Trapped, cold, curled up with her arms around her legs, chin on her knees, Alex stared at the metal door that kept her here but also kept them out. As long as it was closed, she wasn’t being hurt. Sometimes she loved that door.
Jerking back into her corner at the sound of the metal door unlocking, she curled tighter into herself, as if trying to sink into the walls themselves. The door let out an awful whining sound as it was shoved forward, a high-pitched squeak from the hinges causing her to flinch.
In the doorway stood a large shadow surrounded by light, and she felt terror overtake her. Shaking as the figure came closer, she winced as the figure reached down and grabbed her shoulders. For a moment she thought of fighting back, but then she remembered what happened the last time she tried.
Face to face with the shadow, she hung from the tight grip it had on her and she stared into the void of its face. Slowly, it consumed her and wrapped her in darkness. She fell into it and let it consume her, crawl over her skin, dig into the flesh and sluggishly peel it back.
She started to scream, but the darkness moved up to her mouth and forced its way down her throat, choking her scream. “Alex!” She hunted through her tears for the voice calling her as the darkness continued to peel away at her flesh. “Alex, wake up!”
Eyes snapping open, Alex narrowly missed hitting Maggie in the face as she jerked upward, breathing heavy, covered in sweat and shivering. “Babe, can I touch you?” Maggie’s voice was soft as Alex’s eyes darted around the room, recognizing the bedroom she shared with her wife, feeling the soft blankets of their bed clutched in her fists, seeing the door to their bedroom cracked open and the light of the rising sun peeking in through the window. She swallowed before nodding.
“Okay, hey, I’m here.” Maggie gently scooted closer, one hand going to the back of Alex’s neck to gently stroke and the other going to lightly touch one of Alex’s fists, trying to get her to release some of the blanket with a gentle caress of her thumb.
Shaking, Alex closed her eyes and let herself feel the support Maggie was offering, but quickly snapped her eyes back open when she saw the darkness behind her eyelids.
“Hey, look at me.” Maggie nudged at Alex, who turned her head slowly to look at her. “You’re here, with me, not wherever you were before.” She moved the hand on Alex’s neck to cup her cheek, brushing at the tears there. “I’m here, you’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
After a moment of just staring into her eyes, Alex felt safe; she knew she could trust Maggie. She collapsed into her, shoving her face into her collarbone and arms wrapping around her midsection. Basking in the feeling of love and safety she felt as Maggie tightly wrapped her arms around her, Alex tried to ignore how her skin was burning still from the nightmare, how her heart clenched as she remembered the inky black void of a figure and how she had fallen directly into it.
“Talk to me.” Maggie pressed her lips to the top of Alex’s head. “Only if you want to, but you know I’m here, and I can hear the gears in your head working.”
Alex hummed before adjusting her position slightly so that she was still cuddled up with Maggie but could talk without it coming out muffled. “I think this was the worst one yet.” Alex reached up and played with the collar of Maggie’s nightshirt.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Maggie paused watching Alex carefully. “Was it the same one?”
“More,” Alex replied, trying to remember the details. “The shadow it moved this time from the doorway, it grabbed me, but the rest is hard to explain,”
“Just do your best.” Maggie rubbed soothing circles on Alex’s back.
“I fell into it, the darkness it consumed me, and I let it.” Alex gripped the collar of Maggie’s shirt as she tried to explain, “It peeled at my skin; it forced its way into my mouth so I couldn’t scream.”
Maggie held Alex closer as she began to shake again. “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me any more.” They laid there in the silence for a while, Maggie with her lips against the top of Alex’s head and her arms around her, Alex felt her wife trying to give her strength through their embrace.
“I’ve had this feeling lately,” Alex broke the silence as she calmed once more. “It’s like a pit in my stomach, and it just won’t go away. At first I thought it was because of the nightmares, but I don’t think it is.” Pulling away from Maggie, she sat up so she could look at her wife’s face. “I’m scared.”
Alex didn’t try to hide the terror she felt as she looked into Maggie’s eyes. Maggie sat up next to her and wrapped her arms around Alex’s neck. “Whatever happens it’s you and me, remember, ride or die.” As Maggie finished her promise with a kiss Alex felt like she could finally relax once more.
“I love you.” Alex smiled for the first time that morning as they parted, and she saw the feeling reflected in Maggie’s expression.
“I love you too,” Maggie replied easily. “Now c’mon, if I recall, someone has work today while I get to laze around and watch tv, so we should really get some breakfast in you.” Maggie pecked at Alex’s lips one more time before getting out of bed.
Alex followed and desperately hoped her feeling was just that, a feeling and nothing more.
