Stacey, and then you two will have to wrestle to fill the slot last minute! I mean, what’s Sam going to do, finish the show without a finale?”

It’s a ridiculous plan, one that is cut straight from a comic book. But Bash looks so delighted with himself… all the girls look so excited about it, that Debbie suddenly doesn’t want to be the one to inject to reality into the situation.

So thank god for Ruth.

“Oh, guys…Sam will see through it. He’ll know that Rhonda’s just pretending. And I don’t want anyone to get fired over this.”

Rhonda clears her throat pointedly.

“Um…I’m a great actress though, plus there’s no way Sam would dare say that I’m not telling the truth. I have the best plan.”

There’s a pause, whilst everyone retunes to Radio Rhonda. And then Melrose asks “And what is that plan, hun?”

Rhonda shrugs. “I’m going to pretend that Bash just asked me for a divorce. And I’m really upset about it.”

There’s another pause, and then everyone turns to look at Bash, who has gone a peculiar shade of pink. After a moment, Rhonda turns to him as well.

“I mean… you are going to ask me for a divorce, aren’t you? Might as well make use of the drama.”

After one, agonising second, Bash nods.

“Yes! Okay. Great plan. Okay.”

Rhonda smiles at him, looking relieved, and then says “Okay, so, I’ll go to Sam and be all ‘my life is over’, and talk to him forever about my immigration status and, you know, cry a lot and be incapable of wrestling, and that means that Ruth and Debbie will have to wrestle to save the show!”

Debbie smiles, and then tries to speak gently.

“This… I mean, whilst this is a good idea, this also really isn’t a good idea, and if Sam figures out, then we’ve all made an enemy for life.”

Debbie doesn’t say anything about the extremely high likelihood of Sam guessing the truth, because he is not stupid and Rhonda is not Meryl Streep, but she’s pretty sure that Ruth can read her thoughts in her eyes.

“Aww, but it’d be exciting! I’ve already been practicing crying on demand, I just think about the coal miners stuck down there, no lights-”

Debbie clears her throat hurriedly, and then says “Yeah, exciting, but… I don’t know, potentially devastating as well. I don’t want to carry on having to yell at Sam for all eternity. And I’m pretty sure that he’s sick of yelling at me.”

“Yes…” says Ruth slowly, probably because she’s surprised that Debbie is backing away from a confrontation. “Yeah, I think… that maybe if we look like we agree with Sam on this, then it would, he would, I don’t know, be slightly more relaxed about Debbie and I fighting in the following week.”

There’s a couple of solemn nods around the table. Bash looks disappointed.

“Yeah, but why is he acting like this? I am missing some kind of… why does he think you are constantly about to try and murder Ruth?” It’s Yolanda who asks this. Debbie meets her eye, surprised.

“Well, because of… you know. Our… history.”

Yolanda’s eyebrows rise in a question.

“Yeah? I knew that you two knew each other before the show, but…. sorry, I’ve not been paying much attention to all the drama.”

Jenny nudges Artie, who is sitting next to Yolanda.

“Have you not told her?”

Artie shrugs, and then says “No, I’m not a gossip. Also-”

“Also, we haven’t had much time for talking” Yolanda grins. There are a couple of barely contained snorts, and then Tammé says, “Yeah, and side note - I need thicker walls.”

Debbie clears her throat. “Well, we - um, it’s pretty complicated, actually, but-”

“I can simplify” says Melrose, authoritatively. “Debbie and Ruth, best friends forever, until, whoops, Ruth fucks Debbie’s husband a couple of times, for reasons completely fucking lost on everyone including Ruth, but probably something to do with a deep seated inferiority complex that Ruth has about how she stacks up compared to Debbie, and then Debbie finds out, and then, powered by righteous anger, she crashes the auditions for Glow, basically ends up brawling with Ruth in the ring, and then Sam hires Debbie because she’s clearly got some inner rage that needs a constructive outlet for the sake of the city’s safety, and then these two end up as face and heel because of all of that simmering chemistry etc etc, and then fast forward one year and Debbie’s divorced, Ruth’s dating Camera Guy and somehow still has two functioning legs, and they either love each other or hate each other depending on what minute of the week it is. Got it?”

There is a deathly silence.

Eventually, Yolanda says, “Okay. Cool. Got it.”

Debbie turns her head, to gaze blankly at Melrose, who shrugs after a moment. “Look, I’m like, the edited version of your life. We haven’t got time for the eighty five thousand word thesis on ‘the Debbie and Ruth story’, so I just hit you with the headlines.”

Ruth drags it back to normality, and thank god, because otherwise Debbie might have offered Melrose up for an even more extreme editing.

“Okay, anyway, I think we’ll just… lie low, for a bit. Roll with Sam’s plan in an effort to show him that we can be professional. But thank you, guys, for your commitment to the more dramatic options.”

“Oh, but…can I, like, go and cry at Sam anyway? I’m getting really good at it, I can make my lips wobble and everything.”

…..

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen - Reasonable Pastiche

There’s a strange tension in the air, the next day.

Show number four is happening tomorrow. Ruth and Debbie should be finishing the show, should be finalising their routine, should be confirming their cues with each other…

Instead they’re sitting on a bench, watching everyone else. Ruth half heartedly suggests doing some strength training, but Debbie shrugs, and that seems to be that.

It’s not quite a protest, but it is a….something. Cherry, who would normally encourage the side tracked to re-focus, just leaves them to it.

Sam hasn’t arrived yet. Ruth wonders where he is.

“Do you think we should tell Sam we’re going ahead with his plan?”

Debbie juts out her chin for a moment, and then sniffs slightly.

“Nope. He can come and talk to us, if he wants to confirm the position.”

“Okay, but I’m pretty sure that Sam would prefer to crawl over lava than-”

“Good” says Debbie shortly. Ruth snorts. Debbie relaxes after a moment, glances at Ruth with a smile, and then rolls her eyes, looking exasperated with something.

“Come on…” she says lightly, “you can’t deny me all the fun in making Sam uncomfortable.”

Ruth rests her hand on her chin, and tips her head to one side, watching Debbie for a moment. And… she feels happy, Ruth realizes. She doesn’t know where this emotion has come from, but it has swung for her out of nowhere, near knocking her for six with joy. And the wrestling… doesn’t feel like it matters so much, any more.

She tries to pull herself back to her responsibilities.

“Okay, but we should do some planning for the show, use this time to figure out some storylines…”

Debbie nods simply, and stands up.

“I’ll go find some paper.”

…..

It’s the afternoon, before Sam approaches them.

Ruth does feel… bad for him. Because she can tell, now, that he regrets his public announcement that Debbie and Ruth couldn’t wrestle. And he’s looking for a way to walk it back without losing too much face.

But, they’re in the middle of planning out later shows, and things are flowing, and Ruth really doesn’t want Sam to interrupt with his usual ten layers of face saving caution.

Jesus, Ruth remembers all over again that she’s had sex with him. That’s… embarrassing.

Sam clears his throat, and then, when Debbie doesn’t look up from the page in front of her, awkwardly says “Knock knock” into thin air. Ruth smiles weakly at him. Debbie holds a finger in the air, and says “hang on-”. She finishes her sentence, and puts the cap back on the pen, and then looks at him, her face entirely blank.

After a second, Sam takes his glasses off his face, and starts cleaning them with the edge of his sweater. When he does speak, it’s mainly to the glasses.

“So… things got a little heated yesterday-”

“Did they?” Debbie asks. Sam glances at her, and then rolls his eyes.

“Yes. They did. I regret it, it’d be great if you could manage to say you regret it as well Debbie, but that’d be impossible for you as it would appear you don’t regret anything so-”

“Sam” Ruth mutters, placating. Sam sighs, and shrugs, replacing his glasses on his nose.

“Okay. Okay. Whilst I recognise that… we are not in an ideal situation, on an interpersonal level-”

“Are we not?” asks Debbie, blandly. And once again, Ruth is playing peace keeper, glaring at Debbie until she holds up a hand in almost sincere apology. Sam continues.

“But, my job is to make a success of the show, and I’d have to be blind to not see that the fight you two have been planning out is pretty fucking epic, so. You know. I’ve decided you can fight tomorrow. Just, don’t get high Debbie.”

Debbie rolls her neck slightly, and then glances at Ruth. Ruth nods, perfectly happy with things to go as they had just been discussing, and turns to Sam.

“Actually, Sam, we’re going to skip this week. Build it up for next week, you know?”

Sam blinks, and then says “what?” Debbie smiles an empty smile at him.

“We think you are right, and I should take another week off to get all the chemicals out of my system. So Ruth and I are going to sit this one out, play along with your vision, you know… and then we’ve decided we’ll fight next week.”

“You have?” Sam says, flatly. Debbie nods.

“Yep. Rhonda is going to fight Dawn and Stacey at the end of this show, it’s all planned out. And we will be busy writing the rest of the show for future weeks, seeing as you don’t seem too keen to take that responsibility back from us.”

After a long second, Sam takes a step back, and puts his hands on his hips, looking both petulant and lost.

“So, wait… you’re refusing to fight?”

Ruth shrugs. “Not refusing. Just delaying. It’ll make things more dramatic when we do.”

“You aren’t going to fight.” Sam repeats, clearly struggling to figure out his next move. Debbie stands up, and gathers up the papers in front of her.

“You know what Sam? We aren’t even going to watch.”

…..

They do end up watching the first show, of course. But this time they buy tickets, and sneak into the arena feeling like kids rebelling against the curfew on a school trip.

Debbie gets a message to Tammé, so all the girls know that Debbie and Ruth are there, watching. Ruth can tell that the message has been passed along successfully because in every fight the girls take particular care to spend a great deal of time yelling towards the section of seating Debbie and Ruth are hiding in.

In between matches, Debbie leans into her and says “admit it, you’re annoyed that no one here has recognised that Zoya is sitting with them.”

Ruth snorts abruptly, and then says “no, I am not, how dare you… besides, we are in our normal clothes, people would only recognise us in our wrestling outfits.”

“In Soviet Union” Debbie says, in a reasonable pastiche of a Russian accent “wrestling outfit is normal clothing…”

Ruth presses her lips together to prevent her from laughing too loudly, and then gestures at Debbie with her bottle.

“Terrible. Really bad accent.”

“It’s better than yours” Debbie says with a grin. Ruth gasps, and then puts her hand to her chest in mock hurt.

“How can you even claim… is this you trying to find motivation for the next wrestling match, because there is no way that your Russian accent is better than mine?”

Debbie gestures dismissively, continuing with her accent.

“No, you are wrong, your accent is too…what is phrase…. washy wishy.”

Ruth does laugh that time, and Debbie cracks after a second as well, and they both end up giggling.

Ruth can’t remember the last time she felt like this with Debbie. As though she could do anything, say anything, and it would be okay.

…..

After the show, they leave the hotel, and head for a different bar.

Ruth remembers bumping into Debbie and Bash outside this bar. It’s a moment that feels a lifetime ago, but she can’t help dwelling on it.

Debbie’s oddly quiet as well, but for some strange reason, for the first time in what feels like forever, Ruth isn’t panicking that Debbie’s quietness is about to transform into anger. They’re somehow past that.

Ruth breathes out slowly, and starts toying with her straw.

“So… I mean, do you still need a valium and an hour’s for warning if I ask you for advice on my personal life?”

Debbie allows herself a small smile, and then says “No. You… go for it.”

Ruth clears her throat, nodding. “Okay. Cool. Um…. I think I should probably break it off with Russell.”

Debbie goes still for a second, and then adjusts the line of her shoulders, clearly trying to relax.

“Yeah?” she says. “For Sam?”

Ruth flinches, and then sits back in her chair, shaking her head.

“No, that’d…no. But… I think I should feel worse, about cheating on Russell, than I do. It’s like… he exists in a whole separate part of my brain, one which doesn’t count in Vegas. I should be… traumatised and guilt ridden the whole time, but I’m not, I’m mainly just feeling awkward and embarrassed around Sam.”

Debbie bites at the inside of her cheek, and then takes a sip of her drink.

“You know, if you break up with Russell, and Sam finds out, Sam is going to think you’ve broken things off in order to take things more seriously with Sam.”

“Yeah… I know. It’s, uh. That’s tricky.” Ruth sighs, and then looks down at the table. She can feel Debbie watching her.

“Anyway, are you sure that you want to break it off with Russell? I thought… what did you say? That he’s - fun. And easy. And he likes you… it’s not weird. You know where you stand.”

Ruth looks at her, surprised that Debbie paid that much attention to her words. Debbie looks away, blushing. Ruth smiles at the gesture, and then says “But I thought you didn’t like him?” Debbie rolls her eyes slightly.

“Well, I mean. He was making you happy. I still think you are way too good for all the men you end up sleeping with, Mark included, and that annoys me, but… if he is making you happy then why throw it all away?”

Ruth doesn’t know what to do with the awkward compliment Debbie has just given her, even at the same time that she references Ruth sleeping with Debbie’s husband. It gives her a strange feeling inside. She takes a sip of her drink to buy some thinking time.

“Well…maybe I’m going to try and aim for better. Feel something, I don’t know. A little more than ‘fun’, and ‘easy’.”

Debbie shrugs, and then glances at Ruth as if trying to judge where she is going with this.

“That doesn’t sound much like Sam.”

Ruth pulls a face involuntarily, and then says “God no, I don’t know how I thought that was a good idea… it’s like a huge problem, just lurking over the horizon, waiting to explode.”

Debbie snorts at that.

“Sounds familiar.”

…..

They head back to the hotel, eventually.

Ruth isn’t drunk, in fact she doesn’t think she’s drunk that much at all, or at least what she has drunk has been over such a slow rate that there’s hardly been any impact at all.

But she is feeling… odd. Like she wants more, some how. This is the most relaxed and friendly that Debbie has been to Ruth in what feels like a million years, and yet Ruth still somehow feels unsatisfied. Unfulfilled? She feels as though, if she’d just had a couple more drinks, she would ask Debbie for a hug, some kind of physical sign that they were fine, rather than all these words, because words can mean nothing sometimes, especially when they’re between Ruth and Debbie.

In the elevator, Debbie clears her throat.

“Look, I was planning to go and visit Randy, in a couple of days. Once we’d finished planning out the next series of matches. I thought… I don’t know, if you wanted to go and see Russell, maybe have some face time with him before you made any big decisions, I thought we could travel together? That’d… I’d like that.”

Ruth smiles at her.

“Could I see Randy?”

Debbie shrugs, smiling back. “Of course. And he’s way cuter than Russell, just to clarify that.”

Ruth smiles, and… she wants to say something else, something bigger than just ‘I’d like that too’, but she can’t find the words in time.

“Yeah. Okay. I’d like that too. Not the Russell part, necessarily, but the… stuff with you. And Randy.”

“Okay” says Debbie, looking relieved and somehow exhausted.

The elevator pings.

It’s late, later than Ruth had really realised. The corridor is quiet, and they end up sneaking down it on instinct, aware that everyone else seems to be asleep.

Debbie unlocks her door slowly, and then seems to hesitate. Ruth is…waiting, mainly because she can’t figure out how to say bye, or if she even wants to. Debbie glances at her, and then smiles.

“I had a really good time” she whispers. Ruth nods, and then nods some more. “Yeah” she replies in kind, “Me too. I don’t… I don’t want to go to sleep in case we forget how to do this again tomorrow.”

Debbie lets out a little half sigh, and then nods. “Me neither. I worry about that too.”

Ruth says nothing, but she’s just looking at Debbie now. Just looking because it makes her feel….

Debbie looks back at her, and then leans on the door frame, and is still just looking at her.

Ruth can’t breathe. And her room feels so far away…

Debbie laughs after a second, a small, hopeless laugh, and then glances into her room.

“Jesus, Ruth…. take a hint, would you?”

It helps Ruth snap out of it. She backs away slightly.

“Sure, I’m sorry, it’s late. I’m going. Thanks for this, I had fun.”

Debbie stands still for a moment, and then nods, stepping further into her room.

“Yeah. Me too. I’ll see you tomorrow…”

Ruth’s room is only five doors away.

She counts every step.

Chapter Text

“So, basically, in summary, don’t fuck it up.”

Debbie laughs shortly, and then zips up her travel bag. “I think you might be over thinking this Sheila.”

Sheila is sitting cross legged on Debbie’s bed. She holds up a finger, a lecturer presenting an interesting new concept. 

“Or... you are under thinking it”

Debbie motions at Sheila to get off her bed. “You’re going to make me late. And, this isn’t a thing. It’s a plane journey. We’ve spent longer together, we’re fine, I don’t need a crisis talk-“

Sheila steeples her fingers under her chin, and Debbie can’t even remember how she got in here. Debbie must have invited her in, but it feels more like Sheila snuck under the door.

“What’s the ideal outcome here? Let’s talk goals.”

“Sheila, please get off my bed I’m going to be late-“

“No you won’t, you’ve got ages until you have to go... so what’s the goal? What does success look like?”

Debbie snorts.

“Why are you talking like this?”

Sheila shrugs. “I found a book called ‘Middle Management - Motivating Motion’ and you know I love alliteration.”

“Sounds like a book about creating healthy bowel movements” Debbie mutters darkly. Sheila folds her arms.

“Talking problems through aloud can reveal previously hidden solutions.”

“Oh, my god, please stop talking like that-“

Sheila interrupts her. “Are we speaking it out loud yet?”

Debbie rolls her eyes. “Okay, now you sound like you are summoning a demon-“

“You can’t cope when Ruth sleeps with someone, because you are jealous, because you want to sleep wi-“

“Okay, wow” says Debbie loudly, trying to drown out the end of Sheila’s sentence. “Jesus… do you want to try and announce that any louder? Parade down the corridor wearing a sandwich board?”

Sheila gets off the bed. “The first stage of solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. Also, that wasn’t a denial.”

“You are a problem, I acknowledge that.”

Sheila grins, and then reaches out to rub Debbie on the arm, in a simple fond gesture that surprises Debbie.

“You know, you are lucky that Ruth seems to like you no matter what you do, because there’s no way you’d be able to charm her with that attitude.”

“Will you please- anyway, if she liked me she wouldn’t have slept with Mark, so…”

Sheila rolls her eyes. “Sure Debbie. Because that was about Ruth’s overwhelming attraction to Mark.”

Debbie blinks.

“Wait, what do you mean?”

“You can’t fight the moonlight Debbie.”

“No, you need to explain that last bit for me again.”

“Debbie, you’re going to miss the plane.”

…..

So that was helpful.

She is speaking it out loud. Thinking it out loud, anyway.

Ruth. She’s attracted to Ruth. Of all the weird places her life could go… this doesn’t feel that surprising at all. Of course she’s attracted to Ruth. The revelation makes a great deal of the other weird moments in her life make sense.

It’s a strange thought though. A… ha, a queer thought. One that makes her blush, and worry at the edge of her thumb because it’s new, it’s all so new, and Debbie did not sign up to suddenly feeling like a clumsy teenager again.

What do girls even… do? In bed? Is there some kind of protocol? Debbie half wishes she’d been more receptive to Mark vague suggestions about threesomes, in the early eighties when that sort of thing was the vogue in their social circle. At least then she’d have some kind of road map.

God, she hopes there isn’t a mindreader in here, because this is embarrassing on several different levels.

Ruth taps her on the knee, startling Debbie away from an extremely unchaste line of thought.

“Hey. Come on, that’s our plane they’re announcing.”

Anyway. It’s just a plane journey. It’s less than an hour. They’ve spent more time than this together before. And, helpfully, they don’t even have to look at each other. Debbie is finding that it is easier to keep her brain on track if she doesn’t have to look at Ruth.

In fact, Debbie maybe relaxes too much, because after about ten minutes of gentle chat about how Randy is doing, Debbie ends up bitching about Mark’s new woman.

“I don’t care about Mark any more, we’re past that, we’re actually getting on well, all things considered. But, shit. This…. Susan, she’s not… ugh this sounds terrible but-”

Ruth guesses the end of her sentence, because apparently Debbie is really obvious sometimes. Ruth grins to herself.

