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The Spaces Between Sleep

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The first time Alex regains consciousness she barely has the strength to open her eyes.

Sounds of gunfire and tearing metal reach her ears and it takes what feels like an hour to identify them as they sound as though they had first passed underwater and then been filtered to play at half speed. Opening her eyes is a herculean effort, and the end result is nothing but rapid blurs. Blue, like the sky, grey, like concrete, crimson, like her sister’s cape, all burn themselves into her retinas over lapping and spinning like a kaleidoscope even once she lets her eyes fall shut again. It takes until the afterimages fade for her to realise those smears of colour were not like the sky, or concrete, or her sister’s cape, but were in fact all of those things.

She can't tell whether anything hurts, and she wonders if perhaps that's because everything hurts. Alex tries to turn onto her side, to curl a fist, to push herself up. Or at least she wants to. She thinks she's trying, but every time she does her whole body just feels so heavy and to strain against its weight burns, draining her of the will to try again.

She doesn't notice that there is someone standing over her at first. Doesn't notice until warm arms slide under her back, and knees. Alex can't tell if any sound leaves her lips when she calls out, can't even tell if she's calling out in fear or in pain.

What she does know is the soft scent of sun warmed cotton, and the gentle murmur that fills her senses but a moment later. The sound and the tone of the murmur is familiar and soothing though Alex can't decern any words or who might be speaking. Some part of her mind must recognise them however, because no sooner has she felt the disorienting stomach dropping lurch of having been lifted from the ground, does she stop fighting long enough for her consciousness fade back into black.

The second time Alex regains consciousness she is strong enough to wish she hadn't.

Every inch of her hurts. Pain radiates out from her right hip, her right shoulder, and her left knee until her entire body feels like a bruise. The sterile white ceiling of the DEO's private medical suite burns her eyelids and makes her head throb, a sensation that only gets worse when she squeezes her eyes shut. She groans in pain, only to discover her throat feels as dried and cracked as desert clay, turning the groan into a whimper.

"Easy now."

Before she can remember who the voice belongs to, Alex's mind flashes back to before. The familiar soothing tones that she couldn't discern. Perhaps that phrase was part of what was said? Opens her eyes, then winces having forgotten for moment about the offensive brightness of the ceiling. She adjusts her gaze to a squint and goes about trying to turn her head towards whoever spoke.

"I have pressed the button to call the doctor," the voice says, at once warm and pragmatic.

A warm hand touches her cheek to stop her from trying to turn her head, something she was making little progress with anyway, as not only is her neck stiff, she seems to be confined by a brace. The touch is hardly anything. A whisper of a caress that leaves a tingling sensation once it's gone, but it's enough to make her stop.

"Just relax, for now Brave One. The fight has been won, and your sister is safe." Recognition of the voice and the epithet, flutters at the edges of Alex's mind like a moth bouncing off a lightshade. For a moment she swears she can taste the name on her tongue and is sure if she could only manage to form words with her dried-out throat is would fall from her lips as natural as breathing. Then the doctor arrives, with their insipid little penlight, and inconsiderately cold stethoscope, and the moment is gone.

Warm fingers guide a straw to her lips so that she can wet her throat enough to answer the doctor’s questions. The black spots still swimming across her vision from the doctor checking her pupils, and so she doesn't catch more than a fleeting glimpse of dark brown locks, and what might have been some white, before the doctor waves away the water with an order not let her to drink too quickly, and whoever is helping steps back out of her field of view.

Then the questions come. Alex knows she's in the DEO. She knows by now that it's Dr Hamilton speaking with her, and that it was a Wednesday when she was knocked out. She's pleasantly surprised that it's still the same Wednesday when she asks, and bitingly sarcastic about her inability to turn and look at the clock when asked if she knows what time it is. She remembers getting sent out after a rogue kerfuffle and getting thrown across a street. After that she remembers Supergirl stopping some debris falling on her, and someone carrying her out.

Dr Hamilton is satisfied enough with her answers and her clarity. She adjusts the IV bag connected to Alex's arm, and begins to talk about what Alex's recovery will look like over the next few weeks. Alex hears enough to scowl at the mention of a wheelchair and time off, but whatever Hamilton adjusted the dosage to it was high, and Alex faded back into sleep before she could even begin to argue.

