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It started in the elevator. Alex had seemed fine before that: In the Medbay when they’d said their first “I love you’s,” with her friends after she’d given Rick Malverne the roundhouse that probably did more to wipe his mind than anything J’onn had planned, in the backseat of the big black SUV that had driven them back to her place. Moving slowly still, but teasing Maggie about how she knew it must be love because Maggie had risked getting water stains on her beloved leather jacket and complaining about how much harder it was to get through traffic without the DEO’s sirens to move people out of the way. She even tried to hold the door for Maggie when they walked into her building.

And then they got to the elevator.

The bell chimed, the door opened, and Maggie felt as much as saw Alex freeze, saw her eyes go wide, almost as if she expected to see Malverne standing in the back, baseball cap pulled down low to hide the smirk on his face. Maggie had watched the security camera footage enough to have the rest of what happened memorized: the Taser pulled out and shoved into Alex’s back, her boneless plummet to the floor, his quick reach for the needle he’d jammed into her leg so she’d be unable to fight when he threw her over his shoulder and carried her out to his car. It was every woman’s worst nightmare, and Alex had lived it less than 24 hours ago.

The elevator door started to close, and Maggie stuck her arm out to block it before stepping inside and jamming her finger on the button to hold it open. She reached out to Alex with her other hand. “You coming, Danvers?”

Alex pressed a hand against the edge of the elevator door, still wobbly enough to need that extra bit of support. She looked down at the floor, then at Maggie, fear in those expressive brown eyes. “Maybe we can just take the stairs.”

“It’s eight flights,” Maggie pointed out, trying to sound reasonable, to keep her cool, though the thought of how deeply rattled Alex must be made her want to throw up. “And tough as you are, right now you couldn’t make two.”

Alex frowned and opened her mouth as if to argue, then shrugged, conceding the point. She took a half step forward, then hesitated, her foot hovering over the threshold.

“Alex, it’s okay.” Maggie stretched forward and caught at Alex’s elbow, tugging gently. “Let’s get you home.”

Alex closed her eyes, nodding. She took a deep breath and stepped inside, one foot, then another, before scooting forward a bit more so the elevator door could fully close.

Maggie hit the button for the eighth floor and immediately turned, catching at Alex’s hands and pulling her around so they were facing each other. Alex’s eyes were darting from corner to corner, alert to a predator that only she could see, as wild and panicked as they had been on the night when she had sought out Maggie and said, “Maybe there’s some truth to what you said…about me.” So terrified, so afraid to expose the part of her that she had hidden from even herself that she couldn’t say the actual word. And now here was that wild look again, and it broke Maggie’s heart.

“Look at me, sweetie,” Maggie said, putting one hand on Alex’s cheek and drawing her head down. She waited for Alex to make eye contact, watched her eyes dilate as she focused in. “It’s just us in here, okay? No one else but us.”

Alex nodded, her mouth tightening, and let out a breath. “I didn’t think of this when I said I wanted to go home.”

“Me either.” Maggie gave Alex a sideways, dimpled smile, the one she used when she was trying to talk her girlfriend out of her comfort zone. Only this time she wasn’t using it to convince Alex to try yoga or vegan ice cream, but to coax her back into her own apartment. “We should have asked Kara to fly you back.”

“You should probably know that she’s really good at picking the lock on the bedroom window,” Alex said, and Maggie saw a ghost of a smile.

Maggie smiled back, drew breath to respond, but then the elevator dinged to announce their arrival on the eighth floor. Alex snapped her head around, relief flooding her face. “Finally.”

The door opened, and Alex eased out, her head turning both ways as if she was checking her corners before stepping into the line of fire. Maggie slid past her and took the lead to the apartment door, fumbling in her pocket for the keys with one hand while she put her arm around Alex with the other. “Slow down, Tiger. I got this.”