“You don’t think she’s as pretty as you?”

Debbie rolls her eyes at herself, and then shrugs.

“Yes? I mean, no… I mean, maybe that is how pretty I am, and I’ve been walking around with this false sense of… like, maybe I am on the same level as Susan from the office? She… I don’t understand what he sees in her that is better than me?”

Debbie’s fishing for compliments. She knows she is. But she can’t seem to help it. Ruth stretches a little in her seat.

“Well, I don’t know, she probably isn’t prettier than you… just on the balance of probabilities. Maybe he was after the contrast.”

Debbie nods in agreement, because Susan does seem too different to be a straight swap.

“Sure, or maybe she’s just a nicer person than me, she wouldn’t have to work hard. I just… I’d feel better if she was prettier, you know? Although, I also wouldn’t, so… and I’m sure she’s younger than me, so maybe it’s that, maybe Mark could tell I was getting old…”

Ruth laughs a little, and then looks down at her knees.

“Okay, you aren’t going to stop being beautiful Debbie. That’s… you are always going to be… you were always just more than Mark could handle. And he’s realised that, and pitched at more his speed.”

Debbie doesn’t say anything, and then takes a large gulp from her glass of water (and oh how she wishes it was wine.) She tips her head to one side briefly as she swallows.

“Well. I hope she gives him a bit more peace than I did, I was not easy at all.”

Ruth snorts, and says “No, I can imagine…”. Debbie smiles a little at her, and watches as Ruth’s face falls a little, as a new thought seems to strike her. And then the thought is in the air, offered up for inspection and reaction.

“Is that why… you were so mad at me? Because he went for someone like me when he had someone like you? Because I wasn’t as pretty as you?”

“No. Nothing at all to do with anything like that.” Debbie says firmly. She leans her head back on the seat behind her, and considers how to answer this without allowing the entire charade to collapse. She frowns, and then rubs at her temple. “I guess… I was mad at you because you fucked my husband? And… I hadn’t even considered that you would do that. I thought… god this makes me sound like I have an extremely lofty opinion of myself. But, I thought you were supposed to value me too much. Our friendship, you know.”

Ruth looks down, and Debbie really doesn’t want to make her feel guilty, that isn’t the point anymore. “Yeah… I don’t… I guess I wanted to show you that I was the same as you, somehow. And I was… mad that you seemed to think your life was perfect, when it clearly wasn’t, and… oh, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Debbie feels the corner of her mouth twist, because it really isn’t a good enough reason but Debbie is going to have to take it, allow herself to forgive Ruth, if they are ever going to wade their way out of this mess.

“Wow” she says with a smile and a gentle tone, so Ruth knows that she isn’t angry. “What a prize to fall out over. Mark’s decidedly average dick.”

Ruth shrugs, still looking glum. “I’m sorry”, she says. Debbie sighs, and then pats Ruth on the back of the hand once, a pat that turns into a rub and Debbie has to remove her hand before it becomes a stroke.

“Oh, whatever. I broke your leg whilst high on drugs. We should probably call a truce, and move the fuck on.”

Ruth tips her head back on to the headrest, and sighs.

“Yeah, we probably should.”

…..

At the taxi rank, Debbie turns to Ruth, hitching her bag higher on her shoulder.

“So, um, how do you want to do this? Are you planning on going straight to Russell’s, because in that case you won’t want me tagging along, we should get separate cabs-”

Ruth blinks a few times, looking oddly nervous.

“Oh, uh, he’s probably at work, actually. I didn’t really warn him I was coming, I was going to… I don’t know. Surprise him. Before dumping him, god that sounds so stupid, but I hadn’t fully decided if I wanted him to know I was coming in case I… you know. Lost my nerve?”

Debbie doesn’t really understand how Ruth thought that was a good plan, but she shrugs.

“Well, you could come take Randy out with me? You can practice your ‘I’m sorry’ blinks on him?”

“Is that a good idea? Also what do you mean, my blinks?”

Debbie shrugs, looking around herself.

“Oh, you know… you have this thing you do when you’re emotional… with your eyes. You uh, you go all blinky-”

Ruth laughs, and then folds her arms. “Wow, thank you. I go all blinky. That is-”

Anyway” Debbie says firmly, keen to draw a line under whatever the fuck just came out of her mouth, “Uh, yeah, of course it’s a good idea for you to come with me to see Randy, the ratio of adult to child should always be as high as possible. Also, either Mark is going to answer the door, or Susan, and I honestly don’t know which will be more fun…”

……

It’s Susan, who opens the door. She smiles at Debbie in recognition, because she is nice, isn’t she? How awful. This is the same woman that Debbie snarled at over the phone, having a massive overreaction to a simple question about a bed frame, and yet here she is, smiling.

“Hi Debbie, how great that you could come over, Randy is going to be so excited… oh, hello?”

It’s one of those moments in which Debbie literally can’t restrain herself, and because she isn’t nice not really.

“Susan, this is Ruth, who technically triggered the collapse of my marriage. Ruth, this is Susan, the lady benefiting from the collapse of my marriage. You two have so much in common…”

Susan truly is a champ, because she just smooths on past this with the ease of grease, and motions for them both to come in to collect Randy. Ruth jabs Debbie in the ribs as they follow Susan in, and hisses at her “Really?”

“What? You’ve got to let me have at least one moment like that, otherwise what was the point of getting divorced in the first place?”

Mark is sitting at the breakfast table with a paper, but he stands up hastily at the sight of them both. Randy is sitting in his chair, and bounces at the sight of Debbie. Debbie is straight over to him, and scoops him up and out of his chair and into her arms.

“Uhhh-” says Mark, as Susan manages to say brightly “Coffee, for anyone?”

Debbie kisses Randy a couple of times, and then says “Oh, not for me, we’re going to head straight out once we’ve got this little one ready.”

Mark suddenly looks like an actor who has forgotten his lines. He looks between Debbie and Ruth.

Debbie relents after a moment, because even if Susan is forever going to have the title of ‘nice one’, it doesn’t mean that she needs to cling to the title of ‘evil one’ throughout her whole existence.

“Ruth’s going to help me out today.”

“You… okay? Uh. Hello Ruth.”

“Hello Mark” Ruth says cautiously, glancing to Debbie for a guide of how she’s supposed to approach this scenario.

Debbie relents a little further, and shrugs aimlessly.

“I’m fine guys. I’m not… having a moment. Ruth is…. I’m over what happened Mark. Ruth is genuinely just here to help out with Randy, not as some prop in a hurt parade I was planning to unveil. You can relax down from DefCon four.”

Mark nods after a second, and then gestures as Randy.

“He’s been griping a little; I think he’s teething…”

…..

They make it through, and then somehow make it out of the door; Ruth carrying Randy, Debbie carrying the baggage train that always accompanies Randy.

Mark had been so relieved Debbie wasn’t going to lead some kind of round table talk about his failings as a lover that he’d allowed Debbie to borrow the car, and Debbie piles everything into the trunk unceremoniously, shutting it with a firm sense of relief.

She starts the car, and then, when she glances across at Ruth to check she is okay, Debbie discovers that Ruth is already looking at her, softly.

“What?” Debbie says, clamping down on a smile, though she can’t do much about her blush.

“You were gentle with him. Mark.”

Debbie shrugs, clearing her throat and turning the key in the ignition.

“Well. I’ve exhausted that particular vein of outrage, it wasn’t doing anyone any good, including me.”

Ruth doesn’t say anything for a moment, long enough for Debbie to pull out of the drive and head left on impulse, towards the play park.

And then she says “She is nowhere near as beautiful as you are.”

Debbie closes her eyes for a split second, and she’s been called beautiful before, but it is different, somehow, now that it is….

“Well, duh”, she manages, and smiles.

…..

The day passes in a blink, a joyous blink, but a blink nevertheless.

Debbie had forgotten how good Ruth was with Randy, how she just seems to slip into a different version of herself for babies and young children. She has young nieces, Debbie remembers, a fact dredged from one of those old coffee morning when Debbie had always talked too much about herself and not given the appropriate amount of time to Ruth’s life.

But Ruth feeds Randy his pap easily, and soothes him when he starts wailing, and plays with him, and it’s all just…

It’s a lot.

So like Debbie says. It’s gone in a blink.
…..

And suddenly it’s time for Ruth to go and visit Russell.

“I….ugh, I just can’t figure out…”

They’re sitting in the back of a cab, which Mark had called for them, once Debbie had taken Randy to his cot and read to him until he fell asleep. The driver doesn’t seem in any rush, and rolls through the streets as through they have all the time in the world.

He’s heading towards Russell’s address. The plan was for Ruth to stay with Russell, and some how break it off with him in the morning, if that is what she really wanted. And Debbie was going to use this cab to head for the hotel she usually stays in when she comes home (since she, Mark and Susan had wordlessly decided that relations would be easier if they weren’t all sleeping in the same house, at least for now).

But Ruth has been having a fractured conversation with herself for a few minutes now, about feeling awkward and reluctance and a general hesitation to move on to the next step of the evening.

Debbie glances at her, watching the shadows move across her face as the street lights slide by.

“Do you really want to? Go visit him, I mean.”

Ruth sighs, and then holds up a hand in helpless indecision.

“I’ve come all this way. And… I have to go and do the eye thing that I apparently do.”

Debbie smiles at her.

“You do do an eye thing, are you telling me it’s involuntary?”

Ruth laughs slightly, and then tips her head back onto the seat, looking at Debbie.

“No. I don’t really want to go see him. But I should.”

Debbie shrugs, suddenly trying and failing to remember what a casual tone of voice sounds like.

“Well. We could…. he doesn’t know you are here, does he? You could… blow it off, if you wanted to. And we could go for a drink instead?”

Ruth smiles at the idea, and Debbie is watching the curve of her lips.

“You are a bad influence.”

Debbie laughs at that. “That’s what your mom always used to say about me.”

Ruth grins at her, and then shrugs.

“She wasn’t wrong though, was she?”

“No” says Debbie, entirely unrepentant. Ruth looks at her for a moment, and then flips a hand in the air.

“Okay. A drink. For some dutch courage.”

“For the blinks” Debbie says solemnly, and earns a laugh.
….

Chapter Text

They go for a drink.

It becomes several, despite Ruth’s heartfelt internal promises.

She was never going to keep those promises, Ruth realises, after some not at all thorough introspection. Whilst she knows that she should do the right thing, and go and see Russell, in order to neatly call everything off, the fact of the matter is that she just doesn’t want to.

And honestly, why would she? He is a very average man, Ruth loftily announces to her own brain, following her train of thought all the way to the end of the rainbow. Extremely average, in possession of questionable facial hair tastes, and despite being nice, and easy, he is generally not very interesting.

Part of her own brain tells her that she, Ruth Wilder, must be extremely interesting, because Debbie Eagan has been listening to her talk for what feels like it must be at least two hours.

And Debbie, Ruth decides, (although she thinks she may have decided this a couple of times already this evening) is also very interesting, and thus way out of Russell’s league. And Mark’s league. And Sam’s. In fact, Ruth suddenly declares, throwing every man she’s ever known into a one pile of bland incompetence, Debbie Eagan is probably the most interesting person in the world. That must be it, or why else would Ruth’s mind be orbiting Debbie like a moth to a bonfire?

And yet, there Debbie Eagan (the Most Interesting Person In the World) sits, listening to Ruth talk.

Ruth notices that she is still talking, and decides to zone in on what her mouth is saying, lest she start accidentally speaking in tongues.

“He kept telling me how real I was, you know? As a compliment, I think?” Ruth pauses, for the first time in about a year, and takes a drink. She realises with a small twinge of horror that she is talking about fucking Mark. Debbie’s husband. Ex-husband.

Debbie is gazing at her, completely glazed over, and then seems to notice that Ruth is no longer talking. She blinks a little, and then shakes her head as through removing fog.

“What? Who?” she asks, covering her tracks completely.

Ruth doesn’t mind though, and gladly restarts her thread, though this time with slightly more context in case Debbie needs to bail.

“Mark. Mark? The man you were married to? I slept with him once.”

Debbie nods a couple of times, and then says “Twice, I think.”

“Yeah, oh yeah. Anyway, I think I was talking about how shit he was in bed, should I carry on?”

Debbie waves a hand, suggesting that nothing could please her more, and Ruth happily plunges back into it.

“So yes, all he could tell me was that I was real? Like that’s something a girl wants to hear? As though I was going to really enjoy being told I was real? It was the last thing I wanted to hear, I didn’t want it to be real at all…but anyway, I knew he was comparing me to you, and I did not want to be compared to you because for a start that’s a comparison I’m never going to win-”

Debbie clearly is more focused on her words this time, because she rolls her eyes and then looks down at the floor, embarrassed. “Shut the fuck up that isn’t true” she says lightly, but Ruth will not shut the fuck up because Debbie needs to know the facts.

“What, it’s true? But yeah, anyway, Mark just…. he just kind of lay there, you know. He lay there and I got to be extremely real on top of him. It wasn’t much fun.”

Debbie snorts, and then raises her glass in a toast.

“To Mark” she says. “The shittiest fuck we’ve ever had.” Ruth knocks her glass against Debbie’s, and Debbie waves her glass down the bar, and makes meaningful eye contact with the extremely confused bar tender, before draining the rest of her drink. She inhales deeply, and then pins Ruth with a stare.

“Mark used to mainly talk to my tits in bed, I don’t think he made eye contact with me once. He made me feel like a blow up doll.”

Ruth, despite the all the recent exuberant oversharing, isn’t ready for this at all, and chokes sightly on her drink. She puts it down, outraged.

‘He didn’t make eye contact, what? But you are…. I mean, I’m sure your tits are pretty but your eyes are…wow”

Now it is time for Debbie to look like she wasn’t prepared for this conversation, and she bites down on a laugh before looking very seriously at Ruth, pointing a finger under her nose.

“Okay Ruth, you have to stop, you are scaring the other patrons.”

Ruth blinks at her, wide eyed, and motions around as though she’s making a speech to senate, such is her outrage.

“No, I will not stop. He didn’t even… but you are- god I can’t believe he didn’t make eye contact.

Debbie shrugs with one shoulder, and then looks past her, as though eye contact is some how difficult, more difficult that Ruth can understand.

“Well. I think he was scared of me in bed as well.”

Ruth nods fervently, because yes, that was exactly the issue.

“Yes. You need someone who isn’t scared of you.”

A smile tugs at the corner of Debbie’s mouth, and then disappears, although not from her eyes.

“Great. Well, that’s a lengthy list.”

…..

After another hour, Debbie cautiously suggests that they go and find something to eat, an idea that Ruth enthusiastically champions, because she actually could eat Sheila’s damn goat.

They wind up in a burger bar. The other customers are men, and some of them watch Debbie, before she rounds on them and dead eyes them all until they return to their burgers and their own business.

They eat in silence for a couple of minutes, watching people walk past the window, out of the darkness, and then into the darkness.

Ruth watches a man leave, and he half glances at Debbie before quickly averting his gaze when Debbie turns to look at him.

Ruth snorts, and gestures slightly at Debbie.

“It’s true, they are all scared of you. Men.”

Debbie shrugs to herself, and then is silent for a moment, long enough for Ruth to take another bite of her burger. And then Debbie says “You aren’t scared of me.”

It’s a strange retort, and Ruth is tempted to laugh, in fact nearly does, except that Debbie looks so serious when she says it…

So instead she says “Yes I am”, with a smile and a shrug.

Debbie looks away from her, and her hands twitch around her as though she is frustrated that Ruth isn’t understanding her point.

“No, I mean, I was trying really damn hard to scare you away, for nearly a year, it seems. And yet, you are still here… I didn’t scare you away.”

Ruth smiles, happy in the knowledge that Debbie is speaking in the past tense, conceding that the effort to scare her away has been called to a halt. She shrugs again, blasé.

“Well, I’m not very good at taking a hint.”

There’s a pause, in which Debbie looks positively haunted. And then she nods, slowly.

“No. You are not.”

Ruth grins at her, and then lowers her voice, as though revealing a huge secret.

“In fact, I’m very dense.”

Debbie rolls her eyes, and looks away, but that smile is back again. And Ruth likes it, so much that she’s pushed into being mischievous.

“And I will make all the damn eye contact with you that I’d like. Blinks included.”

Debbie laughs at her that time.

….

They go dancing.

Ruth feels ten years younger and thirty years older, all at once. Because she never thought they’d get back to this, never.

But it isn’t completely the same, there is something different, something about the way the lights bounce and the way Debbie feels like the only place to look.

Ruth doesn’t mind the difference though.

It’s a good difference.

…..
And then they’re back at the hotel.

Ruth is fighting off a sense of deja vu, as they stand in the elevator together. They’ve never been here before. There’s no reason to feel as through her life is flashing before her eyes.

Besides, she’s happy. It’s not as though there’s a sense of impending doom. Just… impending… something.

She never did go to see Russell. In fact, she hasn’t thought about Russell for nearly four hours, and what was that plane ticket for? What was the point of coming if she was never planning on seeing him?

Debbie is oddly quiet, and Ruth doesn’t feel quite as spaced now, she can actually tell that something is eating at Debbie, something that is making her not say the words that she wants to say.

It’s only a forty minutes plane ride. They could have been here and back in a day. And yet… they’re not.

Their rooms are next to each other.

Debbie clears her throat slightly, before half turning to Ruth, and the bulb flickers above them, giving them half seconds of darkness that feel like a relief.

“This was fun” Debbie says cautiously, and it is almost a question, as though Debbie needs something confirming. Ruth nods, suddenly glad that she switched to drinking water after the burger, because she suddenly feels like she is on high alert.

“Yeah, it was. I loved it.”

Debbie leans on the doorframe of her hotel door, and just watches her.

In the hotel in Vegas, Ruth’s room is five doors away from Debbie’s. Here, her door is just there. Just next to Debbie’s door.

But the journey feels just too long. Ruth sighs, after a moment, and looks down at her feet.

“Well” she says, not believing a single word, “I should probably go and write a letter to Russell. Or call him. Apologise for something he doesn’t even know about.”

Debbie tips her head slightly, as she looks at her.

“Which bit are you apologising for?”

Ruth gives a small smile, and then sighs.

“God, it’s a lengthy list.”

Debbie stares at her, and then bites her lip, and Ruth discovers that she’s watching Debbie’s mouth, and then her eyes.

And there’s something heavy in the air.

Debbie laughs, a small, disbelieving laugh, and then steps back, leaning against her door more fully and sounding exasperated.

“Jesus, Ruth, I’m really going to need you to take a hint at some point, because I can’t flag this much more obviously…”

And Ruth…. she feels some unused cogs in her brain mesh, because suddenly she’s not looking at Debbie’s mouth because she’s concentrating on her words. She looking at Debbie mouth because god it looks good, and Ruth wants to- for how long has she been looking at Debbie’s mouth because she wants to-

Oh.

She’s taken a step forward. Fuck, when did that happen, she didn’t even notice-

And now Debbie is looking at her mouth.

Ruth takes another step forward, and this is now too close, too close for any kind of normal interaction. This is death or glory territory, but Ruth doesn’t think she’s about to get shot down, because finally her brain has picked up on the hints, and Debbie wants her this close, she wants her-

Still, she doesn’t move, doesn’t make the final move. Because how? How did this happen?

The bulb flickers again. Ruth closes her eyes for a moment, chasing that darkness.

Debbie swallows, and Ruth is close enough to hear the action, and then Debbie reaches her hand up to Ruth’s face, and cups her cheek, and runs a hesitating thumb over the corner of her mouth. And Ruth feels her lips part, and she wants, she wants, she wants-

Oh.

When they kiss, Debbie’s palm slides down her face, to Ruth’s neck, and then to the back of her neck, pulling her closer. And Ruth is up on her tiptoes, desperately seeking any way to be closer, any way to extinguish the final bit of distance in the gap she feels like she has been trying to close for her entire life.

Debbie’s lips are- her mouth is- and then it’s her tongue- and then- Ruth’s hands are at her sides, and then underneath her top, finding her warm skin and then sliding higher until Debbie moans.

Oh, god.

