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forever & please don't go

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SEPTEMBER

Sam is awoken, on a bright beautiful autumn morning, by the intense, irritating beeping of an alarm close to her head.

Her eyes barely crack open to see that the sun has just barely come up through her blinds. It’s far too early to be up on a weekend. She burrows down into the blankets, hoping to drown the noise out without having to bring her arm out from under the warm covers.

Then a realization hits her.

That’s her alarm sound for important events.

Work events.

“Oh shit -” Sam curses, tumbling out of bed. Snatching her phone off her bedside table she reads the words ‘meeting with shareholders.’

How had she forgotten that? How in the hell had she forgotten that.

“Shit!” She hisses again, pushing up off the ground. Going to her bedroom door, she yanks it open, “Ruby?” she calls down the hall, before wandering back to her closet and finding a pair of pants to wear and quickly jumping into them.

She snatches her favorite hoodie up off the chair in her room for the time being, rushing out of her room.

“Ruby!” She knocks on the door twice and when she receives a grumbled response from the other side, smiles slightly and pushes the door open. “Come on, Rubes, you gotta get up.”

“But whyyyyy?” Her daughter whines, pulling the covers further up herself.

“I hate to do this, but I forgot an important meeting that I can’t reschedule.”

This makes Ruby sit up slightly. There’s a slight sag to her shoulders that Sam can tell isn’t just from being tired. “But we were supposed to marathon Buffy today.”

Sam feels her shoulders fall slightly. She hadn’t forgotten about that and the idea of disappointing her daughter again made her heart sink.

“I know and I’m really sorry. Make it up to you later?”

Ruby sighs, but finally nods.

“Okay… Good. good. Thank you. Get dressed please, we have to leave in a few minutes.”

“Am I going with you again?”

Shit-” She’d completely forgotten about that too. Weeks ago when she’d scheduled this meeting she’d planned to ask Ruby to make plans with a friends for that Saturday, but of course they’d decided to keep it open for a mother daughter day.

As much as Sam loves having Ruby around, she knows how much it must suck for a kid to spend their weekend inside a stuffy office and in a situation like this, the shareholders may find the presence of a kid completely unprofessional.

She turns around and looks at her daughter, who has a sort of dejected look on her face.

“You don’t really want to do that, right?”

Ruby shakes her head and Sam nods.

“Okay… Okay. I’ll figure something out. Get dressed.” She closes the door behind her and rushes into the kitchen, mind racing so as to figure out a solution.

Lena is going to be with her at the meeting, so that’s not going to work-

She pushes two waffles down into the toaster and then rushes back to her own room to find appropriate clothing options.

Jack lives way too far way for Sam to feasibly get Ruby there and get back to work on time. She’d have to have superpowers to make that kind of trip.

She throws on a button up and one of her black blazers, rolling the sleeves back and tucking the shirt into her slacks.

“Shit-” she mumbles again as she stumbles into the bathroom, finally getting a good look at her hair. Quick as she can she starts trying to pull it together.

And then there’s- there’s… That’s it. She pauses. Lena and Jack were really her only options?

Then the thought of her mom popped into her head and just as fast as it entered she pushed it away.

Wow, she really needs more friends.

Suddenly, Sam remembers the cop that lives down stairs. The one with the nice smile who’d run Ruby’s lunch, which Sam had accidently set down in the lobby in her rush, out to them right before they’d driven out of the parking lot, who had always teased or encouraged Ruby in some way when they had to share an elevator at some point, who’d helped Sam with a few boxes late at night as they were moving in, refusing to let her carry them up alone…

Sam sighs, setting the brush down on the counter.

Considering the other options, that would have to do.

“Hey, Ruby?” She asks, coming out of her room to find her daughter in the kitchen preparing their waffles.

“Yeah, mom?”

Sam smiles slightly at the sight. “Hey… Thanks for the breakfast.”

Ruby grins back. “Yeah, I just thought I’d get it out of the way for you.”

“I appreciate that. Now, we need to talk about where you’re gonna go today.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you remember the cop from down stairs?”

Ruby’s eyes lit up slightly. “Alex?”

Jesus, Sam didn’t even know the woman’s name and she was about to ask a huge, imposing favor of her.

“Yeah… Alex. I’m gonna go try and ask her if she can watch you for a few hours, okay? Just until I can come back and then I promise we’ll go out to lunch and I’ll be all yours for the rest of the day. Sound good?”

“Sounds good.”

“Okay. You eat, I’m gonna go talk to her.”

Sam walks from their kitchen, through their tiny living room and to the front door and she slips her feet into a pair of slippers. Then, she stops, remembering something, “And a raincheck on the chocolate chip and banana pancakes until tomorrow?”

“Yes!” She hears Ruby’s exuberant shout and feels her love for the girl grow somehow, impossibly, bigger than it already was.

Sam unlocks the multiple locks, throws the door open and goes out into the hallway. All it takes is a glance to one side to see the big cardboard ‘out of order’ sign hanging on the elevator.

“Of course,” she mutters and turns on her heel to rush down a flight of stairs.

She walks down the hallway until she nears the apartment in the exact same position as their own a floor up.

Suddenly she feels very nervous and ponders, just for a moment, not knocking, but she pushes through and raps her knuckles against the wood.

Her stomach churns, trying to tell her just how improper this is.