“Giving you a key was a really good idea.” Alex turned and rested most of her weight against the hallway wall, leaving Maggie’s hands free so she could wrestle with the door’s industrial-strength locks. “Do you offer turndown service too?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Maggie grinned, grinned wider when she saw she’d gotten a smile, and felt the deadbolt click free. She pushed the door open and reached in to turn on the overhead light before stepping inside. She waited for Alex to enter and redid the door lock, deadbolt, and chain, then gestured for Alex to linger by the bar while she did a quick sweep of the apartment. When she returned, Alex was sitting on one of the bar stools, staring at the Scotch bottle as if trying to gather the energy to open it.

“You hungry?” Maggie asked, yanking her gun and badge off her belt and setting both on the far end of the bar. She pulled off her jacket and felt the intensity of the day slide off her shoulders, leaving behind a weariness that went bone-deep. Walking over to the Scotch, she opened it and poured a double, sliding it toward Alex. “You’ve earned it, babe.”

Alex shook her head. “I think maybe just some toast? Winn brought me a sandwich while you were calling in to the station, but I couldn’t eat more than a few bites.”

Maggie nodded. “Toast it is. Maybe some scrambled eggs too?”

“If you can find any eggs.” Alex leaned back in her chair, huddling into the hoodie that she had thrown over her tank top before they headed home. She pushed the Scotch toward Maggie. “You’ve earned it too, you know.”

“I wouldn’t argue with that.” Maggie leaned in and put hand on Alex’s shoulder, the other ruffling through her hair, which was still wild after such a long time spent underwater. She brushed a kiss across the crown of Alex’s head. “Give me a minute.”

She took the Scotch with her, sipping it slowly while she warmed the frying pan and put two pieces of bread in the toaster. The refrigerator was nearly bare, but she was able to track down two eggs, a banana, and some leftover Szechuan tofu that wasn’t too far gone — not much, but sufficient to cobble together a decent meal. She deposited the scrambled eggs and toast on Alex’s plate and the tofu and toast on her own, parsing the banana out evenly between them. Carrying both plates to the table, she said, “Pretty sure the only thing left in your refrigerator now is some ketchup, a frozen lasagna, some almond milk, and a box of baking soda.”

“Sounds about right.” Alex creaked to her feet, her muscles signaling their protest after so many hours of abuse. Maggie set down the plates and rushed over to help, but Alex waved her off. “I promise I’m not going to pass out,” she said, smiling. “Besides, the best thing for stiffness is to move around.”

“A hot shower might help,” Maggie said, and saw Alex flinch. “Oh my God, that was stupid. I’m so sorry, Danvers.”

“No, you’re right. It would.” For a brief moment, Alex’s eyes seemed haunted, but then she blinked and it was gone. She smiled that sweet, goodhearted smile of hers and said, “Thanks for making us dinner.”

“Don’t get too used to it.” Maggie pulled out Alex’s chair, waiting for her to sit before she slid into her own. She waited for Alex to take a bite of eggs and nod approvingly before digging into her own food. After a few bites she heard the tea kettle whistle and returned to the kitchen, bringing back a mug of that frou-frou herbal crap that she hated but Alex swore by when she was having a hard time getting to sleep. She set it down in front of Alex, saying, “I can spike that if you want.”

“Maybe just a splash,” Alex said, adding a whispered, “Thank you.” She took a small bite of eggs, an even smaller bite of toast. “Now all we need is some bacon.”

“Ew.” Maggie tipped a bit of Scotch into Alex’s tea and downed the last of it in one quick gulp. She wanted another — God, after this day, she could use another — but something told her that it was more important to stay alert for Alex’s sake. Because even though they were back in Alex’s apartment with the doors locked tight, her instincts said that this still wasn’t over. Not yet.

Alex took a few more bites and pushed her plate away. “That was good, thanks.”

Maggie frowned at the picked at toast, the barely eaten eggs. “I’m taking this lack of enthusiasm personally.”

Alex gave a weary smile and lifted the tea mug between her hands, blowing on it before taking a slow sip. “Sorry. I’m just tired. I need that shower and then I need to crawl into bed.”

“I think that’s a plan.” Maggie picked up both their plates and dumped them in the sink, deciding that cleanup could wait till later. She walked back over to the table and offered Alex her hand. “Come on, Danvers. Let’s get some rest.”