The bulb flickers, but Ruth is barely aware of it, barely aware of anything, but if she could unscrew that bulb, shatter it completely, she would.

Debbie’s breath is hitching, and she moans again, and Ruth is going to remember this forever.

“Come inside?” Debbie manages, when Ruth breaks the kiss just so she can find some way to breathe again.

Ruth nods.

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

Debbie doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing.

It’s her over riding thought. She doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing.

And it isn’t from the stance of ‘why is she kissing Ruth like this?’ Debbie knows why the fuck she is doing that. It’s because she’s so turned on she can barely function, so turned on that, ever since Ruth kissed her, (all of maybe two minutes ago), Debbie feels like she is operating on a solid three percent of her rational brain. The rest is just her body, pulling Ruth into her and pressing her against a wall and desperately wishing for Ruth’s hands to go somewhere, anywhere real.

And the three percent of her rational brain is calmly panicking because she doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing because she has never done this before, and how the fuck is she supposed to make Ruth feel good when she has never done this before?

Ruth is grabbing at Debbie’s hips now, and pulling Debbie forward in a demand for pressure, and Debbie is between Ruth’s legs now, and thank god her body seems to know what it is doing. Ruth moans now, and Debbie chases that sound, feeling her own body’s response as she kisses Ruth.

Sex has always just been… letting the guy take his pleasure. And, if she was lucky, finding some pleasure in that. And, when Mark in particular had very lofty ideas about his standing as a generous lover, (back in the early days) sometimes her pleasure would become the focus, and, sometimes she wouldn’t have to pretend just in order to be allowed to get some sleep.

She’s never had to think too much about making sure her lover found his pleasure, because it just seemed to happen. Her tits seemed to always do the job, regardless of whether Debbie was giving things one hundred percent effort or zero percent effort.

Ruth hasn’t even touched her tits yet. Instead Ruth’s hands are at her hips, and then tracing across her collar bone, and then at the nape of her neck, running fingers up through her hair, and- god.

Debbie’s barely thinking. And maybe thinking is overrated, in the long run.

But she’s… nervous, Debbie realises. That’s the emotion. Nervous, and embarrassed, because she’s going to be clumsy, and she’s going to do the wrong thing, and-

She’s here. And this is now. In this moment, in this actual moment, Debbie is tipping her head back, to allow Ruth’s mouth to trace over her skin, and Debbie is moaning, moaning, and if she could find a way to switch off the final three percent of her brain she would in a heart beat.

“Ruth” she breathes out. “Ruth.”

Debbie doesn’t know if she is actually trying to get Ruth’s attention, or just revelling in being able to say her name.

And she’s not actually kissing Ruth now, they’re just pressed, body to body, against the wall. Debbie’s arms are braced against the plaster, and she wants to keep Ruth here, in this exact spot, because if she never lets her leave again then maybe everything will be okay.

Ruth reaches up, and in a movement that knocks on Debbie’s heart like a hammer on egg shell, cups her face in her hands.

Ruth looks at her, carefully. Debbie doesn’t want to imagine what she is finding there. She rests her forehead against Ruth’s, and the desire to just disappear into intimacy is overwhelming.

“Hey” Ruth whispers. Debbie closes her eyes briefly, swallowing hard before answering.

“Hey.”

“Is this… what is this?” Ruth sounds out the question carefully, as though speaking in a foreign language. Debbie sighs heavily, and then half smiles, hoping to hide the weight of the question.

“Fun?” she manages, because maybe the life or death situation won’t be so obvious if she declares that this is fun, just a bit of fun.

Ruth is still watching her, and Debbie’s mouth can still feel the pressure of her kisses. “Are you drunk?”

“No. Not really. Are you?”

Ruth smiles, and then shrugs a little. “I mean, the dutch courage helped, I’m not going to lie, but it wasn’t supposed to help in… this direction. But no, I’m not drunk. I was, earlier, but now I’m not.”

Debbie nods slightly, and then she runs out of ideas, and ends up entirely still.

They’re standing in the most intimate way possible whilst still having all their clothes on, but Debbie is suddenly beset by fears.

Ruth bites her lip, caution laced through the sound of her voice.

“What are we doing?”

Suddenly, abruptly, Debbie shies away from laying it all out, because she doesn’t operate on those terms when it comes to vulnerability. Ever.

She tries to smile. Succeeds, probably.

“Just… you know. We both fucked Mark. Maybe we’re just… trying to complete the triangle.”

A half second too late, Debbie realises that she has just strongly implied that she was hoping they’d end up having sex. And, granted, the way she has pressed Ruth up against a wall might also imply that, but the verbalisation moves this into a whole new territory.

Ruth doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then runs the pad of her thumb over Debbie’s lips. Debbie can’t help her response to that; she inhales sharply and parts her lips.

The motion of Ruth’s thumb stops, and suddenly Ruth is sharply focused on Debbie’ mouth, and all Debbie can feel is that one point of contact.

She’s not breathing. She can’t breathe.

After an endless moment, Debbie can’t take it any more, and she opens her mouth wider, and lets her lips close on Ruth’s thumb. She presses down slightly with her teeth, and then closes her eyes as she lets her tongue flicker at Ruth’s skin, just once.

“Fuck” Ruth says, in a ghost of a whisper. Debbie feels it in her very soul, because she has never heard Ruth like this. Never heard Ruth sound turned on, and it’s because of Debbie, jesus, it’s because of her.

She releases Ruth’s thumb from her mouth, and kisses her again, a needy, demanding kiss, and Ruth is arching into her now, and Debbie had no idea that making out could feel this good.

She whimpers slightly, and then manages to turn it into a moan (as if that’s any better). And Debbie needs so much, she can hardly feel herself anymore, she can only feel the raging want that has to be soothed by Ruth’s skin.

“Yes” Ruth says into the kiss, and it takes Debbie a second to notice that Ruth is answering a question that Debbie barely remembers. She breaks away for a second, blinking heavily. “Yes?” she asks.

Ruth half nods, but then leans forward again, and now she is dragging the tip of her tongue over Debbie’s mouth, from her bottom lip to her top lip.

God. Debbie’s… she needs Ruth to touch her.

Ruth blinks at her, as if she can’t actually believe this is happening.

“Yes, to whatever you just said about a triangle. I… yes. I want to.”

…..

And then they were naked.

There’s a half sensation that this isn’t actually real. That helps. That helps Debbie to not have a complete out of body experience.

It’s just… that this is Ruth. And this was never going to happen, if someone had asked Debbie six months about the possibility of this happening, if someone had asked three months ago… Debbie would have laughed at them.

They seen each other naked before, more times than Debbie can count, but that was back when their bodies were being functional, and they weren’t paying attention to each other, and-

They’re on the bed, now. Ruth is underneath Debbie, and Debbie is kissing her, kissing at her mouth, her neck, the skin just beneath her collar bone….

But her hands are trembling, and she doesn’t know what she is doing.

Ruth must sense her hesitation. “Debbie” she whispers, and Debbie almost wants to ignore her, because maybe they could just make out forever.

“Debbie… hey” Debbie kisses her again, because that’s become easy, that is now the safe thing to do.

Ruth kisses her back softly, but will not allow Debbie to deter her, and Debbie remembers that Ruth is brave, far braver than she is.

“Debbie…what’s wrong?”

Debbie huffs out a half laugh, because there literally is no escape, and then buries her face in the space beneath Ruth’s neck, shy.

“I don’t know what I’m doing” she mumbles, feeling ridiculous.

Ruth’s hands are at the nape of her neck again, in a soothing, familiar action that Debbie is going to miss the instant they are removed. Ruth chooses her words carefully.

“Do you mean… big picture, or, um, little picture, because…”

Debbie remembers a similar conversation with Ruth, although she can’t place the time, date, or topic. She sighs restlessly, mumbling her words into Ruth’s skin, and it is insane to feel shy when they are both naked like this, but Debbie manages it anyway.

“Oh… both, to an extent. But… I’ve never done this before, and I’m…I don’t know what I’m supposed to do” she finishes, feebly.

Ruth has a smile in her voice when she says “really?”, as though the thought of Debbie not instantly knowing what to do is somehow amusing.

“Yeah. I’m…. what if…. I usually only do things if I already know I’m good at it, you know?”

Ruth laughs at that, in a way that has Debbie grinning truculently, and mumbling ‘shut up” into Ruth’s ear, before biting at her ear lobe gently.

Ruth sighs slightly, and moves underneath Debbie in a way that, if she wasn’t turned on before…. Debbie groans, and now her hands are dragging down Ruth’s sides, because despite not knowing exactly what she should be doing, she has the general gist of what Ruth wants her to be doing, and that’s going to have to be enough.

Ruth gasps, when Debbie reaches her hip bone, and splays her fingers wide, gripping at Ruth’s skin. But still she hesitates, not because she’s wondering how to back down, but because… because…

What if this ruins everything?

Ruth moves softly underneath her, and then she is spreading her legs, and Debbie is choking down a moan.

“Debbie… even if you don’t know what you are doing, I’m so turned on I don’t think it’s going to matter that much, so will you just touch me- oh god

Oh god, Debbie thinks, because Ruth’s wetness is underneath her fingertips and Ruth is arching up into her.

And Debbie still doesn’t know what she is doing.

But Ruth seems to like it well enough.

And so she carries on, working her fingertips until Ruth is crying out, and Debbie still doesn’t know what she is doing, but she isn’t going to stop, not now, not ever.

……

It takes a long time for Ruth’s breathing to even out, afterwards.

Debbie lies next to her, watching her in the half light. And honestly, if she could freeze this moment… keep it forever-

She hadn’t known what she was doing, and yet it had happened. And now Debbie is… god she’s so happy it’s bordering on painful.

Ruth turns towards her, and strokes a tentative palm across Debbie’s face. Ruth blinks at her, watching her carefully.

“You okay?”

Debbie smiles, fighting to keep her emotions slightly under control. She nods, because she is okay. More than.

Ruth nudges towards her, until she is close enough to kiss Debbie again, and she does so, with a gentle mouth.

Debbie moans slightly, because she’s filled with a different kind of want now, just as needy but less demanding. “Please” she whispers, onto Ruth’s lips.

“Can I?” Ruth asks the question Debbie has already answered, and then shifts one of her legs, pressing it gently between Debbie’s thighs. Debbie moans again, and edges herself closer, until they’re both lying on their side, and Debbie’s leg is draped over Ruth’s hip.

“Please” Debbie asks again, and Ruth nods once, before letting her hand slip lower and her fingers drag upwards and-

“Fuck” Ruth whispers, as Debbie’s eyes roll back into her head.

Ruth probably doesn’t know what the fuck she is doing either, but it doesn’t seem to matter, and Debbie is working her hips now, trying to make Ruth speed up and slow down and everything, all at once.

And then she loses her words altogether, because Ruth touches her, and touches her, and touches her-

Until that final three percent of her brain is gone, swept away in the wave of pleasure that come and goes and then comes again, as Ruth’s fingers work in impossible ways between Debbie’s legs.

It’s a relief.

……

Chapter Text

“And then what?”

It’s three days later. Cherry stares at her over the coffee, looking as shocked as Ruth has ever seen her look.

Ruth shrugs, looking down at her own coffee.

“And then we… well. We fell asleep. And then we slept for far too long, and nearly missed our plane back… and what with, you know, all the rushing, we just kind of, didn’t talk about it? Um, I felt weird, mentioning it.”

Cherry holds up her hands, and then places her fingers to her temple, rubbing small circles.

“Okay, I’m going to need a hell of a lot more context if you are seriously expecting me to give you some kind of guidance on this…”

Ruth sighs. She feels like she needs a hell of a lot more context too.

“So, it was like this…”

…..

They’d woken up. Or, Debbie had woken up, and sworn a couple of times. That had woken Ruth up, and then Debbie had poked her in the side, which had woken Ruth up more, and then Debbie had mumbled “We’re going to miss the plane”.

And that had woken Ruth up fully.

And then they’d… well shit, they’d been rushing, and Ruth had dragged on her clothes and scampered back to her room. She’d changed into something different, thrown everything into her bag, and then Debbie was knocking on her door, calling through that their taxi would be here in two minutes.

And then they were in the taxi, and even though an enforced stillness had reigned, they certainly couldn’t talk about last night in front of the taxi driver, so they’d kind of just sat there, in silence.

Cherry interrupts her at this point.

“I’m sorry, I refuse to believe you guys didn’t acknowledge it at all, you must have… like, given each other a look or something, people don’t just sleep with each other and then collectively suffer amnesia the next day…”

Ruth sighs, and sits back in her chair.

“I think you are underestimating the levels of non-communication Debbie and I can reach, if we really put our minds to it. We are practically professional compartmentalisers.”

Cherry snorts, shakes her head, and motions for Ruth to continue.

…..

And then they’d been on the plane, flying back to Vegas.

Ruth had sworn that Debbie originally had planned to go and visit Randy again, in the morning before they had caught this midday plane.

And Debbie was probably annoyed that she’d missed that, because they’d slept in, because they’d accidentally, um, fucked each other last night.

Ruth had blushed hard at the thought, and then the memory (just the memory) of the way Debbie had moaned when she came made Ruth wet all over again, and none of this was a helpful response.

But it had felt like too much time had elapsed between the night before and the plane journey, Ruth couldn’t just start referencing it there and then. And besides, they are on a plane. Surrounded by people.

And so Ruth had been too shy, and what if Debbie was annoyed at her, and what if, what if…

And so they hadn’t mentioned it.

…..

Cherry covers her eyes with her hands.

“I mean… there aren’t enough relationship therapists in the world… and when you guys got back to the hotel?”

Ruth sighs, and motions helplessly with her hands.

“Well, we’d booked that plane because it arrived in time for us to attend the team meeting about the week five show. So… we went to the meeting, you saw.”

“Holy shit but you didn’t say anything to each other before the meeting?”

“Uhhh, no. We…. um. We were running late” Ruth finishes lamely.

Cherry drags her palms down her face, and then laughs abruptly, shaking her head at Ruth.

“How on earth did you guys ever manage to operate as friends? This is too much.”

Ruth feels herself pull a face. “Um. Not very well, to be honest. We were… I’m not sure if we were ever being completely truthful with each other.”

“Shit, you think?” Cherry laughs loudly now, and slaps her palm to her thigh, not caring how the people in this diner turn to look at her. Ruth snorts, and grins despite herself.

“Okay, I was hoping for a more supportive response…”

Cherry wipes underneath her eyes, motioning helplessly at Ruth. “Yeah, sure, I’m sorry, just… give me a second, this is too much for me…” Cherry sucks in a deep breath, and breaths slowly out, before biting her lip to fight against a grin. She shakes her head, and then tries to look seriously at Ruth.

“Please tell me you guys have managed to reference the sex since. Please tell me that you have managed that.”

“Nope!” says Ruth, polishing her defeat with cheery brightness. Cherry’s mouth falls open.

“But the show is tonight?”

“Yep.”

“You are wrestling Debbie tonight.”

Ruth nods slowly, looking away from Cherry and tapping her fingers on the table.

“Yeah…. why do you think that might be awkward?”

Cherry snorts, and then laughs again. “Yeah” she says, “maybe?”

Ruth sighs, and then sobers slightly, because there is a bigger issue at hand, somehow.

“Actually, I was hoping to talk to you about, um, a different problem…”

…..

By the time Ruth has finished explaining the whole Sam situation to Cherry, Cherry is looking far more serious.

Cherry doesn’t speak, for what feels like an ominous amount of time afterward. Ruth sighs heavily, and stirs an idle spoon through her coffee.

“Yeah, I know… that this makes it worse.”

Cherry grunts once in agreement, and then rests her chin on her hand.

“You know that I slept with Sam once? That’s why you came to me?”

Guilty, Ruth holds up a hand. “Yeah…. I’m sorry. Melrose mentioned it. Um. A lot. It was early days. But, I thought… I don’t know, my other option was speaking to Rhonda…” Ruth trails off into a shrug, and Cherry nods, easily.

“That would be a different conversation.”

Ruth raises her eyebrows in agreement. After a moment, Cherry speaks again.

“Look, me and Sam. It wasn’t a thing. Keith was there. We were… I don’t know. It was three adults, who all knew that this wasn’t going anywhere. Just a moment of… fuck it, you know? No follow up. Whereas what you have been doing with Sam… you’ll have convinced him that you actually like him. Enough for him to be hoping for follow up.”

Ruth looks away, worrying at her lip. “I do like him. I mean, enough? I wanted him to feel liked. And I wanted… to prove to him, that I was… oh I don’t know. I was flattered, I guess. He’d been so down on me when we were first training for the show, it felt good to have his attention like that.”

Cherry stares at her. Ruth looks down at her coffee after a moment, mournful.

“I know that makes me sound…”

“It doesn’t. We all have our… we all make not great choices sometimes. Was the sex good?”

Ruth colours, and then shrugs. “It- it wasn’t bad, I guess. It wasn’t a disaster. I went back for more, because…. I’m stupid.”

Cherry shrugs one shoulder, no commenting on the concept of Ruth’s stupidity, and then asks another question.

“Where is Russell, in all of this?”

Ruth feels her heart clench in panic, at the mention of Russell.

“Oh god, I really need to… I’m going to break it off with him, I was planning to do it when I was in LA, I just got sidetracked, but… it was bad enough that I had slept with Sam, but now? I’m just- oh god I hate confrontation, I’m so bad at it. But I have to call him, I tell myself I’m going to call him but then I always put it off…”

“Yeah, you can’t just avoid that forever, he doesn’t deserve-

“I know, I know.” Ruth puts her head in her hands, hiding from herself. Cherry changes the subject after a moment.

“And… see, the thing about Sam is that he is a child, basically. He’s desperate for validation, someone to care about him, someone to put up with him… you can’t sleep with him a couple of times and expect him to not… you know. Catch feelings. And it was different with Rhonda, because I’m pretty sure that Sam was convinced Rhonda was only sleeping with him for the career path, but with you-”

“Yeah, I know” Ruth says wearily. Cherry carries on, voicing the thought anyway.

“You are too professional to do anything like that. He’ll think that you’ve slept with him despite all the reasons not to, because you just couldn’t help yourself. He’ll be building it up into some burning romance in his head.”

Ruth groans, and then she says “Okay, so I tell him that it was a mistake, it’s never happening again.”

Cherry smiles with half her mouth “What, using all of your excellent confrontational skills?”

Ruth rolls her eyes. “Yes. I guess. Then what does he do?”

“Pitches a fit. Gets black out drunk. Probably fires Debbie.”

Ruth gapes at her.

“What? Why would he… fire Debbie? Can he fire Debbie?”

“He’d find a way. Or make Debbie quit somehow, they’re not in a good place at all. Because he thinks that she’s been warning you off him, which, huh, I guess she has. And Sam has spotted that. And he’ll think that without Debbie around, then…”

Ruth has her head in her hands again, because why does she always end up in situations like this?

“Okay, what if… I tell Sam I’m ending it because I want to make a serious go of things with Russell? And pretend to still be seeing Russell?”

Cherry shrugs.

“Messy. But sure, that’d… he wouldn’t fire Debbie. But then you’re left with Sam waiting around, thinking that you are eventually going to come back to him, because you didn’t care that much about Russell in the first place. And… where does that leave Debbie? You going to try and convince her that you are making a go of it with Russell, or involve her in your web of mystery?”

“Oh god… why is every single second of my life like this?”

Cherry snorts, but then reaches out, and pats one of Ruth’s hands compassionately.

“Hey, at least you figured out one thing; you and Debbie have a fucked up friendship because it turns out you are mad compatible in bed and hadn’t acted on it yet. Sexual frustration.”

Ruth blushes, and then bites her lip.

“I didn’t say we were…”

Cherry looks at her, and then says “Seriously? You saying that all that wrestling chemistry doesn’t transfer into the bedroom? I’m surprised you didn’t get noise complaints.”

“Shut…. up” says Ruth, but she can’t help the smile, it’s too big to be contained. Cherry laughs at her for a moment, and then sighs.

