Ubi bene, ibi patria: where you feel good, there is your home
McGregor’s voice comes through their comms, “Crap, looks like we need to move quick. Our source just said the party was moved up two hours.”
The party in question being the undercover gig Blake and Claire are using to suss out any information on the recent alarming disappearances of young women and men around the city. One of their prime suspects is attending the high class, very exclusive event, and Blake was luckily able to snag an invite as she knew another attendee, an old flame. Sometimes having a history as long as hers paid off.
Blake casts her eyes around the small office room they’d chosen as their base of operations. It’s hardly the nicest accommodations, but it is out of the way and inconspicuous—which is the best way to track down the head of a sex trafficking ring. The entire case is unsavory, right down to the fact that Ellis still didn’t trust her enough to let her lead the case. The incident, as she’s come to call it in her mind, was a month ago, but she’s still feeling the ramifications of it. At least she’s still allowed out in the field though, she’d been seriously worried that she’d be suspended.
“So how much time do we have to prepare?” Claire chimes in, voice as bright as ever even in the dimly lit grime of the room.
“Roughly 45 minutes,” he responds.
“And it takes 15 minutes to get there which leaves us half an hour,” Blake sighs, rubbing her eyes. “And we’re not even dressed yet.”
McGregor whistles through the comms. “What a view that must be, Lawson you in the same state of undress too?”
Claire reddens at that.
“Lay off, we don’t have the time,” Blake snaps. “We’ll be there in 45.” She turns around to survey the others in the room, a familiar grimace masking her face. “All of you, out. We need to change.”
The rest of their team just stares at her before slowly swiveling their heads towards Claire, looking for confirmation. Blake doesn’t even try to suppress her eye roll. “Oh team captain,” she jerks her gaze toward her partner, “do you agree with me or are you secretly an exhibisionist?”
“Yes,” Claire nods emphatically, her face only slightly flushed, “everyone out. We’ll meet you out front.”
Once the room is clear of everyone but them, she looks at her nervously, causing Blake’s lips to twitch upwards. Her partner has grown a lot from the fresh-faced, over-confident academy graduate that she’d meet all those months ago, but she still has yet to completely train all emotions out of herself. And Blake is glad for that, she’ll be the last to admit it, but Claire’s heart on her sleeve quality is endearing—albeit incredibly stupid in their line of work.
Suddenly feeling playful, she turns to one of her favorite pastimes: teasing Claire.
“What? Never took a PE class and had to change in front of other women you weren't dating?”
“No sorry -I’ll,” she motions at the duffel bags holding their dresses for the night, “change.”
Claire whips around to find their bags, and then immediately mentally berates herself for the odd, jerky motion. She’d thought the embarrassing effect Blake elicits from her would fade in time, but if anything, it’s only gotten worse. And deep down, she knows exactly why. Her mother always told her that she chose the most difficult women to fall for her, and Blake falls right in line with her mother’s words.
Of course she’d end up in this situation: forced to undress in front of her very attractive partner who also happens to be her superior and the woman she’s falling for. She takes a deep breath and moves resolutely to the bags, grabbing it and turning back to Blake who is standing there in only her underwear.
Claire’s heart stops just around the time when her gaze makes its way from Blake’s chest to rest on her defined abs and faint v line.
Blake smirks, doing an impressive impression of the Cheshire Cat. “Enjoying the view, Lawson? Want me to pose too?”
Watching the rapid progression of redness from Claire’s neck toward her entire face is quite interesting Blake thinks idly—briefly pondering if her blush spreads to...other areas as well, but no. She can’t think of that, she shoves the thought in her clearly marked box of ‘Do Not Think About.’
“Wh-what! No, I just-I wasn’t expecting you to be undressed already is all.”
Her flimsy justification falls flat and Claire winces. The party hasn’t even started and the night is already going downhill. The thought that Blake might be doing this on purpose flashes through Claire’s mind before she dismisses it. Blake would never think of flirting with her, she wouldn’t even think of looking her way. All she sees in her is a fumbling green rookie. Hell, she still glares at her half the time, but Claire is starting to suspect that’s just her resting face.