The third time Alex regains consciousness, the room is dark, and all of her extremities feel fuzzy. The only light coming into the room is from behind the half-closed blinds of the window that looks out on the hallway. Alex becomes aware of this as her eyes adjust to the low light, by the pattern the shadows throw across the ceiling. The shadows reveal something else as well. A figure standing by the window blocking of the light. It's impossible to tell if they are inside the room looking out, or outside the room looking in, and with her neck still in a brace Alex can't move enough to look.

"Whose there?" She croaks out just loud enough that they should hear her if they are in the room.

"It is just me Brave One."

The shadow shifts, and then Astra appears beside the bed, leaning close enough that Alex can see her.

"Your sister asked me to apologise on her behalf, she wanted to be here, but there was evidence the kerfuffle was drugged into their rampage, and a lead on where to look."

As she speaks, she moves back to the very limit of Alex's peripheries, and back again now with a cup of water in hand. She presses the straw to Alex's lips encouraging her to drink while she continues.

"Your mother likewise apologises that she won't be able to get here until mid tomorrow morning. Apparently, the weather is Midvale is terrible at the moment."

"Thanks," Alex says, when Astra takes the water away. Her voice is still scratchy but nowhere near as bad as before.

Astra says nothing in response, but a smile curls at her lips. It makes her look softer than Alex's has ever seen her outside of a few quiet moments with Kara. Alex has often wondered what it would feel like to have Astra look at her with such care, and she's quite happy with how warm it makes her feel.

"Have you been here the whole time?"

"Dr Hamilton wouldn't allow me in the room for the x-ray or the MRI," Astra says, her smile turning into a sneer of distaste before clearing again. "I wasn't allowed in for the surgery either. But other than that, yes. I have been here."

Alex's brow furrows in confusion. She wants to ask why Astra has stayed, but Astra seems to read the frown as asking a different question.

"Dr Hamilton claims the internal damage wasn't as bad as the last time you ended up under her knife," she says. "I must say Brave One, the manner in which she spoke of performing surgery on you, as if it were a regular occurrence, was quite unsettling. Just how often do you end up in this condition?"

Alex can't help but bark out a laugh, which she regrets in the same breath as it sends a spasm through her ribs, and up her stiff neck. Before Astra had defected to the DEO, before Kara had revealed herself as Supergirl, Alex had been in and out of the medical bay with a regularity that Hank had claimed would give him ulcers. Her injuries weren't normally as serious as her current ones, but only because of dumb luck.

"You'll get used to it," Alex says with a grimace. Astra frowns fiercely.

"I sincerely hope not," she says resolutely.

Alex almost jumps when she feels Astra's warm hand envelop her own. She is soothed by the gentle brushing motion of Astra's thumbs across her knuckles. It's nothing they've ever done before. Alex has had to stop herself from doing it so many times in the past. Like when the time Astra told her about how guilty she had felt missing Kara's birthdays as a child because of her deployments, and how she feels even worse knowing how many she has now missed on Earth. Or the time when Astra laser visioned the popcorn maker at a movie night Kara has demanded the three of them have. Or the other week when they had been walking through Catco Plaza to meet Kara for lunch at Noonan’s. It feels like this should be something momentous, but it's not. It's just nice.

"You should be more cautious Alexandra."

Alex can't even bring herself to be annoyed at the use of her full name.

"It's part of the job," Alex says in answer. She would shrug but even tensing her muscles to prepare for the motion causes a twinge of pain.

"No wonder Kara became a hero." There is something wistful in Astra's voice as she says it, but the fuzzy feeling in Alex's limbs is starting to overtake her mind and it keeps her from putting her finger on why.

A yawn overtakes her before she can stop it. The wistfulness clears from Astra's face in an instant replaced by a gentle sternness.

"You should rest Alexandra," she murmurs. "I will be here."

Again, Alex is struck by the desire to ask why, but then the hand not holding hers is stroking gently at her hair. The action is so tender, so warm that Alex can't help but close her eyes, a pleased hum escapes her. She wants to open her eyes again, to ask but suddenly it seems like such a chore. Astra's fingers continue moving through her hair, and sleep, real sleep finally claims her.