The sun was setting as Lucy drove slowly through the small town, glancing at the buildings along the road as she went. She hadn’t slept in nearly two days; she refused to when she was so close to her goal. She knew it was dangerous to be driving on such a little amount of sleep, but she felt wide awake. The ungodly amount of coffee and the dangerous amount of energy drinks she’d had were helping, but even without them the buzz of finishing this search was too much — there was no way she'd fall asleep.
Spotting her destination, Lucy pulled into the parking lot of the building she needed to go into, parked and let out a shaky breath. The bar’s neon sign boasted the name SANCTUARY in bold letters above her. As she got out of the car, she couldn’t help but find it ironic the place she ended her search was named SANCTUARY.
Palms sweating, she took in the low hum of music and chatter as she got closer, pausing as she read the sign next to the door.
Welcome to SANCTUARY,
LGBTQ+ friendly but please remember
this is a safe place for everyone —
if you cause trouble, you’ll find trouble.
Owners Maggie + Alex Sawyer
Smiling, Lucy pulled the door open and was immediately enthralled by the atmosphere inside. There was a cacophony of smells, food cooking, cigarette smoke, alcohol, sweat, they all melded into one unique odor. The neon lights caused a glow throughout the room, voices meshed together as people chatted around the space.
The place was decently packed considering the small size of the town. At least every teen from the town was here, plus quite a few adults. Lucy scoured the crowd as she moved toward the bar and sat on a stool.
“Sorry for the wait; had a bit of a spill in the kitchen.” The voice behind her was so familiar it raised the hairs on every part of Lucy’s body. “What can I get you?” Turning slowly, Lucy braced herself, but nothing could’ve prepared her for how different she looked.
It was her — there was no doubt about it — but older and covered in scars, disfigured by them, even as some of the same features lay there. Clearing her throat, Lucy tried to recover from the silence. “It’s you.” Lucy mentally smacked herself at that opening line.
“It’s me, uh, my name’s Alex, and I own this place. Nice to meet you,” Alex replied awkwardly.
“My name is Lucy Lane, and this is going to sound hard to believe, but I know you.” Lucy started leaning forward slightly. “Well, I knew you and I’m here on behalf of your biological family who have been searching for you for the past ten years.” Lucy stopped herself from continuing as a blank look overtook Alex’s face.
“Alex?” Lucy wanted to reach over the bar and touch her but didn’t even as Alex turned away from her. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. Lucy watched as Alex clenched her fists at her sides a couple times before grabbing a bottle at random from the shelf above her and chugging it.
“Alex!” Another deeper voice made Lucy whip her head to the right. An older black man wearing an apron approached Alex quickly and coaxed the bottle from her. “Alex, what happened?” He spoke gently and went to place a hand on Alex’s back, but suddenly she bolted from behind the bar and shot out the door. She was gone.
Lucy stood to follow her but that same voice that had been so soft speaking to Alex seconds ago was demanding behind her. “What did you do?”
This was turning out to be far more complicated than she intended.
Alex’s skin burned against the cool night air. She wasn’t sure if it was because of the alcohol she’d just chugged, the shame of relapsing, or the fact that this random person claimed to know her — maybe it was all of it. For a moment Alex considered running away from it all, but the weight of her wedding band grounded her and reminded her that she had somewhere to run to. Home.
As their house came into view Alex slowed to a stumbling jog, and when she started up the path to the front door it swung open. Maggie met her halfway with a hug, stopping her from face planting into the ground.
“Hey, shhh, it’s gonna be okay,” Maggie tried to comfort Alex as they struggled to get into the front door. “I’m so proud of you, babe.” Alex just sobbed, feeling nothing but shame for relapsing.
Once they got into the house, Maggie moved Alex to the couch, gently setting her down before running over to the front door to close and lock it. She returned to sit on the coffee table in front of Alex. “Relapses happen, we know that, but you came home, you came to me.” Maggie grabbed both of Alex’s hands in hers. “Talk to me.”
Shaking her head, Alex gripped Maggie’s hands tightly. “I was right, my feeling was right.” Trying to speak through her sobs was difficult. Maggie moved from the coffee table to wrap her arms around Alex to try and calm her some. “Someone came into Sanctuary tonight, said her name is Lucy Lane and she knew me from before,” Alex took a deep breath and exhaled shakily before continuing. “That she was here on behalf of my biological parents, that they were looking for me.”
Maggie tightened her grip on Alex as she trembled. “It’s okay, I won’t let anything happen to you. J’onn called me; he’s got that Lucy person stuck in Sanctuary.” Maggie rubbed Alex’s back. “He’s not going to let her leave unless one of us calls her. At least, he won’t let her leave without following her, which might get him in trouble.” Alex stiffened at that.
