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Holiday Wedding Date

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“Sara Lance, what do you mean you don’t think you can come home for Christmas?!”

Her knee-jerk reaction to her father’s outrage is to snap in return, when has that place ever been home? Teen Sara definitely would. Teen Sara also rocked bangs. No. Totally Self-Sufficient Adult Sara understands that life has not been kind to Quentin Lance. If he wants to play happy family for once in years, she may grumble and snark, but doesn’t have the heart to deny him.

“Of course you have to come home, Sara! Your sister is getting married!”

“And that’s supposed to make me want to?” Sara adds a dash of chili powder to the mixture of milk, cocoa, chocolate chips and sugar she has in a small saucepan on the stove. She tosses the little chili pepper shaker up in the air and catches it, sure to put it back in its labeled spot on the spice rack to appease the roommate who likes the little jars organized and alphabetized.

As her father lectures her on the importance of family and spending time together because who knows how long he has left? Sara can hear her roommate blow her nose in the next room. She’s been in the last stage of a cold for what feels like weeks now. Sara likes to tease that Alex Danvers is a restless spirit and just can’t wrap her big brain around the concept of rest.

“—and what could be more important than spending the holidays with your family?”

Sara bites her tongue to keep from telling the truth. It would only hurt him to hear. That doesn’t stop her from complaining. “I hate that town and everyone in it hates me. On top of that, I have to put up with Laurel’s snobby law school friends and sorority sisters? Definitely my definition of vacation.”

“Well then, bring someone to share in your misery!”

Sara blanches. “Who are you and what have you done to the man who said I’m not allowed to date till I’m thirty?”

“One of his daughters is having a shotgun wedding and the other doesn’t even wanna visit!”

Oh, the guilt card. He’s been waiting to play this one.

There’s a knock at the front door. Sara shuts off the stove and strides through the apartment to answer it.

The small, cosy apartment had been Alex’s long before Sara moved in. They first met at a wedding in Central City years before, throwing back shots at the bar. When Sara came to visit friends in National City, she DM’d Alex and they met up for drinks. That night, Sara decided to make this her new start and Alex mentioned she was looking for a roommate. Sara only planned to rent until she got to know the city and figured out a plan going forward. It’s been three years since then.

Sara opens the front door without even checking who it is first, unsurprised to find a blonde with glasses cradling a pint of ice cream in one arm like it’s as precious as sweet baby Jesus himself. This would be Alex’s cute sister, Kara.

“Hey Supergirl,” Sara purrs. “Did we have a date I forgot about?”

Kara ignores the flirty tone and pushes her way inside with more strength than you’d expect from her elfin built and an unenthusiastic, “Hi, Sara.”

“Did the Grinch steal your holiday spirit?” Sara jokes, shutting the door. She doesn’t bother to lock it so of course Kara backtracks to. Kara and Alex may not look alike, but they have the exact same sense of hyper-vigilance, quick to scold Sara for never locking the door.

“National City isn’t like whatever small town you came from, Sara!” Alex shouted on one memorable occasion. “Winn caught someone trying to steal the battery off his Prius in broad daylight!”

“Dad, gotta go,” Sara says, watching Kara pause outside of Alex’s closed bedroom door as if trying to psyche herself up. “Yes. I’ll be there, but I can’t promise I won’t wear black. Love you. See you soon.” Sara tosses her phone onto the counter and goes back to stirring the cocoa. “Something wrong, Kara?”

“Something wrong?” Kara echoes with almost a Quentin-level of outrage. “It’s almost Christmas!”

“Oh yeah, almost forgot,” Sara replies sarcastically. “It’s easy to forget when it barely gets below sixty in National City.”

“Sara, this is serious! It’s Alex’s first Christmas after y’know with Maggie.”

“Didn’t they break up back in March? Kara, that was like...” Sara ticks off her fingers as she counts. “Nine months ago! She’s been on more than a few dates since then.”

Not with much success, which Sara thinks is ridiculous. Alex can be a little neurotic and tends to overthink everything down to the smallest details, but she’s so smart and thoughtful and hot. How are women not lining up to date her? Not that Sara’s complaining. Wallowing with Alex after a lame date isn’t as bad as wallowing with Alex after Maggie shut her out emotionally. Been there, done that, it sucked.

“Yeah, but Alex just found out Maggie’s back with her ex, Emily,” Kara whisper-hisses. “Remember how Alex and Maggie planned that holiday road trip together? So I invited Lena to Smallville for the first time and Eliza’s boyfriend surprised her with a trip to Hawaii, which means…”

Alex is either going to be third wheeling hard or alone on Christmas.

Oh.

As long as they’ve been roommates, they’ve never spent Christmas together. Sara travels a lot for work and Alex is in the residency program at the best teaching hospital in the city so it isn’t unusual for one to be on their way out just as the other gets in. Sara usually spends the holiday with her friends from college while the Danvers sisters go home to Midvale, but they always make a point to have a big New Year’s Eve celebration.

“Okay, you’re right,” Sara relents. “That sucks.”

“I’m only telling you this so you’ll be mindful and supportive. Alex needs us right now.” Kara knocks on Alex’s bedroom door and it’s much more tentative than the tone she takes with Sara. “Alex, it’s me! I brought ice cream!” The door opens. Alex takes the pint right out of Kara’s hand and shuts the door again. Kara gasps. The scandal! She shouts, “Alex!”

Sara smiles to herself and she knows it’ll just offend Kara further, but the Danvers sisters are just so damn cute. When Sara’s with her own sister, it’s all tension and not letting each other forget the mistakes they’ve made in the past.

Being the mindful, supportive roommate she is, Sara grabs a spoon from one of the kitchen drawers and knocks on Alex’s door. It swings open again, Alex swipes the spoon and it shuts again.

“That’s not what I meant! Quit enabling her! Sara, you are an enabler!”

“Enjoy the ice cream, Danvers,” Sara says to the door. “If you wanna join the pity party going down out here, I’ve got spiked hot chocolate on the stove.”

Just as Sara turns on her heels, a miserable, muffled, “Spiked with what?” comes through the door.

“You’ll just have to try it and find out,” Sara replies.

Sara already knows she has this round won. If there’s anything the roommates have in common, it’s their alcohol. On one of their first bonding experiences as roommates, they had lunch at a farmers market where they found a vintage bar cart that’s probably the coolest thing in the entire apartment. Sara can’t cook for shit, but she can make a mean drink and Alex can never resist for long.

Kara throws up her arms and announces that she ordered pizza and Sara returns to the stove, adding her extra special ingredient to the hot cocoa—whiskey—before giving it a stir with a candy cane, distributing it into mugs and topping each with a handful of marshmallows. By the time the pizza arrives and Sara has a good laugh over the pizza guy trying to flirt with a completely oblivious Kara, Alex finally emerges, dressed in pajamas and doing her best Grumpy Cat impersonation.

“What did I tell you, Supergirl?” Sara tries not to sound too smug and hands Alex a mug. “Works every time.”

“You’re evicted,” Alex says humorlessly. She puckers her lips to blow on her hot cocoa and when Sara catches herself staring, she tells herself it’s because she’s anticipating Alex’s reaction not because Alex has pretty lips. Alex takes a sip and closes her eyes. “It tastes okay.”

Sara knows that’s basically Alex talk for “orgasm in the mouth” and okay, she feels pretty smug.

“Did you eat all the ice cream?” Kara asks, peeking into her sister’s bedroom. “That was a special holiday flavor! You know how fast they sell out! I reached for the last pint the same time as this other girl and she shocked me!”

“That tasted okay too.” Alex commandeers the pizza and collapses on the couch, taking a long sip of her cocoa. Sara follows with her own mug in one hand and the bottle of whiskey in the other.

“This place is so un-Christmas-y.” Kara wrinkles her nose, nearly elbowing her sister as she wiggles between the roommates on the sofa. Kara goes on and on about hanging lights and garland and getting them a tree. Sara indulges Kara’s indoor winter wonderland vision while Alex remains quiet except for the occasional audible sip. Once the pizza and cocoa disappear, they move on to hard liquor and put on a cheesy Netflix Christmas movie.

This wouldn’t be the first night Alex and Sara spend hours sitting on the sofa, drinking and feeling sorry for themselves. They’ve probably done this an embarrassing number of times by now. Poor Kara tries to keep up, but the lightweight always ends up passed out like she is right now, her head in Alex’s lap, mouth open, glasses askew. Alex can’t pass up the opportunity to steal Sara’s Canon camera off the end table and snap a few photos of her little sister.

“You’re such an oldest child,” Sara says, but doesn’t try to stop her either. “You’re all evil.”

“I’m a great, great sister!” Alex slurs with conviction. “I’d never plan my wedding on her birthday! Who does that?” Alex means to poke Sara, but totally misses and only catches air. “I’ll tell you who. Yours.”

Sara knows her sister didn’t decide to get married on her birthday purely to spite her. Laurel was just promoted at her law firm and Ricardo Diaz, the fiancé, plans to do extensive business overseas for most of the new year so they want to get married in the free time they do have and Moira Queen talked her into a Christmas wedding at Queen Resorts. Sara doesn’t see the rush, but Laurel made it clear her little sister’s opinion isn’t wanted.

“It’s not just Laurel.” Sara stares at her empty glass once filled with whiskey sans hot cocoa. That’s how most of her nights end. “I wasn’t very...popular with the locals.”

“All the broken hearts you left behind,” Alex teases between gulps from her own glass. “At least you won’t be alone on Christmas,” Alex says very quietly. “I could go with Kara to the farm and play third wheel, but there’s this rooster there who goes berserk before the sun even comes up! Awake at dawn on my coveted vacation time or stay here, drink without judgement and…re-watch this Netflix Christmas movie b’cause I have no idea what’s even happening.” Alex weighs her hands like a scale. Her hand holding her empty glass wins.

Sara knows she shouldn’t laugh, but Alex can be so cute when she’s being pitiful and a dork. Alex gingerly removes Kara’s glasses and places it on the end table next to Sara’s camera. Laurel would never be so gentle.

The alcohol has to be to blame for Sara getting the biggest, best idea ever!

“Come with me,” Sara says.

Alex literally chokes on nothing and erupts in coughs. “Wh-what?”

What am I saying? Sara would probably question herself if sober, but she isn’t and it sounds like a brilliant solution to both of their holiday woes.

“Come with me to my sister’s wedding,” Sara says with more certainty. “Come on, Alex! You need to get out of the city. I need someone sane to drink and judge everything with. There will be booze. So much booze. I guarantee it. And trust me, if an annoying rooster shows up, my dad will probably shoot it or let you shoot it if you want.”

“Sara.” Alex groans, letting the side of her face smash into the sofa cushion. “Airfare is probably insane this close to Christmas!”

“The groom will pay for it. He paid mine and I’ve never even met the guy.” Sara reaches for her phone to text Laurel. “Laurel likes you. It’ll be fine! Better than fine! What’d you say?”

Alex hums, letting her eyes slide shut. “Ask me again when we’re sober.”

Sara stills, appreciating the human pretzel she’s twisted up in, cramped on the sofa, legs parallel to Alex’s with Kara curled up in a ball between them. After many attempts and failures, Sara has learned to leave Danvers wherever they pass out. Trying to move either of them in this state always ends badly.

There have been many a times where Sara felt like she was intruding on sister bonding time, but then Maggie came around and Sara told herself she only stuck around to make Kara feel like less of a third wheel. Then Maggie stopped coming around, but Sara hasn’t felt like she was intruding, not once since.

Sara carefully untangles herself, struck by the sudden loss of warmth. She drapes a blanket over a sister each, one red and one cream. And because she can’t help herself, Sara grabs her camera and snaps a photo of the sleeping sisters before she turns out the lights and goes to bed.

 

 

Alex wakes up to a brown paper bag of bagels, a fresh pot of coffee and Sara’s too chipper, “Mornin’.” Her brain means to repeat the sentiment, but all her mouth can manage is a pathetic, muffled sound. She stretches out on the sofa and mentally kicks herself for drinking so much the night before. She’s technically on-call the weekend before her vacation starts so she needs to sober up fast.

A lot of her fellow residents (except Brainy who practically lives at the hospital) are so jealous she has the days leading up to and Christmas day off. What would they think if they found out she’s squandering it away and assume the hermit life for a solid week?

Or maybe not.

“You sober enough for me to ask again?” Sara, the golden-haired angel who hides her hangover well if she even feels it at all, gestures toward the glass of water, mug of coffee, bottle of aspirin and bag of bagels as if presenting her with peace offerings to the hangover gods.

Alex pulls a wooly blanket up around her shoulders and somehow manages to sit upright. “I didn’t dream that?”

“No pressure. I just figured we could help each other out like the supportive roommates we are.” Sara lounges in the adjacent boxy chair with one leg hooked over the arm. She takes a bite out her everything bagel and Alex can’t decide if she needs one of her own right now or needs to throw up.

Instead of answering, Alex asks, “Where’s Kara?”