She grabs her own dress before unceremoniously throwing the duffel bag at Blake’s feet and turning to change—trying to affect an air of nonchalance in her efforts to pick up the remnants of her dignity off the floor. She’s wriggling into the excessively tight, uncomfortable dress when she realizes she may need help zipping it up, and Blake is the only person in the room who can help her. She spends a few more futile moments grappling at back trying to zip herself up before she feels a warm breath ghost across her neck.
“Here,” Blake gently rests a hand on her lower back while her other hand finds the zipper. “I’ll do it.”
Claire doesn’t even dare to speak. She doesn’t think she’s actually capable of speech right now and she’s unsure how she’s even still standing.
Her entire neck is flushed red Blake can see. And she smells good too, like lilacs, the scent she associates with Claire now. She smelled it the other day while jogging and involuntarily smiled. Blake isn’t stupid, she can feel that unspoken thing between them, but they can’t afford to let it happen. It’d ruin Claire’s burgeoning career and scuttle any hope she has of taking Ellis’ position from him. It’s not like a relationship between the two of them would even be sustainable. Claire would come to her senses soon enough and realize she can do better than a beat-up cop with aggressive tendencies.
“All finished,” Blake breathes into her ear. She’s almost pressed up against her back now, and Claire is fairly certain her heart is going to beat out of her chest. She manages a croaked thank you and suddenly her back is cold again. Blake has moved to the other side of the room, head ducked in almost a shy manner.
Claire misses the warmth.
Alex stretches her arms behind her back, as she waits to see if they have to shoot the scene again or if it stays.
Being in her underwear in front of a dozen people stopped being weird the second time they ran the scene. Being half naked in front of Maggie specifically still makes her hair stand on end, but she’s resolutely ignoring that.
“Who thought it would be a good idea to give Claire a tramp stamp?” Maggie asks, and Alex frowns, turning around. Then she realizes Maggie was looking at her lower back, and it dawns on her what she means.
Embarrassment burns through her like a wildfire.
“That’s...mine.” She’s never regretting getting the stupid tattoo at the base of her spine more than now. “They just didn’t think it was necessary to cover—”
“Oh my God, Alex. I’m—”
“It’s fine,” she’s quick to tell Maggie. That butterfly was a bad decision all around, it only made sense it would come back to haunt her years after the fact.
“I’m sorry,” Maggie repeats. She thinks there might be a light blush on her cheeks, visible even on her darker complexion, and Alex...enjoys it. Not just because it’s comforting to not be the only one whose cheeks are burning hot with embarrassment, but because she’s never seen Maggie like this.
Maggie is usually so sure of herself, so confident. Alex is the one used to putting her foot in her mouth. It’s wonderful and rare to see Maggie like this, her walls down, her cheeks red. She doesn’t even mind if it’s at her expense.
“It’s fine. Really. I regret it too. I was in college,” Alex explains, briefly remembering those days. She’s come a long ways from that. “It was...it was dumb.”
“Stays!” The director says, and immediately the familiar end-of-day dance starts. Everyone on set starts to move, lights are turned off, actors begin to file out.
Maggie is still looking at her.
“Miss Danvers,” a girl says, handing her a robe.
Maggie grabs her own, and Alex definitely avoids thinking about the disappointment she feels when all that skin is out of view. She has come to terms with the fact that she likes women, she has, mostly...but she doesn’t know how to like women and not feel strange looking at them, like she’s a creep. And especially when it comes to Maggie, who is her friend, her co-worker. The very reason she has this chance to turn her life around.
She’s done a lot of reading in the past few weeks, but no amount of theses and articles seems to be enough to order every discombobulated feeling floating around in her chest.
Alex nearly jumps as Maggie's fingertips brush against the tattoo on her lower back.
“I think it’s kind of cute actually,” Maggie says.
Alex absolutely does not feel her knees weaken like she’s in some sort of teen drama. When did she become this person?