“Oh man, this wrestling gig… it really messes with your professional boundaries, doesn’t it? I’d have never talked about shit like this with any of my past co-workers.”

Ruth grins at her fondly.

“It’s a lot, isn’t it?”

…..

She really does need to speak to Debbie.

It’s just…. whenever Ruth thinks about speaking to Debbie, or sees Debbie, or thinks about Debbie at all, she’s suddenly blushing bright red, and remembering, oh god how she remembers…

Clearly, they’d both lost their heads. In some kind of shared moment of… how had Cherry described her moment with Sam and Keith? Fuck it. A shared moment of ‘fuck it’, with no follow up.

It had been so good though, jesus-

Ruth has spent the last three days not looking at Debbie. Because if she looks at Debbie, if they make eye contact once, then it is going to be obvious, painfully obvious, how Ruth is feeling.

(Like she’ll never be able to recover.)

And obviously Debbie is… Ruth cannot find an end to that thought.

Debbie is…. embarrassed? Hoping that if she never mentions it then maybe Ruth will convince herself it was a dream? Utterly oblivious to Ruth’s inner turmoil? Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in Debbie’s life, Ruth realizes that she knows so little about huge swathes of Debbie’s life, ever since she fucked Mark it has been different, everything is different.

However, they do have to be able to talk. They have to be able to wrestle each other, but the first hurdle is talking.

It’s with Cherry’s encouragement ringing in her ears that Ruth musters the courage to approach Debbie, and if she’s looking like she’s burning up then Ruth is just going to have to blame it on the faulty air conditioning.

They’ve not practiced the routine in over a week. They’re meant to be debuting the routine in…five hours. They have to run through it at least once, Cherry had looked like she was on the verge of passing out when Ruth had half heartedly suggested that she and Debbie could do the routine without a refresher.

Debbie is talking to Bash. That helps Ruth approach, because Bash is definitely a friend.

Debbie drops her conversation with Bash abruptly, when it becomes obvious that Ruth isn’t going to veer away at the last moment. She eyes Ruth as though Ruth has lost her head, which is entirely possible, Ruth concedes.

“Hi” she manages. Bash smiles at her.

“Hi Ruth, are you ready? I am pumped, I can’t wait to see you guys go at it in the ring, you know? All the girls have been saying that the routine looks incredible.

“Yeah, it was about that I was coming to talk about, actually… uh. Debbie. We should probably… Cherry noticed that we hadn’t practiced since we- since we got back from LA, so, I was wondering if you’d have time to go through the routine, this afternoon. Just once” she adds hurriedly, “-we probably won’t need to spend more time on it than that.”

Debbie’s face, usually so expressive, seems to have shut down completely, and this is agony, Ruth can’t believe they’ve managed to destroy all the rebuilt trust in one impulsive evening.

“Sure” Debbie says, blandly, and then looks at Bash, as though he’s easier to talk to. “Sure. I’ve just been… yeah, we can do a run through. I’m just… I’m going to warm up. Okay?”

Ruth nods several times, biting the inside of her cheek just because this is all so difficult.

“Okay. I’m going to…. I’m going to do that as well.”

Debbie glances at her, and then nods.

And then…. well, what else is she supposed to do?

Ruth walks away.

Chapter Text

Debbie clears her throat, and turns back to Bash.

“So, uh, you were saying that it’s looking like a full house?”

Bash blinks at her, and then holds up a hand.

“Oh no, no no no. We don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Debbie says, trying to sound normal. Bash gestures after Ruth, so blatantly Debbie nearly swats at his hand.

“We don’t just carry on with our previous conversation when…. what the fuck was that?”

Acting. Debbie thinks to herself. She is an actress.

“What the fuck was what Bash? We obviously need to practice before the show, we can’t just go into it cold.”

Bash grimaces at her.

“No, I mean, what the fuck was with the weird… vibe? Why aren’t you speaking normally to each other? Why haven’t you wrestled in three days?”

“We are speaking normally to each other, and I’ve just been… busy” Debbie finishes lamely. Bash folds his arms, sceptical.

“Have you had another argument? I swear to god I am going to march you over to her Debbie Eagan, and force you to apologise, because-”

Debbie interrupts, holding up a hand.

“It wasn’t an argument.”

Bash spreads his hands, perplexed. “Then what the fuck was that?

Debbie rolls her eyes, but she can’t keep on telling no one, she’s about to crack a rib from the internal pressure. She holds a finger up under his nose.

“Control your face.”

“What?”

“I said you have to control your face. And your voice.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We slept together.”

Bash does a pretty good job of controlling his face, and his voice, but fails to control his body, which reels about as if he has just been shot, and then clutches at Debbie’s shoulder for support.

“Jesus Bash” she hisses at him, trying to drag him upright “will you just… stop reacting?”

Bash gapes at her. Debbie fights against her own face, which suddenly desperately wants to grin, but she will not let it.

“So. That’s why we are a bit weird. Um. But the ticket sales…?” she prompts, hoping against hope.

No luck. Bash laughs at her, and then says “Sure, Debbie. The ticket sales. But what the fuck…. are you guys a thing now? Or… oh god were you bad at it, is that why Ruth is being weird with you?”

Debbie blanches, wondering how Bash has picked up on one of her own half fears so quickly, before she realises he’s teasing her. She aims a kick at his shin.

“No, you fuck, I mean. I don’t think so. But…. we just- we just haven’t mentioned it. There’s been no… it’s like we’re pretending it didn’t happen. Although neither of us are doing a great job, because um. We’ve not really been speaking to each other.”

“You haven’t mentioned it? How, how is that even possible?”

Debbie shrugs.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to… god I feel like I can’t just start talking about it now. And Ruth probably has the right idea, it’s probably best to just pretend it didn’t happen, because we can barely fucking function even without throwing a one night stand into the mix as well.”

Bash blinks at her, and then suddenly seems to remember he has arms, because he gestures in the direction of Ruth again, and Debbie does actually haul his limb down that time, before anyone can notice. Bash laughs at her.

“But Debbie…. you slept together? You should be… god, one of you has to break the damn deadlock- wait, was the sex good?”

Debbie can’t fight her face this time, and Bash doesn’t need an answer from her. He laughs.

“Oh my god of course it was, and now here you both are, like some kind of Jane Austin classic, refusing to talk to each other lest you seem too keen…”

Debbie grunts at him, and then rolls her eyes. “Yeah, cute, or maybe Ruth isn’t talking to me because her life is simpler if we just don’t go there. Also, I don’t remember any fucking wrestling in a Jane Austin plot, so unless you have any other pearls of wisdom, I need to go and throw Ruth to the floor a couple of times, and- do not say anything!

Bash grins widely at her.

“Oh Debbie, you’ve just given me the best theme for my commentary tonight. Unresolved sexual tension.”

“Bash, I swear to god if you fucking dare-”

…..

It’s not that Debbie had ignored Ruth.

She’d wanted to talk about it. Afterwards. She’d wanted to talk about it for hours, minutes, seconds, anything to just confirm that things were okay. Better than okay. That they’d both enjoyed themselves and maybe they should repeat the event, at some point.

But Debbie had woken up late, and then with the rush to catch their flight, they just… hadn’t talked about it.

And each second had suddenly stretched, into month long chasms. And the further that night had disappeared into the past, the harder it became for Debbie to say anything.

And now Ruth was avoiding her. And maybe… maybe the more Ruth thought about it the more she decided that it had been a mistake, and if Ruth was aiming for an easy life then becoming romantically entangled with Debbie was a pretty dumb move.

Debbie can’t remember what an easy life feels like. She doesn’t know if she’s ever had one. All she knows is that she wants the mess, she wants the inferno in her head to never die down, because her life might be increasingly difficult, but at least she feels like she’s finally living it.

But, in the here and now, despite all the chaos raging, she has to go and wrestle Ruth. Because that’s their job. And it’s their job to do their job. Nothing more.

……

And thank fuck for wrestling, really.

Cherry had been watching them by the ropes, as Debbie and Ruth had completed the routine. And sure, it had been awkward at first, but their bodies remembered what to do, and it had been flowing by the end.

Ruth takes most of the hard knocks in this routine, but she waves away Debbie’s checks, rolling onto her side and gasping out “I’m okay.”

Cherry claps a couple of times, and then spreads her hands wide.

“Easy. Looking good you two. Just take things steady and you’ll be fine.”

Debbie nods to herself a couple of times, and puts her hands on her hips, clearing her throat.

“Okay, so… you good?” she asks. “We could uh- I mean, if you want to go again then I don’t mind-”

“Oh, no, it’s okay, if you’re alright with everything then-”

“Sure, yeah, I’m fine, I was just checking you were okay with the cues and-”

“Yeah, I’m okay, I think… although if you want want to run through it again then that’s fine-”

“No, no, if you’re good then I think we’ve got it, no need for… I don’t want to keep you-”

“Yeah, great, okay, uh, thanks for the practice-”

“It’s fine, we probably needed to, you know, check, so… cool.”

Ruth stares at Debbie for a second, and Debbie is staring back, wondering if this is how their conversational style is going to be from now on, because Debbie isn’t fully sure if she’s got the energy.

After a second, Ruth seems to realise that she’s just looking at Debbie, and then turns away to look at Cherry. Debbie automatically does the same.

Cherry snorts, at some unseen joke, and then shakes her head.

“Like I said. You’ll be fine. Now get out of the ring so that another pair can practice.”

…..

Bash hadn’t been kidding about it being a full house.

In fact, Sam tells them all with a hint of pride in his voice, people are queuing at the ticket gate, hoping to sneak in.

They’re a hit, somehow. Vegas clearly understands wrestling in a way that LA doesn’t, and Debbie’s just going to have to accept that a large majority of the crowd appear to be sweaty men who like to wolf whistle at her and the other girls. They’re still paying money. It’s still a show.

“Okay, so, first show of the week, Melrose and Rhonda over the magic hair spray, Machu defeating Beruit and Fortune Cookie, Welfare Queen vs Sheila and the Viking over… what are you guys fighting over?” Sam squints down at his notes and then peers enquiringly at Tammé. Tammé shrugs.

“Over who is going to have control of Liberty Hell this time.”

“Although, for the record, I’d rather not have control of her, I work better as a lone wolf.” This is Sheila, obviously. Sam gazes blankly at her, until she shrugs.

“What?”

“Okay, fine. All of that, and then we have Zoya and Liberty Hell in some kind of grudge match, as a finale. And remind me why a heel is fighting a heel?”

“Because-” Debbie starts, realises how ridiculous it sounds, but then powers through it anyway, “because we disagree over how to pronounce communism.”

Sam stares at her for a moment, and then holds up his hands to everyone.

“And a moment of silence please, for the passing of any final shreds of dignity my career had. Disagree over how to pronounce communism. Great. Okay then, Debbie and Ruth rolling around for a finale, the end, and then we do it all again tomorrow. Got it?”

‘Got it” Ruth says brightly, but she’s about the only one. The rest of the girls give Sam a nod, or a grunt, or nothing at all.

“Debbie” Sam says, and really, she’s surprised he’s held back this long “please concentrate on not getting high, or breaking any bones.”

She glares at him, but he smiles after a second, a flat, mirthless smile.

“What, too soon for jokes?”

“Let’s leave the jokes out of this, shall we? Seeing as we’re both professionals?”

Sam nods dismissively.

“Sure. Professionals. Got it.”

…..

The thing about a full house, is that it is a lot of people.

Debbie waits next to Ruth, as the preceding match reaches it’s climax.

They’re alone, some how.

It’s not quiet, because the crowd is just on the other side of the door. But the silence between them weighs heavily on Debbie’s skin.

Ruth laughs, after a moment, half to herself.

“You know” she says, musingly. “Even though you are technically a heel right now, they’re still going to cheer you, and hate me.”

Debbie doesn’t know what to say in response. Ruth continues, after a moment.

“I am really good, at making people dislike me.”

“Well, that’s your job” Debbie says after a second. “You’re really good at your job.”

Ruth half glances at her, before looking away, and god, she looks so mournful, Debbie almost wants to-

She doesn’t, obviously.

She tries the next best thing.

“Anyway, I saw a punk girl wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Capitalist Scum’, so she’s got to be here for you.”

Ruth brightens.

“Really?”

Debbie nods, as the match in the ring finishes, and the audience roar their approval. “So you have one fan.”

Ruth smiles at her, and looks down at her boots, before glancing back up at her, as though sharing a secret.

“In Soviet Union-”

“Fuck off” Debbie says easily. Warmly. Ruth laughs at her, and then gestures to the doors.

“Okay, I’m going. I’ll see you out there.”

Debbie nods, breathing out slowly, trying to not let the adrenaline encourage her to do anything impulsive.

“See you out there.”

…..

God, she’s missed it.

The crowd yells at her, screams in a tidal wave of glee, when Debbie catches Ruth by the waist and slams her to the floor.

Debbie locks eyes with Ruth, and she can see that Ruth is feeling it as well, and it is different, when they wrestle together. The crowd feels different, the adrenaline kicks harder, everything flows until she feels like she is swimming.

And then Ruth is up, and signalling the next move.

And wrestling is a dangerous activity, but honestly? Debbie’s never felt safer.

…..

The crowd goes wild.

Bash manages to not reference sexual frustration once.

And Ruth comes bouncing out of the arena doors into the back stage area.

Debbie nearly holds out her arms to her.

Sam’s next to her though, and is… congratulating Debbie, she thinks. She can’t hear him.

But she doesn’t hold out her arms to Ruth, because the presence of Sam stops that happening, somehow. Instead the impulse turns into a high five, which Ruth accepts enthusiastically.

And then… and then Sam hugs Ruth.

…..

Okay.

Oh…kay.

…..

Debbie doesn’t know if Ruth fucks Sam that night.

Maybe she does.

Debbie has stopped pretending that she doesn’t care. She does care, the very concept is ripping at her insides.

But she sure as fuck can pretend to everyone else that she doesn't care.

…..

The next two shows don’t flow in the same way.

It’s still good, it still feels good, but now Debbie is on guard, on edge, because maybe she doesn’t know Ruth in the way that she thought she did. And maybe the sex between them didn’t re-wire Ruth soul in the way that it did for Debbie.

She doesn’t understand.

And they’re still not talking to each other, although Debbie is convinced that every time she looks towards Ruth, Ruth was looking at her, seconds before.

Sheila squats on her haunches next to her, the morning of the final week five show.

“Hey.”

“Hi” Debbie grunts back, concentrating on stretching out her quads.

Sheila says nothing for a while, and then quietly “Bash told me.”

Debbie shrugs.

“Well. It clearly wasn’t meant to be, so-”

“How exactly have you deduced that?”

“Because, Sherlock,” she says heavily, and then just gestures, to where Ruth is standing, talking to Sam. “Because that.”

Sheila cranes her head around, and stares at Ruth and Sam for a long time, in the manner that only Sheila can really get away with. Debbie half sighs to herself in exasperation, and switches to the other leg.

“They’re not…Ruth is just being professional with him. Trying to reclaim some boundaries.”

“Look, Sheila, even if I’m going with the inner eye bullshit of your body language detector and believe you, do you seriously think that Sam knowsit.”

Oh, Debbie thinks. That.

“Well, no, because Ruth clearly isn’t wanting to have a conversation about it.”

Sheila tips her head to one side.

“Seriously? Have you even tried?”

“No, because…” Debbie trails off. Sheila finishes the sentence for her.

“Because you are scared of rejection.”

Debbie grits her teeth.

“You are really annoying sometimes, you know that?”

Sheila nods placidly.

“I have been told that, yes.”

…..

And then it is show time.

Debbie is scared of rejection, but that’s just… that’s just called being a human, isn’t it?

There’s a bench, next to the arena hall doors. Ruth is sitting there already. And Debbie….

Debbie sits next to her. But she doesn’t relax, and so she just ends up perched awkwardly on the edge of the bench, as though poised to leap to her feet and run, if necessary.

But her hand grips the edge of the bench, in-between herself and Ruth.

Her brain feels crowded, somehow, with all the words that she hasn’t said yet, that she should have said by now, that any other functional human being would have managed to say by now.

The crowd roars, distantly.

And then Ruth sits forward, as though she’s getting ready to run away as well.

But, she mimics Debbie’s hand, until they’re both occupying the same six inches of wood, and Debbie’s little finger is so close to Ruth’s that Debbie swears she can almost feel the heat of it.

Debbie is staring at their hands.

And then she realises that Ruth is as well.

Debbie clears her throat.

“I think… I think we might have missed having a conversation. About- about things that we really should talk about.”

“Yes” says Ruth quickly, sounding relieved. “I, um. I also think that.”

“Okay” Debbie says, almost choking on her own words. “So, should we do that? After the show?”

Ruth nods quickly, and then, amazingly, Ruth’s little finger moves, so now it is on top of Debbie’s, momentarily. And they’re about to slam their bodies into each other repeatedly in the name of entertainment, but this small contact rocks Debbie through her soul.

“Okay” she breathes out again. “Okay.”

Ruth smiles quickly at her, and bites her lip, and Debbie is going to kiss her.

But that’s Ruth’s cue.

“Okay” she says softly, and then she is gone.

Chapter Text

Ruth could be flying.

Debbie always describes wrestling as swimming, when it is going well. She describes the effortless feeling of gliding from one move to another.

But to Ruth it feels more like flying, even as she slams to the floor and her body delivers the collective shock of it to her brain all at once.

It’s a dance. It’s perfect, wordless communication, and it’s with Debbie.

And it doesn’t matter if everyone in the audience thinks they’re watching wrestling. Ruth feels like she’s performing ballet, and she’s effortless, weightless.

But then, there’s something.

A discord.

It’s there and then it’s gone, half a second of discomfort.

It’s hard to dedicate any space of her brain to figure out what is worrying her. Ruth’s first instinct is to check Debbie, check if she’s flagging any problems. But no, Debbie looks serene, nothing but complete concentration.

Her next thought is her body, has she stretched something too far? Pulled something? Damaged something?

No, she’s fine.

So, what?

Then she feels it again.

Sees it.

Sees him.

In the audience.

Russell is here.

Russell is here?

Russell is here?

Ruth nearly misses her cue, and she’s slightly behind on the move, meaning that Debbie has to haul her through the air, rather than just pivot Ruth on the basis of her own momentum. She manages it, and they land it well enough, and it is probably only Debbie who notices the problem.

There’s a question in Debbie’s eyes, as Ruth staggers to her feet in mock agony. And Ruth can’t help it, she breaks the routine, and looks towards where Russell is sitting. Because maybe it isn’t Russell, maybe he has a doppelgänger in Vegas who-

No, that definitely is Russell. He grins at her, and gives her a little wave and a thumbs up. Surprise! he mouths at Ruth, and yes, it is definitely a surprise.

Debbie has followed her glance, and Ruth can tell from her face that she’s figured out what has thrown her.

They sway for a moment, hesitating.

Ruth watches as Debbie regains her senses first, in an abstract way. Somehow Ruth’s mind has gone blank, she can’t even begin to calculate the implications of Russell being here.

You okay? Debbie mouths at her, and Ruth…. well. Ruth has to be. She can’t hold up her hands and ask the audience to give her five minutes to think.

She nods slightly, because she can do it. Her body knows what it is doing.

Debbie comes at her. And Ruth reacts, just like she is supposed to.

…..

But she’s…

She’s furious with him.

Russell gets allowed into the back stage area by Bash, who is looking deeply perplexed by Russell’s arrival.

And fuck, she is furious with him, but everyone is here, fulfilling their never ending role as audience to Ruth’s life. And she can’t just start yelling at him.

The pressure of societal conventions means that she hugs him. And then he kisses her, and… that’s another thing that she just has to let happen.

“Oh my god…why are you here? And hi, I mean.”

Russell grins at her, and then shrugs. “I missed you. And work freed up unexpectedly, so I thought, you know… surprise!” He waggles his hands.

She rolls her eyes and gives him a little half shove.

“You can’t just… surprise people while they are wrestling. You nearly broke our rhythm. You should have called.”

“Sorry. I was being romantic. I wanted to surprise you for our anniversary.”