“You just missed her by about an hour. She left, mumbling to herself about something called Operation Two Girls and a Christmas Tree?”

“I told her a million times that we don’t need a tree, but trying to fight my sister on anything Christmas-related is like trying to stop a bullet train.” Alex manages to move enough to swallow down the entire glass of water. “You know, I think I should quit drinking. I’ll make it my new year resolution.”

“Nah, wear your hangover with pride! Not many people can keep up with me.”

Seriously, if someone could convince you smugness is attractive, it’s Sara Lance. If she were as gorgeous, charming and cool as Sara, she’d probably be smug too. Alex’s brain stutters at that. Well, it is, you know, fact, Sara is all of those things, but Alex shouldn’t be thinking that about her roommate. It’s not...appropriate.

Suddenly, Alex feels a sharp poke in the middle of her forehead and finds Sara hovering right above her. All Alex can do is blink in rapid succession. “D-Did you just…?”

“You think too much, Danvers.” Sara flashes her a smile and heads for the kitchen. “I’ve got a meeting with Jimmy in ten. At best, he’s my office secret santa and wants to give me my present early. At worst, someone complained about a photo on my website and he wants to give me a slap on the wrist again.”

Not only is Sara all of those aforementioned things, but she’s talented too. She took gorgeous photos of National City’s pride parade earlier in the year and some conservative stiff (and one of CatCo’s major donors) had the nerve to complain straight to Cat at a charity gala. Cat being Cat couldn’t care less, but mentioned it to James who released a statement. It still makes Alex’s blood boil thinking about it now, but much like everything, Sara just let it roll off her back.

Alex rummages through the bag of bagels without any actual intent to eat anything, still doesn’t quite trust herself to try. “Twenty bucks says James got you a breathalyzer.”

Sara slips into a brown leather jacket and tosses her hair back like she’s a model about to walk a runway. “I know better than to bet against a Danvers and Jimmy has that exact lame humor.” Sara thinks she’s being sly when she angles her camera in Alex’s direction, but it sends Alex burrowing into the cushions.

“Don’t you think you have enough embarrassing pictures of me?” Alex asks.

“No such thing.”

Alex peeks above her blanket in time to see Sara smile. She has a great one. It’s unfair that such a great smile is behind the camera more often than not. All the more reason to make her smile in real-time.

“Thanks for the bagels and coffee,” Alex calls out after her.

“Welcome! Kara bought them and brought them over, but I put them on the table for you.”

“My hero.”

The door closes behind Sara, leaving Alex all alone. Something she should probably get used to. It surprises her again and again how big a presence Sara has, how she just fills the room, how empty a room feels once she leaves. If Alex is honest, after her breakup with Maggie, as much as she wanted to be left alone, as much as she told everyone she just wanted to be left alone, it was nice having Sara around. Sara never pries even as they share quiet meals or just sit in front of the TV and play something on Netflix. Sara never pushes, just makes sure she know she’s there.

When Sara first moved in, all of Alex’s friends had all sorts of opinions about it…

 

 

“You invited Sara, right?” Kara asks, only a little distracted as she flips through a catalogue she’s already seen about a dozen times. Karaoke song selection is serious business in their circle of friends, especially during the holidays. Alex replies with a “mhmm” half muffled by the mouth of a beer bottle.

Not that she’s expecting Sara to show up. Just because they live together doesn’t mean they have to hang out.

“I knew it, by the way!” Lena declares, overdressed for their humble karaoke night: Christmas edition. Lena Luthor takes every opportunity to make a fashionable impression.  “I knew she’d take in McSexy!”

Winn, James, Sam and even a sheepish Kara toss loose twenty dollar bills toward the middle of their circular table. Lena sits back in her chair and counts her winnings even though everyone knows she doesn’t really need the money and it’ll probably just go towards tonight’s bar tab.

“I really thought you’d give the extra room to Brainy from the hospital,” Sam says.

“I get about all I can take of Brainy at the hospital,” Alex says, frowning at the tray of red and green layered shots a waiter brought them courtesy of a few admirers. She glances over at the bar and a trio of men in business suits tip their beer bottles in return. Nope. No thank you.

“What about the taxi driver from New York?” James asks. “He sounded cool.”

“Or the girl with the color for a last name?” Winn wonders.

“Sara’s hotter. Fact,” Sam says. “We Instagram stalked all of them just as a precaution. We know.”

Lena nods to emphasize her agreement. “Talk about abs for days.”

“Sure, she’s attractive,” Alex says, trying to sound as blasé as possible, “but that’s not why I gave her the room. She seems nice and clean and Barry and Iris vouched for her. She’s been couch surfing since she got to the city. No one should be homeless during the holidays.”

“Didn’t you say she’s a bartender?” Sam asks innocently.

“She babysits and bartends right now, but she’s really a photographer,” Alex explains. “She showed me some of her work and she’s impressive.”

That catches James’ attention, a photographer himself.

“But that means she’s less financially stable than your other potential candidates,” Sam muses, totally leading. “So there must be another reason.”

“In conclusion,” Winn drums his fingers on the edge of their table, “she hot.”

Alex shoves him and Winn nearly falls over.

“Alright!” Lena laces her fingers together and leans in toward the center of their table conspiratorially. “Who wants to bet they hook up before V Day?”

Winn raises his hand. “I’ll take that action!” Alex shoves him harder, so much so he does fall out of his chair this time. “Or not. I’m just gonna...yeah.” Winn springs up to his feet and stumbles over to harass the DJ probably.

“You know you shouldn’t, right?” Sam asks gently. “I mean, you’re both adults, you can do whatever you want, but getting involved with someone you just met and rely on for rent can be a disaster.”

“Yeah, I-I know.” Alex brings her beer bottle back to her lips to keep herself from saying any more.

Thank god for Kara and Winn storming the stage and stealing all of the attention. Their duet has to be the sloppiest rendition of any Christmas song in the history of karaoke, but at least they seem to be having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, Alex sits in quiet contemplation. The girl she really, really likes tells her she’s too “fresh off the boat” to date and then—poof—Sara slides into her DMs, saying she’s in the city and asking if she wants to grab drinks and…did she really agree to let Sara move in just because she’s hot?

“Hey roomie.” That silky smooth voice flits past her ear and sends a shiver through her. Alex tries to ignore it, clears her throat and introduces Sara to everyone around their little table. “So, what’re we drinking?”

“Oh, this is all you.” Alex pushes the untouched tray of festive shots toward Sara. “From the gentlemen callers over there.”

Sara rises up onto her tiptoes to see over the crowd. One of the said admirers catches her eye and winks before elbowing his buddy next to him. “If I had to guess—stock brokers.”

“Oh, clearly,” Alex plays along. “Who else thinks throwing money around is an acceptable form of flirting?”

“And the guy with the hair plugs has no idea his buddy is so deep in lust with him and so in denial about it, he has to send random women drinks to uphold appearances.” Sara inspects one of the shots, lips pouting, brow crinkled skeptically. “Is this some kind of initiation? I don’t need to tell you alcohol tolerance is sort of my superpower.”

“What a coincidence! Alex is the same way. Match made in heaven,” Lena comments, but doesn’t take her eyes off of Kara who’s suddenly twirling on the karaoke stage as Winn does an enthusiastic, but totally inaccurate air guitar.

“You making me do this alone, Danvers?” Sara asks, dangling a shot right in front of her.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Alex accepts the glass. She knows she should’ve expected it to be sweet and minty by the red and green color, but it still takes her by surprise. Alex tries to suppress her reaction, especially when she sees the twinkle in Sara’s eyes as the blonde licks her lips.

 

 

Now, they’re roommates. Just roommates.

Alex knew, even before Sara moved in, that they would get along fine and never really had to worry about Sam’s warning because the next day Maggie mentioned seeing her at the bar with a blonde and the uncertainty (jealousy???) in her voice gave Alex pause. She never really had to worry about Sam’s warning because the next week Alex and Maggie went on a date, a real date, their first real date.

Now, Maggie hasn’t been apart of her life for a while and Sara is still just her roommate. Sara also travels the world for work and always comes home with steamy stories—Guinevere from the Renaissance fair, the nurse in Star City, the Daily Planet Guy who woke up the next morning to find Sara gone along with his press badge. Sara is wild and charming, a wanderer with an eye for beauty. She would also probably poke Alex in the forehead and tell her she’s thinking too much right now.

A buzzing interrupts her thoughts. Alex doesn’t know how long she’s been sitting there, staring blankly into her coffee, but it’s gone cold. The caller ID deserves a double-take. Laurel Lance? Sara’s sister is calling her? They met once before. Alex picked Laurel up from the airport once and that was it. Why would she call her? Not text either, but call?

Her phone rings and rings until Alex answers impulsively. “Hello?”

“Alex, hi.”

“Hi.” Alex squeezes at the headache building between her eyes. “I don’t know what Sara told you…”

“Frankly, I could barely decipher her texts myself, but I did four years worth of sober sister duty in college, I got the gist. I’d be happy if you came to my wedding! I’m not naive enough to think it means Sara will behave.”

What is she supposed to say to that? Alex’s big brain comes up empty.

“Thank you?” Alex hears herself say.

Laurel laughs so prettily. “I got you a seat on Sara’s flight, first class. I sent the itinerary to your e-mail. Text me if there are any problems at all.”

“That’s very kind of you. Really, Laurel.” Alex just barely resists the urge to slam her head against the table. “Oh! And congratulations!”

“Thanks. I’ll see you soon, Alex.”

“Yes. You will.”

Apparently.

Alex carefully sets her cold coffee aside, presses her face into the nearest pillow and screams. Then she calls Kara and tells her all of what just happened in an attempt to even comprehend it.

“Now what do I do?” Alex starts pacing, still in her pajamas even though it’s well past noon. “She bought me a first class ticket to Star City! I can’t just not go!”

You can, but it’d be pretty uncool after Laurel went through the trouble,” Kara reasons. So unhelpful. “Sara would probably say, ‘who cares about my sister’s money’?

She usually loves Kara’s Sara impersonation, all low and trying too hard to be sexy (it gets the best deadpan out of Sara every time she hears it), but Alex is too anxious to be entertained right now.

“Yeah, well, Sara and her sister have a complicated relationship and I care.”

“Then go.”

Alex inwardly scowls. Then go. As if it’s just that easy. The nerve!

Anyway,” Kara continues, “we’re still meeting to pick out a tree for your apartment, right? I just ran into Sara at the office and Winn agreed to loan her his car so we can strap the tree to the top. Around five? Then we can eat takeout and listen to Christmas music while we decorate!”

It’s unnecessary, but it’s also Kara.

“Are there even any trees left this close to Christmas?”

“It just means we’ll be taking home a tree everyone else passed on, one that really needs a home!”

Not even her sister’s inner Christmas elf can make her feel any less anxious right now. Not like Alex can ever say no to Kara either.

“I’ll see you there.”

 

 

It gets dark out quick even in National City. Five o’clock feels more like eight. The tree lot isn’t as impressive as it probably was at the start of the season. Now it’s pretty empty and the tree selection sparse, but lights are strung up all along the aisles and the air smells of pine and the Korean barbecue food truck right next to it.

Alex finds Sara crouched down and with her camera, trying to get the perfect angle of a woman dressed in red and white handing a cup of apple cider to a girl of about seven or eight. Sara rarely goes anywhere without her camera. Tree shopping is no exception.

“What’s the story there?” Alex asks as they both watch the little girl skip over to her mother and father.

“Mom is totally the breadwinner while her husband is a stay at home dad,” Sara decides, watching the young, happy family begin their search for a tree. “Work is busy this time of year, but they weren’t going to get a tree without her.”

“Not bad, but they aren’t wearing wedding rings,” Alex points out. “That is her daughter and he is the new addition, trying to win a child’s love through Christmas magic.”

Sara usually likes her version best, Alex learns. It’s a game they’ve been playing since the very first time they met at Barry Allen and Iris West’s wedding, hanging out at the bar, making up stories about most of the attendees. Sara Lance is a sucker for happy endings for everyone except herself.

“So,” Sara starts, “apparently my sister upgraded my seat to first class. You wouldn’t happen to be the B2 to my A2 would you?”

“You talked to your sister?”

“Laurel and I don’t talk if we can help it, much less on the phone. I just got a mysterious change of itinerary in my inbox earlier today.”

“Looks like your mastermind plan is coming together.” Alex walks over to the first batch of trees. There seem to be more pine needles on the ground around them than on their branches. It’s a sad sight so they quickly move on. “Laurel called me.”

“And you actually answered? You’re a masochist, Alex Danvers.”

Alex purposefully steps into Sara’s path and their bodies bump. “So, I guess we’re doing this, huh? No turning back now.”

I have to or else I get cut out of the will. No one’s forcing you to do anything you don’t want to.”

“Are you sure? Because it doesn’t feel like that.”

Sara touches her arm and they both stop their aimless stroll. Has her heart been beating this fast this whole time or just at Sara’s touch?

“You’re my friend, Danvers,” she says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I don’t put my friends in situations they’re uncomfortable with, especially on Christmas.”