“He doesn’t have to do that.” Alex tried to pull away from Maggie but was kept in place by her firm embrace.
“He wanted to, and so far, she isn’t fighting.” Maggie kissed the side of Alex’s head. “But we don’t have to talk about that right now.”
Alex nodded, burrowing further into Maggie’s embrace.
“Remember what I said earlier today, it’s you and me, ride or die,” Maggie assured her, and some of the tension drained from Alex at the words. “You’re stuck with me.”
Lucy had faced a lot of scary things in her life. Some had even managed to make her life flash before her eyes, one of which was a grieving Kryptonian that wanted nothing more than to see her sister. But sitting across from Maggie Sawyer was causing a new type of fear she’d never experienced. She wasn’t scared for her life, but she was scared for her pride. She was sure that this woman would find a way to strip her of her dignity if things didn’t go well.
“I really didn’t mean to upset her,” Lucy tried to soothe, but that only made Maggie’s gaze harden.
“But you did.” Maggie folded her arms. “Years of sobriety down the drain because you decided to just barge into our lives.” As Maggie spoke, Lucy felt herself becoming defensive, and she folded her arms to mimic Maggie. “You claim to know Alex, her past, her biological parents — all things she was happy to forget, or at least had come to terms with not knowing.” Maggie took a deep breath.
Maggie’s hands slammed down against the table “No, I don’t think you do.” Maggie paused, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. When she continued, her voice was calmer. “The person you knew, the person you were looking for, who you were expecting to find, doesn’t exist. You need to accept that.”
Lucy’s shoulders fell as realization struck her. She unfolded her arms and set her hands on the table. “I haven’t seen Alex since we were pre-teens,” Lucy said quietly. “I’m a completely different person, and I can’t imagine how different she must be, but I still care for her.” Lucy pursed her lips. “I won’t lie that I miss her, but I’m not here for just me. Her family have been looking for her as well, and I just want to give them a chance — all of them, Alex included — to try at whatever relationship they might have.”
“The authorities assumed that whatever happened to her was done by her biological parents and they told this to Alex,” Maggie held up a hand when Lucy started to interrupt. “I know you are saying otherwise, you probably even have proof, but you need to understand that Alex has no fond memories, no memories at all before being found dumped on the side of the road.” Maggie rubbed at her eyes. “She came to terms with the fact that she didn’t have a family that wanted her, and we made our own family together.” Lucy watched Maggie’s hands go under the table with caution. “If we agree to a meeting of some sort it will be on our terms — her terms.” Maggie leveled her gaze at Lucy, staring directly into her eyes.
Lucy nodded. “That’s all I’m asking for, just a chance.” Lucy felt her heart beating quickly as hope curled in her stomach. “I won’t ask for more.”
Maggie eyed Lucy for a moment before nodding. “Then we’ll be in touch.”
Alex stood over the pool table, sweat on her brow as she lined up her shot. The sweltering heat could be seen by the naked eye, yet she still wore jeans, long-sleeves and a leather jacket. She was used to the uncomfortable suffocating feeling of warmth, used to putting other people’s comfort above her own – that was a lie. Yes, others preferred not to see her scarred body, but she was just as uncomfortable showing it as they were seeing it.
“You’re using my table.” A woman’s voice startled Alex as she made her shot, causing it to miss.
Letting out a huff, she straightened out and turned to look at the person who’d just ruined her perfect game. Every thought left her mind when she met the eyes of the woman who was standing there with her hands on her hips.
Beautiful — that was the first thought that came to mind. Dark brown eyes twinkling with amusement stared back at her above a dimpled smile that took away Alex’s breath. “Silent mysterious type?” The woman spoke, and Alex blinked, realizing she hadn’t spoken since turning to face her.
“Alex, my name is Alex.” Reaching a hand out from where it was gripping her pool stick, Alex almost pulled it back when she realized she’d taken her gloves off, revealing the scarred skin of her hands and fingers, but before she could contemplate it for long another hand was in hers.
“Maggie Sawyer. As I was saying – this is my table.” Maggie let go of the hand after a moment before nodding her head to the pool table behind Alex. It made her want to smile.
“I don’t see your name on it, but I haven’t really checked all over.”
Maggie folded her arms loosely. “Well, you’re obviously new, so I’ll give you a pass, but this is my table. I use it every Friday night; Ronnie over there can tell ya.” Maggie nodded to the bartender who just nodded back to her.