Jesus, they’ve only been living there a little over a month and here Sam is, standing outside a stranger’s, albeit a very nice stranger’s, door asking for a huge favor.

She takes a step back and forces her hands into her pockets, trying hard not to fidget.

There’s a long pause, but eventually Sam hears a muffled shout of “just a second,” and a few moments later the door flings open, revealing her neighbor.

“Hi!” Sam greets, cheerfully.

The woman- Alex - blinks in surprise. “Hey,” she says, wearily.

Sam takes in her appearance, oversized sweater, sweatpants, bare feet and her short hair ruffled messily as though she’d just rolled out of bed. Suddenly Sam feels even worse about knocking on her door, especially at this early hour. Then it dawns on her how hard Alex’s job probably is and how little sleep that might get her. “Oh, did I wake you up?”

Alex sighs and nods but her lips curl slightly in a smile. “It’s fine, what’s up?”

Sam hesitates, wondering if she should just back out now and leave this woman to go back to sleep, but something about Alex’s relaxed demeanor and the reminder of how her already limited time is ticking away keeps her going. “Okay listen… I know you don’t know me, but I’m about to ask a huge favor of you and I totally understand if you say no.”

“Um,” Alex leans up against the door frame by her shoulder, “Okay, sure.”

Sam takes a deep breath, “So, I have a daughter.”

There’s a hum of laughter. “I’m aware.”

“And I really hate to do this,” she repeats, “but we moved here because I got a really amazing job offer at a company and-”

“That’s great-”

“- it’s still all so new and I’m still trying to make good impressions and today is a really important meeting with shareholders who I haven’t even met yet and if I mess it up that could be it-”

“I’m sure that’s not-”

“- and I forgot about it until about… Twelve minutes ago? So now I’m panicking and trying to get ready, but I have a problem.”

Alex nods, like she’s done with trying to interject and can’t tell if Sam is going to start talking today.

“And I accidentally made plans with my daughter today because I forgot… So all of her friends are busy or out of town and I work with all my friends so-”

“You need a babysitter?” Alex asks.

“Yeah… And normally I’d never do this but I’m in a pinch and you’ve been so good with her all the times you’ve talked… And you’re a cop... So I figure you can keep her safe.”

Alex breathes in deep and crosses her arms. “Yeah… Yeah, I can do that.” She forces a smile and nods.

“Really? Are you sure? I don’t want to impose.”

“It’s totally fine. I took care of my little sister for years; I know how to keep kids entertained.”

“Yeah… Now I hate to get all crazy on you but-” Sam changes her demeanor, willing her mama bear instincts to come to the surface “That girl is the most important thing in the world to me. I’d do anything for her and if anything happens to her I don’t care if you're a cop-”

Alex lets out a laugh, a real laugh, and nods. “Got it. Nothing happens to the kid or no one will ever find me. I get it. I feel the same about my sister.”

“Good…” Sam clears her throat. “So I’ll bring her down in a few. She likes movies and tv shows, if you can get her hooked on something you should be good for a while. I should be back by at worst three.”

“Sounds good.”

So we’re on the same page?”

“Totally,” Alex smiles but there’s something behind her eyes, something she can’t quite place. Nothing that makes Sam feel bad about the situation, but makes a part of her wonder what that look that has hints of sadness in it means, what the story there is.

She doesn’t have the time to pry and they’re nowhere near close enough for that.

“Okay… So, I’ll see you in a few.’

She rushes back up, relief flowing through her.

She’s got this under control and more importantly, Alex is very calm and seemingly caring. She hopes she’s right about that.

Maybe they’ll even be friends by the end of this.

She pushes the door to their apartment open, immediately heading for the kitchen.

“Rubes?”

“Yeah, mom?”

“So, Alex is game to watch you… Are you okay with that?”

“Totally! Alex is really cool!”

Sam nods, “And you know what to do if anything goes wrong?”

“Get out of the situation and then call you or the police, depending on the circumstance,” Ruby recites, rolling her eyes but smiling.

There’s a burst of fondness in Sam’s chest and she suddenly feels very grateful to have raised such a beautiful daughter.

“Good girl.” Sam closes the distance between them and hugging her daughter close. “I love you, you know that right?”

Ruby groans, “Yeah mom, I know.”

Sam responds by digging her fingers into her sides, tickling her.

“Mom!” she giggles, swatting her hands away.

“Now go on, get your stuff.”

Ruby runs off to her room to get her backpack and Sam goes back to her bedroom to grab her briefcase and put on heels instead of slippers.

Her and Ruby exit their rooms at the same time and immediately head for the front door, bags in their hands.

“Mom, don’t forget your breakfast.”

“Oh, right!” Sam takes a few long strides back to grab the waffle.

“I’ll get the keys!” Ruby calls back, prompting another fond feeling in Sam.

When they come face to face again at the door, Sam gratefully takes the keys from her daughter. “Always looking out for me, huh?”

“Gotta repay the favor.”

Ruby’s dimples come out in full force and Sam practically can feel the words yank on her heart. She ruffles her daughter's hair, “Yeah…”

They rush down the flight of stairs again and down the hall.

This time when she knocks on the door, Alex is there to open it immediately. Her hair is brushed out and she’s swapped the sweatpants for jeans and she looks much more awake, smile bright on her face as her eyes land on the pair.

“Hey! Ruby, right? Did you know that rubies are one of the strongest gemstones? Only-”

“- Diamonds are stronger! You’ve told me that one already, Alex!” Ruby laughs and Alex shrugs.