“Are you forgetting about that time with Ray and the dinosaur?”

A smirk tugs at Sara’s lips. “Yeah, well, Ray needs to live a little. That doesn’t count.”

They continue walking from one sad tree to the next, not really knowing what they’re looking for. Alex would much rather hibernate for a week than fly across the country and socialize with people she doesn’t know, but then she’d be all alone and she knows how Sara can get when it comes to her family and she wants her there.

“What happened to Kara anyways?” Sara asks when the silence stretches between them for too long. “Isn’t the Christmas aficionado supposed to be here to tell us which tree best suits the apartment she doesn’t even live in?”

“Good question.” Alex must not have felt her phone in her back pocket because she has multiple texts from her sister apologizing in all caps. “She got caught up arguing with an editor, said if we bring a tree home, she’ll bring the takeout and decorations.”

“Looks like we’re on our own,” Sara says. “Can’t go wrong with the best smelling one with the fullest figure, right?”

“Is that also how you choose your hookups?”

“Wow.” Sara hangs her head and shoulders into Alex. “Don’t bite the hands that are carrying your tree to Winn’s Prius.”

“Who says I can’t carry the tree to the car myself?”

“And risk your million dollar surgeon hands? No way.”

“Okay, fair.” Alex spins, inspecting what they have to work with. “Kara wanted to find the ugliest, saddest tree here. She said it probably needs a home the most.”

“Between you and your sister, you probably brought home a lot of strays growing up, didn’t you?”

“I took you in, didn’t I?”

Sara bumps her with her hip and goes right over to the Douglas firs, where they find a winner. The tree is as skinny as Barry Allen with low hanging branches and multiple bald spots, but it smells exactly how Christmas should. According to the sign out front, the price has been generously slashed. They bicker about who’s going to carry the tree, of course, but Alex ends up standing with her arms crossed and watching Sara wrestle the tree onto the top of Winn’s Prius. Honestly, it’s annoyingly endearing how Sara makes everything she does seem so effortless. That is, up until Sara tries to figure out how to get the tree to stay on top of the car and ends up hopelessly tangled in the rope the lot provided.

“Give me that.” Alex undoes the rope weaved and knotted around Sara’s fingers and hops up to tie the tree down. “My dad always said the key to not losing your tree is to consider proper aerodynamics.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

Jeremiah was so clearly a boy scout growing up so it was a no-brainer that Alex and Kara would be girl scouts. Alex was the most determined ten-year-old and probably set the record for most badges earned in the least amount of time. Kara really liked the cookies and ate more than she sold. Jeremiah would demo his skills, using slip loop knots and overhand loop knots and trucker’s hitches to secure the tree to the roof rack until his girls were tall enough and skilled enough to help.

“There. Done.” Alex hops down from the bumper. “Don’t thank me. Thank science.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, a Stanford education at work!” Sara shouts, but none of the other city dwellers milling around pay them any attention. “Wow. I didn’t know you were so well-versed in bondage.”

“You are ridiculous.” Alex takes a quick survey of their surroundings to check if anyone overheard. Luckily, there are no horrified faces in sight. “Think you got it from here?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you at home.”

Alex freezes and can’t do more than stare.

“Something wrong?” Sara asks.

“Nothing! I just—I-I don’t think I’ve ever heard you call the apartment or National City home…”

“Well, it is, more than Star City or fucking Starling.” Sara tries to laugh, but Alex knows what she sounds like when she really laughs and really feels it and this is nowhere near it. “It’d break my dad’s heart to hear this, but truth is, the Legends, you and Kara, you’re more family to me. Hell, I’ve seen Eliza more in the last three years than my own mother the rest of my adult life.”

They lapse into silence, both lingering near Winn’s Prius. Alex can’t remember the last time she’s seen Sara Lance with her defenses so low and her window of vulnerability so wide. It only lasts a second, of course, before Sara squares her shoulders with a long exhale.

Alex scratches the back of her neck the way she tends to when she’s nervous and doesn’t know what to say. “Even Nate?”

“When I’m not blocking him on social media… I think this is the first time you didn’t roll your eyes when I mentioned the Legends.”

“I just don’t get how you can just call yourselves Legends?” Alex can feel herself ready to ramble, but it’s better and easier than getting into other less pleasant truths. “If someone else gave you that nickname, fine, but you just collectively decided this?”

“Our college years were legendary! Haven’t you heard the story about the gorilla?”

“Only a million times.” Alex startles at the feeling of her phone buzzing in her pocket. It’s Kara asking where they are. “Apparently, the potstickers are getting cold. We should probably get home before Kara sends out a search party.”

“Cool. I will see you at home.”

Sara says it as naturally as the first time and it comes as less of a shock. Maybe she always did and Alex just never noticed before. She does see the shifty glance Sara sends the Prius like she doesn’t quite trust the old little hybrid car that undoubtedly reeks of Winn’s cologne and Cheetos.

“I’ll go with you.”

Alex doesn’t realize she even said anything until Sara swivels around, blonde hair flying out and glowing beneath the street light. Once the words are out in the universe, they don’t feel like a mistake. Alex holds her head higher and walks closer, killing the distance between them.

“To your sister’s wedding,” Alex clarifies. “But I’m not kissing you under any mistletoe.”

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” Sara quips, but then her eyes turn serious. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Famous. Last. Words.

 

 

Sara loves her friends.

Alex might think it’s lame that they name their group chat, pub quiz and bowling team “Legends of Tomorrow” and Sara normally thinks very highly of Alex’s opinion, but not in this case. It’s crazy the Legends survived four to eight years of college together and didn’t get matching tattoos. Thank you, tattoo artists who refuse to ink the intoxicated.

The Legends are the reason Sara first visited National City and only meant to stay a weekend that turned into three years. She felt stuck in her life and had no idea how to remedy it. Amaya suggested she escape the gloom of Star City for the sunshine in National City, drink free champagne and swipe free swag at Palmer Tech’s newest product launch. The rest is history.

“Captain!” Nate raises his beer to Sara when she walks in and the entire room of mostly strangers echoes him. Just like every year, Nate is dressed up as “Sexy Santa” which just means that he wears a stringy white beard, tight red pants and loses his shirt at some point over the course of the evening. Nothing they do or say seems to deter him so everyone has given up trying.

“Nate!” Sara has to shout over the volume of the Snoop Dogg’s Christmas album. “Who are all these people?”

“I have no idea!” Nate shouts back. “Isn’t it great?”

“Where is everyone?”

“The beer garden!”

Nate’s house is basically a giant man cave. The real party is out in the back yard where a bar is set up under the pavilion draped in lights. He gives her a personal tour of the keg situation and has clearly gone overboard. It’s practically tradition at this point. He works a soul-sucking suit and tie government job his dad got him and throwing elaborate parties is the one outlet he has left.

“Did you know,” Nate says in that tone that means he’s about to put his history degree to use, “for years after Prohibition, breweries were generally prohibited from using Christmas, especially jolly ol’ Saint Nick, in their advertisements? It was undignified and improper even though some would argue Christmas beer is older than Christmas itself.”

“Believe it or not, I did,” Sara says, walking over to where people she knows are lounging on the outdoor furniture. “I went to Oktoberfest in Munich on assignment once. German immigrants brewed dark lagger for the holidays. Before that, the English served spiced ales—”

“Wassail,” Nate says, paying special attention to his pronunciation, mostly to show off. He jumps over the back of the couch, jostling Zari and earning a hard and loud shove on the chest. “Ow! That hurt my titty.”

“Oh!” Ray, wearing reindeer ears and bells for reasons, jumps with excitement. “Also, in the Middle Ages, monks brewed only the finest, strongest beer to mark the birth of Christ.”

“Thus, what better way to celebrate than festive craft beer?” Nate motions to their chaotic surroundings. There’s a table near the bar covered with empty beer glasses and surrounded by men who can’t stop laughing at a dancing toy Santa. “Where’s are the Danvers sisters? I thought about Alex when I called around to get the Samichlaus.”

“Dude, stop. She’s gay,” Zari says with her hands cupped around her mouth like a bullhorn.

“I know that!” Nate shouts back. “Last year she wasn’t impressed by any of my selections so this year I had to get one of the rarest, strongest beer specialities in the world.”

Sara sips her English strong ale. “Alex and Kara had dinner with their mom tonight before they all go their separate ways for Christmas.”

“Alex isn’t going with Kara?” Ray asks.

“No,” Zari replies before Sara can. “Sara is bringing Alex home to Starling for Christmas.”

Nate does an actual, real life spit take. Poor wasted beer.

“Wait!” Nate lets out a cough. “You’re taking Alex home to meet the fam?” Nate scratches at the fuzzy Santa beard that’s dotted with spit and beer. “Are we seriously bring-em-home-to-mom-years-old?”

“When you find the right person, why not?” Ray asks, sipping on a milk stout. “I’m sure her family will love Alex. Who doesn’t love Alex?”

“Why are you talking about me like I’m not sitting right here?” Sara asks. “And why do you say it like we’re together or something?”

“You’re not, but you wanna be.” Zari practically sings the words.

Sara snatches the reindeer ears right off of Ray’s head and throws them at Zari, but that doesn’t wipe away the knowing grin on her face. “Zari, what are you smoking and why haven’t you shared yet?”

“Bloody hell, love, even I see the way you look at her. Damn chuffed.” Constantine (no one is sure if that’s actually his name, but they all just go with it) steals Nate’s beer right out of his hand and takes a lengthy sip. “Budge up, mate.”

“Budge up,” Nate grumbles. “You ‘budge up’! You took my beer!”

“Guys, there’s literally more right behind you! A whole garden worth!” Zari shouts. “And quit changing the subject. Sara’s leaving us for Starling. We need to get our torture in while we can.”

Sara leans back into the very comfortable recliner she’s draped on and luckily, doesn’t have to share with anyone else. “Zari, how many times do I have to tell you? I’ve known Alex as long as I’ve been in National City. Before even. If something was going to happen, don’t you think it would’ve happened already?”

Alex isn’t interested and why should she be?

“Maybe something would’ve happened already if someone would be less of a chicken,” Zari says. Nate and Ray come in with the chicken sounds right on cue and Constantine lets out a howl of a laugh before chugging the rest of Nate’s beer.

Why do I even hang out with these jerks? Sara asks herself. Her dad raised her to have thicker skin than this so she continues to sip her beer, wondering which flavor she should try next. Just as she finishes her first glass of many, there’s a commotion near the porch. Snart walks out of the house, surveying the area, while Mick guns for the bar.

“Great,” Nate says with a huff. “I didn’t think they’d show. Now I gotta hide all the valuables in the house…”

Sara knows that her college friends love Leonard Snart and Mick Rory even if they pretend to merely tolerate them for her sake. They’re both private investigators who Sara has worked with in the past. In the beginning, Snart was just a smooth talker and Mick was just the non-verbal muscle. After collaborating on a case worked out well for all parties involved, they made a business of it and things have worked out at least so far.

“Hey, fellas. Case closed?” Sara leans against the bar and signals the bartender’s attention. “Gary, lemme try the one with the name I’m not even going to try to say.”

Gary grins at her, wearing a silly red and green hat and his prosthetic elf ears because Christmas is the only time he can wear them outside of Comic Con or a D&D meet-up. “The master of the house insists everyone say the festive name before I can serve it to them!” Sara just stares him down until he starts to sweat and lowers his head. “Coming right up, ma’am.”

“Case closed and home for Christmas,” Snart says smugly. “And we made you a loving little Christmas present along the way.”

“If it doesn’t come in a bottle, you can keep it.”

Snart slaps a heavy case file down on the polished bar top. They even stuck one of those peel-and-stick ribbons on it. How thoughtful. “I know you said you didn’t care about the guy your sister’s getting married to, but…”

“That’s not a puppy,” Sara says. “Keep it.”

Mick glowers and slams a fist against the bar. “I did all the typing!”

“He did. On an actual typewriter. While we were staked out. Out of the kindness of his heart. It might have even grown three sizes.” Snart presses his index finger to the cover of the manila envelope and pushes the curiously thick file to her. “Just take a little look. I promise it’s a juicy airplane read.”

“Who she marries is her business, not mine.”

“Told you we should’a wrapped it up all nice and tricked ‘er,” Mick barks.

“At least pretend to take it,” Snart says, some of his frustration leaking through his ever cool facade. “My sister’s a pain in the ass too, but if she was in bed with someone like this Diaz guy—”

“She stopped listenin’,” Mick says. He, too, is more interesting in the pint Gary set down for him than the conversation at hand. “You’re better off cutting your losses, Snart.”

Snart sighs dramatically and Sara wants to punch his judgmental face. “And I thought my family was fucked up.”

“You have no idea.” Sara takes her beer and whips her hair over her shoulder as she turns to leave. “Happy holidays, guys.”

“You too, boss,” Mick grunts back.