Alex finally let a small smile spread across her face. “Well, how about a compromise.” Alex leaned on her pool stick as she spoke. “I haven’t played with anyone in a while and you made me miss my shot, so my perfect game is ruined.”
“I don’t know, maybe you’re just bad at pool.” Maggie looked Alex up and down.
Alex scoffed. “Want to find out?”
Maggie grinned before grabbing her own stick. They ended up playing pool until closing, and Maggie even managed to get her out of her jacket.
Alex sat against Maggie’s front, enjoying the skin on skin contact as they cuddled, remembering the first time they’d met years ago. She played with the fingers of Maggie’s left hand, fiddling with her wife’s wedding band.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a kiss to the side of her head and Maggie’s soft voice. “What’re you thinking about, beautiful?”
Turning her head to look at Maggie, she sucked in a breath as she saw those dark brown eyes that she’d looked into all that time ago. “Just remembering when we first met.” Alex smiled at the memory and watched as Maggie smiled in response.
“Ah yes, some new person was using my pool table.” Maggie tickled at Alex’s side, causing her to squirm. “I think we worked out a pretty good compromise, though.”
Alex huffed as she grabbed at Maggie’s hand to stop her tickling. “Last I checked, and I did check, your name was nowhere on that table.” Alex stuck her tongue out at Maggie, who just leaned forward and sucked it into her mouth, causing Alex to let out a squeak.
When she pulled away, Maggie had an amused look in her eye. “You should know that I have no problems with your tongue, babe.” Maggie laughed as Alex flushed.
Alex squeezed at the hands she held. Still fiddling with the wedding band on Maggie’s left hand, she quietly continued “I was also thinking about how you were the first person who ever approached me and didn’t look at me like I was different.” Alex used her grip on Maggie’s hands to wrap their arms around her. “You’re the first person I let touch me.” Maggie squeezed Alex close to her and nuzzled into her neck.
“I remember seeing you when I walked in and seeing you at my pool table. I didn’t even notice your scars at first, it was like I just saw you.” Pausing, Maggie shook her head. “No, that’s not right, your scars are part of you, it was like I saw your aura or soul.” Maggie sighed. “You have never been hideous to me, even when you insisted you were and wore fifty layers in the summer heat.” Maggie snorted into Alex’s neck, tickling her a little.
Alex shrugged. “I was used to it.” She placed a kiss on Maggie’s temple.
Maggie moved her face from Alex’s neck and helped her spin around so they were face to face. Alex’s arms wrapped around Maggie’s neck, their legs were on top of each other and Maggie had her hands on Alex’s lower back to help keep her steady.
“You were used to hiding, to being told that you were ugly and you’d accepted that. Because of what other people had done to you, had said to you, you had to hide.” There was a fire in Maggie’s eyes as she spoke and she kept her gaze directly locked onto Alex’s.
They’d had this discussion multiple times before; it wasn’t a new insecurity of Alex’s. She’d seen her reflection in the hospital and seen how the scars had disfigured her. She wondered at times what she looked like before whatever happened to her, wondered if she was beautiful. But she hadn’t thought about this in years. She knew Maggie loved her — scars and all. Then Lucy Lane crashed into their lives with no care about what old wounds she would rip open.
Alex knew Maggie loved her, but love was blind. She saw the look on Lucy’s face when she had turned around and seen her for the first time in years. She didn’t find the person she was expecting; she found a monster. Alex looked at the scarring on her arms and couldn’t help but feel like one.
“Hey, stay here with me.” Maggie pressed firmly against Alex’s lower-back to get her attention. “You are so beautiful.” Alex rolled her eyes and Maggie huffed. “You are. I have never lied to you, and I’m not lying now. Don’t think for one second that I don’t find every inch of you beautiful, because I do and I have always thought that. I see every small part of you, and you are radiant.” Maggie paused as her jaw trembled with emotion.
Seeing Maggie overwhelmed with emotion forced the air out of Alex, and she gently played with the baby-hairs at the nape of Maggie’s neck.
“There is so much more to you than just your physical appearance,” Maggie hoarsely continued, her eyes boring into Alex’s. “The way you’ve fought for us, how you opened up to me when it was against every single instinct you had...” Maggie leaned her forehead against Alex’s. “I need you to know that I will never stop finding you beautiful, inside and out.”
They breathed each other in for a moment, Maggie letting her words sink in, and Alex taking them in.
“I love you.” Alex couldn’t think of any better way to express what she was feeling. Maggie smiled wide, her dimples showing before leaning in and kissing Alex.
“I love you too,” Maggie mumbled against Alex’s lips, and as the kiss continued, for a moment Alex felt beautiful.