“I guess I only know so much about rubies. I’m gonna have to do some more research.”

A weight lifts off Sam’s shoulders as she feels some of her worry drift away because of the interaction.

“Okay, so once again I hate to do this but… I really have to run, I’m barely gonna make it as is.”

“I get it. We’re gonna have a great time, right?”

“Totally!”

Sam nods, but turns to her daughter, squatting slightly to be eye level.

“You gonna be okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Good. Good… Have a good time, okay? I trust you.”

She pulls her into a second hug, holding her just a little longer and tighter. When they let go she presses a kiss to her daughter’s hairline. “Love you. I promise I’m all yours for the rest of the weekend when I get back, okay?”

“Buffy?”

“Yeah, so much Buffy our brains might melt.”

Ruby’s grin is blinding as she leans back into her mom, giggles concealed into her shoulder.

“Can I go inside now?”

Sam signs, still feeling the slightest bit reluctant to let her go. “Ask Alex, yeah?”

“Alex?”

When the two glance up, Sam makes note of that look again, the one that looks like it conceals a painful story behind it. It takes a moment for her to register she’s been addressed, but when she does she shakes her head. “Yeah, of course.” She moves out of the way to let Ruby enter.

“I’ll see you later!” The young girl calls out from inside.

Sam’s next breath is shaky with her daughter out of her sight.

“She’s in good hands, I promise I’ll watch out for her.”

“You better… Sorry, that was harsher than I meant it to be… Just… Thank you?”

“No big deal.”

“I’ll see you both in a few hours?”

“Sounds good.”

“Okay… Okay, bye.”

Sam starts to take a few reluctant steps away, eyes not leaving Alex as she wanders back towards the stairs.

“I’ve got this.” Alex sounds very self assured and her eyes are so calm that Sam feels inclined to believe her and finally, in a leap of faith, waves and turns to head down the stairs, a sense of calm soaking her to the bone.

 


 

When the door closes, Alex takes a deep breath, knowing she’s alone with a kid for the first time since she was a kid.

When she turns around she sees Ruby staring at her expectantly. She takes a deep breath, suddenly feeling like she might be in over her head.

“So, uh, what do kids like to do nowadays?” She asks, trying to remember how she’d tried to keep Kara entertained when they’d first met. “Wanna go stargazing?”

Ruby giggles. “It’s eight in the morning.”

Alex wishes she’d meant it as a joke. “Aha, right!”

There’s another significant pause where it starts to get awkward.

Then she remembers what she, Kara and Clark had done to pass the time when he was stuck at their house over the holidays.

“Wanna learn how to play cards?”

Ruby grins and Alex softens, this she can handle.

“Get comfy on the couch and I’ll go get the cards?”

“Yeah!” Ruby goes bounding over to her tiny living room, immediately flinging herself onto her ratty couch.

Alex shakes her head and goes to pull the cards out of the hall closet. Upon her return, she sits criss-cross-applesauce on the ground across from Ruby.

“So, you know how to play any games already?”

“Go fish?”

“Okay! Okay, that’s a good start, um…” Alex shuffles the cards up in her hands, carefully using her fingers to make sure all the edges align into a neat stack as she holds them tight, regarding the girl as she tries to figure out the best plan of action. “Since it’s so early and I’m not all that awake yet-”

This time it is meant as a joke, so when Ruby laughs Alex feels a rush of pride.

But really, she’s barely been up for thirty minutes and her coffee’s still brewing in the kitchen, so she’s not quite sure she has it in her just yet to explain anything too complicated.

“- I figure we can start with something equally as easy as Go Fish and then work our way up from there?”

Ruby nods excitedly, sitting up attentively.
“Okay so,” Alex straightens up too, getting closer to the coffee table, “this is called War.”

She pushes up the sleeves of her maroon knit sweater and begins to deal them their cards, explaining as she does. “Every deck of cards has fifty-two cards, in War, we’re each going to get half that, which is-”

“Twenty six!”

Alex wasn’t expecting her to jump in quite that fact. “Yeah… Yeah that’s really good! Um, so we’re both gonna get twenty-six- Don’t look at them - and then we’ll each flip a card over at the same time and the person who has the card with the bigger number gets both cards.”

“That sounds easy!” she practically jumps forward, already going for her cards.

“Hold on!” Alex chuckles, holding her hands up to slow her roll. “If we both pull up a card and it’s the same number then we go to War, which means we’ll take two more cards from our piles, one face down, one up. Whoever has the higher card between the two new face up cards gets all six. Whoever ends up with all the cards wins, cool?”

“Cool, let’s go.”

By the time they go through their first round, Ruby ending up with all the cards - beginners luck , Alex remarks, teasingly - they’ve both relaxed, competitive banter flowing easily. Alex shuffles again. They start into a second round and this time the cards are in Alex’s favor, but half way through Alex’s coffee is ready and she goes and grabs it. Upon her return, Alex finds Ruby lifting the edges of her cards.

“Hey!”

She quickly moves back, head whipping around to look at Alex with an faux innocent expression.

“Don’t think I didn’t see that, cheater!” Alex laughs, coming back to sit down across from her.

“Who says I was cheating!”

“I witnessed the crime!” Alex jokes, scooping the deck back up into her hands now that their game was tainted. “You should know better than to try and trick a cop… Don’t worry though, cheating is a part of cards.”