If her sharp senses hadn’t already given way to the buzz, Sara would’ve realized Leonard Snart never gives up that easily. Instead, she just sips on beer Alex would love and snaps a photo of Constantine slow dancing with a leg lamp.

 

 

Alex very rarely travels via air, much less in first class.

She gets settled in her seat on the plane, pulls out the book she’s been too busy to read, her reading glasses and the water bottle she overpaid for at the kiosk near their gate. Earphones dangle from Sara’s phone as she shifts through a playlist with the swipe of her thumb. Not long after they get settled, a flight attendant hands each of them a mimosa.

“I could get used to this,” Alex says.

“Better enjoy it while you can. If I piss off my sister, we’re definitely flying home cramped in coach.” Sara snags Alex’s phone and takes a picture of the two of them with their heads pressed together and their champagne flutes clinking. Sara sets the photo as Alex’s lock screen, very proud of herself.

“Okay, you’ve alluded to your dysfunctional family during our way too regular pity parties, but what am I really getting myself into here?”

“Alex, you have nothing to worry about. You, hot shot Stanford grad, future heart surgeon. They are going to love you. I’m the prodigal daughter who should probably get a real job if I ever want to afford a mortgage or midlife crisis.” Sara downs her mimosa all in one go.

“You do great work at CatCo,” Alex says defiantly. “Your pictures are awesome! And you make good money.”

“I get by.”

“You get dental!”

Sara flashes her pearly whites. “If anyone asks about my five year plan, I’ll just say I’m waiting for you to become a world class-surgeon. Then I can hang up my camera and be your trophy wife.”

Alex nearly spits up her drink that’s more orange juice than champagne to be honest. She clears her throat and feels less self-conscious when she notices that Sara’s eyes are closed, the ghost of a smile on her lips.

“You don’t have anything to stress about,” Sara assures her. “Just try to relax and enjoy the holidays. Leaves the wolves to me.”

“I have a confession.” Alex’s face scrunches and her bottom lip pulls down. “I kind of…Googled Starling.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Because you know me and I can’t stop myself,” Alex answers matter-of-factly. “The official town website was actually really modern and functional. Did you know Starling was founded on Christmas Eve? The photos look like something out of a Christmas movie!”

Alex feels like the nerd she is, but Sara’s soft laughter suggests it isn’t something to be embarrassed about, not entirely.

“That sounds like Starling,” Sara says, almost fondly. “Before we permanently moved there from Star City, we’d visit every Christmas when I was a kid and it always felt like going to Santa’s village or something. You’ll see once we get there.”

When a voice announces that the cabin doors are closing, Alex checks her seatbelt and watches a video Kara posted of her driving a tractor across an enormous stretch of snow-dusted farmlands with Lois and Clark’s laughter in the background. Alex puts her phone on airplane mode just as the plane starts to move and watches Sara point her camera out the window, capturing the exact moment the plane lifts off and the city below get smaller and smaller. Alex has no idea how Sara carries on as if the plane isn’t rattling like loose change in a dryer.

“Oh god!” Alex loses her composure when the plane jumps and she gets that funny feeling in her stomach. Her hand clamps down on the arm rest, but that isn’t the arm rest—it’s Sara’s knee. The clicking of her camera shutter stops and Sara glances her way with utter delight.

“It’s not funny,” Alex says between clenched teeth. The plane jumps and dips and before Alex can move her hand away, Sara’s hand covers hers and squeezes.

“Relax,” comes Sara’s low, soothing voice. “Just a little turbulence. It’ll pass.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“They should have barf bags around here somewhere.”

Alex isn’t so keen on Sara’s smile at this exact moment, but Sara does hold her hand and rub soothing little circles across her knuckles until the plane eventually calms and everything around her stabilizes. Alex gives it a minute and then another and another. When Alex finally opens her eyes, she’s met by the sight of Sara sunken into her seat, legs tucked up close and her head leaning to one side. Two earphones in, face completely serene and resigned to her fate.

Before Alex can even get a grip, Sara’s asleep. Just like that!

Alex takes a sip of her water and a deep breath. Before she decides if she should even attempt to read her book or not, Sara’s head slips right onto Alex’s shoulder. When she sees Sara’s slightly smushed face and blonde hair falling like a curtain, Alex has half a mind to grab her phone and take a picture, but settles for sliding down a bit so Sara’s head fits better in the crook of her neck. They’re friends and Alex wants her to be comfortable. That’s all.

More turbulence rocks the plane and Sara’s head slides more onto Alex’s chest. She hears a stifled giggle and glances across the aisle to a pair of ladies who have to be in their sixties. They both have smiles on their faces—one polite and the other like she knows a secret. Secret? What secret? If they were playing the people watching game right now, Sara would definitely guess that they’re lovers.

After a while, Sara makes this little sort of sighing sound in her sleep and goes from sort of hugging herself to stretching an arm across Alex and hugging her almost possessively. Alex tenses, realizing she has no way of moving without waking her and Sara seems so peaceful. She isn’t always. Sara is all easy smiles and effortless cool, but there’s a deep sadness in her too, something Alex has only glimpsed when they sit together late at night, sharing drinks, content in each other’s silence. Alex has always wondered. If Sara has to face the root of that sadness on this trip, she’s going to need all the rest she can get.

Just as Alex accepts her fate of being stuck in this exact position for the rest of the ride, a flight attendant stops at her side. “Anything to drink, Miss Danvers?”

Yes please! Alex’s head shout. Before she can even figure out what would best get her through this flight, an unexpectedly clear voice comes from beside her, “Scotch.”

Alex’s eyes probably double in size. Sara’s eyelids flicker up and a cheeky smile curls at her lips. The blonde sits up, smoothing her fingers through her hair and holding up two fingers. “Make that two. One for me and one for Miss Danvers. Thanks.”

“Of course, Miss Lance,” the flight attendant says. “Compliments of Mr. Diaz.”

Alex somehow manages to wait until they each have a drink in hand and the flight attendant moves along to blurt out, “YOU WERE AWAKE THIS WHOLE TIME?”

“I dozed off in the beginning,” Sara says. “Mostly I wanted to see what you’d do.”

Alex can feel her eye twitching. “You—You—”

“It’s a long flight! I have to entertain myself somehow!”

Alex pulls out the book she brought along and finds her place, sure to narrow her eyes at Sara from over the top every so often. Sara alternates between sipping her scotch and going through photos on the digital screen of her camera, making no attempt to hide each time she glances back.

 

 

As the plane makes its descent, Sara grumbles when she pushes up the window shade and there’s nothing to take pictures of. It’s completely white out. Alex isn’t too fond of it either, something she never imagined herself thinking regarding snow, but the landing is a little more than bumpy. At least she manages to keep her hands to herself this time.

Alex pulls up the zipper of her jacket to just under her chin, surveying the gray, snow-covered Star City from the curb of arrivals. She took a little tour of the city’s Wikipedia page mostly because she doesn’t like going to strange, new situations blind. She even looked up the town of Starling on Google Maps and it’s a good hour and forty-five minute drive outside of the city not accounting for all the snow.

“Sara!” a voice shouts from somewhere among the crowd of tightly bundled people dragging suitcases behind them. A scrawny teen with short dark hair and equally dark eye makeup emerges (elbows her way through, really), waving gloved hands. “Sara!”

“Sin!” Sara drags the teen into an embrace that’s more tackle than hug. “What are you doing here? I thought we swore not to pickpocket tourists during the holidays?”

“Yeah, but every other day of the year is fair game,” Sin replies. “I am here to fetch you. Jax drove. I had to take a leak so I jumped out. He’s probably got stage five road rage from trying to drive around in this mess. Why didn’t you just fly straight to Starling and save us the drive?”

“On a tiny propeller plane in this weather?” Sara glances at Alex as if imagining her in that exact scenario. “I know you and Jax only volunteered to pick us up so you could come into the city and get Big Belly Burger.” The way Sin cringes is pure busted. “Alex, this is my little sister, Sin. Short for Cindy.”

“Yeah, but the last jerk who called me that, I made him eat a puck.” Sin eyes Alex up and down with distrust, but she gets the impression it’s how she greets all strangers.

Sara often complains about her older sister, but never mentioned a younger one.

“Hey,” Alex says. “And I could totally go for a burger right now.”

A horn toots as a black SUV pulls up to the curb. A dark-skinned young man with the kind of energy that brightens every room pops his head out of the driver’s side. There’s one face Alex has met before. Sara’s little brother, Jax. “Man, I’ve been driving around forever! What took you so long?”

“Give me a break, Jax! It’s not like I was flying the plane myself!” Sara shouts back. “It probably would’ve been half as bumpy if I were.”

As Jax and Sara collide in a hug that nearly has both of them toppling into the dirty sidewalk slush, Sin tilts her head in Alex’s direction. “Did Sara tell you about the time she stole the mayor’s helicopter for a joy ride? It was awesome!”

“So she was wild even before her college days?” Alex asks.

“You kidding? Sara wrote the book.” Jax gives Alex a one-armed hug. Even though they’re acquainted—at the West-Allen wedding, but also the spring break he basically lived on their couch—the embrace is loose and polite like he remembers how much she loves her personal space and respects that. “Long time no see, Doc.”

“I don’t know what Sara told you, but you’re welcome to stay with us again even after the toaster incident.”

“We don’t call him Fire Storm for nothing,” Sara says.

“Hell yeah I’d visit more if school and work wasn’t so insane these days,” Jax says. “It’s a damn Christmas miracle I could get away from the shop for the wedding.”

Alex turns to her roommate with her brows raised in suspicion. “You didn’t tell me Jax is going to the wedding. I thought you said you’d be suffering alone if I didn’t come with you?”

“Oh, I would have been,” Sara assures her. “These two turn into friggin’ speedsters and bail when Laurel and I get into it.”

Jax and Sin flash their most innocent smiles before the former helps load their luggage into the trunk while the latter calls dibs on shotgun.

Star City is certainly more dreary than National City, but not as dirty as Gotham, smaller than Metropolis, but bigger than Central. It’s Alex’s first time visiting and she can’t say it’s much to blog about, but Sara has her camera out almost immediately, snapping photos of snowcapped skyscrapers and the icy riverwalk.

“So,” Jax says on the drive out of the city, “how long have you been official and why am I only finding out now?”

“We’re not,” Sara says, a warning clear in her tone. “We’re roommates.”

“Oh!” Jax exclaims with feeling. “Hear that, Sin, they’re roommates.” Sin tries to hide her laugh behind the red and white checker-print paper wrapped around her burger. “I just thought, you bring someone home for the first time ever, and it’s Doc Danvers, that might mean things changed.”

“Yeah,” Sin says. “If you really wanted to piss off Laurel, you should’ve brought a model. Laurel would have hated one of your model friends in all of the wedding photos.”

“But no, everyone’s gonna think you bagged a doctor and you have your life together,” Jax adds. “What message are you tryin’a send here, Sara? Oh! What happened to that girl you’d always ditch me for when you visit Central? The one with the—Ow! Sara! You can’t punch me while I’m driving!”

“Then shut up, Jax!” Sara sits back against the back seat with a huff and her shoulder brush Alex’s who’s happy to watch them bicker in a way that makes her miss her own sister.

“Roommates.” Sin snorts with laughter. “Good luck selling that one to Uncle Q.”

Escaping the city means escaping the bleakness. Once they leave the industrial factories behind, there’s nothing but dense forest ahead. The overcast sky gives way to sunshine and pockets of blue. Even more snow builds up on the sides of the road and weighs heavy on the endless stretch of trees. Alex mostly sits back, content to stare out the window as the siblings catch up. Jax lives in Central City where he goes to school, studying engineering and working as an auto mechanic. Sin is in her last year of high school and the only girl on her hockey team.

“I have a game this week.” Sin tries to act casual though her excitement is obvious. “I’m finally getting to play! I was riding the bench for the last three years, but Mad Dog’s the coach now. Did you know Mad Dog’s the coach now? And he knows I’m good so I’m finally seeing the ice!”

“Mad Dog Ramirez, huh?” Sara nods. “I used to kick his ass.”

“You did. On and off the ice.” Jax’s smile is full of nostalgia. “Sara taught both of us everything we know.”

Alex catches Sara stealing a sip from her milkshake and lets it slide. “You played hockey, huh?”

“A lifetime ago.”

“Sara was the captain!” Sins shouts. “They called her Captain Canary because she flew on the ice!”

“I take it you’re all winter sports people.”

“Starling is a winter town period,” Jax says. “You’ll see when we get there. What about you, doc? Or were you more of a summer Olympics person?”

“Oh, Alex is too competitive for her own good,” Sara shares. “You should see her at game night.”

“I’m not as bad as I used to be,” Alex says defensively. “Actually, I went through this figure skating phase. I was obsessed with the precision and the speed and…the science. I skated competitively for a while and I did well, but I nearly killed myself training and the other girls sucked so my mom finally cut me off.”

“Stick to your microscope and scalpel,” Sara says. “I didn’t know that about you.”

Alex steals one of Sara’s French fries. It only seems fair. “Well, now you do.”