Alex nodded, using Maggie’s grip and the table for leverage as she pulled herself upright and half-walked, half-stumbled toward the bathroom. She was almost there when she turned to look at Maggie, panic in her eyes. “Would you shower with me?”

“You have to ask?” Maggie teased, but gently, for she could see how much it bothered Alex to make this request, to admit that she was afraid of something so normal. It didn’t help that her shower was basically a glass box, not all that dissimilar from the cage that she had been trapped in for hours. Except this one wasn’t designed to kill her slowly, to force her to watch the water rise until there was no room left and nothing to do but drown.

And then Maggie felt it again, felt her heart stop and her breath seize like it had when she’d seen Alex floating in that tank, bubbles rising as the last remaining molecules of air slipped from her lungs. She had held on, somehow held on, but God it had been close. Even Kara, whose superpowers gave her such a skewed perspective on reality that Maggie sometimes wanted to slap her upside the head, had understood that they might not have been able to save Alex had they arrived just one minute later.

Maggie shook her head, swallowing down her own bad memories. Tonight was about Alex, not her, and besides, her girl was practically swaying on her feet. “Yeah, let’s get on with that shower. And no hanky-panky, Danvers, you got that?”

Alex snickered and pulled off her hoodie, tossing it onto the couch, then kicked off her shoes. “Whatever you say, Detective.” She walked into the bathroom and began to fumble with her tank top. Maggie just rolled her eyes and took over, pulling the sturdy cotton free of Alex’s pants, sliding it up those washboard abs and soft curves before dragging it over her head. She planted a gentle kiss on Alex’s collarbone as she unbuttoned her girlfriend’s pants, then knelt and slid them down Alex’s long, lean legs. Glancing back up at Alex, she murmured, “This no hanky-panky thing is going to be tricky.”

“You’re telling me.” Alex slid her hands down Maggie’s arms and urged her to her feet. Her fingers brushed lightly across Maggie’s waist, and Maggie felt her stomach muscles clench in response, her body sing like it always did whenever Alex’s skin met hers. “I’d undress you if I could, but I’m afraid I might tip over.”

Maggie simply nodded, too overcome suddenly for words, and dragged the shirt over her head, unbuckling her belt in one swift motion before peeling her jeans down her legs. She’d forgotten to take off her boots, and she leaned against the wall, swearing under her breath as she fumbled to kick them off and pull her jeans free. Then she leaned into the shower and started the water, turning it to the level of hot that she preferred before dialing it down just slightly for Alex’s sake. When she turned back to Alex, she found that her girlfriend had backed up a step, the backs of her calves braced against the edge of the toilet.

“It’s okay, babe,” Maggie said, taking a tentative step toward Alex, arms open, as if she were approaching a horse about to bolt. “It’s just your shower, in your apartment, and I’m here with you.”

Alex nodded, her brow furrowing as if she was trying to reconcile Maggie’s words with the still-fresh memory of her near drowning just hours before. She sucked in a deep breath, muttering, “This is ridiculous,” and then reached behind her, fumbling for the clasp on her bra.

Maggie drew closer and slid her arms around Alex’s sides, waiting for Alex to lower her hands to Maggie’s waist before making short work of the clasp. She felt Alex’s breasts fall free, their warm weight spilling against the tops of her own, and let out a low chuckle. “Apparently the girls haven’t gotten the ‘no hanky-panky’ memo.”

“They do have a mind of their own.” Alex leaned forward, pressing her lips to Maggie’s temple. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Maggie asked, tilting her head back. She looked up at Alex, reveling in the nearness of her, and felt Alex step into her arms, drawing so close that Maggie could barely tell where her skin ended and Alex’s began.

“For this,” Alex said. “For the eggs and the tea, and for not laughing at me when I acted like stepping on the elevator was walking through the gates of Hell.”

Maggie put a hand on Alex’s cheek, drawing her head down so she could kiss her girlfriend’s mouth, her eyes, her forehead. She smiled up at her; smiled with everything she had, with the full force of her love.