The young girl lights up with pride and with her own burst of excitement at the fact, Alex begins dealing again.

“War again?”

“Nah, I think you’re too good for that.”

Another pleased smile, this time a dimple appears on Ruby’s cheek.

“We’re gonna move to something more complicated. Something you won't pick up so easy. Something harder to cheat at!” Alex reaches forward and pokes Ruby’s nose gently between setting a card down and picking another up.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find a way.”

Alex shakes her head, stifling a laugh. “Yeah well, good luck with that.”

“What is it?”

She glances up, pausing to build tension. “Ever heard of Blackjack?”

Ruby’s eyes go wide.

 


 

The elevator door opens and the first thing Sam sees is Lena pacing.

Sam doesn’t slow down as she approaches Lena, the other woman having to go from full stop to keeping up with Sam at in full important-business-woman-walk mode, which is a mode Lena is used to, except between them there is a drastic difference in the amount of leg they have.

“You’re late. They’ll be here any minute,” Lena says, nearly jogging to get to the same speed as Sam.

“I know. I forgot…” Sam keeps her gaze level, moving through the building like she knows exactly what she’s doing.

Lena sighs, but falls into step with her, having no trouble keeping up her own composure.

“Where’s Ruby?”

There’s a significant pause as Sam isn’t quite sure of what to say. Finally she clears her throat. “With a friend.”

“A friend?” Lena’s eyebrow raises. “Jack?”

“No… Not Jack.”

“Well, I’m here, so who else could it be.”

“There’s a cop that lives the floor below us, always really nice to Ruby.”

What? Sam, are you feeling alright?”

“Look, Alex is really nice and a cop and she’s really good with Ruby-”

Lena makes a sound, like the last pieces of a puzzle have just clicked into place and stops in her tracks. Sam stops too, turning impatiently to look at her friend whose expression is far too smug for this early in the morning.

“So she’s a girl cop?”

Sam rolls her eyes and continues on their path. When Lena catches up again, she replies, “for you information, there’s nothing going on there. She was just the only option and she’s helping me out, okay? Not a big deal.”

“It is when it’s your daughter, who you love more than life itself.”

By now they’ve reached the doors to Sam’s office and she sighs turning to Lena again. “Lee, seriously. There’s nothing going on. She’s just really nice, good with kids, a cop and my neighbor who’s doing me a huge favor seeing as she was really my only option this morning.”

“Okay, okay!” Lena holds up her hands in surrender. “Message received.”

“Besides, maybe I’m trying to make more friends,” she pushes into the room, walking over to her best and placing the briefcase down.

“Maybe you should be trying to make more than friends.” Lena crosses her arms across the room, giving Sam a pointed look.

Sam scoffs and shakes her head, gathering the various handouts she would need for the rapidly approaching meetings as well as her other needed materials. “Lena…”

“Really, I mean it! When was the last time you had someone in your life?”

Sam sighs, setting her planner down forcefully, suddenly feeling very tired. “I have Ruby.”

“But that’s not the same! I know you love her and there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s always going to be the most important person in your life. And I’m in no way saying she shouldn’t be… But you deserve romance and love… Maybe even a little help in the parenting area- not that you need it,” she amends at Sam’s glare.

“... Being a mom, having this job and having you and Jack as my friends… That’s enough for me. You, Ruby and Jack are all I need.”

“Don’t you ever get lonely?”

“You’re so interested in talking about my love life, why don’t we talk about yours? Hm? When was your last failed attempt at finding a girlfriend?” Sam teases, crossing her arms.

Lena huffs out a slightly offended laugh. “You’re lucky I love you or I might’ve taken offense to that.”

Sam grins back, finally having all of her materials open just as Jess’ voice comes through the phone, informing them that the shareholders have just arrived.

The two women share an excited look, as much stress as this job had placed onto Lena’s shoulders and now upon Sam’s, there’s a thrill to it they both love at the heart of it.

“Showtime,” Lena smirks as Sam walks over to join her at the door.

 


 

Two hours hours later after a few rounds of Blackjack, Poker, a modified version of Spades and a few more scattered games of War, Alex and Ruby are starting to get very worn out on cards. Alex has moved onto the couch now, the two of them sitting on opposite sides of it so as to protect their hands. Ruby’s head is resting in her palm, looking bored out of her mind, Alex can’t blame her, she’s been at that point for a few rounds now too. In the middle of the game, Alex throws her hand down onto the table, revealing what she has.

“We’re over this now, right?”

Ruby sighs happily, exposing her own cards now too. “Oh definitely.”

“You did really well by the way! You might just have a future in gambling.” Right after she says it, Alex realizes that might not be the best thing to tell a kid even as a joke. “Wait, don’t take that seriously please, don’t gamble it’s illegal… Don’t tell your mom I said that.”

Ruby giggles, “I won’t, pinky promise.”

“Deal,” Alex leans forward, locking their pinkies together. It feels like she is fifteen again with Kara when they’d promised not to rat each other out for things they’d done to their parents.

Once they’re both satisfied with the promise, they settle back into the cushions staring at each other.

“So… What now?” Ruby questions.

Crap. Alex should’ve thought that out before putting an end to their card game.

“Um.” She takes a glance around her apartment, trying to find another activity to take up a few hours. On her second scan of the living area, Alex’s eyes catch on the shelf beneath her TV and the DVDs box set resting atop it.