The rest of the drive passes fairly quickly, filled with gossip about the townsfolk and how much they don’t like Laurel’s husband-to-be. Sara nudges Alex and points out the window at a little wooden roadside sign welcoming them to the town of Starling. It’s just like the photo on the front page of their website. They avoid driving down Main Street, but Sara promises they’ll see it eventually.

The Lance house sits atop a little hill overlooking the rest of town. All the houses in the neighborhood are small with red brick chimneys. It really is like something out of a Christmas movie. Alex steps out of the SUV and when she takes a deep breath, her nose fills with fresh, cold air and the sharp smell of earth and pine. It’s beautiful and remote, different from the small town Alex grew up in. Midvale is a small coastal town while Starling seems to be true country. The snow is up past her ankles and crunches beneath her sturdy boots.

Alex feels the temptation to snap a selfie of her with nothing, but snow-covered cottage homes behind her. She can already imagine the reactions from their “Super Friends” group chat—Kara’s string of thrilled emojis, Sam asking if she’s been kidnapped by aliens, Lena suggesting she turn on her location so she can send a private plane to rescue her right away.

No factory fumes or garbage rotting on the city sidewalk. No cabs honking their horns angrily. Just the sound of Sara and her siblings teasing each other as they walk over to a white Jeep parked in the recently shoveled driveway. After bringing their luggage inside, Jax stomps down the porch steps and hands Sara a set of car keys.

As Sara slips into the Jeep to make sure it starts, Alex takes another deep breath, feeling like she hasn’t been breathing, not properly, for a long time now. Another deep breath. Her shoulders uncurl as if she’s had them jammed up around her ears for what feels like forever now.

And maybe she has.

It’s been nine months since she broke up with Maggie. Nine months! It sounds like forever on paper, but all that time has gone by in a blur of long days and nights at the hospital, catching sleep whenever possible and letting Kara drag her out to socialize when her excuses ran out. Other than the direction of her career, Alex lives in uncertainty, tries to ignore it, keeps herself wound up so tight. It took a trip away from everything she knows to even notice.

“The White Canary lives!” Sara cheers as the car engine comes to life.

“You know, Uncle Q asked me if I’d be willing to drive it out to National City if you ever asked,” Jax says, “and I am damn glad you never asked. Do you know how long it’d take me to drive all the way out there? You couldn’t pick a city a little closer to home?”

“You know me, Jax. When have I ever taken the easy path?” Sara shuts the engine off, twirling the keys around her finger. “What are you doing now?”

“I promised Sin we’d hit the rink before the parade,” Jax says. “Wanna come along? They still have that photo of you up on the wall. Alex has gotta see it before you leave again.”

Alex snaps back to the present at the sound of her name just in time to notice Sara snap a candid photo of her. She should really be used to it by now.

“Maybe another day.” Sara frowns, seeing disappointment on Sin’s face. “It was a long flight and a long drive. I promise we’ll make it to the rink at some point. Wild reindeer couldn’t keep me away.”

Sin pulls a face. “Living in the city made you a cheeseball.”

Alex laughs out of nowhere. She doesn’t think she’s ever heard anyone call Sara Lance a “cheeseball” before. Sara doesn’t take it too lightly and kicks a wave of snow right at Sin.

Jax cackles, sure to egg them on. “Oh shit! Sin, you gonna let this city cheeseball do you like that?”

Sin starts to gather up snow in her gloved hands and Sara goes to duck behind the Jeep, but Jax catches her arm to keep her from running. And things quickly escalade to an all-out snowball fight. Jax shows off his speed and athleticism, making snowballs in his hands and firing them at Sin and Sara with the accuracy and strength of a big league baseball ace. Sin is scrappy and isn’t afraid to charge Jax and tackle him right into a deep pile of snow. And Sara, Sara is brutal and shows no mercy. When Jax and Sin gang up on her, Sara ducks behind Alex and does not hesitate to use her as a shield.

Alex breaks free from Sara’s hold and takes cover behind a large oak tree with a swing hanging from it. Alex purses her lips and wipes wetness from her eye. “I think I got snow in my mouth.”

“Rule number one in the Lance house. All is fair in love, war and snow fights.” Sara peeks around the side of the tree just to pull back seconds before a flurry of snowballs fly by. “It was so much easier to crush them when they were shorter than me.”

“What did you say about older siblings being the evil one again?”

“I said the oldest sibling is pure evil. Oldest.” Sara packs together snowballs with her bare hands, not even bothered by the cold and starts to get suspicious when the snowballs stop pelting the tree. The silence that follows is more than disquieting. “We need to work together if we’re going to make it out alive. This is what we’re going to do…”

Sara steps out from behind the tree with her hands up as if in surrender. Jax and Sin converse on her, both with a snowball in each hand, but there’s hesitation in their approach. Mama didn’t raise no fools.

“Surrender and we’ll let your roommate go!” Sin shouts.

“Okay, you guys are really blowing the whole roommate thing out of proportion.” Every time Sara takes a tiny step back, Jax and Sin take equally tiny steps forward.

“We don’t got all day, cap! Does this mean you surrender?” Jax tosses his perfectly made, perfectly round snowball up and catches it in his palm. It doesn’t crumble whatsoever.

Sara pauses for dramatic effect. Then— “Alex, now!”

Alex jumps onto the swing and when she jumps off, all the snow caught on the tree branch above comes crashing down right on Sin and Jax. Sara has the greatest laugh of her life and pulls out her phone to snap photos of the two trying to wade their way out of thick, icy snow. When Sara holds out her free hand, Alex doesn’t hesitate to high-five her.

 

 

“Remember those stupid big snow wars we’d have?” Jax asks, shrugging off his wet jacket in the foyer of the Lance house. “Oliver and Tommy would put rocks in their snowballs. Bastards.”

“The snow wars we would have,” Sara corrects him, yanking off her soaking wet yellow beanie. “You were still in grade school and I’d always tell you to stay home, but you never listened.”

“Aye, but I was always there to save your ass.” Jax flashes his hero smile. “And I realize my mistake. I should’ve drafted Alex. We would’ve won no question! You play softball?”

Sara rolls her eyes. “Because all lesbians play softball, right?”

“Basketball actually,” Alex replies.

“I see that.” Jax nods his head with his lips pressed together in thought. “You’d bang down in the key with the best of ‘em then hit ‘em with the step back three, didn’t you?”

“I was good for at least one offensive foul a game, but my three ball meant I played significant minutes.”

“Yeah, you’re easily the coolest person Sara’s ever not-dated. Easy!”

Sara smacks Jax on the back of the head with her beanie just as Sin comes out into the foyer with an old, beaten up and heavily taped hockey stick.

“Jax, ready?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Jax slides into a dry waterproof jacket. “You two sure you don’t wanna come?”

“Nah,” Sara says. “I’m beat and I’ve gotta…give Alex a tour of the house. But I already got like ten voicemails from dad about the parade tonight. We’ll see you guys there, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Jax changes into a new pair of shoes. “Not like there’s anything better to do around here… I’m staying in the den while I’m in town so the dungeon is all yours.”

“Have fun on your ‘tour’ or whatever,” Sin says snidely. “And don’t even think about having sex on my bed, yeah? Or the kitchen. We eat actual food there, Sara. Or—”

“Sin!” Sara shouts in a tone that says enough. “Do you really think I’d be so disrespectful?”

“Uh, yeah,” Sin replies while Jax just nods in definitive agreement. The two scramble to get out the front door as if expecting Sara to retaliate and oh, she definitely will at some point before this trip is over. Seeing the three of them together, it’s too easy to imagine them pint-sized and literally wrestling each other for the last piece of pie.

“So this is where you grew up, huh?” Alex asks.

“Hardly. I lived here for four years. I spent longer in college.”

Despite her coarse words, Alex sees the way Sara softens, dragging her fingertips down the doorway that leads into the kitchen. There are small notches in the doorframe and upon closer inspection, their initials carved beside each line—tracking their height over the years. Some families use pencil. The Lances used knives. Alex isn’t all that surprised.

“So,” Alex says, interrupting whatever memory flitted through Sara’s head just now. “You said something about a tour?”

 

 

The inside of the Lance house isn’t at all how Sara remembers.

She remembers functional secondhand furniture, empty beer bottles and hockey games always on whether it be on the TV or radio. The house she walks into looks like something out of a Christmas catalogue. Green garland and red ribbon stretch across the mantle of the fireplace where a line of well-crafted, personalized stockings hang. There’s even one with “Alex” on it. Neatly-wrapped presents surround a grand, gorgeous Christmas tree that easily puts their dinky one back in National City to shame.

“It’s nice,” Alex says.

“It’s fake.” Sara touches the needles of the tree and just like she expected—plastic. “It’s got nothing on our Barry Christmas tree.” There’s a business card nestle on the tree, front and center—Donna Smoak, interior designer. “This has Laurel written all over it. She probably staged a photoshoot in here or something.”

“You aren’t shooting the wedding yourself?”

Sara scoffs. “As if she, with her law degree and her rich fiancé, could afford me.”

“Maybe it’s because she wants you in all the photos.”

“I’ll remember to smile,” Sara says dryly.

At least the kitchen is exactly the same, but cleaner. No empty beer bottles in sight, but there is a half gone twelve pack in the refrigerator. The liquor cabinet in the den is locked and it doesn’t surprise her when the key isn’t where he used to hide it when she lived here. It does surprise Sara to find some of her CatCo photographs with her name in the captions framed and featured on the walls. She didn’t know he followed her career, let alone framed and displayed her work.

On the first floor, there’s Quentin’s room and Sin’s room that used to Laurel’s room that used to Laurel and Sara’s room before the basement renovations were complete. Sin’s door is left open. The walls are no longer bubblegum pink, but a dark shade of blue, nearly black, covered in band posters and sketches of superheroes with masks and arrows.

Alex smiles softly at something she sees on Sin’s desk. “So, why’d you never mention Sin?”

“I probably wouldn’t have mentioned Laurel or Jax either if they didn’t just show up in National,” Sara replies. “Our dads grew up together here in Starling. Two weeks after Jax was born, his dad was killed in an IED explosion overseas so my dad stepped in as his sort of father figure. The same with Sin except Sin’s mom died when she was a toddler so when her dad was killed in an accident…we took her in. They’ve been apart of the family for as long as I can remember.”

“We have a lot more in common than I thought.”

“I’ll show you the dungeon and then it’s hot toddy time.”

The so-called “dungeon” is cozier than it sounds. Alex follows Sara down steep creaky steps to a little recreational area with couches facing a large TV and a full-size pool table.

“Bathroom is to the right next to my old darkroom and this is my room to the left.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that her room is exactly as she left it from the sheets on the bed to the posters on the wall. Even the nicks in the ceiling from throwing stars and the dent in the wall from hours of bouncing a rubber ball against it are still there. That was always her preferred method of passing time while grounded. Sara has never taken to being caged and confined.

“Do I get to see your darkroom?” Alex asks.

“It’s nothing special. It’s a laundry room now.”

She pushes into the next room. Opposite of the washer and dryer is a counter full of old, dusty equipment and shelves of chemicals and other materials. Clotheslines stretch from one wall to the other with pins hanging off. Alex walks right over to the corkboard covered with mostly black and white photos. There’s one of a much younger, fresh-faced Sin with a gap-toothed smile and Jax flexing in his football uniform. There are more photos scattered on the small desk. She was in a hurry to leave the last time she was here and it seems no one has touched a thing since.

“My dad surprised me with this room for my sixteenth birthday slash Christmas,” Sara explains, sifting through the photos on the desk—a lot of trees, the mountains, stray dogs in the neighborhood. “I think he was hoping I’d spend more time in here and less time terrorizing the town.”

“Did it work?”

“Depends who you ask.”

Alex holds up a photo of a shirtless young man with the body of a Greek god. “Wasn’t this guy at Barry and Iris’ wedding?”

Sara snaps the photo away and places it faced down on the desk. She lets her fingers trail over the enlarger, thinking about all of the long nights she spent working in this little room and shutting out the rest of the world. Mostly rage-fueled printing sessions. She wonders what Teen Sara would think about her life now. Then again, Teen Sara passed the time by taking stalker-y photos of Oliver Queen. What the hell did she know about life and the world?

Absolutely nothing.

 

 

It’s amazing and goddamn terrifying how some things never change.

Main Street is exactly as Sara remembers, watching it shrink in the rearview mirror as her dad drove her out of town for what she swore would be the last time. There’s still only one grocery store owned by the Merlyn’s, The Arrow Diner, Joe’s Bar and Grill, Waller Bakery, Town Hall and a gazebo at the heart of town square just beside the biggest Christmas tree they could find in the county. Pop-up tents fill the square—ones selling festive treats, personalized ornaments and stockings, and of course, professional gift wrappers.

All of it is preserved in time to Sara, but for Alex, everything is new and bright and exciting. It didn’t surprise her when Alex already knew the layout of the town and the time of the parade—all from the website she studied, apparently—but being aware of and seeing it for the first time are completely different. Alex’s eyes light up as they explore, going from booth to booth. She reminds Sara of what it felt like to see this town at Christmas for the first time. Seeing Alex like this might be the one silver lining of this whole situation.