Ruth feels her face and her stomach fall.

“What anniversary?”

Russell stares solemnly at her for a moment, and then breaks, laughing at her.

“….No, I’m just kidding. I just wanted to see you. And you guys were great!” He turns to the others, who all look slightly startled to be involved. “Amazing show. And you and Debbie…holy shit the crowd loved it.”

“Oh, well, uh, it’s mainly Debbie they love-” Ruth looks around for Debbie at this point, simultaneously hoping to find her and not find her. Cherry notices her action, and says “She’s already gone to the changing rooms to clean up.”

And what Ruth should do, what she should do right now, is apologise to Russell. Tell him that he’s wasted his journey, that she’s been thinking about ending it with him for a while now, but she just hasn’t managed to because she hates confrontation.

But she doesn’t. Because everyone is here, and because (surprise) she hates confrontation.

“But, um, I’m glad you liked the show.”

Russell nods enthusiastically.

“It was pretty fucking epic. Sam, my guy… you’ve done a great job.”

Ruth glances to her left, and of course Sam is here, looking as ready for a fight as he usually looks around Debbie. The compliment throws him though, and Russell, with his easy charm, doesn’t come with the same obvious attack points as Debbie, so Sam folds his arms, and begrudgingly accepts the praise.

“Uh, thanks man. It’s… it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah man, you too. Shit, this is the hottest ticket in town, I had to pay double the asking price to get someone’s spare ticket.”

“You didn’t need to do that” Ruth finds herself saying automatically, “we’d have let you in if you’d told us you were here.”

Russell grins at her, and then puts an arm around her waist, kissing her temple.

“Well sure, but that would have ruined the surprise…”

Ruth unwillingly meets Sam’s eyes. And he looks like he’s just swallowed a breeze block.

Shit, this is all such a mess.

Everyone looks at Ruth.

“Uh, Russell, actually-”

Just then Ray pushes the doors open with a hearty cheer, and this is an unusual enough event for the focus to switch to him.

“Ladies…. the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling…. full house every night this week! People queuing down the street! We’ve doubled the ticket prices for next week, and they’re still selling like crazy!”

Some of the girls whoop in celebration, and hug and high five each other. Russell gives her a little squeeze. Sam’s mouth twists into a grimace that is almost a smile. Ray approaches him, wagging his finger at him.

“What did I say, my man, what did I say…. I knew that this show would be a hit live, and you have made it happen. Genius!”

Sam rubs a hand over his mouth, and then gestures slightly at Ruth.

“Well, it’s been mainly Ruth, and Debbie, plotting the story lines, I’ve just been here to keep everything ticking along…”

Ray taps him on the chest, laughing.

“Storylines, please, as if that’s what the crowd are here for… this was your vision! Gorgeous ladies, wrestling, why didn’t anyone think of it before?”

“Uh, well that was Bash’s idea…” Sam indicates towards Bash, who gives Ray a half wave. Ray smiles at him benevolently, and then turns back to Sam.

“Sure. Very magnanimous of you, giving away the credit like that. You’re a great director, isn’t he a great boss ladies?”

A couple of the girls shrug. Melrose says “yeah?” with an obvious question mark attached to the end. Tammy gives a cautious thumbs up. Artie asks “Do we get a raise, if the ticket prices have gone up?”

Ray pauses, thinks about this for a second, and then shrugs. “Maybe!” he says, with careless non-conviction. And then he claps his hands together.

“But, your reward for tonight…” and everyone perks up immediately. “Free entry, free drinks, and your own room at my club, tonight! Invite who you like!”

That is met with excitement. Jenny instantly falls into conversation with Dawn and Stacy about what she is going to wear.

Yolanda clears her throat. “Uh, isn’t your club a strip club?”

Ray waves her away. “No, only on Thursdays, I’m moving away from all that. Only respectable behaviour, Friday through Wednesday… who’s coming? Sam, I know you’re coming…”

Everyone’s going, judging by the cheers.

Russell nudges her. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

…..

And so, here they all are.

Ray’s club isn’t as seedy as Ruth had expected - it’s bordering on fancy, actually, and Ruth doesn’t feel dressed up enough.

Ray is good to his promise of free everything. Ruth and Russell are presented with drinks. The music is loud, and Ruth can see the other girls dancing, with the kind of body unconscious abandon that can only come from being professional bodies all day long.

The music is… almost too loud. It thumps, and Ruth’s brain feels muffled, almost. She cannot think, she’s almost paralyzed into inactivity by Russell’s presence.

And it’s not just Russell. Sam is here, just standing over there, allowing himself to be swept along in a wave of Ray’s enthusiastic eloquence. Ruth watches as Sam nods absentmindedly.

Sam has not looked at her at all. But Ruth knows, knows that he is watching her, monitoring her every move.

Jesus, she supposes that she should be grateful to him that Sam hasn’t just casually dropped into conversation that Ruth has cheated on Russell a couple of times. Cheated on Russell with Sam. But then, maybe she should want Sam to reveal the secret. If that’s the only way for this whole mess to start moving then perhaps she needs Sam blowing some kind of inner fuse and announcing to the world that Ruth has been cheating on Russell.

Russell suggests they dance. Ruth can’t think of an answer that isn’t yes.

She knows that it is just her ego, her own paranoid sense of self importance, that is telling her that everyone is watching her. They are not watching her.

Russell is a good dancer. And he is trying to make Ruth laugh, she can tell.

She smiles weakly, and then looks around over her shoulder.

Debbie still isn’t here. Ruth doesn’t know why she wants Debbie to arrive, in fact she isn’t completely sure if she wants her to arrive at all. But it seems as inevitable as a meteor strike, so Ruth just wants it over.

And jesus, now she’s angry with Debbie, because if Debbie had just managed to talk to her, given her some indication that sleeping with each other wasn’t a colossal mistake… then maybe Ruth would have managed to break it off with Russell.

Great, now Ruth is angry with Russell, Sam, and Debbie. The full hat trick.

Don’t you dare fucking put this on me, these are your fucking choices, not mine. Ruth remembers Debbie throwing that line at her, although she can’t remember which recent argument that had been from.

Russell steps towards her, yelling into her ear above the music.

“Let’s not stay to much longer, huh? I came to see you, not all these other people as well…”

Ruth nods absently, still casting glances beyond Russell’s shoulder.

“Uh. Sure. Okay.”

And then Bash is next to her. Ruth almost collapses into him.

“Where is she?”

Bash doesn’t even need to ask. He gestures over his shoulder.

“Outside, psyching herself up, I think. I thought… if you wanted to speak to her alone then that might be your best opportunity.”

Ruth nods, and summons her courage.

“I’m just going to the bathroom Russell…”

…..

The night air is almost cool now, and Ruth shivers.

Debbie is leaning against a wall, on the very edge of the glow provided by the door lights. She’s smoking.

Ruth approaches her cautiously.

“Uh. Are you coming in?”

Debbie shrugs, and gestures at her cigarette.

“I am, just… finishing this.”

“I thought you’d quit?”

Debbie laughs shortly. “I had.”

“So… what are you doing?”

“I don’t know Ruth, what the fuck are you doing?”

Ruth looks down at her shoes.

“I don’t know.”

“Great. Excellent” Debbie says, angrily stubbing out the cigarette on the wall behind her. “Well, if you could let me know at some point, I’d appreciate it.”

Debbie makes to head inside, and Ruth could almost cry with frustration, because it’s too loud in the club and she wouldn’t have a chance to say any of the things she feels she has to say. Just to be able to breathe again.

“Debbie, wait…”

Debbie scoffs at her.

“For how long, Ruth? All I seem to do is wait for you to finish making one mistake, and then you plunge straight into the next one.”

Debbie flows through the entrance to the club like she owns every breath in the room, and the bouncers don’t even check her, Ruth notices, they just stand to one side and let her pass. Ruth does get stopped, even though she just walked past them a second ago. Debbie sighs and flicks her hand at her.

“She’s with me.”

And now they’re both inside, in the narrow corridor that leads to the main rooms. The lighting here is red, and ugly. Ruth grabs at Debbie arm, anxious to at least drag this conversation to some kind of conclusion before the music gets too loud and the audience too obvious.

“I am going to end it with him, it’s just… I need to figure out a way to do it so that it doesn’t make Sam think-”

Debbie looks close to an explosion point.

“Why do you even care what you make Sam think? Ruth, neither of those men are worth…. why are you so worried about hurting their feelings?”

Ruth gestures around her in frustration at how easy Debbie seems to think everything should be, and thank god she’s found some of her own anger, or she’d be apologising again.

“Look, nothing in my life has prepared me for the moment when three people are interested in me at the same time, and I don’t know what to do.

A flat fury passes over Debbie’s face, but it is gone just as quickly.

“Do not… christ I am not interested in- what kind of fucking word is ‘interested’-”

Ruth has had enough, honestly she cannot keep operating under this bullshit pretence of normality that Debbie demands she musters every time they come close to talking about something real.

“Well, if you aren’t interested then maybe you should have thought about that a bit more before fucking me, because-”

Debbie doesn’t allow Ruth to reach the end of that sentence. “Follow me” she snaps, and then barges into the female toilets that are just off the corridor.

“Why is it” Debbie rounds on her, having checked that the cubicles are all empty “that you always insist on being the most dense human being I have ever known? And why have I always got to be the one who- jesus, ‘interested’? Don’t fucking lump me in with Russell and Sam, I am not like them and we are not-”

“Then what Debbie? I need some kind of hint, because if you are not interested then-”

”How can you possibly still need a hint? I slept with you, you fucking moron. I’m more than interested, and if you can’t understand that then-”

There’s a confusing moment, in which Ruth feels like her brain shuts down and then starts up again.

And then they’re kissing.

Oh god, Ruth had stepped forward just as Debbie had stepped forward, and it had been more of a collision than a kiss, but Ruth can’t imagine any other way to kiss Debbie. They must always fling themselves at each other, they must always grab hold tight to prevent themselves from reeling backwards.

Debbie’s tongue is already in her mouth, and Ruth is moaning, trying to press herself forwards in a motion that has Debbie off balance, stumbling backwards.

“Fuck” she whispers, and then they’re kissing again, but Debbie is guiding her into a toilet cubical, and Ruth presses Debbie against the wall because at least that can be relied upon.

“Oh fuck” someone says, and Ruth doesn’t even know which of them said it, but Debbie is suddenly moving against her in the most wanting, needy way, and god the smell of her, the feel of her, the taste of her-

Her hands are going down. And then Debbie is undoing her own zips, and guiding Ruth’s hands further down, underneath her clothes, until the heel of Ruth’s hand is pressed against her and Debbie’s mouth is open and she’s gasping, gasping for air.

“There’s no way” she whispers, stops, and then starts again, as Ruth kisses at her neck. “There’s no way that Russell and Sam feel the same way I do, there’s no way- oh fuck Ruth, I really- oh god please-”

Ruth moans when Debbie rocks her hips forward into her, and she’s moving herself as well, trying to encourage Debbie to put her hand between her legs because fuck she can’t think about anything other than pressure and Debbie’s mouth and Debbie’s fingers and Debbie’s sex and Debbie, Debbie…

“Ruth?”

Ruth nearly moans in response, but somehow doesn’t, because Debbie has frozen.

“Ruth, you in there?”

It’s Russell.

“Uh… yeah? Hi. Um.”

“You nearly ready to go? Thought we were going to leave early?” Russell is clearly just holding the door open and calling through, because the music is louder now.

Ruth rests her head against Debbie’s shoulder, trying to…. god, she doesn’t even know. Think? Breathe? Ignore the heat of Debbie underneath her finger tips?

“Uh. okay. I’ll be there in a moment.”

“Sure” says Russell, and then the music muffles again.

Stillness reigns.

“I should-” Ruth sighs heavily, and then continues “I should go and-”

“End it with him” Debbie says abruptly, from a mere centimetre away. “End it with him now, and then come back to the hotel with me.”

And oh how she wants to.

But… but…

“I can’t just…he’s flown all this way. And he’s… I need to at least, be nice to him. Let him down gently.”

Debbie breathes out heavily.

“I don’t care Ruth. I don’t care. Why can’t you just- they don’t matter, it’s different between us-”

Ruth feels her hearth quiver. She nods to herself, reassuring herself even if she can never somehow pass it on to Debbie.

“I am going to end it with him. But I can’t do that here, he deserves better than-”

Debbie flinches at that, Ruth can feel the motion go through her body.

“And what about me, what do I deserve?”

God, the world, Ruth thinks.

But she has to… she needs to work her way through the mess, she can’t just run from it.

“I’m… I can’t end it with him here

“Fine” Debbie says shortly. “Well, you’d best be going then. Try to actually remember to end it with him, and don’t confuse matters by fucking him at the same time, will you?”

It hurts, and Ruth has half a mind to press herself up against Debbie again, kiss her until she stops talking like this.

But she can’t.

She goes to find Russell.

Chapter Text

Debbie has always had a talent for anger.

She can summon a cold sort of fury, and hammer it into a shield, or a sword, or full underground bunker, if that’s what she needs.

She doesn’t know where it comes from, but Debbie has always found that it is easier to be angry than upset. It’s a more useful emotion, for a start.

So she doesn’t follow Ruth from the bathroom immediately, because she needs to coalesce her emotions into something practical. Something other than stinging rejection and lust, because that’s not a combination that would ever work out well.

Camera Guy’s emotions are more important than Debbie’s? Even if that isn’t what Ruth’s intended take home message was, that’s what Debbie is left with, as she leans against the wall and tries to get her breathing under control.

She feels cheap. And this feels… seedy. And… not good. Now that the energy has drained from the situation Debbie realises that they were two grown woman fumbling about with each other in a bathroom cubical.

The memory of the way she’d shoved Ruth’s hand beneath her clothes rattles at her, and Debbie colors as she does up her zips. God, why always so weak Debbie? Why can’t she ever have any sense of restraint around Ruth?

She waits. She waits until the song has changed three times, because she absolutely cannot watch Ruth leave with Russell, Debbie doesn’t know what she would do.

And honestly, the temptation to just march out there and yell at Sam? Almost overwhelming. Blame it all on him, even though it isn’t his fault, and Ruth isn’t even leaving with him, but…. Debbie pinches at the bridge of her nose, tries to flatten the inner anger into something smooth, and exits the bathroom.

Ruth has left. Debbie can tell by the way Sam is looking disconsolate, almost profoundly unhappy.

Oddly, she feels a pang of sympathy for him. He isn’t exactly having an easy time of it either, which is probably why he’s walking around like a powder keg smoking a cigarette.

God, if someone had told Debbie a year ago that Ruth would have three people in bits over her, and one of those three people would have been her…

She isn’t sure for how long she has felt like this. But, Debbie concedes, maybe for longer than she has allowed herself to notice. Maybe that’s why every normal interaction with Ruth always used to feel stilted, and the only time Debbie felt normal was when she was in a heightened state of emotion, yelling at Ruth or tossing her bodily onto the floor.

Debbie feels watched. In fact, she’s pretty sure all of the girls are looking at her, despite no one actually making eye contact with her. And… jesus, do they all know?

Probably, she decides. There’s only so many ways to interpret her relationship with Ruth before people might start to settle on the pretty fucking obvious conclusion.

Fuck it, she thinks.

“Bash?”

Bash smiles at her cautiously, and then rubs a hand to the back of his head.

“Ahh, hi Debs, uh, I think Ruth left a couple of minutes ago-”

Debbie waves a hand at him, confirming that she already knew this.

“Yeah, listen, let’s go and find a gay bar? There must be one in this town…”

Bash stares at her, and then shrugs.

“Sure. Uh. How do we do that?”

…..

This is not entirely to plan, but Debbie increasingly finds that she does not give a shit.

It’s Yolanda and Artie who lead them to a gay bar.

“It’s cool, it’s chill, it’s mainly boys obviously, but there are some girls. And the bar area is pretty tame. I’d avoid the dance floor, though, just a tip. ”

All of this rolls off Yolanda’s tongue with fluid ease, as though there is nothing out of the ordinary about seeking out a gay bar to spend the evening in… which, Debbie supposes, is true for Yolanda.

Artie seems more curious, and raises her eyebrows at Debbie as they pay for entry.

“You okay?”

Debbie shrugs. “I didn’t want to spend an evening hanging around with Sam. But I also didn’t want to just sit in my hotel room.”

Artie smiles, and then says “But… this type of venue…?”

Debbie looks away.

“The fewer heterosexual men the better, I don’t enjoy repeatedly having to convince men I don’t want to sleep with them.”

Artie nods understandingly at that, and then they’ve paid, and then they’re inside.

Bash looks out of sorts, and Debbie tucks her arm through his, and squeezes his arm a little with her elbow.

“We don’t have to stay, if you don’t want to?”

Bash gulps, and then nods a couple of times. “No, I’m good, I’m good… let’s get a drink, shall we?”

Yolanda, somehow, already seems to know a lot of people here, and she and Artie disappear into the crowd. Artie gives a little apologetic wave to Debbie over her shoulder as they go, and Debbie snorts.

“How did Artie figure out a way to be so comfortable so quickly? How come… how come she isn’t dragging around all the emotions that I have to deal with?”

Bash shrugs. “She doesn’t have backstory with Yolanda. Easy. You and Ruth… backstory for days. Your dynamic is a knot to be unravelled.”

Debbie grunts in agreement, and then says “Let me buy these. As a thank you for letting me take you here.”

“Oh come on, you know that I like hanging out with you far more than anyone else…”

…..

“So- you know when…” Bash pauses, and trails off, blinks several times at his drink, and then waggles his hand expressively at Debbie. Debbie waits, uncomprehending.

“When the ‘you and Ruth’ drama is all…finished… you’ll be in the market for a new best friend.”

Debbie frowns.

What do you mean ‘when it is all finished’?”

“When, you know, it’s settled. You’ll either be lovers or you’ll never speak to each other again. Either way you’ll need a new best friend.” Bash taps himself on the chest. “That should be me. Oh. Or Sheila, god I forgot Sheila. Both! We can take it in turns. Job share.”

Debbie feels herself smile unwillingly, even as something inside her drops.

“Why… wouldn’t I be friends with Ruth any more? Pretty sure that you are supposed to be best friends with the person you love?”

Bash doesn’t notice the way Debbie’s eyes widen after that announcement. Love? And she said it aloud? Bash leans forward, speaking loudly over the music.

“No but, we can be the best friends that you don’t also sleep with. Because, turns out you are really not my type. Too much…” and here Bash gestures at Debbie’s chest “Too much tit- oh god that was so disrespectful I’m sorry I hadn’t even noticed you had tits- breasts, you know. Frontage.”

Bash is drunk, Debbie realises, as she laughs at him. But he’s happy as well, as he laughs to himself and then moves the drinks menu so that he cannot make direct eye contact with her tits anymore.

“Oh god now I can’t stop looking at them.”

Debbie snorts, and then laughs easily. “No, I know, they do follow you around the room a bit, don’t they?”

“Christ, they’re everywhere- oh.”

Debbie looks up as well, and there’s a young man who is maybe five years younger than Debbie standing in front of them. He shifts his weight onto one leg like he’s posing in a photo shoot.

“Hiya, listen, my friends think you’re a couple but I said no way! He is way too beautiful to be straight and you guys are having way too much fun together to be a heterosexual couple so… who’s right?”

Bash half chokes on his drink, and then looks to Debbie for help. Debbie shrugs. Bash shrugs too, after a second.

“Oh, um. Not straight, I don’t think. But uh, not looking, right now. Um. But thank you.”

The man, who is slender and tall with a pretty impressive moustache tips his head to one side.

“Not a problem honey… But you are new here, huh? We’ve not seen you before. But…” and here the young man trails off, before frowning and glancing at Debbie. “Wait, have you been here before? Why do I… do I know you from somewhere?”

Debbie shakes her head, because she’s never seen him before in her life, before remembering that she used to get that question sometimes.

“Oh, um. I used to be on television - Laura Morgan from Paradise Cove?”

The young man pulls a face.

“Never watched that. But I guess that must be it…” He keeps frowning at her, his eyes roving over her face. Bash clears his throat after a second.