“Oh, and happy birthday Danvers.”
Maggie leaves after sending one last dazzling smile her way.
A quick glance at her watch lets Alex know Maggie is right, it’s past 12am now.
She’s officially 27 years old.
When Alex gets home that night, roughly at 1am, she ignores her cellphone and the messages from her sister in favor of getting some sleep.
The next morning, it’s her house phone that wakes her—it’s Kevin, the doorman. Her mom is here.
When her mom mentioned she’d be visiting her for her birthday, Alex took it in stride. For some reason or another she expected—or hoped—that something would come up that would prevent her mother from flying in from the other side of the country.
She had no such luck.
She’s opening her front door for her a few minutes later, and her mom’s arms are around her at once.
“Oh, Alex! Happy birthday, sweetie!”
Alex returns the hug, closing her eyes when her mom’s arms tighten around her. She seldom gets to have this, so she allows herself to enjoy it. For just a moment, it feels like she’s a kid again, back when she didn’t second guess every show of affection she received. Her mom steps back.
“You haven’t showered yet?” her mom asks.
Alex suppresses a retort, because of course, not even on her birthday she gets to be free of criticism.
“Well, go on.” her mom says, nudging her towards her bedroom. “I have the most exciting day planned!”
They spend the day together.
She speaks to Kara on the phone for a few minutes, and her sister's words are evenly divided between birthday wishes and apologies that she couldn't make it due to her filming schedule. Alex isn't sure if she's sad or relieved, considering that their mom did in fact make it. Kara wishes her good luck with Eliza, and Alex hopes she won't need it.
The first order of the day is brunch, and as they’re seated she thinks about how Maggie would probably make fun of her for doing something so swanky. Afterwards, they go shopping, and even have time to catch a movie at an indie theater Maggie told her about. They see an art-house french film that her mom loves.
Her mom is on her best behavior for the entire day, and at some point Alex relaxes and simply enjoys the rarity of this.
Their last place for the day is a spa. Alex audibly sighs as she sinks down into their plush seats. The relaxation is short lived however, as her phone rings. She answers at once—she’s getting better at that.
It’s King, calling to make sure she’s ready for their very public, very documented birthday celebration dinner that night. Alex tells him she is. She actually read her emails this time, and was aware of it.
Maggie will be there, and she still hasn’t wrapped her head around her mom and Maggie being in the same space for an extended period of time, but that’s her own personal problem.
“Oh, and I chose your vacation spot for your vacation with Maggie. A clue, it’s an Ed Sheeran song.”
Alex doesn’t say anything, her knowledge on pop music rather limited. King huffs.
“Tenerife, in Spain,” he says finally. “I want photos of your bathing suits to pick what you should wear. Send them.”
He closes the call, and Alex sighs. The only thing that can improve her mood is texting the one person in the same uncomfortable position as she is, so she does. Maggie answers with an incredibly well chosen meme—she’s been educating her in the finer aspects of those trends—and Alex laughs out loud.
So loud, in fact, that she looks around, and puts her cellphone away, embarrassed.
“Are you texting your sister?” her mom asks, and Alex shakes her head.
“No, it’s Maggie.”
Her mom gives her a look she can’t quite decipher, and Alex looks away, itching under her knowing blue eyes. She always felt like her mom knew anything, and now there are even more things she doesn’t want her to know about.
They move to the massage tables, and Alex realizes at once that one of the masseuses recognizes her. Her eyes sparkle as she ushers them into the room.
They both get back massages—Alex particularly enjoys hers after a week of intense fight choreography as they get closer to the season finale. The masseuse doesn’t say anything for most of the half hour, but as the massage finishes, she lags behind instead of following after the other guy.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to intrude, but happy birthday.”
“Huh..thank you. Thanks.” She’s laying face down, and awkwardly twists her head to the side to see her as she answers. It would have been great if she let her get dressed first.
“Is Maggie here too?”
Of course. No one is really and Alex Danvers fan only.