“It’s like we’re in a snow globe,” Alex says in awe. “A friggin’ Gilmore Girls snow globe!”

“Aren’t all small towns?”

“Not Midvale. Not like this, no. In Midvale, literally everything has a nautical theme, which makes sense, I guess. You mind your own business and your neighbors mind theirs. Here, do they spread gossip through musical number?”

“Trust me, the carolers aren’t as innocent as they want you to think.” Sara narrows her eyes at a big group of people with their songbooks out and their perfect harmony.

“If Kara were here, she’d tell you, the best way to spread Christmas cheer—”

“Is karaoke-screaming for all to hear.” Sara loops her arm through Alex’s, tugging her in the opposite direction of the truly untrustworthy carolers.

The annual Christmas parade has already begun by the time they arrive. A line of trucks, fire engines and floats draped in greenery and colorful lights proceed down the street as their occupants wave to the crowd that lines the street, singing and cheering the whole way. It’s completely bonkers. The townspeople especially gasp and cheer as white horses pull a white chariot driven by a scruffy man who can’t be much older than they are along with a young, dark-haired boy.

Alex pokes Sara in the side. “Hey, isn’t that the shirtless guy from the photo in your darkroom?”

“Oliver Queen.” Sara had been hoping she could go the entire trip without having to unpack that particular skeleton in her closet. “Yes, he was at Barry’s wedding and he’s the mayor.”

“He’s young for a mayor, isn’t he? Let me guess, he was the quarterback?”

“Yep.” Sara pops the p. “Class president too, but everyone knew Laurel did all the heavy lifting and Ollie just got all the glory. He was a dick in high school. I don’t know what Laurel saw in him back then. I don’t know what I saw in him either.”

“You?”

“You’re looking at Starling High’s most likely to steal your boyfriend.” Sara kicks at the dirty snow with her boots and shamefully adds, “And I tried more than I care to admit. It’s all old news at this point. High school’s supposed to be stupid anyway.”

“It is.”

“What were you voted? Most likely to succeed I presume?”

“Officially? Most Likely to Cure Cancer. Unofficially? Most likely to kick the crap out of you if you so much as made her sister frown.”

“Atta girl.”

Sara feels a pair of eyes burning into her and tugs on Alex’s arm so they’re facing each other. Alex takes the hint, suddenly alert and ready to fight if need be. Sara peeks around Alex and it’s just as she suspected. Fuck. She was hoping she wouldn’t have to dig up that skeleton either.

“What? Did you see another one of your exes?” Alex teases, then blinks when Sara remains tense. “Seriously? Another one?”

“My two o’clock. Dark hair, seductress eyes, staring right at us.”

Alex tucks strands of her short hair around her ear and takes a discrete glance over her shoulder. “She seems a little…intense. Okay, a lot intense.”

“You have no idea. Nyssa al Ghoul. Her dad’s like this business mogul and cult leader. Seriously, they live in this huge mansion like twenty minutes from here and they all got banned from the only Walmart in the entire county. Whatever. Things with Nyssa… It was intense. First love intense…”

“Luckily, I’m here for you to use as a human shield.”

And that’s when Sara’s struck with another brilliant idea and completely sober this time. Well, they had hot toddies back at the house and that’s why they walked to Main Street, which is only right down the hill anyway.

Sara raises a single eyebrow. “Or fake girlfriend?”

Alex laughs and it’s tinged with nervousness. Then it dawns on her—Sara isn’t laughing. “You—You’re serious?”

“It’ll be fun!” Sara insists, steering her in the opposite direction of Nyssa. “After this week, you’ll never see any of these people again and I would never think of going anywhere near my ex with my loving, beautiful girlfriend with me at all times.”

“Especially not when she’s going to end up paying your mortgage and supporting your midlife crisis.” Alex’s lips poke to one side the way they do when she’s about to overthink something. Sara prepares to bop her right in the forehead. “I just don’t like the idea of lying to your family.”

“Trust me, my family has lied to each other about bigger things in the past. And they’re all going to assume we’re dating anyway. By New Year’s Eve, I’ll tell them you broke up with me, but we’re still friends.”

“Sara!” a rough, male voice calls out.

And she feels like she’s ten and just getting back from summer camp all over again.

“Hey, old man.”

Quentin Lance, with his five o’clock shadow and his Starling Sherrif’s Department uniform, practically shoves his way through a line of carolers to reach his daughter. As she hugs him, breathing in a whiff of the faint cologne he’s worn since she was knee-high, Sara knows her dad loves her. She feels it. She knows he never wanted their family to disintegrate the way it did, but he never really did anything to stop it either. None of them did.

“Lemme get a good look at you.” Quentin keeps his hands on his daughter’s shoulders and she tilts her chin up arrogantly. “Yep. There’s the kid who crashed my squad car into Malcolm Merlyn’s mailbox.”

“Only to avoid hitting a deer!”

Quentin smiles and his eyes start to glaze over with tears.

“Dad, don’t cry.”

Sara has to look away to keep from getting choked up herself. Instead, she reaches for Alex, pulling her closer by the arm and making introductions. She keeps it straightforward, avoids slapping a label on them, but she can see the borderline suspicion dancing in her father’s eyes. Yes, growing up with a dad who makes a living off his deductive reasoning skills had its challenges.

“Hey,” Quentin says, shooting his daughter a peeved scowl. “Alex is the first girl—person—you’ve ever brought home so how come I’ve heard more about her from your brother and sister than you?”

And so it begins.

“Dad—”

“Yeah,” Alex interjects, crossing her arms. “Why is that?”

Alex winks like she thinks she’s being so sneaky and Sara can’t fight the urge to smile.

“Oh, is that how it’s going to be?” Sara bumps Alex with her shoulder. “You and my family are just gonna gang up on me the whole time we’re here?”

Quentin chuckles. “Sorry kid, you’re outnumbered. Get used to it.”

They go to Joe’s Bar and Grill, which is a short walk down the street. It’s pretty busy thanks to the parade, but Joe, a former cop himself, comes out to personally greet them. He remembers Alex from the wedding when she helped one of Iris’ aunts who fainted at the tail end of the ceremony.

Everyone in Starling eats at Joe’s. In high school, everyone hung out at Joe’s. With her father’s busy work schedule, pulling late nights at the station, Sara ate more dinners at Joe’s than in her own kitchen.

Sara knows Alex is perceptive enough to notice all the sideway glances they get from the townsfolk. Look, it’s the Lance girl, not the lawyer who went on to make our town proud, the other one, the problem child who corrupted our nice girls and only ever brought trouble to town. They don’t have to say it. Their eyes say enough. It’s everything she thought she left behind when she left town.

Quentin gets pulled away by one of his coworkers, a Deputy Drake, who certainly wears the uniform better than he ever did. Sara doesn’t recognize her, which means Drake didn’t grow up around here.

“Right when I thought the fact that I know literally everyone in this town might spoil our people-watching game, Deputy Drake is here to save the day,” Sara says. “Who the hell chooses to live here?”

“Oh my god.”

Sara turns to Alex. “What?”

“You’re checking out Deputy Effortless Hair right in front of me!” Alex exclaims. “If I was your fake girlfriend, I don’t know if the relationship would last through dinner, let alone till Christmas.”

“I’m sorry I have eyes.” Sara laughs, letting her forehead rest against Alex’s shoulder.

Alex presses her cheek to the top of Sara’s head. “I’m here. I might as well try to make you look good in front of your family. It’s the least I can do for letting me crash your Christmas. Your dad and your siblings seem great and this town is insane!”

“Just you wait.”

While they wait for a table, Sara whispers to Alex about the bartender, Wally West, Iris’ long lost brother. Apparently, their mom hid his existence from Joe and Iris up until he randomly showed up and sent shockwaves through the town. By the time Jax and Sin walk in through the front door, their table’s ready and Quentin waves them ahead, still deep in conversation. The waitress, a mousy blonde, takes their drink orders while sneaking shy glances in Sara’s direction.

Alex has the tact to at least wait until she leaves to ask, “You dated the waitress too?”

“No,” Sara says exasperatedly.

“They just got caught making out in the Santa’s sleigh float at winter formal,” Jax snorts. “She’s the pastor’s daughter.” Sara grabs a sugar packet on the table and fires it right at him. Jax already has his arms up as if he expected it. “What? Am I remembering that wrong?”

Sara lifts her hand to throw something else at him, but Alex stills her with a hand over the back of hers. It’s only sugar packets. She’s thrown bigger, heavier things at Nate. She threw a snow globe at Nate once and his drunk ass knocked on Alex’s bedroom door to ask if she could look at his forehead and tell him if he needed stitches.

“What’s with the house, by the way?” Sara changes the subject. “Laurel decorated?”

Sin scoffs. “Laurel only ever comes over to bitch about how we only have microwave mac n’ cheese and beer in the fridge. And bring us groceries. Uncle Q’s been ‘seeing’ that interior decorator lady. Two dates and suddenly quilted pillows appear on the couch. Quilted pillows!”

“Aye, lay off,” Jax says. “From what I can tell, it isn’t serious like he isn’t about to bring her to Laurel’s wedding, but he’s happier. I’ve been trying to tell Sin that happier is a good thing.”

Sara doesn’t know how to feel about that. “But…Felicity’s mom?”

“Felicity?” Alex asks.

“Oliver Queen’s wifey,” Jax replies. “Thea hired her to design the town website then she fell in love with Oliver and never left. Blonde. Glasses. I bet you saw her at the West-Allen wedding.”

“Wait,” Alex says, putting the pieces together. “So your dad is dating the mother of the woman who’s married to the guy both you and your sister dated in high school?”

“Sara and Oliver didn’t technically date, just—”

Sara has had enough and kicks his chair so Jax falls backwards and hits the floor. People stop mid-conversation to stare at Jax in a heap on the ground, Sin bursts out laughing and Sara can’t help, but feel a little smug.

“Jax, what are you doing on the floor?” Quentin helps Jax to his feet. “Don’t you see how busy this place is? You’re a fire hazard.” He pats the top of Sin’s head on his way to his chair and she immediately scowls and fixes her hair. “Sorry about that. We’ve been busier than usual down at the station. Have you been embarrassing your sister in front of her girlfriend like I taught you?”

“Girlfriend?” Jax pulls a face. “What happened to ‘we’re just roommates so shut up, Jax’?” His high-pitch whiny impersonation doesn’t sound like her whatsoever. He could at least aim for accuracy if he’s going to be annoying. “Damn. Someone still works quick, I see. That must’ve been some magical tour of the house you gave her.”

Sin’s dark eyes shift suspiciously between them. Sara silently glowers back as if to try to reassure her, nothing happened on your bed!

Sara turns to Alex with slightly narrowed eyes. “Do you see now?”

“Your family is great,” Alex says. “I think someone just needs to calm down and have a beer.”

“I second that.” Sara smiles.

“Third.” Jax raises a hand.

Quentin chuckles. “Alex, I think you’ll fit in just fine here.”

 

 

“Looks like your girl is getting along with the knuckleheads.”

Sara doesn’t know how long she’s been sitting on the couch, watching Alex school Jax and Sin at pool. She pushes down that warm feeling that’s settled in her chest and her walls go right back up as Quentin deposits a tower of extra blankets and pillows onto the couch beside her, taking in the same scene as her.

“She’s kicking ass,” Sara says.

It’s awesome.

“And she’s a doctor, huh? I hope she doesn’t have to patch you up too often.”

Vague memories comes back to her, drunken tumbles into the coffee table, the time she put her fist through a mirror and getting a little careless with knife cuts in the kitchen. Sara doesn’t say any of this, but she thinks her dad can read the defiant tilt of her chin.

“You were always falling down and getting into scrapes as a kid,” Quentin continues. “Not because you were clumsy, just because you were always going a hundred miles an hour, never knew how to slow it down. You’d always skid to the pavement and I was there to pick you right up… I worry about you, y’know. I worry about you a lot…”

He doesn’t look at her as he says the words, probably can’t without falling apart.

“Dad…”

“Exactly. I’m your dad and I’m gonna worry. That’s just fact. You’re so far away from home, you know. If your car breaks down or you get thrown in jail, I can’t just drive to National City to bail you out. So I’m happy you found someone who’s there for you. Alex is a good one so don’t screw it up.”

“Practicing your wedding speech?”

Quentin barks out a laugh and rubs at his wet eyes. “You really think your sister would give me the mic without writing out a script with all sorts’a flowery language? Hell no. I’m sweating just thinking about it.” Sara’s ready to ask about Donna Smoak, especially when she sees the way her dad sneaks a glance at his phone. “I’m gonna turn in. Brought you some extra blankets and stuff. I told Sin to put towels in the bathroom.”

“Got it. Thanks, dad.”

“Don’t forget, we’ve got dinner at the resort tomorrow night with your sister and your mom and all their guests.”