“Ride or die, Danvers,” she whispered. “Ride or die.”

----------------

Maggie jolted awake, reaching for the spot where Alex should be. But it was empty, and the flash of blue light coming from the living room told her that Alex had slipped out of bed, had retreated to the couch as she sometimes did when she was restless. It was getting to be a rare event — Alex was sleeping better, sleeping like a baby, in fact, and Maggie took more than a little pride in the fact that she was a part of that. But tonight it wasn’t the case, and Maggie had a pretty good idea as to why.

She glanced over at the clock, noting it was almost 3 a.m., and let out a soft groan as she sat up. She’d gotten perhaps three hours sleep, just enough to make her feel sluggish and sick, but she shook it off, reaching for the pajama pants and t-shirt she had draped over the foot of the bed when she’d left the previous morning. She would have put them on earlier, but Alex was asleep on her feet by the time they got out of the shower, too tired and sore to even bother with clothes, and besides, Maggie had craved the feel of Alex’s skin against her own, craved it like she had craved that Scotch. There hadn’t been any sex involved; there hadn’t needed to be. Just Alex, warm and alive and in her arms, her soft breathing and quiet heartbeat like music to Maggie’s ears as she had drifted into sleep.

Clothes on, she padded toward the living room, slowing as she came around the corner so she wouldn’t startle Alex. She found her girlfriend lying on her side with a blanket tucked over her, head propped on a pillow. iZombie was on the TV, the sound barely audible.

“Hey,” Alex said.

“Hey yourself.” Maggie slid onto the L section of the couch, feet tucked beneath her, and molded one hand against the back of Alex’s head. “Last I checked you were out cold.”

“I woke up around two,” Alex said, her eyes still focused on the TV. “I didn’t want to wake you so I figured I’d come out here.”

“And watch our show without me,” Maggie teased.

“I didn’t think you liked this one that much,” Alex said, one corner of her mouth curving in a smile. “You’re always complaining about improper police procedure.”

“Hey, it’s a show about a nerdy scientist who eats the brains of murder victims to solve crimes,” Maggie said with a grin. “What’s not to love?”

“I guess a crime-solving nerd does fit into your wheelhouse.” Alex pushed up on one elbow. “You want to sit? I can restart the episode.”

“Yeah, sure.” Maggie sat down on the L section, her back against the cushion, and urged Alex’s head onto her lap. She combed her fingers through Alex’s hair, pulling the strands just far enough out of the way that she could get to that spot right behind Alex’s ear, the spot that put her to sleep if Maggie kept at it long enough. It worked — after a few minutes, Alex let out a soft sigh, whispering, “That’s nice,” and Maggie felt the coiled tension in her girlfriend’s body start to ease.

“If you need to talk, I’m here,” Maggie said, her voice hushed in the quiet stillness of the darkened apartment.

Alex said nothing for several minutes. Then, she quietly drew in a breath and murmured, “J’onn wants me to see the department shrink.”

Maggie looked down at her, trying to get a read on Alex’s thoughts on the subject, but all she could see were Alex’s cheekbones bathed in the flickering light. She thought about her response, thought about it some more, and said, “It might not be a bad idea.”

Alex tensed and pushed her hands beneath her so she could look up at Maggie, her brow furrowing in that way it did when she was about to call somebody out on their bullshit. “Maggie Sawyer, did you of all people just suggest I go to therapy?”

Maggie shrugged. “Hey, just because I think it’s stupid doesn’t mean I think it’s stupid for you.”

Alex smirked at that, and Maggie let out a laugh and patted her stomach, encouraging Alex to lie back down. For a time they were silent, Maggie stroking Alex’s hair while Alex rested in the cradle of Maggie’s lap. Then Maggie drew in a breath and asked, “Let me ask you this. What would Scully do?”

“Now that’s not fair,” Alex said, sliding her hand out from beneath the blanket to poke Maggie’s knee with her index finger. “You know Scully’s been my hero since I was ten. And also, we need to re-watch that together.”