Her mom is right beside her, and it feels like a slice of purgatory to have to pretend to date Maggie in front of her mother.
“No. Just me and my mom.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry, I just really love you two together. You look great together.” And if it wasn’t enough, the masseuse turns towards her mom. “It must be amazing to have Maggie Sawyer as your daughter in law.”
Alex closes her eyes, and then looks at her mom, who raises her head to smile politely at the woman.
“Maggie is a remarkable woman.”
“Well, I’ll let you get dressed. Sorry—again. Have a nice day!”
She leaves, and Alex suppresses a groan.
It’s not until later, as they’re both walking out of the spa, that she gets a chance to talk to her mom.
“Sorry you’re getting roped into this contract,” she tells her. Her mom had been livid that she had signed it without even consulting her, and having to participate felt like rubbing what her mom thought were her mistakes in her face.
Surprisingly, her mom waves it away.
“She was a harmless fan.”
Like a glutton for punishment, Alex can’t leave it alone. It’s almost like she needs to push until her mom says what she’s really thinking.
“And tonight, my birthday dinner….”
“Nonsense, it's a birthday dinner like any other. And actually, I've been dying to talk to Maggie. Any woman who can make my daughter laugh like you did earlier is worth getting to know.”
Her mom smiles, and Alex finds herself returning the gesture. Maybe there are no criticisms this time—no veiled digs at her errors.
“Oh,” Eliza says. “It's been so long since I've liked one of your friends!”
Maggie isn’t expecting Alex to help her climb into the car when she opens the door.
She slips onto the plush, dark leather seats of the SVU. This model is standard for Anthony, albeit slightly larger than usual. With good reason, as Alex’s mother is riding in the middle row with J’onn, while she and Alex are relegated to the back row of the SVU.
Maggie is surprised, but she doesn’t mind in the least.
“Danvers,” she says by way of greeting.
“Sawyer,” the other woman returns in kind. Her short hair is fashioned into ways, instead of the usual severe, straightened bob she wears for the show, and it suits her. It’s her birthday, and she looks every bit the radiant birthday girl.
“Maggie, hello,” J’onn greets her, and then introduces her and Eliza. It’s certainly an unorthodox way to meet her friend’s mother, but the woman is nothing but gracious. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, however, Maggie struggles to find a family resemblance between her and Alex.
Eliza starts telling J’onn some anecdote about a previous birthday of Alex’s, when she was little, and Maggie sits back.
It just makes it more apparent to Maggie that she’s not exactly supposed to be part of such an intimate family affair. They’re friends, good friends—she’s confided in Alex in a way that she never has with a friend before—but she’s not exactly part of Alex’s inner circle.
She knows Alex said she was her best friend, along with her sister, but after so long of it being just hre and Gabriella—it’s hard to change her mindset.
“Sorry the contract is putting a wrench in your birthday plans,” she tells Alex under her breath. “You’d think Anthony would have learned some boundaries by now.”
“Eh, I don’t think boundaries is really in his vocabulary,” she says, and then, surprisingly, touches her fingertips to her wrist. She’s so warm, it’s the first thing she notices. “Besides, I’m glad you’re here. And I’d want you here contract or no contract.”
Maggie chuckles, realizing it’s been a long time since anyone that wasn’t her aunt wanted to include her in events such as this. It’s nice.
“You gettin’ soft on me?” she asks, echoing what she’d said oh so long ago. Back then, Alex had laughed and stumbled over her words as she said no a couple times.
Now, she just smiled.
“Maybe I am, Sawyer,” Alex tells her. “I mean—you’re such a softie it’s contagious.”
Maggie knows it’s a joke, she does.
But it’s hard to ignore how it makes her feel.
Dinner goes off without a hitch.
Maggie has such a good time she almost doesn’t notice the paparazzi on the other side of the street, duly documenting everything thanks to the restaurant’s ceiling to floor windows.