“Wouldn’t miss it. Not that I have a choice.”

She doesn’t mean to be a cold, sarcastic little shit toward her dad. Quentin loves her and Sara knows this. He can be self-loathing, especially about the past, which is probably where Sara learned it. He tries now. This is him trying in his gruff way and a part of her loves him for it, but another part of her thinks it’s a little too late and she can’t shake it, especially not here.

While Jax laughs and Sin hits him for whatever he’s laughing at, Sara can feel Alex’s eyes track her as she joins them. Alex sidles up to her and tries to be discrete as she asks, “Everything okay?”

“Perfect.” Sara doesn’t know why she tries to be convincing when she knows Alex can see right through it. “You guys know you don’t have to let Alex win just because she’s a guest or whatever, right? Too much winning is bad for the ego.”

“There’s no such thing as too much winning,” Alex replies, happy enough to play along.

Sara steals the pool cue right out Jax’s hands. “Watch the master work.”

If it can always be like this, goofing around with Jax and Sin, even the awkward attempts at expression emotion with her dad, maybe Sara would visit more. It’s easy to forget why she stayed away for so long when surrounded by love and laughs, but not even the smell of snow-covered pine trees or the taste of honey, herbs and spices can sooth her instincts telling her that disaster is just waiting to welcome her home.

 

 

Alex calls Kara as she gets ready for bed and can vaguely hear Jax and Sin trying to explain the concept of Fortnite to Sara. She knows for a fact Nate and Ray are Fortnite fanatics, came home from a long shift one night to find the two doing one of the Fortnite dances in their kitchen. Sara knows the gist, but keeps asking dumb questions purely to get them all worked up. Having seen this new side of Sara, it’s suddenly so clear that she’s a middle child.

“Alex! I helped deliver lambs today! Plural! Twins!”

Alex makes a face at herself in the bathroom mirror before spitting toothpaste into the sink. “Cool?”

“The lambs’ legs were all tangled so I had to stick my hand all up the momma’s business and loop a rope around the little guy’s hooves then Clark just pulled him out and PLOP! A new baby lamb! Then his twin brother just came rushing out like nothing and the momma was so relieved! I mean, can you blame her?”

“That’s…gross.”

Kara’s offended sound translates perfectly over the phone. “Didn’t you do a rotation, helping deliver actual human babies? And the miracle of life in farm animals grosses you out?”

“Yeah, but it happened in a hospital, not a barn.”

“Yeah, and what have you been doing in Starling that’s so cool?”

“Day drinking and night drinking and kicking ass at pool and snowball fights.”

“See! Aren’t you glad you’re there and not sitting at home alone?”

“So far.” Alex passes behind Jax and Sin shouting at the TV on her way to Sara’s room. The light is on, but the door is ajar so Alex doesn’t think twice before pushing her way inside. She walks in just in time to see Sara yank her shirt off over her head. The blonde is facing away from her so all Alex really sees is the milky expanse of her back, but the sight is enough to make Alex’s brain malfunction. Sara glances over her shoulder at the sound of Alex’s phone thumping hard against the floor. “I-I—the door was—so I—”

“Think you dropped something, Danvers.” Sara continues to push hangers around in the closet, topless, like it isn’t a big deal. Alex tries to will down the heat she feels all over her face, picks her phone up and plops down on the bed.

“Sorry.” Alex doesn’t know if she’s saying it to Sara or Kara, sure to keep her eyes on the ceiling. “I dropped my phone.”

“That Kara?” Sara asks. “She make it to Kansas okay?”

“It’s her and she’s fine,” Alex confirms, balancing the phone between her shoulder and ear. “Kara’s being seduced by the country life. CatCo might be down a journalist by the new year.”

“Ha ha. I’m going to bed.”

“Goodnight. Say hi to the rooster for me. And the lambs.” Alex feels the bed dip and Sara’s in her space in an instant, leaning right up to the phone and subsequently really close to Alex’s face so she can wish Kara a low, sultry goodnight. Kara murmurs a, “Goodnight, Sara,” in a flat voice and hangs up.

Sara rolls onto her back with a laugh. “Why are you Danvers so cute?”

Alex pulls a pillow under her head and snuggles up to it. “We aren’t cute. We’re warrior women.”

“Why can’t you be both?”

Alex’s eyes dart to the side in time to see Sara wearing a big t-shirt and removing a flyer on the wall. Behind it is an actual hole in the wall. Okay, that has Alex’s attention. Sara sticks her hand into the hole and comes away with a Tweety Bird keychain and two keys hanging off it.

“Do I want to know what that’s for?” Alex asks.

Sara’s face alights with her signature brand of mischief as she bends down closer to Alex and whispers, “Keys to the high school, principal’s office, and the roof. I don’t know if they still work, but I plan to find out before I give them to Sin for Christmas.”

“Kara’s right about you. You are an enabler.”

“It’s a rite of passage that skipped Jax because he’d saw off his arm before disappointing his mom,” Sara says, settling down next to Alex so their shoulders touch. “Are you going to show me the itinerary?”

“What itinerary?” Alex asks with her eyes closed.

“The itinerary you made the moment you saw the town website and all Starling has to offer. We have wedding obligations, but all other waking hours are yours to fill.”

Alex peeks an eye open. “It’s more of a list than an itinerary. I didn’t want to set times because I wasn’t sure what those wedding obligations are. You weren’t specific.”

Sara holds out her hand expectantly and Alex unlocks her phone and opens Luthor Corp’s latest app to organize your life and hands it over. Going anywhere unfamiliar requires research—knowing your options, the best places to stay and eat and how to get around. She tried to talk herself out of it, knowing Sara probably had all of those things covered, but just couldn’t help herself.

“Alex, half this list is food.”

“Did I mention Kara helped?”

“We definitely have to hit up Cecile’s for the caramel corn and candy canes she makes right in the window… ‘See if Main Street lives up to the hype,’” Sara reads, tilting her head toward Alex. “Verdict?”

“Check. Have I mentioned this town is insane?”

“Skiing. Yup, we’re definitely doing that… See a moose?”

“Kara again—” A yawn interrupts her sentence. Not that Alex needs to explain Kara to Sara.

“Sleep, Danvers.”

“Where are you sleeping tonight?” Alex doesn’t bother trying to keep her eyes open anymore.

“I’ll probably fall asleep on the couch watching the knuckleheads play video games.”

“Sleep here. The bed’s big enough. I won’t roundhouse kick you in your sleep, if you’re lucky.”

“Forewarning, I’m a cuddle.”

Alex knows. They pass out on the couch together more than either would admit. On the off chance Alex wakes up first, it isn’t uncommon for Sara’s arm to be thrown over her waist or her head in her lap. It sends Alex into a blind panic every single time even if they never mention it ever. This would just be the first time they’d fall asleep in a bed together with her family just on the other side of the wall. A least, a bed means more space, right?

“It’s fine,” Alex says, more to herself than Sara.

“Well, if you insist.” Sara leans over to turn out the light. “Thanks for being here, Alex.”

“What are friends for?”

 

 

Alex wakes up to a low yet insistent buzzing sound.

She feels around in the direction of the buzzing with her eyes still closed, fumbling in unfamiliar surroundings. There’s a warm weight settled across her stomach, over the covers, a groan close to her ear and a warm presence at her back. Suddenly, Alex is wide awake, realizing she isn’t alone in bed.

“Shut it off and cuddle me, Alex,” Sara whines in a voice rough with sleep. Alex can practically feel Sara’s grin against her shoulder.

Alex tenses, especially when Sara takes it upon herself to curl closer and hold her tighter. It takes a few moments of silence to realize the buzzing stopped. In comes another familiar voice, “Alex?”

“Mom!” Alex sits upright and if it wasn’t for the panic overriding all her senses, she probably would have heard Sara laugh. Alex grabs for her phone on the nightstand and sees her mom staring right back at her. Eliza has her long, wavy hair down with a red flower tucked behind one ear. Nothing, but blue skies and ocean waves behind her.

Not only did she answer the call (damn it!), but it’s a FaceTime call too. Fantastic.

“Mom…hi.”

“Hi, Eliza!”

“Sara.” Her mom’s greeting is pure, utter amusement.

Alex doesn’t know what to do with this so she ends the call.

“Is that any way to treat your mom?” Sara asks from behind her.

Alex’s phone lights up anew and starts buzzing again with another call from Eliza.

“I’ll just…” Alex slips out of bed and cringed once her feet hit the cold floor. It’s freezing! The urge to jump back into bed and burrow under the thick duvet and Sara’s warm arms—Nope! Alex slips her feet into a pair of fuzzy house shoes peeking out from under the bed and slips into a black suede jacket hanging off the back of the desk chair. She slips out of the room to find Sin still in front of the TV with a controller in hand.

“Sin,” Alex says. “Have you slept?”

“Nope,” the teen answers without taking her eyes off the TV. “Jax tapped out at around three. Weak. This is what Christmas vacation in for!”

“I was just—” Alex realizes Sin isn’t paying attention, doesn’t even care and sneaks into Sara’s old darkroom. She sits in the swivel chair and finally answers the call. “Hi, mom!”

“Alex, did you just hang up on me?”

“How was the flight to Hawaii?”

“I’d say long and tiresome, but at least I got off the plane to blue skies and sunshine. You, on the other hand…you know, if you were busy, you could have just returned my call later.”

“No, you would’ve just called Kara and if she was busy feeding chickens or milking cows, you would have called me again. And if she answered, you’d get her to try to call me too until I woke up. Now I’m up so…”

“I just wanted to make sure you got to Starling okay. I know the weather can be difficult, especially this time of the year. And I don’t mean to pry, but…”

“Mom, that was just Sara.”

Eliza raises both her eyebrows and something about her expression is almost like an ah ha! Which is weird and confusing. Alex tries to rub the sleep from her eyes, hoping she’s just seeing things.

“We were just sleeping.”

“If you say so, sweetie.”

Mom. I—She—We’re roommates!”

Eliza giggles and takes a sip from her drink that’s in an actual pineapple with a little umbrella sticking out of it.

“Alex, you’re a grown woman and I trust you know how to manage your feelings and your relationships. I expect you to be on your best behavior and thank her family for letting you spend the holidays with them.”

Alex rolls her eyes, feeling like she’s twelve and her mom’s dropping her off at a friend’s house for a sleepover.

“Okay, mom, I’ll text you later.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t want to keep you from getting back to whatever you were up to.”

Sleeping. She was sleeping! Alex would repeat this, but nothing she says will wipe the smile off her mom’s face and so she settles on a sour, childish expression and ends the video call. Alex spins in the swivel chair a few more times before venturing back outside.

Sara has her own phone pressed to her ear as she paces. “What did I tell you? I don’t want to know, Snart! How did it even get in my suitcase? Did you break into my apartment? You really have to stop doing that.”

“Maybe if you locked the front door occasionally, your friends wouldn’t just invite themselves in,” Alex says.

Sara ends the call without so much as a goodbye and tosses her phone aside. “I’ll put it on my list of new year resolutions.”

It just registers that the TV is shut off and Sin, who must have succumb to exhaustion, has finally passed out. Right when she expects Sara to run and grab her camera, she surprises her by gingerly removing the gaming controller still in Sin’s loose grasp and drapes a thick, red blanket over her. Alex thinks of all the times she’s woken up after nights on the couch with one of her mother’s quilts tucked around her. There’s only one way it could have gotten there.

“Breakfast is ready!” Quentin shouts from upstairs. “If you young city-dwellers do that sorta thing.”

“Be right up, dad!” Sara shouts back.

The kitchen smells divine. Quentin stands at the stove as bacon sizzles away in the pan. Sara goes straight to the coffeemaker while Alex makes her way to the nearest window. The sky is a clear blue and the sun is out, but the ground and all the surrounding trees are covered in fresh snow. It’s deceptively beautiful out.

“It’s so nice of you to wait for us to eat, Jax.” Sara openly judges Jax who doesn’t even look up from his plate of bacon and eggs.

“What? It’s already past eleven! Some of us got things to do around here and can’t spend all day cuddling in bed.”

Sara glares right at him even as she hands Alex a mug of coffee. “You know, J, you really need to get laid.”

“Alright, enough,” Quentin cuts in, laying out more food on the table. “Alex, c’mere. We got local bacon and fresh eggs. John brought ‘em over this morning, tryin’a butter me up to get me to talk about important sheriff’s department business. Dig in before my greedy kids eat it all.”

Alex takes a seat next to Sara who pushes the sleeves of her hoodie up to her elbows except—

“Is that my hoodie?” Alex asks.

Sara plays innocent as she sips her coffee. “You took my jacket first.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“Why would you? I look great in it.”

“Man, it’s too early in the morning for all this cheese that ain’t on my eggs,” Jax complains.

Alex doesn’t need to be told twice when it comes to food and she can feel Quentin eagerly awaiting her reaction. She takes a bite of bacon and nearly makes an embarrassing sound. She takes a bite of the scrambled eggs and doesn’t care what she sounds like eating it as long as she’s eating it.