The X Files.

Suddenly, Alex feels herself brimming with excitement. She remembers when her dad had first sat her down, VHS in hand and explaining that once she watched this, she’d never be the same. How he’d sat down next to her and how quickly she’d been sucked into it, hanging onto every detail as if her life was depending on it, wanting so desperately to be solving the mysteries alongside Mulder and Scully. She remembers turning to her father beside her after that first episode and asking a million questions, to which his response had been to just keep watching. At that point they was no stopping her. She never stopped. Not after she’d watched all the tapes Jeremiah had owned of the show, not after she’d gone and gotten the ones he didn’t from the library, not after she’d religiously watched every episode as it aired on TV, and not after it ended, when she’d bought those DVD’s sitting on the very shelf before her.

She wants to give that experience to someone else.

Wants to watch someone else get sucked in by the mystery and conspiracy of her favorite show.

“Did your mom say something about watching Buffy this morning?” Alex asks, turning her gaze back onto Ruby.

“Yeah?” Ruby sounds confused.

“Want to watch something similar? And dare I say better...”

“Better than Buffy? No way! My mom says it’s the best show ever made!”

“Your mom has good taste, but she’s wrong. This show is the best show ever made.”

“What is it?”

“The X Files.”

A thrilled feeling fills Alex’s chest as she sees that Ruby’s never heard of it.

“What’s it about?”

Alex shrugs, “I don’t know…” She crosses her arms, hoping this will further spark Ruby’s interest.

“Come on! Tell me!”

“You’ll have to watch to find out.”

“Just put it on. Let’s go!”

Alex grins and jumps up off the couch, pulling a blanket down off the back of it and throwing it over Ruby’s body. She turns on the TV and the DVD player, setting it up so it will play through the DVD trailers.

“Want me to make popcorn? Order some pizza?”

Ruby perks up again. “Awesome!”

Alex feels a burst of something else, the fact of how well this is going filling her with uncomparable joy. “Okay! I’ll be right back! How do you take your pizza?”

“Pepperoni!”

 


 

They shake hands, all of them congratulating Sam on the job and the work she’s now doing as the CFO.

As they watch the shareholders leave the building, success and pride clinging to the both of them like electricity as they watch the shareholders leave the building.

“Also, going back to our argument from before,” Sam murmurs, leaning over slightly so only Lena can hear. “I know how to settle it. It’s mutually beneficial for both of us to be single.”

Out of the corner of her eye she sees Lena look at her and she turns her own head to look at the other woman.

Lena’s eyebrow quirks. A question.

Sam smirks. “If either of us were in a relationship, who would the other call when they’re in need of a little… Stress relief between friends?”

Lena rolls her eyes, chuckling as she walks back to the office. “Shut up, Arias.”

 


 

At the beginning of the first episode, Ruby lounges as comfortably as she can against the couch, both feet resting upon Alex’s lap. As the minutes tick by though, the nonchalance disappears from her demeanor as she slowly gets wrapped up Mulder and Scully’s endeavors. First, her feet come off Alex lap as she sits up in place, knees tucked close to her chest, eyes intently focused on the screen. Second, she shifts so as to face the TV more fully, so her eyes don’t have to leave it. Third, her feet touch the ground, leaning intently forward, knees against the coffee table. Finally, she begins asking rapid fire questions as the credits roll, eyes wide and desperate for answers, Alex answers all of them with a simple “keep watching,” just as her dad had done.

Just as the theme begins playing for the second time, the doorbell rings and Ruby jumps, caught up in her excitement.

“Get the pizza and come back,” Ruby commands, eyes not leaving the screen as the cold open starts.

Alex grins at the reaction and jumps up to do as she says.

 


 

Despite the success and swiftness of the meetings, Sam gets back to the apartment building at four PM. After the shareholders had left, she’d had all kinds of things to wrap up that had been brought up at the meeting and that she then needed to get done as quickly as possible to show her work ethic. After that there had been problems with the merger she’s been working on for the past few weeks and she’d had to deal with that too. Now she’s just tired and wants to see her daughter in one piece.

When she gets to Alex’s door, she realizes just how worn out she must look because she can feel the stress of the day pulling her down.

She knocks anyway, knowing that this will make her feel better.

The door opens and Sam starts into a greeting, expecting to be met by Alex but then she’s getting toppled into by her daughter, nearly knocking her flat.

“Mom!” She shouts, throwing her arms around her.

“Hey, baby,” Sam breathes, overcome with relief. She holds her tight.

After a few moments, when she’s sure Ruby’s okay and in one piece, she opens her eyes, finding Alex watching them from the doorway casually.

“Did you have fun?” Sam pulls back from the hug to look Ruby in the eye.

So much fun,” she says, still unaffected by the teenage instinct to act like one likes things less than they really do to appear cool.

“Oh yeah?” She gives Alex an impressed look at the assessment. “What did you guys do?”

“Alex taught me how to play poker and blackjack-”

Sam raises her eyebrows and looks up at Alex at that, but lets Ruby continue.

“- and then we started watching The X Files.”

Another look passes between them, but now Sam’s lip quirks up at this detail. Alex rubs at the nape of her neck, looking sheepish.

“It was just really awesome.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Sam says, looking at Ruby but talking to the both of them. “Have you eaten?”

“Yeah! Alex ordered pizza!”

“Oh? Nice, huh?”