“Debbie here is also in a wrestling show, there were posters up a few weeks ago, maybe-”

The man’s mouth drops open and he clutches at his chest.

“Oh my god oh my god you’re Liberty Belle! You’re… oh my god you’re Liberty Belle, I’m obsessed, I’m obsessed, oh my god- oh my god and you’re the announcer! Oh my god- Kenneth! Mitchell! Get over here, you will not believe-”

…..

This has taken a turn, Debbie thinks to herself, as yet another gay man tries to buy her a drink.

She’s used to convincing men she doesn’t want to sleep with them. She’s never had to convince men that she doesn’t want to put them in a choke hold.

Fans, she identifies distantly. These are fans.

She’s surrounded by about a dozen men, all of whom are excited and all of whom seem to be talking at once.

“I’ve been to every show except the first one, and my friend ordered some tapes of the television show, which he says should be arriving in a couple of weeks so I will be able to watch them forever-”

“Oh my god you are the dream, honestly I might be in love, what product do you use in your hair?”

“I screamed when you first came out, I screamed and screamed, did you hear me, my throat was destroyed

“How would you feel about a drag version of Liberty Belle? I’ve been looking for a new character forever-”

“Iconic, literally iconic, the way you threw her over your shoulder like she was nothing

“Do you think you could sign my t-shirt?”

Debbie fields as many of their questions as she can, and Bash takes the questions that she can’t find the conversational space to answer. And then Artie and Yolanda find them, and they are greeted with cries of surprise and joy as they get recognised.

The young man who first approached them is called Simon, and he holds up a hand, and then slaps the table a couple of times.

“Hey, hey, ladies, can we all just shut up, we’re going to scare them all with our love… control yourself, can you…. ugh, Mitchell, what is it?”

A young man who is probably closer to a boy has meekly raised his hand. He clasps his hands under his chin in supplication.

“Can you do the voice? Can you do the pies thing?”

Debbie bites her lip, confused, and then remembers. She shrugs.

“Uh, sure… I’ve been baking pies at home-”

Pies of raaaggge!” they collectively shriek, and Debbie laughs in astonishment as the men around collapse into hysterical laughter.

“Oh my god” Simon gasps, before resting his head on Bash’s shoulder affectionately. “This is the best night. Please please please bring all the other Glow girls one night, we will collectively die and go to heaven. Ooh ooh, also, do you guys need any extras? We would do it for free, it would honestly be an honor.”

Artie gestures at Debbie.

“Debbie once said that she wanted a wrestling valet.”

“And you must have me” Simon says instantly. “I’d be the best valet, I’d basically die for Liberty Belle, Zoya could kill me and I wouldn’t even care.”

Another man leans forward, Debbie thinks his name might be Daniel.

“Do you think you could bring Zoya here? I love that crazy bitch, she could step on my neck… if she wanted to kill me it would be the best day of my life… Oh my- does she need a valet?”

Bash stares curiously at him.

“Wait- you like Zoya? She’s like, the main heel?”

Daniel places his hand on the drinks menu like he’s swearing on the Bible.

“I love Zoya. She’s like the ultimate queen of the take down and I love it. I love the nasty, you know?”

Debbie snorts, and then covers her mouth.

“She’s… Ruth is very different from her character. She’s really…caring. She’s basically a way better person than I am.”

Yolanda gestures at Debbie vaguely.

“Debbie and Ruth have got this whole…thing going on.”

Everyone looks at her. Simon covers his mouth.

“Dramaaaa - details please!”

Debbie rolls her eyes, and takes her sip of her drink, smiling.

“No. No details. But only because-” and here she leans forward, inviting confidence. “-only because I don’t even think you could handle it.”

“Oh my god!

…..

After another hour of being made to feel as though she is literally The Greatest Human Alive, Debbie calls time.

They make solemn promises to return, and nearly all of the men give Bash their number, just in case the show needs some extremely enthusiastic free extras, and Debbie, Artie and Yolanda all have to sign a wide variety of objects before they are allowed to leave.

“I didn’t even consider appealing to that market” Bash muses to himself, in the taxi back seat. Debbie smiles at him.

“Thanks for coming.”

Yolanda stretches, and then tips her head sideways onto Artie’s shoulder. “Far better choice than staying at Ray’s - I like the man, but his DJs are always stuck in the seventies.”

Debbie smiles.

“Yeah, well, I appreciate it. I had fun. And I… needed distracting.”

It’s as close as Debbie has come to verbally acknowledging the mess she is for Ruth to someone other than Bash and Sheila.

Artie nods a couple of times, and then says quietly “You guys will figure it out.” Yolanda smiles but says nothing. Debbie sighs heavily, doing her best to avoid thinking about Ruth and Russell, together, alone, in Ruth’s hotel room.

“God I hope so.”

…..

It’s late, Debbie realises. Artie starts shushing Yolanda in the elevator as they rise to their corridor, and the hotel feels like it is asleep.

“What time is it?” she whispers as they approach their corridor. Yolanda checks her watch.

“Two thirty… but no training tomorrow morning, so no worries there- I am being quiet!”

Jesus, Debbie needs this evening to be over. It feels like a lifetime ago that she and Ruth had been waiting to enter the arena, sitting next to each other. And Ruth had touched Debbie’s finger with her own and Debbie had nearly turned inside out in response.

Yolanda starts kissing Artie. Artie pushes her away with a laugh, and then says “You’re drunk.”

“And you are beautiful, what?”

“Just, concentrate on getting to the room, okay?”

Debbie is about to shush them, but then when she turns the final corridor all of her thoughts fly out of her head.

Ruth is sitting by Debbie’s door, leaning her back against it. She turns to look at them, and then smiles weakly.

“Hi guys.”

Debbie almost forgets how to walk. She certainly forgets how to reply, and it is Artie who supplies the return greeting, as Yolanda mumbles “holy shit the drama” next to her.

Debbie’s room is close, and that’s a relief, because Debbie doesn’t know if she’d be able to do a long walk to her room with Ruth watching her every step of the way.

The air seems to have gone.

“Whoopsie, sorry, pretend we aren’t here guys… will you stop you complete-

Artie and Yolanda are kissing. Debbie watches as Artie half turns away from her, giggling, and fumbles her key in the lock, as Yolanda makes a pretty determined effort to lick at her ear.

Ruth turns to look at them as well, but looks down at the floor when Yolanda turns back to them, resisting the tug of Artie’s hand. And… jesus… they make it look so easy. Debbie’s jealous.

“Okay, as much as my queer little heart would love to stay and watch…” Yolanda waggles a hand towards Debbie and Ruth “whatever this is, apparently I’m not allowed to, which sucks because I think you guys are about to be really cute and-” Artie snorts at Yolanda and starts dragging her bodily into her room. Yolanda resists for a few seconds more.

“…and, yes I’m coming, and I just wanted to say, you know. God speed. We’re all rooting for you. Make us proud!”

The door closes, and then there is silence, or at least Debbie assumes that there is silence. She can’t hear it over the roar of her own heart.

She looks down at Ruth.

“Are you… are you going to stay sitting on the floor, or-?”

Ruth shrugs with one shoulder. “No, I…although I don’t know if I can get up, I’ve been here for long enough to cramp up.”

Debbie says nothing, and then reaches a hand down towards her. Ruth accepts it, and allows herself to be pulled upwards, groaning slightly. Debbie drops her hand quickly, because she doesn’t know what to think. She clears her throat, and starts fumbling in her bag for her key.

“How long have you been sitting there?” she manages to ask, because god knows it is an easier question than ‘why are you sitting there?’

Ruth looks nervous.

“Um. A couple of hours, maybe.”

Debbie bites the inside of her cheek.

“So everyone has seen you” she states, and Ruth nods after a moment.

“Yeah… they didn’t seem that surprised. And I… I didn’t care. Do you?”

“No” Debbie says easily, surprised at herself. Ruth shrugs, and then turns towards Debbie slightly, leaning on her door with one shoulder.

And Debbie wants… god more things than there are words for.

Ruth. She wants Ruth. Her chest is… tight, with the strength of it.

Ruth is looking at her, and she’s so close.

“Ask me” Ruth whispers.

Chapter Text

Ruth really had nearly cramped up.

Carmen had offered space in her room, and then Tammé had offered, and then Sheila had offered.

They’d all offered without asking any questions about why Ruth sitting outside Debbie’s door. There just seemed to be a collective understanding that Ruth would not be staying in her room tonight.

“Is Russell mad?” Sheila had asked, unlocking her room door. Ruth shrugged.

“No, just… sad.”

Sheila grunted at that, and then said “Worse. Look, you can hang out in here until Debbie gets back if you want? We can like, not talk about anything?”

Ruth had smiled at the offer, and then had shook her head.

“No, thank you. I think I’m just gonna, I’ll just wait.”

Sheila nodded, and then said “Good idea. Debbie likes the… drama.”

Ruth smiled at Sheila curiously. “What do you mean?”

“Debbie Eagan? Dramatic show downs?” Sheila glanced down at Ruth once, and grinned. “You have met her, haven’t you?”

But that had been an hour ago now, and now that the dramatic show down is here Ruth finds that she’s struggling to self start.

“Ask me” she whispers, because for a hot second it looks like Debbie is about to disappear into her room without a backwards glance at Ruth.

Debbie looks at Ruth for what feels like a long time, and god it’s as though her mouth can still feel the pressure of Debbie’s kisses.

“Why are you sitting by my door?”

Ruth doesn’t actually want the question. She wants Debbie to pull Ruth towards her, and leave all the talking until tomorrow morning.

She sighs.

“I, um. I broke it off with Russell. And then, I told him that… well, it’s too late for him to book anywhere else to stay. So I said to him that I would go sleep in someone else’s room.”

Debbie seems to absorb all this without a flicker of interest, and she just watches Ruth, until Ruth is nearly fidgeting under her gaze.

“But there are spare rooms on the corridor” she says eventually, “He could have stayed in one of those…”

Ruth gulps. “Yeah, I know. I just… I wanted a reason to… to not be in my room tonight.”

There’s a heavy silence. Debbie bites her lip, and then seems to reach for her door handle, as though it is easier than continuing this conversation.

“God Debbie”, and it comes bubbling out of Ruth “please don’t make this hard for me, I am trying-”

Debbie sighs heavily, and then looks back at Ruth.

“I know. But you’ve been making it so hard for me…”

Ruth bites her lip guiltily.

“Sorry.”

Debbie looks at her, and Ruth feels examined, feels as though Debbie is turning her over and over in her hands, trying to figure out how she works.

Ridiculously, Ruth remembers Debbie telling her that she does ‘an eye thing’. Ruth wonders if she’s doing it now.

And god, why is Ruth always waiting for things to be easy?

“Come here” Debbie whispers, and it’s almost a question, as though Debbie thinks that Ruth might actually turn away from her instead.

It’s as easy as falling, and Ruth surges into Debbie like a breaking dam. Because they’ve done the first kiss, and the second kiss, and the third kiss, and now it’s just want, needy, desperate want, and Ruth doesn’t have to worry about whether Debbie wants her, because she knows.

“Fuck” Debbie whispers onto her lips, and Debbie’s hands are on either side of her face, and her thumbs are stroking behind Ruth’s jaw bone. Ruth feels them tremble with some repressed emotion, and god she thinks she might start crying, if she isn’t careful.

“Fuck” Debbie says again, “Why is it always so difficult? Why is it always…”

Ruth shakes her head slightly, because she hasn’t got the answers, and then Debbie is kissing her again, and moaning softly when Ruth drags her tongue across Debbie’s lower lip.

Debbie’s reaching for the door handle then, and none of it is happening quickly enough, and Ruth is nearly undone by a memory, the way Debbie had just sounded was an exact match for the way Debbie had moaned the first time Ruth had touched her.

In fact, Ruth is pretty much ready to undress herself, but Debbie seems to have other plans. In fact, when they enter Debbie’s room, something about the way Debbie tosses her bag onto her bed indicates a change of tone. And then Ruth has her confirmation when Debbie runs a hand over her face, pinches at the bridge of her nose, and holds up a hand to Ruth.

“Wait, just… hang on. Give me a second.”

Ruth does as she is told, even as she feels like she is teetering on the edge of oblivion.

Debbie looks at her for a long moment, and then sighs abruptly and sits on the bed.

“Can we just… I think we’d probably do better if we managed to talk, before…” Debbie trails off, and looks a little helplessly at Ruth, as though putting a name to it is just a heartbeat too terrifying.

“Talk?” Ruth asks, as though she’s heard of the concept but never experienced it personally. “What do you want to talk about?”

Debbie snorts, and then gestures between herself and Ruth.

“This? This is… something that requires words.”

I want you, Ruth thinks. I can’t remember when I haven’t wanted you, she realises. The talking seems unnecessary.

Debbie must see the hesitation on her face, because she smiles slightly.

“I’m not… trying to lay out terms of negotiation, or anything. I just- look, the last time we did this we didn’t manage to talk before or afterwards, and that… those were not fun days in my head.”

Ruth gives a little half smile at that, and then says “Yeah, they were… not good days for me either.”

There’s a silence then. Ruth shifts from one foot to another, unsure what Debbie needs to hear.

The obvious, maybe?

“Debbie… I really like you. And, you like me, and I think that we should at least try…”

“And where is Sam, in all of this? Because to me it feels like every time we make an inch of progress you go running back to Sam, and I can’t… keep feeling like this.”

“Like what?” Ruth whispers.

Debbie blinks at her, and then looks away.

“Like I want all of you and all I’m allowed to have is ten percent of you…”

And Ruth realises Debbie is trying not to cry.

She doesn’t know how it happens, but suddenly she’s on her knees in front of Debbie, and is cupping both of Debbie’s hands in her own.

“Hey, hey… Sam is my boss, and I made some bad choices. I slept with him because… we were both lonely, I guess. It was a stupid thing to do, and it hasn’t happened since that time when you blew up at me for sleeping with him.”

Debbie scoffs slightly, and then says “Well can you blame me, the man is a disaster-”

“Yeah, he’s not…the stuff of romance novels. But he’s- I don’t know, he felt like what life was offering me. You know? This is the type of person who wants you, this is probably as good as you are going to get, just go with it, you know?”

Debbie looks at her, almost entirely uncomprehending. Ruth sighs after a second, and jesus, her heart is full, full to the brim, full to the brink.

“I didn’t even realise that you would- could ever- look at me… jesus it feels like I haven’t been able to think about anyone other than you for so long, and now you are telling me that you’ve been feeling the same way? God, I want you to have all of me, that’s what I’ve been trying to give you for longer than I can remember-”

Debbie gasps slightly, and then comes forward to kiss Ruth.

“I swear, if you fuck off to Sam again…” she threatens, but the way she whispers it onto her lips takes all the sting out of her threat. Ruth laughs slightly.

“Look, I know I make bad decisions, but I’m not crazy…

…..

They’ve touched before.

Ruth feels like she could catalogue every type of touch she and Debbie have exchanged; file them with an explanatory note, in the archive dedicated to the ever changing nature of their relationship.

They used to touch hands, arms, shoulders, thighs, all in the name of friendship. Ruth had held Debbie’s face in her hands on her wedding day, and wiped away her tears, and told her that she looked beautiful, and Mark was a lucky guy, but if Debbie didn’t start walking down the aisle soon all the guests would leave and then Ruth would have worn this uncomfortable bridesmaid outfit for nothing.

Ruth is on Debbie’s lap now, and Debbie’s hands are gripping at her sides, fingers splayed across her lower back and tracing shapes, letters or words.

And Ruth’s cradling Debbie’s head in her hands, kissing her mouth, her lips, the line of her jaw. Debbie’s breath hitches slightly every time Ruth flexes her hips forward for some unfulfilled contact.

And it’s just touching. It’s just skin, skin to skin, palm to waist or finger tip to collar bone.

They’ve touched before.

Even the areas that go beyond the territories of friendship, the wrestling areas. The inner thighs, armpits, stomach and crotch, back of the neck and a handful of hair. A palm wrapped around a throat as they choke and stagger.

Debbie moans when Ruth rides forward harder, and grips a hand in Debbie’s hair.

God, and all this want. It’s impossible to contain, to process. All Ruth wants is for Debbie to moan like that in response to Ruth’s touch, over and over again.

It’s just skin.

But then, abruptly, it isn’t enough skin, and Ruth is taking off Debbie’s top, and Debbie is raising her arms in the air to help.

There’s a bruise on Debbie’s chest; a purpling mark that disappears beneath Debbie’s bra. Ruth traces gentle fingers over it, almost absentmindedly.

“Was that me?” she murmurs. Debbie nods, and Ruth wonders whether she’s thinking about the bruise’s location as well.

Just above her heart.

“I’m sorry” she whispers, although the words have never really worked before. “I didn’t mean to.”

Debbie smiles softly at her, and then kisses her cheek.

“I know. And it’s just a bruise. It fades.”

When Ruth pulls her own top over her head, it’s with a half self conscious laugh, at the fly away nature of her hair and the sheer repetition of their misunderstandings. Debbie hands leave her sides, and her fingers are at Ruth’s collarbone, tracing the skin lightly in a way that has Ruth’s heart spiralling. Debbie buries her face in Ruth’s neck when her hands drop to Ruth’s breasts, as though the evidence of her desire is somehow embarrassing. But Ruth moans when Debbie squeezes, and then finds her tits through the thin material and pinches. Debbie’s mouth is open against her neck, and she’s dragging her tongue along Ruth’s neck before biting gently.

“Fuck, Debbie…I want you to…”

And then Ruth is reaching behind herself to undo her bra, and she laughs again quietly. Debbie looks up at her.

“What’s funny?”

Ruth shrugs with one shoulder, and then drops her bra to the floor because it doesn’t really matter.

“We’ve undressed together so many times, and we’ve touched each other so many times, and…” Ruth is distracted by Debbie’s bra strap, and she runs a finger over it, before nudging it to one side until it falls from her shoulder.

Debbie smiles at her, curious. And then her eyes flutter shut when Ruth flattens her hand until her palm is pressed to her skin, to the bruise above her heart.

“You aren’t seriously saying-” Debbie whispers, sounding almost amused “That this feels the same as the changing rooms…the wrestling ring?”

“No, just… I don’t know how I managed all those other times, if this is how I feel now.”

The corners of Debbie’s mouth quirk slightly, and then she lets her eyes drop, and Ruth really does feel naked now.

And now Debbie’s mouth is on her, and Ruth is rising up onto her knees, because she wants Debbie’s tongue on her tits. And a pressure, god anything between her legs, she is going to die.

She’s lost her words, and it’s just a sound that comes out of her mouth, when Debbie puts her mouth- oh god.

“Shh” Debbie admonishes her, after a second, but she doesn’t really mean that, because if she did she wouldn’t keep doing it oh fuc-.

“Fuck…. Debbie”, and something seems to break in Debbie, because she’s undoing her own bra, craning around awkwardly behind her. Ruth stands up, and suddenly it’s a hopscotch race to remove all the clothing, because why are they even fucking around like this? They’ve seen each other naked. They want each other naked.

But it’s never been like this. The touches have never felt like this.

Debbie naked is… it’s probably a good thing that Ruth has seen Debbie naked before, because she would certainly be feeling a little overwhelmed right now.

They end up on the bed, and Ruth is climbing on top of Debbie and…

It had been dark last time. And fuck, ridiculous to be thinking about Mark right now, but holy shit Ruth feels a pang of sympathy because Ruth honest to god has become a teenage boy, how the hell is she not supposed to look?

Debbie snorts at her, and then pulls her down, kissing her firmly on the mouth.

“You can look. I want you to look. Fuck, I want you to put your mouth on them so please stop making so much meaningful eye contact with the headboard…” Debbie’s voice trails off into a groan, because Ruth is good at following instructions.

But then she loses her way for a moment, because Debbie’s hand is suddenly between her legs, and then her fingers are-

“Fuck” Debbie breaths softly, and Ruth has to agree.

….

Ruth goes down on Debbie, afterwards.