“Yes, we do, but that’s not the point.” Maggie stroked the back of Alex’s neck, then let her hand slide lower, working her way down Alex’s spine. “After Scully got kidnapped, she went to therapy.”

“She also had her ova stolen by aliens who gave her cancer,” Alex pointed out.

“I thought it turned out those were just the government bad guys.”

“Either way.”

“Well let’s do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.” Maggie rubbed Alex’s shoulders, careful to avoid the bandage covering the gash in her arm, the gash she had sliced open herself in a desperate attempt to use her tracker to pinpoint her location. Too much, what Alex had gone through had simply been too much, and if Maggie ever got within striking distance of Rick Malverne she was going to beat him to a bloody pulp, civil rights be damned.

That’s not helpful, she told herself. She closed her eyes and took a breath, letting the anger subside, putting her focus back on Alex, who needed her here now, not wrapped up in some revenge fantasy.

She brought her hand back to the crown of Alex’s head, sliding her fingers through the tangled curls in a slow, soothing rhythm. “All I’m saying is there are some bruises you can’t see.”

Alex focused on the TV, saying nothing. But she’d heard her. Maggie was sure that she’d heard her.

_______________

 

She wasn’t sure if it was the noise that woke her or the movement. She only knew that one minute she was dreaming that she was working at a lobster shack on Nantucket and the next she was coping with Alex Danvers in full dervish mode while screaming, “I will end you, you son of a bitch!” at the top of her lungs.

“Alex,” she said, trying to focus her eyes, the murky gray light of the early morning hours doing little to help her sleep-befuddled brain. “Alex!”

But Alex couldn’t hear her. “God, please, I don’t want to die like this!” she screamed, her body thrashing as if she were fighting to stay afloat, and Maggie’s heart broke again, broke because she was hearing the things that Alex hadn’t said, the things that she had swallowed down so she could focus and follow her training right up to the edge of death. Things that anyone who did the kind of work they did tried not to think about or they would never be able to walk out into the field again.

Maggie dodged a flailing elbow while trying to pivot and get her feet beneath her, fighting for enough leverage to get Alex under control before one of them got hurt. She caught one wrist, then another, pulling them tight against Alex’s body, and slid herself forward while pulling Alex up so her back was against Maggie’s front. She leaned in close, her voice soothing. “Alex, it’s Maggie. You’re home, you’re safe. Listen to me, sweetie. Listen to me.”

She felt Alex slow, her head tilting to one side as if a part of her was starting to hear. Her arms stopped fighting Maggie’s hands, though her legs still dug into the couch cushions as if she was going to spring off of them at any second. Then came her voice, low and ragged. “Maggie?”

“It’s me, babe. I’ve got you.” Maggie eased her grip on Alex’s wrists, loosening her bear hug enough that Alex could shift around to look at her. That wild look was in her eyes again, only this time, Maggie saw something else in them, something that she very much feared might be shame.

“There you are,” she said, both her voice and her smile gentle. “Welcome back.”

“Oh, Maggie,” Alex said, her face crumpling. “Oh, my God.”

She came apart then, came apart in a way that Maggie had only seen twice before: Once after her dad had betrayed the DEO, and a second time after a night of intense lovemaking that had brought forth a depth of feeling that neither of them had been quite ready to handle. But now Maggie was in this, in this all the way, and so there was no choice but to handle it, to open herself up to the pain and take it the way that Alex had taken hers, had taken her lying about how her family had disowned her and her cheating on Emily and all the other dark, ugly little things that Maggie wanted to hide from the world. Because she understood now that Alex was right, and this was the only way that they were going to heal each other — the only way they were going to survive.

She swung her legs onto the couch and wrapped them around Alex’s torso, her arms encircling Alex’s shoulders. She pulled Alex close, as close as she could manage, pressing her face against the side of Alex’s head while she rocked her, whispering all the things she had kept inside, the constant stream that had run through her mind almost every minute of every day since Alex Danvers first barged into her life.

“I love you. You’re so beautiful and brave and badass and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you in my life, even when you’re driving me crazy.” She kissed Alex just below her ear and added, “Also, Gertrude is a really stupid name for a dog.”