“Totally.”

Sam smiles down at her, patting her on the shoulder fondly before looking back up and remembering Alex is standing there. She really needs to talk to her about all this. Thank her, apologize again, ask if it was okay for her too, thank her again.

She fishes her keys of of her pocket, holding them out to Ruby.

“Hey, go up to the apartment and settle in okay? Give Alex and I a minute to talk?

This elicits an excited squeal from the girl before she’s snatching them away and running up to the apartment.

“Be careful!” Sam shouts after her. When she turns back to resume conversation, Alex is looking at her with that same look from earlier.

“What?”

Alex shakes her head. “Nothing. Nothing,” she says, in a way that sounds like it’s definitely not nothing.

After it seems like Alex isn’t going to reveal anything, Sam starts into her shepell.  “I know I’m a little later than expected.”

“No no, don’t worry about it. I get how it is. I spend a lot longer at work some nights than I mean to. Stuff comes up.”

“And I just wanted to thank you again. For everything. You didn’t have to and I know it was a huge thing to ask of you.”

“Hey,” Alex stops her calmly, smile coming to her easier than it had this morning. “It’s no big deal, I promise.”

Somehow, after she’d spent an entire day with a child that wasn’t hers, who was the kid of someone she barely knew, Alex had managed to look more relaxed than she had that morning.

“Can I at least pay you for-”

“No way! It was my pleasure. I had a good time . You’ve got a really great kid there, hell, if you ever need me to watch her again I’d be more than happy to!”

Sam shakes her head, smiling at the other woman. “You’re too kind.”

“Nah, I just like kids.”

“Seems like you’re good with them.”

That makes her faces drop a little as she nods, placing a hand on her own shoulder. “Yeah…”

There’s a tension that that makes Sam wonder again, but instead of prying, she decides to lessen the mood.

“So, I really need to go and be with her, you know I kinda bailed on her today… But I want to thank you again… and uh, ask you one more question?”

“Shoot.”

“Gambling? Really?”

“Not gambling!” Alex shoots off quickly. “No money was involved and I explained that it’s illegal. I know I probably should've asked-”

“Alex… I’m kidding.”

The woman visibly relaxes, air escaping her in a rush. “Oh, okay. Good.”

Sam stares at her for a moment, feeling very grateful for her help. Then she realizes she’s already stolen most of her day away and feels bad again.

“Hey, I don’t want to keep you,” Alex steals her back from her thoughts. “I know you want to spend time with Ruby. Tell her I had a good time.”

“I’ll tell her and I’ll let you get back to your day… Bye, Alex.”

“Bye Sam.” Alex pats her hand against the door.

Sam gives her a curt nod and turn to go up the stairs.

The second Sam enters the apartment, the first thing she hears from Ruby is: “Do you think I could hang out with Alex again?”

 


 

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, when the focus should be just a mother and her daughter, Sam thinks she hears the name Alex come out of Ruby somewhere over one hundred times.

“I wonder if Alex like this show.”

“We should go play more cards with Alex soon!”

“Alex would-”

“How do you think Alex is doing?”

“Are you gonna let me hang out with her again?”

Alex, Alex, Alex .

And it’s not that Sam minds, but it’s just hard to have a seemingly never ending conversation about a person she barely knows.

This both raises her opinion of Alex to a new level, because anyone her daughter likes is good in her book, and makes her feel the urge to repay Alex for doing her this favor that’s obviously made a huge impact upon her daughter’s life.

One day late in the next week, when Ruby is at school and Sam has a minute to spare, she sits down and thinks about what she knows of Alex and how she can use that to do something nice for the other woman.

Turn out, Sam really does know next to nothing about Alex. All she can pull from her mind is that she’s a cop, has a sister, she’s really good with kids, is very willing to help others and Sam has talked to her a few times in the lobby as Alex has been leaving for drinks with friends.

The only thing Sam can really think to do is get her a bottle of really nice liquor as a thank you. So she calls Jess and requests for her to have a bottle of top shelf liquor delivered to her office before she leaves for the night, a bow tied around its neck.

Later in the day, right before she actually is about to leave the office, Jess delivers it to her, a blank card already in hand, prepared despite Sam not having thought of that.

Sam gives her a warm smile, taking the bottle gently from her hands. “You’re a lifesaver.”

Jess’s spine straightens further with pride, she smirks, “I try my best.”

So, later, when Sam’s finally picked Ruby up from her friend’s house, taken her home, cooked dinner and put her into bed, she quietly slips out the front door, a hundred dollar bottle of whisky in her hand.

The plan is, place the bottle at her front door with the note beneath it, leaving it for Alex to find when she goes or comes back from work, but of course, it can’t quite work out that way.

The hall is excessively quiet at this late hour, abnormal for an apartment building and right as Sam is setting the bottle down, crouched in front of Alex’s door, the woman in question rounds the corner, nearly giving both of them heart attacks.

“Oh my god!” Alex jumps, surprise written all over her face.

“Shit-” Sam stands as quick as she can, bottle clutched in her hands awkwardly. “Hey!”

“Um, hi?!”

They stare at each other for a long moment before Sam sighs and relaxes. “I promise I’m not just lurking outside your door.”

Alex nods, still looking confused at the situation.

“Look, my daughter is practically obsessed with you. She had a really great time and she really likes you and I’ve been thinking about it a lot and you did something really nice for me, and I know I’ve already thanked you to death, but I figured I could do something nice for you back.”