When Alex wakes up the room is bright again. Her body aches, but it is kept manageably dull by whatever medications she has been given, and so the only sensation really worthy of note is of the warm hand is still in hers, and the soft hair brushing her fingertips. She curses silently that the brace around her neck prevents her from looking at where Astra must be resting her head. With her free hand she reaches up to get rid of the damnable thing, gritting her teeth at the sharp pain it sends through her shoulder.

"Shouldn't a doctor be the one to take that off," Astra asks, sitting forward enough that Alex can see her.

"I am a doctor," Alex says irritably.

"All the same." Astra stands reaches across Alex to stop her other hand. For a moment Astra's face is only inches from Alex's, her bright eyes boring into Alex's own. Astra wets her lips, drawing Alex's eyes down to their soft pinkness, then in a blink she has vanished.

"Here, I'll sit you up." Alex hears the clatter of Astra unhooking the beds elevation controls from the side rail. "Would you like some more water before I call the doctor in?" Alex pretends to consider the question as the bed raises into a sitting position, but it's not the one that's on her mind.

"Astra why are you here?"

She can see all of Astra now, not just her face and so she sees the half step back she takes, and the way her arms cross defensively. The brightness in her eyes dims as if a shutter has been lowered.

"Someone needed to be here to monitor you."

"That's not it," Alex challenges. They both know there are medical staff for that.

"If you are not comfortable with my being here Alexandra I can leave," Astra says, and for the first time since before all of this started her voice holds that distant professional tone of The General. It hurts Alex to hear it. She was enjoying being on the receiving end of a gentler Astra.

"I would understand," Astra continues. "We were enemies not all that long ago."

"I didn't say that," Alex says hurriedly. Astra tilts her head to the side, her brows drawing tight.

"Astra I am comfortable with you, and I'm happy you're here, I'm just..." Alex trails off. She's just what? Curious? Confused? Both would be true but there is something else. Something that Alex thinks might be closer to yearning.

Instead of trying to articulate any further, Alex reaches out a hand to Astra, who eyes it warily for a few long moments, before uncrossing an arm, and taking it.

"Thank you for being here," Alex says, with a shy smile.

"You don't have to thank me for that, I stayed because I am selfish." Astra pauses as if deciding whether or not to continue. Alex gives her fingers a gentle squeeze, and waits, holding her breath as she does so.

"I needed to know you were okay."

Another pause.

"I have come to care about you a great deal Alexandra, I was... scared by the possibility of losing you."

Alex's pulse is racing and she's very glad that Dr Hamilton keeps the heart monitor to silent outside of emergencies for all of a second before she realises Astra can probably hear it any way.

"I'm sorry for worrying you," Alex says willing every ounce of sincerity she can into her voice. "Maybe once I'm out of here I could make it up to you? We could go out, maybe for dinner of something?"

"Or something?" Astra asks, drifting in closer to the bed, her other hand also wrapping around Alex's tenderly.

"Like- Well, like a date, maybe, if you would like?" Alex can feel a bout of rambling coming on that would give Kara a run for her money, but Astra stops it in its tracks.

"I would like that Brave One," she says. Her smile is the brightest Alex has ever seen it. It makes her eyes crinkle at the corners like Kara's sometimes does, and her whole face seem younger. "I fear it will have to wait however."

Alex frowns, and Astra laughs gently.

"Doctor Hamilton is not going to be letting you out of here any time soon."

Alex groans.

"I will go and get the doctor and perhaps she can give us a timeline," Astra says, smiling indulgently. Alex can't help but smile back. "You're going to have to work hard to recover quickly, perhaps I can give you some incentive?"

Before Alex can even stop to imagine what that might mean, Astra moves into her space, and presses soft lingering kiss to the corner of Alex's lips. Alex can feel a blush creeping up her chest but smiles wide enough to make her cheeks ache. Astra leans back just far enough to be looking in Alex's eyes.

"I might need more incentive," Alex says, trying to cover her delight with some charm. Astra just smirks.

"And perhaps you might get some," she says, "after the doctor has seen you."

Then just like that she is gone, in flurry of superspeed. The only sign that she was there, is the tingling warmth on Alex's lips, and the hair fallen into her face by the air disturbance. Alex huffs out a small laugh of delight. She can't wait until she can get out of this bed.