She doesn’t have a clue what she is doing, and Debbie even asks her if she is sure, suggesting that she doesn’t have to, but Ruth has never wanted to do something more in her life.

But sure, she doesn’t have a clue, but it isn’t as though she needs a road map, and then Debbie’s hands are guiding her, fingers woven through Ruth’s hair.

And then Debbie’s voice is telling her what to do, in a low, continuous murmur that feels close to a murder because it’s killing Ruth, she’s so turned on.

Each time Debbie swears it feels like a victory, and Debbie gradually becomes monosyllabic, and then there aren’t words at all, just noises, but Ruth figures that she must be doing something right, so she just carries on as best she can.

Debbie’s body goes tense, and then she flies apart beneath Ruth, holding her head tight as she rocks upwards onto Ruth’s mouth in small, quivering movements.

And Ruth is on the verge herself, but some small part of her brain manages to latch on to the fact that it might be considered rude to just straddle one of Debbie’s thighs and just ride down into oblivion.

So she kisses Debbie’s stomach, and Debbie’s breasts, and eventually collapses into Debbie’s side, tempted to hide her mouth because god knows what she looks like.

Debbie doesn’t let her hide though, and rolls into Ruth, kissing her long and slow. She licks at Ruth’s lips once, and then bites her lip as through remembering something from long ago.

“That was good” she whispers, not that Ruth’s ego needs any help at all.

Ruth smiles, and then there’s something about the way Debbie is looking at her…

“God, I’ve missed you.” she says, not really thinking about her words at all. “I’ve missed you looking at me like that.”

Debbie smiles at Ruth, and then her nose crinkles in confusion. “But I’ve never looked at you like this.”

“Yes you have” Ruth affirms, the weight of her realisation taking a grip of her. “You used to look at me like that all the time.”

Debbie says nothing for a second, and then comes forward to kiss her again, this time with a smile on her mouth.

“Well,” she mumbles onto Ruth’s lips “We probably could both work on our ability to pick up on hints…”

Ruth kisses her back, and then strokes her fingers along Debbie’s cheek. She grins, because another thing she is very good at is being direct.

“So- how do I hint that I’d like you to go down on me?”

Debbie laughs.

“Well, that should do the trick…”

…..

Chapter Text

Waking up hasn’t been better than this.

Debbie rolls on to her back, as she slowly drifts to consciousness. Her hand automatically slides across the sheets before she even fully notices she is doing it, and she bumps into Ruth’s warm skin after a few inches.

Debbie smiles, and then strokes a finger down Ruth’s side, blinking herself awake in a more complete manner. Ruth turns her head towards Debbie, and she’s rubbing a hand over her eyes, and mumbles something along the lines of “mmmmmpfh”. Debbie smiles at her, and Ruth smiles back, before tugging the sheets up higher, until they are just underneath her chin.

Debbie grins at her after a second, and copies her action.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

Ruth widens her eyes briefly, and then tugs the sheet up higher, until she is just a pair of eyes and messy hair.

“I’m naked” Ruth whispers, as though sharing a dark secret.

Debbie feels her eyebrows raise, and then she whispers back “I know. So am I.”

Ruth nods fractionally, as if indicating that she was already aware of this. Debbie watches the joy in her eyes, the barely repressed mirth.

“We are not usually naked in bed together.”

“No. But I think we should be. More often.”

Again, Ruth nods, in a vague way that becomes more adamant as Debbie watches. She lowers the sheet slightly, so that her mouth is revealed.

“All the time?” she queries.

“Well” says Debbie flatly, “that might eventually result in questions being asked, but… tonight?”

Ruth bites her lip.

“Oh god, yes, that’s… a good idea. And um… now?”

And… wow, Debbie didn’t even know this sort of joy was available to her, she didn’t even know that her emotions could kick up to this kind of gear.

“Come here?” she asks, but it isn’t really a question, and when Ruth slides on top of her Debbie finds that she didn’t need any answers anyway.

…..

It’s a rest day, Debbie remembers, when she starts thinking again.

“I should… shower” Ruth mumbles, her words muffled by Debbie’s skin. Debbie grunts, and then Ruth lifts her head, and says again “I should shower.”

Debbie shrugs, and then says “Use mine. I should shower too-”

“We could-” Ruth pauses, and looks briefly like she is considering how to speak in a new language. “We could shower together?”

Debbie feels her mouth quirk into a smile.

“It’s not good, sex in a cubicle shower. There no space, and the tiles are always fucking freezing-”

Ruth looks affronted. “Who said anything about sex?” she asks, the picture of outraged chastity, as she lies on top of Debbie entirely nude. “I was just talking about saving water-”

God, Debbie’s happy. She’d forgotten what an uncomplicated, pure emotion it was.

“Go on then. I’ll go after you.”

Debbie enjoys the way that Ruth gets up, entirely unabashed about walking around Debbie’s room naked.

“I’m stealing your towel, okay?”

“Ugh, fine.”

…..

It’s two in the afternoon, and this is probably stretching the definition of breakfast to it’s limit, but they end up heading down to the hotel canteen anyway.

It’s very domestic, for a moment. They sit next to each other, and Debbie grabs two coffees for them. Ruth passes her the cutlery, and smiles at Debbie as she does so, a secret smile that speaks to Debbie about the current levels of peace that Ruth is also feeling.

“You remember the conversation we had after our pilot fight?” Debbie finds herself saying. Ruth nods, tipping some sugar into her coffee. Debbie watches her.

“You asked me if I wanted to go grab a drink.”

Ruth smiles, glancing at her.

“And you said ‘No. We aren’t there yet.’”

Debbie nods, wondering about which other conversations they’ve collectively managed to etch onto their brains forever.

“Well. Maybe this should be that drink? Because… I don’t know about you, but this feels pretty… ‘there’.”

Ruth blinks at her, and… oh there’s just too many emotions going on there for Debbie to process. She looks away, suddenly swallowing the huge lump in her throat because they are in the hotel canteen and Debbie is pretty sure that neither of them are ready for the kind of public display of affection that Debbie might launch into if Ruth carries on looking at her like that.

Ruth clears her throat after a moment, and then says “Yeah. Okay. That sounds… about right.”

They eat in silence for a while, as Debbie sits there and wonders how she tells her mom, how she tells Mark, how she meets Ruth’s parents for the first time in forever, how she could fit into Ruth’s life and Ruth could fit into hers and where the overlaps would be and where the arguments would emerge and how they would fix it three days later and how they would fall asleep next to each other and-

Debbie remembers something.

“Don’t you need to go and talk to Russell before he leaves?”

Ruth stops chewing, and then swallows, glancing furtively at Debbie.

“Uh. Nope. I think he can figure it out for himself. I was not… playing my cards very close to my chest. He knows you are the reason we broke up. He… he made it clear that he understood what had been going on.”

Debbie looks down at the table, wondering for how long her subtlety has been rock bottom.

“Don’t you feel bad?” she asks. Ruth tips her head to one side, considering.

“A bit. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that maybe I’m not actually that nice a person.”

Debbie snorts.

“Welcome to the self aware club.”

Ruth grins sheepishly. Debbie grins back, and then calms her face.

“But you do probably need to talk to Sam. He’s not just going to get on a plane back to LA and disappear, he is our boss.”

“Yeah… I know. He’s not going to be all that… thrilled, about us.”

“Us?” Debbie smiles as she says it and Ruth rolls her eyes in response.

“Don’t even think about pretending that we aren’t an ‘us’ Debbie, I think we might be way past that.”

Debbie stone faces at her for a moment, and then cracks, laughing into her coffee. Ruth watches her for a moment, and then leans across to her, pressing a quick kiss to Debbie’s cheek in a way that make Debbie blush.

She’s about to say something ill considered, but she’s interrupted by the arrival of what seems to be everything single one of their co-stars.

“Oh, guys, they’re here.”

“Aww, breakfast date, this is so cuuuute, I love it-”

“What time do you bozos even call this; it’s the middle of the afternoon and you are having breakfast?” This is Melrose, spreading her arms wide to call attention to the situation. Reggie’s close behind her.

“Oh I think they’ve already had ‘breakfast’…”

“Reggie!”

“What, only you are allowed to make rude jokes?”

“But that wasn’t even a good joke, look, Debbie is mad with you…”

“Fuck off” Debbie says to them, by way of a generalised greeting, but she supposes that this was always inevitable. This is the part when everyone gets to say ‘I told you so.’

They crowd around the table. Debbie stares all of them down, and takes an impassive bite of toast. Ruth snorts.

Sheila sits opposite them.

“Please name your first Subaru Sheila.”

“Oh, my god” Ruth hides her face with her hands, and is laughing now. Debbie flips Sheila off, and then has to flip Cherry off, as she comes slow stepping through the crowd towards their table as though she is walking down the aisle, a couple of scrunched up napkins in her hands as a mock bouquet. Jenny starts singing what Debbie thinks is meant to be a wedding march, but sounds more like the Darth Vader theme.

“Jesus christ will you guys please-”

“Oh, what?” grins Cherry. “You’re expecting us all not to have a little fun, after we’ve all been working so hard to pretend we haven’t noticed the moon eyes you guys have been making at each other these past months?”

“Yeah, Debbie, I don’t know if anyone has told you, but…” Artie leans forward, and gestures a vague hand towards her own face. She half whispers, passing on serious news. “… you have quite an expressive face.”

“Yeah, jesus Debbie, it was like you were performing a one woman stage production of Paradise Lost every time Ruth walked past.” This is Dawn, and she holds up her hand to accept Stacey’s high five without even looking.

Debbie rolls her eyes.

“Okay, firstly, that is a role I would take, and secondly…. shut up.” The end of the sentence doesn’t fully match her confident delivery, but she powers through. “Pick on Ruth some, why don’t you?”

“Nah” says Carmen with a smile “It’s more fun picking on you.”

Debbie turns to Ruth, and says “Just so you know, I am reconsidering everything right now.”

Ruth looks deeply amused about everything, but shuts the conversation down smoothly.

“Did you guys… need us for something?”

“Why, are we interrupting something?” Tammé asks blandly from the back of the group. “just like you guys were interrupting my sleep all of last night, why is it my room, that’s surrounded by-”

“Yeah, so-” Ruth says hurriedly, trying to prevent Tammé from reaching the end of the sentence, “what’s up? What’s the emergency?”

There’s a few repressed snorts and giggles, but then Sheila clears her throat and all the mirth seems to vanish.

“Sam wants to have a team meeting.”

“Oh, um.” Debbie watches as Ruth’s face falls. “A meeting about what?” she asks. Sheila turns to look at her, and then shrugs.

“About wrestling I guess. He can hardly call a meeting for any other reason.”

“Although… other shit might come up guys.” This is Melrose, being serious for once. “He did not look… like a man in a good place.”

Debbie rubs a hand across her brow, and then says “Is Bash there?”

“Yeah”

“Okay well that’s something… we should… go and see what he wants, I guess.”

…..

If Sam has a comment about the way Debbie sits next to Ruth on the bleachers, he wisely keeps it to himself.

God, but he does look… a mess, she thinks, seeing him properly for the first time in what feels like forever. He needs a haircut, and his jawline is somehow more pronounced, and the weariness dripping from him.

He doesn’t even manage to find a smile for Ruth, but instead focuses his efforts on a glare for Debbie, and if that doesn’t tell her everything she needs to know…

“Okay. So. Good afternoon. I thought we should. Uh. Take a second to. Reflect on how things have been going.” Sam trails off, and glances at Bash, who’s standing off to the side with his arms folded. Bash raises his eyebrows at Sam, but doesn’t help him out otherwise. Instead he looks at Debbie, and seems… apologetic.

Oh no, Debbie thinks.

Sam rubs his hand across his mouth, and then gestures dismissively, as though bored with himself.

“Okay, you know what, Debbie and Ruth, you were incredible. You did a great job. The whole show… I know everyone agrees with me when I say that you guys are the headline act. People are queuing out of the door to see the never-ending saga of Liberty Belle and Zoya. So- great job.”

It’s the last thing that Debbie expected to to hear Sam say, and she’s momentarily wrong footed. It would seem the other girls are surprised too, as there is a distinct lag between the end of Sam announcement and the murmur of agreements and congratulations that come from them.

Ruth’s leg is bouncing, making the bench they’re sitting on vibrate slightly. Debbie nudges Ruth’s leg with her own, and then nods at Sam.

“Thanks Sam.”

Sam stares at her for a long second, and then sighs.

“But you two can’t start fucking each other on the side.”

Debbie’s brain shuts down, because even though she was expecting some kind of show down, she didn’t think-

“Whoa” says Cherry from behind her, as Bash immediately steps forward, saying “Jesus Sam, I thought you were going to be a bit more sensitive about that conversation-”

Sam rounds on him, spreading his arms wide.

“Yeah, well, I changed my mind, because look; they finally got what they wanted. Debbie and Ruth - the stars of the show. But if they suddenly crash and burn again because, oh I don’t know, some bedroom thing, then the show is on the line and everyone here has to eat shit, and they have to face up to that.”

“Convenient” Debbie growls “That this solution neatly lines up with exactly what you would like to happen on an interpersonal level.”

“No, Debbie, this has nothing to do with that”

“Oh Sam, seriously-” this is Ruth, apparently startled out of her usual conflict free style. Sam turns to her and interrupts easily.

“Yes, Ruth, seriously, this is not…. I enjoyed spending time with you, but you and Debbie haven’t exactly been subtle for a long while now, so I knew what was up. Sorry that this isn’t about my all consuming love for you, because that doesn’t exist. This is genuinely, just a meeting to point out to you that if you start fucking each other, and then break each others hearts somehow, I haven’t got a show and no one here has got a damn job.

“But Arthie and Yolanda-” Debbie finds herself saying, ridiculously. Sam shrugs, shaking his head.

“Not interested. They’re not the headliners. And also they seem way more fucking stable that you two, although I’ve seen matchstick towers more stable that you two.”

Suddenly, Debbie’s laughing. Sam stares at her, and the look on his face only makes Debbie laugh more, until she’s close to wobbling into hysteria. She abruptly pulls it back, and wipes her eyes.

“So… oh god I thought you were going to fire me or something overblown… so all we have to do is convince you that Ruth and I will be okay? Because… shit Sam, I think we might be. I think we’re going to be okay.”

Sam stares at her, and then says flatly “You’ll be okay? The never ending parade of drama and betrayal and emotional abuse and… and… secrets… all that has just…. gone away?”

Debbie rolls her eyes, and then says “Yes, Sam, that’s what emotionally healthy friendships do Sam, they heal. And we were good before, though not as good as we could have been…” Debbie glances at Ruth at this point, trying to judge her reaction. Ruth nods cautiously, and Debbie carries on with a shrug. “And you, Sam, met us right at the moment when we were at rock bottom, but we were always going to figure it out.”

Sam laughs at this, a hollow, unpleasant sort of laugh.

“Shit, okay, sorry that I misread the last two year’s worth of car crash interactions for emotional healing. I can’t….” Sam sighs, and then puts his hands on his hips. He gestures towards Ruth, in a manner that Debbie can’t fully understand.

“I mean… you can’t-”

Debbie interrupts him, suddenly bored of him.

“Oh my god Sam, maybe consider that you don’t know everything that has been going on? I know your ego means that you have to claim to be all-knowing at all times, but… god this is such a bullshit reason for a crisis meeting. Why the fuck do we even still need you Sam? I can’t figure out what your role is, other than to imagine disasters where there aren’t any.”

Sam narrows his eyes at her.

“I’m the boss. That’s my fucking role. I’m your boss.”

“Great, well, maybe stick to what you are fucking good at, which is abusing your power by trying to fuck your employees.”

“Debbie-“ and this is Ruth, with a warning note in her voice, but it’s a little bit late, and Sam has been looking for this fight for months, of course Debbie isn’t going to back down.

Sam swears at her. “Will you, just fuck off, with your sanctimonious… Ruth, you’re planning to just roll with this charade are you?”

“Sam, don’t” Ruth snaps at him, and Debbie doesn’t even know what is actually being discussed at the moment, but obviously she’s going to side with Ruth.

“Sam, we’ve always been closer than you thought, we’ve always known what was going on between us, even when we weren’t in a good place, we still knew-”

“Yeah?” says Sam, flatly. “So if Ruth needed to have an abortion after she’d fucked your husband, she’d have called you to take her to the clinic? Not me?”

“I… yes? Weird example but-”

“Sam, what the fuck?” Ruth half gasps this, and then falls abruptly silent.

No one speaks.

Debbie opens her mouth to speak, and…. what?

No one speaks.

Sam sighs, and then pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Okay, let’s just… let’s ignore that last part.”

Chapter Text

Ruth can’t believe he said that.

Ruth can’t believe he said that.

She’s hollow, entirely emptied out.

God… it had been so long ago, somehow. Ruth had processed so many emotions that she felt like the abortion had happened twenty years ago.

And she’d managed to forget that Sam knew about it, and of course that fucking shoe was always going to drop, Ruth isn’t allowed to make a single mistake without it coming back to haunt her.

She stares at Sam, because christ that’s easier than looking at Debbie.

Sam grimaces, and opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. He gestures vaguely at her a couple of times, and then seems to give up, putting his hands back on his hips and looking down at the floor.

No one speaks.

Ruth can’t remember a time when they’ve all collectively been so quiet. She knows that, objectively, she’s in a room with a gang of the loudest, weirdest women she’s ever met, but…

No one speaks.

Ruth can feel… is it possible for her heart to be shrinking? It feels like it is folding in on itself, curling itself into the smallest possible version it can be, just to pre-emptively protect itself from the inevitable kicking which-

“Debbie, we should go somewhere and talk about it.”

Ruth still isn’t looking at Debbie, she’s looking at her own knees. She can sense the movement of Debbie, the way she turns to look at Ruth, but can’t really bring herself to look at Debbie’s face.

“Talk about it?” Debbie says flatly. “What, you mean, talk about that thing that Sam just said which cannot be true because there is no way in hell that you would have hidden that from me for all this time-”

“Debbie, I-”

“No, just… don’t talk for a second.”

And so… no one speaks.

And Ruth is dying, Ruth is dying, Ruth is dying…

Sam clears his throat. “Debbie-”

“Sam, I’m going to need you to not say a fucking thing right now. Just, don’t even fucking…. don’t talk to me ever again. Don’t even fucking look at me, if you could just fucking…. not exist right now then that would be-” Debbie sucks in a huge breath, and then says “He got you pregnant?”

“Debbie, please don’t make us do this right here-”

“Do fucking what? I’m not doing anything, other than asking you if my husband got you pregnant, which seems like a reasonable fucking thing for me to ask?”

God, it’s like the last six months never happened. Debbie is glaring at her, and then abruptly stands up, seeming to decide that she doesn’t want to be next to Ruth any more. She takes a couple of aimless steps away, and then seems to pick a direction, heading for the door.

“Debbie, where are you going?”

Debbie spins on her heel, arms stretched wide. “I don’t, I don’t fucking know Ruth, I just… you had an abortion? And Sam took you to the goddamn clinic - why didn’t you ask me?”

Ruth almost laughs, because surely that’s a little bit obvious-

“Because… I didn’t think you’d want to know. I thought you’d be angry-”

Debbie’s face contorts.

“Oh, you think? Wow, Ruth, you know me so fucking well. That’s a real insight into my mind, you’ve got there-”

“Well, exactly” snaps Ruth, suddenly frustrated. “So I called Sam, because I didn’t want to be yelled at all the way to the clinic. How would it have made anything between us easier if I’d given you that to deal with as well-”

“So you asked Sam?” Debbie yells. “You asked the creepy disaster misogynist to accompany you to the Planned Parenthood clinic rather than me?”

Ruth is abruptly baffled, because it’s like she’s just started hearing Debbie’s words. She puts her hands on her hips.

“Are you yelling at me because of my choice of ride, right now? The biggest thing to focus on is who drove the fucking car?”