“Is not.” Alex sniffled and let out one last cry, more of a reflexive hiccup than a sob. She was trembling still, but it felt like the worst of the storm had passed, that the harsh, racking spasms of fear and grief had worked their way out of her system — at least for now.

“Scully went to therapy,” she whispered, and Maggie lifted a hand, stroking her hair.

“Yeah, sweetie, she did.”

“So maybe I should too.” Alex shifted to the right, her hands lifting to frame Maggie’s face. “I don’t ever want the violence we live with to come into this room again.”

Maggie nodded. “This is our space, and nothing can touch us here.”

“Because it’s home,” Alex murmured. “This is our home.”

-----------

Her phone went crazy around 8 a.m., first one text, then two, then three. She snatched it off the bedside table and flicked it to silent, holding it up with her left hand while continuing to spoon around Alex’s sleeping form.

Alex isn’t answering her texts. Is everything all right?

I know you guys have the day off but I just wanted to check in. Is there anything you need?

You know if you don’t answer, I’m just going to come over there and use my x-ray vision on your door, right?

“Kid, you are such a pain in the ass,” Maggie murmured, but she was chuckling as she said it. She kissed the back of Alex’s neck and gently disentangled herself, sliding off the edge of the bed and tucking the covers back around in hopes that Alex wouldn’t miss her warmth. Then she retreated to the kitchen and texted, Just woke up. Chill for a minute, k? before starting up a pot of coffee. She settled in at the table as the rich, warm smell of espresso roast began to permeate the room and composed a proper reply.

Sorry. I put Alex’s phone on silent when she wasn’t looking. Rough night.

But she’s okay? Kara asked, and Maggie could all but hear the desperation in her voice.

I think sorting out what happened is going to take a while, but she’s hanging in. Maggie heard the coffee pot gurgle and went to pour a cup, adding in a dash of almond milk from the fridge. You know as well as I do that your sister’s stronger than any of us put together. She’ll figure this out.

I can stop by with breakfast before I get to the DEO, Kara offered. Or if you need anything else.

Maggie glanced over at the bed, to where Alex was still curled up, her body finally having given in to exhaustion sometime around 6 a.m. I would never say you can’t come over, but she didn’t really get to sleep until two hours ago and I’d like to leave her be as long as possible. Maybe hold off and we can order pizza tonight instead?

That works. Maggie saw the dots that indicated that Kara was typing, then a pause as if she was reconsidering what she wanted to say before she started up again. Just tell her when she wakes up that I love her and I’m so glad she’s okay.

Maggie smiled. Will do, kid.

She took another sip of her coffee and walked back into the bedroom, sitting down on the edge of the bed so that she was facing Alex. She brushed a lock of hair away from Alex’s cheek, seeing her eyelids twitch in response. An instant later Maggie felt the apartment walls rattle, the whoosh of displaced air reverberating in her ears only after the flyby was over.

“Your sister is such a stalker,” she murmured, then caught herself, feeling queasy at her flippant use of the term now that she knew that Rick Malverne had been doing just that to them for months. How many times had he watched while they played pool or ate dinner or held hands or kissed? How many times had they featured in his feverish, demented imaginings, his childhood crush on Alex twisting into a loathing so fierce that violence seemed like the only answer?

And yet even in the face of such rage, Alex had held on, had clung to life with a strength and tenacity that left Maggie stunned. She doubted if this was the last time that the violence of their work would turn personal; knew for certain that a life spent standing in the breach would continue to exact its due. But she would be there for Alex, would hold her and comfort her and protect her with everything she had, because if the tables were turned, she had no doubt that the woman lying in this bed would do the same for her.

She lay down on her side, scooting forward until her face and Alex’s were almost touching, and took Alex’s hand between her own. She froze for an instant when Alex’s eyelids quivered, but then Alex simply curled more deeply into the pillow.

“Love you, Maggie,” she murmured, and Maggie felt her heart expand in her chest, filling her up with a love so complete that she thought it would break her in two.

“I love you, Alex Danvers,” she whispered. “And I’m so glad you’re home.”