Sam takes one of the steps between them, so as to put the bottle into Alex’s hands. They maintain awkward eye contact for a moment before Alex looks down at the label. “Jesus- Sam you didn’t have to-”

“Hey,” Sam raises her hands up, like she’s saying ‘no take backs.’ “it’s yours.”

Alex’s shoulders relax and she sighs, bows her head, like she’s thinking, and then she’s focusing her gaze back on Sam. “Well, if you’re gonna give me this incredibly expensive liquor at least don't make me drink it alone?”

Now it’s Sam’s turn to be unsure. She sways back and forth slightly, which reminds her of the ever present pressure of her feet inside her high-high-heels and how she’s been wearing all of these clothes for what must be nearing fifteen hours and she hasn’t quite stopped moving in that time either, which is starting to feel like a description of her whole life. And she should really be getting back up stairs to sleep so that she’ll be prepared for her next day of tireless, stressful work.

She decides that she really can’t stay.

But instead, what comes out of her mouth is, “I think I can manage that.”

Before she can even comprehend what she's just said, as she’s just trying to get through her own moment of shock at her words, Alex is maneuvering around her to get to the door.

“Good, cause I could use one after today.”

Sam stands in the same spot, still wondering what in the hell had possessed her body, the very thing that seemed to be complaining from every direction, to agree to this. She listens to the key turn in the lock, the way Alex has to jiggle it to get it to work and then the sound of it rushing open and Alex’s feet crossing over the threshold. The light clicks on inside and she can hear the electricity buzz for just a moment before it fades into background. Everyone’s used to that around here.

“You comin’?” Alex asks, from inside.

Sam nods to no one and turns around to follow. She stops in the doorway, thinks about withdrawing her agreement with some sort of excuse - a reason really, because her body seems to be aching shoulder down at the moment - but right as she’s about to voice this, she really sees Alex, focuses on her.

She looks about how Sam feels. Her shoulders are tense, eyes tired like she hasn’t slept well recently. She moves faster than usual, like she’s trying to get every action, even just taking off her leather jacket, out of the way as quick as possible. Sam wonders if it’s because of the stress she can see resting between her brows and in the rigidity in her hands.

Instead of backing out, Sam finds herself stepping in and shutting the door behind her.

Part of her, a very faint part, in the back of her brain that is a little selfish and really wants her to fall into bed right now, screams ‘No! You can still get out of this! You can still go to sleep and not come out of this with a slight hangover! You can chat another time. Not now. Not now. Not now!’

“Are you okay?” She questions instead and that part of her brain quiets down, the more compassionate parts winning it over.

“Hm? Oh, yeah I’m fine.” She sounds distracted.

Her fingers have been in a state between clenched and unclenched since she’d walked into her apartment and that kind of rigidity can not be comfortable.

“Uh, you sure about that?” Sam follows her into the kitchen.

Alex pauses, setting the bottle down on the counter and looking back at her, sighing as a small but sincere smile comes upon her lips. “Sorry, stressful day.”

“Okay well, you’ve just invited me in for a drink,” Sam moves past her to get to the bottle and crack it open, “and I’m trying to do something nice for you so get me a bottle opener and you can talk about it all you want. I’m not saying I’ll have any advice because my brain’s running on half capacity as well but-” Alex places the device into her hand and she starts gesturing with it as she talks, “- I can listen.”

A silence follows and after Sam is done opening the bottle she turns to see Alex looking at her, expression unreadable.

Sam stands up straighter. “Or we don’t have to talk about it?”

Alex suddenly seems to realize what she’s doing and clears her throat. “No, sorry I was just uh… I guess I don’t get asked about my day that often except by my sister.”

“Yeah me either, except it’s my friend asking,” for a moment, her minds jumps to her lack of family, to her mom. She shoves the thoughts away. “We’re gonna  need something to put this in.”

“Oh, right!” Alex maneuvers around her again, opening a cabinet and pulling out the glasses for them. “Here, sorry.”

“It’s okay! I get it, you’re worn out.” She quickly pours them each drinks before passing one over to Alex.

Sam follows her out of the kitchen and into the living room, copying her as she sits at the dining table. More silence passes between them as they take their first sips.

She takes the moment to take in Alex’s apartment. Its set up is nearly a mirror of her own, but it’s less filled out. Although having exceptionally comfortable looking furniture, with blankets thrown across the couch and chair in the living room, the place doesn’t look very lived in. There’s nothing on any of the walls and on her few shelves there are gaps between her books and dvds. She can only spot one picture frame in the whole place. It reminds her of when she’d been moving out of her old place, how when half of her stuff had been boxed away the other half looked wrong barely filling up the space. Alex’s apartment gives off the same feeling, like stuff has been removed and not replaced. Sam briefly wonders how long she’s lived here.

“So, why was today rough?” Sam asks, when Alex sets her cup down nearly empty.

Alex takes a deep breath, “Well, for one, I don’t have the easiest job in the world… It’s hard to relax sometimes. I made a few arrests, had to assist in some others.”

From what Sam knows of law enforcement, this doesn’t add up to why Alex would be so wound up. “Sounds like a pretty standard day?”

“Yeah, well…” It sounds like Alex is just going to brush her off, but then she glances up, their eyes meet and Alex sighs, like she can’t bring herself to lie. “My ex has been around.”