“No, obviously it isn’t, but I’m just…” Debbie places one hand over her eyes, and then takes a couple of steps backwards, away from her. “I just need to… not be here right now. Jesus, I can’t even look at you - how hard was it to find a condom, Ruth? What in the name of fuck…. were you just so overwhelmed with lust for Mark that you couldn’t even-”

“It was a mistake, and I’ve said I’m sorry!”

Debbie blinks at her. Ruth realises that Debbie is crying, that special sort of crying that she does when she is so angry that the tears never come, but instead she just shouts her pain at whoever is available.

“Okay, sorry for not understanding that all of your millions of useless apologies were also supposed to cover surprise abortions, I didn’t realise I supposed to be hoarding those for future use, jesus-”

“Where the fuck are you going?”

“Away from you-”

“Debbie-“ And Ruth swears a couple of time, realizing she is on her feet and scurrying after Debbie.

She’s crying now. “Why am I constantly on the verge of losing you? Why is this whole thing so precarious? Why are you always looking for the smallest imperfection as an excuse to lose your damn mind at me? I thought we had figured it out, I thought we were okay, and now you want to throw everything away because of something that happened a lifetime ago?”

“I don’t want to-” Debbie sucks in a deep breath, and now she is yelling, just yelling at her.

“Jesus I have been fighting this fight for months, I have been a fucking mess for you for months, whilst you were fucking Sam and, and, Russell somehow not seeing the bits of my heart all over the floor, but now I get angry one time and suddenly I’m the problem, I’m the reason we’re never going to work, I’m the-”

Debbie stops speaking abruptly, and then put her hands on her hips. She flattens out her voice.

“You had an abortion, Ruth.”

“It’s my body” Ruth says lamely, knowing that this isn’t the point at all. Debbie looks at her as if she’s gone mad.

“Jesus fuck I know it is your body will you stop… You had an abortion. You fucked Mark, you had an abortion… I am allowed to have a reaction, for fuck’s sake.” Debbie’s voice wobbles wildly on this last sentence, and she puts her hands over her face for a moment, and sucks in a deep breath. “Just- let me have a fucking reaction, stop demanding some kind of saintlike inner peace from me-”

“It was over a year ago!”

Debbie points at herself, looking furious “But I just found out now!

“Ruth?” It’s Shelia, who is probably about the only person Debbie is going to allow to talk at this moment. “It can’t be talked out straight away, you gotta let-”

Ruth isn’t going to allow Sheila to talk. She rounds on her, flings her arm out in Debbie’s direction, demanding their attention, their sympathy, because surely they must be able to see-

“But all that she’s going to do is stomp off, and then decide that she hates me all over again, and I have to do another six months of hell before she’ll even look at me again! I’m not doing this all over again, it’s not fair to keep making me the antagonist in the never ending Debbie Eagan show, I am tired of being the fuck up all the time-”

Debbie scoffs out a laugh, sounding furious. “Well maybe if you stopped fucking up every two goddamn seconds then this wouldn’t-”

Ruth is yelling now. ”This isn’t a fresh fuck up Debbie! Nothing new has happened! Why are you always so desperate to hate me?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you, why can’t you even allow me a minute’s reaction time, why the fuck are you always demanding some kind of fucking perfection because I’m not that person for you Ruth, and I’m never going to be, and jesus- stop following me!”

Ruth comes to an abrupt halt then. They’re by the stage doors. Debbie looks over her shoulder, looking for… Ruth doesn’t know what, or whether she finds it, but that’s when Bash clears his throat.

“Ruth. Just… come back and sit with me for a bit, okay?”

No, Ruth thinks. No, I’m not going to. I want this fight finished now, I want to get to the end of Debbie’s fury, I want it to be over, and done, and for Debbie to have said every mean thing that she needs to say and thrown every insult that she can think of, and then she’ll hear Ruth’s apology, and they can both just-

But she’s tired. God, she’s so tired of it. Just… they were fine this morning? Debbie held Ruth in her arms this morning?

She turns to Bash. And hesitates.

It turns out that that all the sign Debbie needs, because the stage doors swing, and she’s gone.

…..

Ruth cries for a time.

Sam has disappeared, which is probably for the best, because Ruth is pretty sure that, whenever she manages to feel an emotion other than abject misery, she’s going to be coming for his head with a chair.

“I mean…” she hiccoughs, and then gulps “What kind of asshole… announces someone’s abortion to everyone? What kind of- shit, what the hell does he think… I thought he was trying to say that he was worried that we’d break up, and then-?”

She spreads her hands, incredulous. Bash puts another tissue in the hand nearest to her.

“Uh, yeah, I guess he doesn’t…do very well at holding on to conversational objectives when he’s being talked down to by Debbie.”

“Well, then-” Ruth splutters “Then he shouldn’t talk to Debbie. Ever. Just… you’re a producer, you should be able to put a stop to that.”

Ruth passes the tissue to her other hand. Bash puts another tissue in her newly free hand absently as he talks.

“I don’t know if I have any control over Sam. Or Debbie. I barely have control over myself-”

“I mean, it was so long ago, and if I’d have asked Debbie to drive me to clinic at the time, she’d have lost her damn mind, and… and-” Ruth gestures at the air “and yelled at me for about six hundred hours straight.”

“She’d have still taken you though.”

Ruth drops a tissue on the ground, and presses a fresh one underneath her eyes, although she isn’t wearing any make up so she doesn’t know what she thinks she saving. Bash hands her another tissue automatically.

“Yeah, I know, it’s just that Sam felt… easier, I guess. And I didn’t even know whether Debbie and I were ever going to have a relationship to try and rescue, and so the effort required was just-” Ruth sighs, and then starts on a different line of thought. “How does Sam even know we were… how did Sam know that Debbie and I were-?”

“Well-” and Bash coughs awkwardly. “That might have been… I mean, last night, after you left with Russell, Debbie and I went to a gay club, and-”

“What?” Ruth interrupts, and then takes a second to think. “You, oh? Okay? Did you, um… did you have fun?”

Bash briefly looks like he’s fighting to hold himself together against a tidal wave of enthusiasm. He pushes both hands through his hair.

“Oh, yes, it was great, Debbie was a big hit.”

“I-?” Ruth gulps, because what the hell does that mean? “She was? That’s… okay.”

Bash seems to grasp her meaning after a second, and grabs at Ruth’s shoulder. “Not with the ladies, although she probably wouldn’t struggle, um, I mean, but no! She got recognised as Liberty Belle, Hell, or whatever, and there were fans! These guys were pumped, and they’ve all been to the shows, and they were obsessed…. and well, when I got back to the hotel I was thinking about the marketing opportunities, and so… I… ended up waking Sam up to talk to him about it, and I guess… I’d had a drink or two, so I might have ended up… oversharing.”

Bash looks very mournful by the end of this announcement. Ruth pats him on the knee after a second.

“Probably wasn’t going to stay a secret for much longer anyway, the girls made that clear when they came to find us this morning…” Ruth looks around, noticing the silence for the first time. “Where… where did everyone go?”

Bash gestures towards the door.

“They all went after Debbie.”

Ruth frowns. “Why?”

“Because… I don’t know, I think they thought that I had things covered here. And… Debbie sometimes needs lots of people to yell at, so I think they were all volunteering, rather than Debbie deciding that she needed to come back and yell at you some more.”

Ruth nods mournfully, and then sighs. Bash hands her a tissue.

“I didn’t mean for… any of this to happen.”

Bash shrugs with one shoulder.

“Some things just happen whether you want them to or not, I’ve learned…”

Ruth takes another tissue from his hand.

“Why… couldn’t I fall in love with someone easy? Easier than… all of this?”

Bash seems to pause thoughtfully, and then scoots closer to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and giving her a little squeeze.

“I don’t think we get much choice over that sort of thing I either, I’m afraid.”

 

……

Chapter Text

“Debbie… Debbie, for god’s sake, where are you going?

Debbie doesn’t answer, because she isn’t talking to anyone right now, she can’t talk without running the risk that the pain will rip her chest open and catapult her own heart at a wall.

Also, she doesn’t know where she is going.

Mark got Ruth pregnant?

It’s like some inner life support system has just flatlined, because this new piece of information has Debbie picturing Mark fucking Ruth in 3D technicolor. And it’s worse, oh god it’s worse now because Debbie actually knows what Ruth sounds like when she’s in bed, the way that she runs her mouth over Debbie’s neck before going lower and-

Mark got all of that? And was stupid enough to not use a condom? She’s going to murder him, Debbie decides calmly. Debbie is going to murder the father of her child.

“Debbie, seriously babe, what’s the plan? We doing a walking tour of the hotel?”

Debbie rounds on them. It was Melrose who spoke last, but they all take a collective step backwards.

Why the fuck are they all here?

“Why are you all following me?”

There’s a moment’s pause, and then Cherry speaks, in her role as designated adult in the room. “Because sometimes, Debbie, we think your bullshit benefits from an audience.”

Debbie… can’t actually believe-

“Oh, Ruth fucked my husband and… and… whilst I was at home with Randy, and…. a bunch of other stuff, but I’m the bad guy?

Surprisingly, it’s Rhonda, who answers, in a slight sing song voice and a general air of distracted placation. “Um, I don’t think either of you is the official bad guy, I mean, you’re about evens I’d say, when it comes to fuck ups…”

Debbie turns away from them, and then carries on walking.

“Why the fuck are you all following me, I do not want a fucking greek chorus of-”

“Some of us are genuinely wondering where you are going, this is a circular corridor and I think we’re on lap number three.”

Debbie tries to call her brain to focus on something other than playing imagined highlights of her husband impregnating Ruth, and looks around her.

“I’m… where the fuck is my room?”

Arthie coughs.

“Oh, that’s um. The floor above, this is the wrong floor. I did mention that, earlier, but… I don’t think you heard me.”

…..

They follow her there, because of course they do.

“Sheila, can you tell them to all… go away.”

“No” Sheila says blandly. “You need this, otherwise you are going to disappear up your own ass so dramatically we’ll never find you again.”

Debbie glares at Sheila, who is standing in her doorway, and then glares at every woman that she can see behind Sheila. She flips her suitcase shut with unnecessary force, although Debbie has no idea if she has actually finished packing, or if she has even packed anything other than one bra, seven socks, and the hotel room lamp.

Sheila stares at her, but Debbie will not respond to the guilt trip.

“I am allowed to be angry, jesus christ stop looking at me like that-”

Yolanda sticks her head around the door frame.

“Yo, what’s the plan here Debbie? Once we’re done being dramatic?”

With enormous effort, Debbie drags herself together.

“I am going home. I am going to see my baby, the one I birthed, and then-”

That sentence crashes and burns abruptly, because she hasn’t got an ‘and then’. She’s just… going.

Carmen clears her throat.

“But… we have a show the day after tomorrow?”

“Well” Debbie splutters “Put a fucking… wig on a broom and send that into the ring, if Sam thinks I’m going to just turn up and be Liberty Hell for him-”

“It’s not just Sam’s show Debbie.” This is Cherry again, and jesus, Debbie just needs a minute without everyone expecting her to have all her thoughts neatly lined up in her head.

She rubs her hands over her face.

“Look, I’m just… I’m going to see my son. And then I’ll… fuck I don't know - a lot has happened and I can’t just - I can’t just go and tell Ruth it’s all fine because it isn’t and my emotions are everywhere, and-”

Sheila sighs, and puts her hands on her hips.

“Yeah, if you leave you’re going to make Ruth feel like shit.”

Debbie raises her eyebrows.

“Yeah? Well, god I can’t imagine what that must be like? To feel like shit because of her stupid choices - I mean, how hard is it to insist on a condom?”

“Debbie, seriously, it wasn’t-”

“Oh so, what?” Debbie snaps “You’re all team Ruth now?”

“No” Melrose drawls “We’re team ‘Debbie and Ruth need to figure it out so that we’re not all constantly surrounded by scorched earth’- listen, why don’t we just-?”

“No, I’m going home, now, please get the fuck out of my way.”

…..

The plane is half empty.

Debbie is pretty sure that her suitcase is half empty.

Debbie’s brain feels…

She needs to get to Mark. And then she needs to yell at him. And then….

One thing at a time, Debbie’s half empty brain counsels her. Yell at Mark, hold Randy, and then everything else will fall into place.

The sun is setting, over the landscape, far below her. Down there…. nothing has changed, and yet-

Debbie sighs, and leans her head against the plastic surround of the window frame, feeling the vibration of the plane rattling her skull.

Some part of her does know that this isn’t a fair reaction, that she should take time, take a deep breath, breathe through it, etc. But this is how she does things, and Debbie hasn’t got the inner reserves of mental strength to do anything other than her natural reaction. She feels like those reserves have been running on empty for some time.

She closes her eyes.

This plane journey is going to take too long, and she’s going to lose the inspiration of her anger. And then she’ll just be left with the hurt, and the vulnerability, and-

Debbie blinks rapidly, because she isn’t ready to cry yet.

…..

Mark’s new house is smaller than their old one.

Debbie doesn’t think he’s struggling for money. Maybe Mark was sick of projecting a certain kind of success through real estate as well. Mark’s job had always paid enough to make their previous life comfortable. And they’ve since sold their old house, splitting the money equally even though Debbie is certain Mark had paid more towards it overall. They have a ‘Randy’ bank account that they both pay money into. In many ways, Debbie honestly couldn’t have asked for a more straightforward divorce, and-

Debbie clamps down on that thought, because she doesn’t want to be dwelling on how wonderful and considerate Mark has become ever since she stopped having to pretend that she was in love with him. She’s supposed to be furious with him.

Mark. He fucked Ruth. Okay.

He has a stupid door bell, that seems to ring out the entirety of Beethoven’s back catalogue after Debbie presses it.

Mark, fucking Ruth. Debbie feels like she’s taking dust sheets of long disregarded piles of anger, trying to remind herself of-

Jesus she just needs to yell at someone, and it couldn’t be Sam because Debbie knows full well that Sam can give as good as she can if he wants to, and it shouldn’t be Ruth because… it shouldn’t, so she needs Mark, with his unhelpful face and his inability to answer back unless he’s had a three day warning and is allowed to work from a cheat sheet and-

Susan opens the door, and this is unacceptable, Debbie had almost forgotten she existed.

“Jesus…hello. Uh- I need to speak to Mark.”

Susan smiles at her, which doesn’t help at all.

“Hi Debbie, we weren’t expecting you, come in-” Debbie coughs, and then looks down at her feet, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

“No, I just… I need to speak to Mark.”

Susan looks very concerned. “Is everything okay?”

Debbie scoffs, haunted by infidelities of Christmas past. “No, Susan, it isn’t, can you please just…” She sighs, and then swallows, fighting the lump in her throat, fighting to not start shouting. “I need to speak to Mark-”

“Oh, he’s not here at the moment, I’m sorry, he’s had to work late-”

Almost involuntarily, Debbie rolls her eyes, and snaps out “Oh I’m sure he is, and you believe that?”

Susan blinks.

“Um… yes? He’ll be back in around an hour, you can come in and wait for him if you’d like-”

“Is he fucking your best friend now? Has he decided that-” And then abruptly, and with absolutely zero control, Debbie starts crying.

Susan’s face immediately softens further, and god it’s like trying to be angry at a sofa cushion.

“Okay, Debbie, why don’t we… not do this on the doorstep. Come in, I was just putting Randy to bed, do you want to take over?”

Debbie gulps a couple of times, and then wipes under her eyes, furious with herself.

“I… yes.”

…..

Randy grins at her when he sees Debbie.

Debbie… oh.

“Hey baby…oh hey baby, oh I’ve missed you-”

…..

Debbie doesn’t want to let go of him, and she ends up just sitting on Randy’s nursery floor holding him on her chest as he gradually drifts to sleep.

His heartbeat thrums against her own, and Debbie presses her face to the top of his head, and breaths him in, trying to ease out her own heart beat into something more peaceful.

Distantly, she hears Mark return home, and the low murmur of conversation between Mark and Susan.

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Susan who comes up first, holding a glass of wine that she offers to Debbie. Susan’s got her own glass in her hand, and Debbie motions vaguely at her, an unspoken invite.

Susan takes the invite without speaking, and sits… well it’s slightly closer than Debbie would have chosen, but she finds she doesn’t mind. She nods slightly towards Randy, and then murmurs “It’s not fair, that he keeps growing.” Susan leans in to take a look at him, and then smiles.

“It’s only been two weeks since you saw him last.”

“Oh god… it feels longer. A lot has happened.”

Susan absorbs this without comment, and then says “Mark’s downstairs, if you still need to go and- talk to him?”

Debbie sighs.

“You know he fucked Ruth? When we were still married?”

Susan nods. “Yeah, I know. He… doesn’t feel good about that.”

Debbie’s feels her face try to turn itself inside out, and then she nods.

“Well, he managed to get her pregnant, whilst he was at it. She had an abortion. I just found out, and, um. I’ve been working my way through my reaction to that news. I think I need to tick off yelling at Mark before I can, you know… process it.”

Susan doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then says “Have you already spoken to Ruth about it?”

“Yelled at her?” Debbie asks glumly. “Yeah. I have ticked that one off. She wanted to fix things, but I can’t just… instantly fix…. I needed to come and see Mark.”

Susan takes a sip of her wine. Debbie’s never seen Susan drink before, and it humanises her somehow. She tips her head back, and smiles at a memory.

“Mark insisted that he and I went to counselling sessions before we moved in together.”

Debbie snorts involuntarily into her own glass of wine, and then checks to see that she hasn’t disturbed Randy.

“Yeah? That must have been… you didn’t have to therapeutically lean on him, did you?”

Susan smiles wryly.

“No, not as such, but there was lots of discussion about conflict, and how different people do it in different ways. Some people want the argument to be resolved as soon as possible, other people need to process their anger for longer. Mark and I both look for fast resolution…whereas-”

“Oh yeah, I can sit on it for months, it isn’t… a good habit.”

Susan takes a small sip of wine, and then clears her throat.

“And Ruth?”

Debbie sighs.

“She’s… like you. And Mark. Instant resolution.”

Susan doesn’t say anything for a long time. Randy makes a small noise in his sleep, and Debbie marvels all over again at the warmth of him.

“The therapist said that a relationship can still work, if two people are coming at arguments from different ends of the spectrum, but it takes a bit more… self awareness.”

Debbie sighs again, and why the fuck not?

“I’m in love with Ruth. That’s why… I’m a mess, constantly. I’m in love with her.”

Susan doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then taps her wine glass against Debbie’s gently.

“I had wondered… do you want to sleep here tonight? We can make up a bed in here, if you’d like?”

Debbie smiles, and then nods.

“That’s… thanks Susan. I’d like that.”

……

It’s Mark, who is sent up with the camp bed and foam mattress and an armful of blankets. He creeps into the room cautiously, apologetic for his arrival.

“Hi, um - where do you…?”

Debbie gestures with a nod of her head, her hands full with Randy, carefully manoeuvring him into his cot. The air behind her is suddenly full of a silent kind of wrestling, as Mark tries and ultimately succeeds in unfolding a camp bed that Debbie remembers, the one that always puts up a fight.

“That’s… okay, does that look okay to you?”

Debbie meets his eye, and Mark automatically flinches away from the eye contact, which tells Debbie that Susan has already passed onto him the headline news.

Debbie expects to feel angry that her moment of outraged glory has been ripped away from her, but she doesn’t feel anything other than tired, and sad.

“Was a condom so hard?” she manages. Mark sighs unhappily.

“I know that… this might make you angry, but I would have done everything differently… the lack of condom is, in many ways, the least of my regrets, because the whole thing was… not good, and… a massive mistake” he finishes lamely.

Debbie could use this as another excuse to get angry, but she understands what point he is making.

“Well. It’s… you had no right to-”

“I should never have touched her” Mark says solemnly. “It was… I was trying to hurt you.”

Debbie swallows harshly. “Yeah. I see that.”

Mark watches her for a moment, and then sighs.

“Debbie, I know I have no right to speak on this, but… don’t use this to cycle all the way back to step one of your anger with Ruth and I. That won’t… be good for anyone.”

Jesus, advice from Mark. Debbie rubs her hands over her face briefly, and then nods at him.

“Yes, I know. I’m… trying, okay?”

…..