Eliza is an interesting woman. She was a model, and then changed her career to the sciences. Alex mentions to her mother that Maggie was a double major in psychology and botany, and it feels a little like she’s showing her off. For a moment a voice in the back of her head says she’s never been good with parents, and Maggie quiets it by telling her this is nothing like that. Alex is her friend, not her girlfriend, and this is her nerdy way of showing she cares—and deflecting attention from herself.
Maggie and J’onn constantly bring the topic back to Alex, the birthday girl, but Maggie stops once she sees how uncomfortable it makes Alex. Alex is more subdued than she’s ever seen her, and Maggie wonders about her relationship with her mother. Alex has said a few things here and there, but Maggie starts to think she’s not the only one with a complicated relationship with her progenitors.
She can’t see much of Alex in the doctor she has for a mother, not in looks and not in attitude, and assumes that maybe she takes after her father. It’s sad, in a way Maggie can’t define, that she’ll never meet the man that Alex loved so dearly.
Dinner is over before she realizes it, and as they leave, she lags behind. Alex mimics her, and Maggie uses the ace under her sleeve.
“Would you like to get dessert...somewhere else?”
The slip in through the back door of the little gelato place in Little Italy.
"Are we breaking an entering?" she asks, earning a chuckle from Maggie.
"Relax, my aunt knows the owner," Maggie says, as they walk through the darkened room and into the kitchen, where a light is still on.
"It's just some ice cream, Danvers. We're not going to be working here."
"Good. I happen to really like my job these days."
It's so much easier to talk to Maggie when it's dark, Alex discovers. The power of those dimples is ameliorated, more bearable in the dark than it is in the bright of day. Right now, Alex doesn't feel like she's Superman staring down Kryptonite. She's just a woman, having ice cream with a friend.
Alex serves them both cones, protesting when she tries to help because she is the "birthday girl".
They talk, about everything and nothing, and it doesn't escape Alex that this is the second time that Maggie whisks them away from the cameras and the manufactured love story they're selling to the tabloids, to have a real moment with her—as a friend, of course. That first time, she'd mistakenly believed that Maggie and Anthony had gone behind her back to orchestrate a stunt on the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building. It took her a moment to accept that Maggie had just wanted to afford her a respite. After years of living between fake friends and worse enemies, namely the paparazzi, it had somehow slipped her mind that people could just be...kind. Now she was willing to bet Maggie was one of the kindest people in the universe. She almost wishes there was a way to measure it, to scientifically prove it.
She wishes there was a way she could go back and change every argument, every doubt, every misdirected harsh word for the woman in front of her. She can't do that, but she can be the best friend she can be for her, and that will have to be enough.
A dot of ice cream stains Maggie's nose, and she lets out something incredibly close to a giggle when Alex points it out. Something in her chest aches so sweetly she can barely breathe.
So that's what it feels like, then.
Alex wants to kiss her. She's drawn to those dark, dark eyes, and her dimples, and the way the moonlight coming in through the window lights her, turns her into something otherworldly,. Alex thinks it's the first time in her life she's wanted to kiss someone like this—has put a name to the desire lighting her up. She likes women, and she likes Maggie, and she would sell her soul to live a world where she gets to kiss Maggie Sawyer, and it means something. Something beyond a PR relationship, or a role in a TV show. Something real.
She smiles as Maggie cleans up the ice-cream from her face. There will never be any real kisses between them...but there's something magical here anyway.
Alex gets home that night, her cheeks flushed from the chill of the night, and her heart beating fast because of Maggie’s presence.
She’s not surprised to see the cake awaiting her on her breakfast island, nor Kara’s voice singing happy birthday coming from the cellphone her mom is holding. Her mom and J’onn join in, and Alex basks in it.
As she watches the flames flicker and dance on the candles of her birthday cake, she has two thoughts. The first, that she feels loved, at home. And the second one, that she wishes her dad was there.
But where before the thought brought her nothing but anguish, Alex uses it that moment to realize how flimsy life is—how delicate.
It took her 27 years to embrace who she is. She won’t let another year go by without living it.