“Ex?” Sam hadn’t even known Alex was anything other than single. They run into each other enough she supposed she’d just assumed since she’d never really seen Alex with anyone. Suddenly the lack of pictures makes sense.

“Bad breakup?”

“Yeah, you could say that. We used to work in the same precinct before.”

“You’re both cops?”

“Made the odd hours easier,” Alex supplies. “Yeah, she’s transferring so she’s just been wrapping up some of her cases and passing off the others. Picking up stuff.”

She . Jesus, Sam really does know nothing about Alex.

“Sam?”

She’s staring, shit. “Yeah, sorry… Sorry. Picking up stuff?”

“From her desk, from here.” Alex sighs, shaking her head.

“You guys lived together?” How hadn’t Sam noticed that? “That must be awful. How long were you two-”

“A year and a half.” Alex pulls her hands back towards herself, lacing her own fingers together uncomfortably. “We broke up a month ago.”

Sam’s only been here a month and a half, she was probably only just meeting Alex as things were falling apart. “Jesus. I’m so sorry.”

“Nah… Don’t- Don’t be. We wanted different things.”

“Like?”

Alex looks up at Sam and for a moment, it seems like she’s about to say something. “You know, I’d really rather not talk about it?”

Sam sits back in her chair, sighing slightly. Whatever it is, it must be pretty huge to have Alex this way. She won’t pry if Alex doesn’t want to talk about it though. “Of course.”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“Who wouldn’t? Everyone has their share of bad breakup stories right?”

Right .” Alex forces a laugh. “It’s just gonna take some time to get over I think…”

“I totally get it. If you ever need someone to talk to I’m here, although I’m probably not the best to ask about breakup advice… As I said before, I can listen.”

Alex nods, smiling at her slightly. “I appreciate that.”

More silence as they stare at each other.

“What about Ruby's father?” Alex asks, “Is he still in the picture?”

“Nope. It's just me and Ruby,” she takes another sip, feeling slightly uncomfortable at the mention.

“Wow. Raising a daughter by yourself, that's incredible.”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, how do you do that?”

“Uh, not very gracefully. It obviously requires a lot of help,” she gestures to Alex, who smiles slightly at her. “I'm always behind on something . It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it… You’ll see when you have kids.”

Alex seems tense again for just a moment, before sighing and whispering, “Yeah,” like she can’t quite make her voice any louder.

Sam watches the odd reaction and wonders if maybe that was the wrong thing to say. Now that Alex is freshly single, a fact that definitely still hurts her, maybe having kids is the absolute furthest thing from her mind.

Alex clears her throat and Sam looks up, eager to move on from the awkward moment, to find her standing from the table. “Do you want me to fill that for you?”

Sam shouldn’t have another. Once again, it’s getting later and she has work tomorrow and - “Sure.” She hands her glass over.

“So,” Alex starts, walking back into the kitchen, “What do you do? You said you moved here for that new job right?”

“I work at L-Corp.”

“No kidding? What exactly do you do there?”

Sam gets nervous about this part. Telling people she has such a high ranking job can often get her rather polarizing responses. She takes a deep breath, “I’m the CFO.”

Alex is about to hand back her drink at this point and she freezes in her spot. “Oh wow… What are you doing living in our building?”

Sam can’t help the sudden laugh that forces its way out of her at the bluntness of the question.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to-”

“No, no. I get it… Like I said I just moved here. I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself by getting anything too fancy and ending up over my head. I want to wait a year. Save up and make sure the job is stable before I go getting a nice place. Just incase this blows up in my face.”

“Smart,” Alex says, looking impressed.

“Plus, I got some pretty good neighbors out of the decision.” Sam takes a sip of her drink, giving Alex a pointed look.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, one of them is really nice to my kid and likes The X Files?”

Now, Alex actually looks sheepish. “It’s my favorite and I heard you mention Buffy that morning so… I figured Ruby might like it too.”

“Funny… Buffy is my favorite show.”

“Looks like we have a similar taste in TV.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Popular cheesy 90s shows with supernatural elements.”

“Hey,” Sam raises her hands up, “At least it’s not Friends.”

Alex groans, throwing her head back. “My sister loved Friends.”

Sam laughs, “I remember everyone loving it but I could just never get into it.”

“Same! I feel like I have some of those episodes memorized from the amount of times she made me watch them.”

“Sucks for you!” Sam teases, enjoying this easy banter between them.

“What, you didn’t have any annoying siblings?”

“Uh… No. Only child. I was adopted.”

“Oh wow, so was my sister!”

Sam finds a smile fighting its way to her lips. “What a coincidence.” Then as she’s glancing down, she realizes she’s finished off her drink and catches sight of her watch all at once. It’s late and tomorrow is going to be uncomfortable if she has any more.

“I should probably go. More work to be done tomorrow.”

Alex really laughs this time. “Isn’t that every day?”

They walk to the door together, Alex opening it for her.

“Thanks for the drink,” Sam slips past her.

“You’re the one that bought it!”

“But that was a gift for babysitting, so really you did me a favor.”

Alex’s lip tugs into a smile and she shakes her head a little, looking a little unbelieving. “Whatever you say.”

“Bye Alex.” Sam shoves her hands in her pockets as she begins to back up.

Alex waves back, watching her go. “Bye, Sam.”

Sam turns and follows the stairs up, a pleased feeling that she attributes to the alcohol radiating through her.