“Oh my God,” she says suddenly, stopping. “What have I been eating all these years?”

Sara wraps her fingers around her coffee mug almost possessively. “What do you mean?”

“The eggs and bacon!” Alex nearly shouts. “This is awesome! It’s better than Whole Foods!”

“We get everything local,” Quentin explains. “Meats and eggs straight from Diggle Farm just on the other side of the hill.”

“And the Queens own everything else.”

“All of National City would pay a fortune for this level of farm to table,” Alex says, moving her fork through the air as she talks. “Even Lena’s organic cafes can’t even compete.”

“Well, I’m glad you like it. You came all the way out here, least we could do is make sure you eat.” Quentin takes an indulgent sip of coffee, but doesn’t seem like the type who sits and has a quiet breakfast. He can’t seem to stop moving. “Well, enjoy. I’ve gotta get to the sheriff’s.”

“I thought you took the week off?” Jax asks with his mouth full.

“I did, but there was a string of break-ins during the parade last night.” Quentin’s face darkens and the age lines become so much more pronounced. “Can you believe that? We might actually have to start locking the front doors around here.”

Alex shoots Sara a look. “It is a good habit.”

“Anyways, I’ll see all of you at the resort tonight and everyone is going to be on time and dressed appropriately.” Quentin gives the table a sweeping warning, but Jax just continues to shovel food into his mouth as Sara practically inhales her coffee.

Alex takes it upon herself to respond. “We’ll be there, Mr. Lance.”

“Thank you, Alex. And call me Quentin.” He tips his mug to her. “At least someone around here listens to me.”

“Such a kiss ass,” Sara teases, kicking at Alex’s leg under the table. Quentin pats the top of his daughter’s blonde head the same way he does with Sin before heading out the door. “So what are you up to today, Jax?”

“I’m meeting Lily a little later.”

“Oooh. Lily.” Sara lights up at every opportunity to tease the shit out of someone she loves. “Back in high school, Jax was a star athlete and 4.0 student. Then suddenly, I get these panicked calls from my dad about Jax failing physics and his mom doesn’t know what to do and, ‘oh god, Sara, it’s you all over again!’ I did some expert investigative work—”

“Nagged me nonstop,” Jax interjects.

“Just to find out he was failing on purpose so Lily Stein would tutor him every day after school.”

“That’s sweet,” Alex says. “Irresponsible and unnecessary, but sweet.”

“My family would agree with about half of that, not that we’re a family that ever really did the health relationship thing.” Jax says it like it’s a fact and Sara doesn’t appear to disagree. “But that was high school. Now, Lily and I are just friends catching up since we’re both in town. You two know a thing or two about being just friends, right?”

“Shouldn’t you be preening before your date?” Sara asks.

“What about you?” Jax asks. “Or are you keeping Alex locked in your sex dungeon all day?”

“I wish,” Sara says. And yeah, Alex nearly spits up her coffee. “We’re heading into town and touring all the fine establishments I’m no longer welcomed in.”

“I saw something about a craft fair going on at the high school,” Alex says innocently.

“Yeah, Grey’s playing Santa like he does every year. Lily and I might stop by.” Jax places his plate in the sink and leaves the kitchen, humming a Christmas song to himself as he goes.

Alex waits until his voice and footsteps fade down the hallway before turning to Sara. “Your sex dungeon, huh?”

Sara hides her smile behind the rim of her coffee mug. “How’s Eliza? Did you tell her I miss her?”

Alex tries not to blush and takes a page out of Sara’s book, sipping her coffee in leu of an answer.

 

 

It’s hard to say when snow went from being magical to a nuisance.

Probably around the time Quentin Lance quit his job with the Star City Police Department to uproot his daughters and move them to his hometown of Starling. Probably around the time shoveling the driveway made its way onto Sara’s list of chores.

The awe doesn’t disappear from Alex’s eyes even in the daylight. She has a sort of waddle like someone who isn’t from around here, someone who isn’t used to walking through ankle-high snow, but is determined not to fall. Seeing Alex like this, stopping to peer into every store window to admire the festive displays, is a much better sight than anything Starling could ever offer.

“My first boyfriend broke up with me in the back booth of the diner over there, which is why I usually prefer Joe’s,” Sara says, pointing across Main Street that’s much less crowded than the night before. “Got into my first fight in the alley between Cecile’s Candy Counter and Waller Bakery. And I got my first job here.”

Sara stops in front of the one storefront that took a minimal approach to the Christmas decorations as in barely any at all. Knowing Rip, the town’s resident Grinch, he probably didn’t want any decorations. Gideon probably lined the shop window with a single string of red berry garland and called it fulfilling the town’s demand for over-the-top Christmas spirit.

“What is this place exactly?” Alex asks.

“It’s a photography studio,” Sara explains. “I started out sweeping the floors and answering phones, but Rip taught me to develop and print film and eventually let me move on to taking Passport photos, which rarely happened because people who live here their whole lives rarely leave the state.”

The door to the studio swings open and a woman shouts, “Sara!”

“Gideon! It’s been a while.”

“It certainly has! I’m so glad I’ve found you! Not just because I need a favor. Oh, look at you, all grown up!” The woman’s eyes start to well up with something like pride as she gazes down at Sara. Then turns to Alex. “Hi. I’m Gideon. Yes, it’s a strange name, I know. I’m the one who’d have to convince Rip not to fire Sara, oh, only every day.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Alex.”

“You mentioned a favor, Gideon?” Sara asks with her hands propped up on her hips.

“Yes! Rip is home, delirious with a fever. As you know, in the days leading up to Christmas we offer—”

“Photos with Santa at the craft fair,” Sara says knowingly. “And you need a photographer?”

Gideon smiles with just the hint of guilt. “I’ve been making calls all morning, trying to find anyone with a spare moment to help. I’m sorry. I know you’re probably on your vacation and here to relax. I won’t keep you long! Today is the last day. If you have a few hours to spare…”

“We’d love to,” Alex answers for her. “Sara would love to. I don’t know how I can help, but I’ll do what I can.”

“Excellent!” Gideon cheers, clasping her hands. “Sara?”

“Fine,” Sara gives in. “But I’m not wearing the costume.”

Of course, she ends up wearing the costume—red from head to toe with silver buttons and a big, clunky hat. At least she’s the hottest nutcracker this town has ever seen. It’s worth the trouble, especially getting to see Alex dressed as Santa’s helper—a green dress with furry white trim and cinched at the waist by a black leather belt. She’s even wearing candy can stripped tights, pointy elf shoes and a ridiculous red and green hat.

Alex in an elf costume is almost enough to distract from the fact that she’s back in a place she said she would never step foot in again—Starling High School.

It’s just the gym and jam packed with different booths selling festive craft items. “Small town Etsy” as Alex put it. The setup is the same as every year—Santa’s fire engine red throne sits on a stage in front of a nighttime snowy backdrop. Sara gets the light stands, soft lights boxes and umbrellas set up just where she needs them and positions the camera on the tripod. You bet she’s going to take every opportunity to take photos of Alex in her outfit.

“Hands down you are the hottest Elf on the Shelf I’ve ever seen, Danvers.”

“You know what, Sara—”

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Santa makes his grand appearance, shifting his fake belly as he takes his throne. Sara would know that man anywhere even with the fake white beard obscuring most of his face. Who else wears those square black glasses?

“Martin,” Sara greets him. “Or should I say Santa?”

“Miss Lance? How many times do I have to tell you—Well, I guess you aren’t one of my students anymore. I heard you were back in town, but I said, I’d believe it when I saw it and here you are!”

“Santa, this is my friend, Alex Danvers.” Sara’s sure to lower her voice though the excited children waiting in line are surely too preoccupied to overhear. “Martin was my physics teacher. He used to give extra points on the midterm to anyone who tried to work out the physics behind Santa and his reindeers.”

“I did and still do,” Stein says. “It’s just a festive little exercise that gets rousing results every year. If you consider the weight of the presents, Santa and the sleigh itself—roughly 350,000 tons—traveling at 650 miles per second, how many reindeer would be required to pull Santa’s sleigh? With a warning to consider payload, of course.”

“Well,” Alex says thoughtfully. “Even with their flying ability, you’d need more than…200,000 reindeer to pull that amount. Say, 250,000 reindeer pulling 350,000 tons at 650 miles per second would create enormous air resistance, which would heat up the reindeer like a spacecraft re-entering earth’s atmosphere. The reindeer would burst into flames instantaneously and the entire reindeer team would be essentially vaporized. And with Santa, subjected to that centrifugal force, well, he’d be dead.”

“Wow, science just got morbid.” Sara whistles. “So that’s what a Stanford education gets ya, huh? I just wrote ‘no reindeer—time travel’ then spent the rest of the period taking a nap.”

Stein fixes his square frames as if to get a better look at Alex, surprised. “Well, that’s very…impressive, Miss Danvers.”

“She’s a super nerd and a doctor,” Sara brags mostly because she knows Alex won’t even though she really should! “But today, she’s Santa’s helper and has kids to wrangle. Are we ready, Gideon?”

Gideon gives her a thumbs-up and Alex goes to escort the first child over.

 

 

Ever since she was a little girl, Alex knew she wanted to have a family and kids when she grew up. That has always been in her life plan and she’s stood by that even if it meant letting love slip through her fingers.

Even with all the runny noses and near tantrums—all of which Alex encounters as she ushers child after child up a red velvet carpet and introduces them to Santa—she still wants that future and will work toward it eventually. She softens her smile for the shier children and outright grins at the ones who march up to Santa and greet him like an old friend of the family. In her adult life, Christmas means family and alcohol. The closest she gets to childlike Christmas spirit is Kara. So this, spending time with kids and their untouched innocence and teeming excitement, gives her new perspective.

“Alex! What are you wearing?”

Alex spins around in her pointy elf shoes to find the world’s most perfect couple—Barry Allen and Iris West-Allen. Between them is six-year-old Nora West, hiding behind her dad’s leg and holding onto her mom’s hand.

“Hey, guys. Did you just get in from Central City today?” Alex walks up to hug the two who she met through Kara and waves at Nora who waves back shyly.

“We did,” Iris replies.

“Uncle Ollie sent a limo!” Nora declares.

“He did and it was very nice of him and totally unnecessary,” Iris says, letting her voice go quieter toward the last part. “Alex, I had no idea you were going to be in Starling. You’re here for Laurel’s wedding?”

“She’s my plus-one.” Sara draws Iris in for a hug and gives Barry a playful punch that makes him frown and rub his arm. Husband and wife trade looks that quickly turn into grins and a long “oooh.” Sara shakes her head at the pair of them. “Calm down. I still can’t even get her to fake date me.”

“Dating or not, you both look ridiculous.” Barry laughs and brings out his phone. “I need to get a photo for Kara.”

“Honey,” Iris says in a tone that has Barry falling in line in an instant. “We’re here so your daughter—remember her—can get her picture taken with Santa like we used to when we were growing up.”

“Oh! Right!” Barry shifts so he’s no longer blocking little Nora. “Ready to meet Santa whooo looks a lot like your mom and dad’s old physics teacher? Wow. St—Santa’s still doing this, huh?”

Nora’s bottom lip starts to wobble. “I don’t wanna sit on Santa’s lap.”

“That’s perfectly fine.” Alex squats down so she’s at Nora’s eye level. “You remember me, right? I’m Auntie Kara’s sister, Alex. We went to the arcade the last time you were in National City.” Nora nods. “I’m pretty good friends with Santa and I can vouch for him. He’s cool. But no one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to, okay? What if you just sit next to him or stand if you want and tell him your Christmas wish? Does that sound okay?”

Nora seems to consider her words then nods with more certainty. “Okay.”

Alex and Nora walk right up to Santa side by side. Martin does his jolly laugh and Nora seems to get more comfortable once she’s telling him her name and all the good deeds she’s done over the year. As Nora whispers her Christmas wish to Martin, Alex catches sight of Sara.

Sara Lance is a serious photojournalist and an artist. Here, all she really does is repeat “Say Christmas tree,” focus the camera and take the photo—far from stimulating work. No one would blame her for being annoyed or bored, but no. There’s a small smile on Sara’s face and a dreamy quality to her expression.

Once Barry, Iris and Nora bid them goodbye, promising to catch-up at dinner, a few more children get their photo with Santa before they close up for the day. Martin can’t wait to change out of the Santa suit that itches apparently. The second she can, Alex plops down onto Santa’s magnificent chair. She didn’t realize how much her feet hurt until sitting down for the first time in hours. Sara sinks down beside her and throws her legs across Alex’s lap.

“The irony is that I would have killed for Rip to let me do this job when I was seventeen.”

“I guess dreams do come true,” Alex says. “You made a lot of little kids happy today.”

“All I did was press a button. It was all you and Martin and Gideon. I’d say I didn’t know you were so good with kids, but Ruby worships you so I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Alex never really knows how to take a compliment like that so she deflects. “Like you said, it was a team effort.”

Sara doesn’t know the reason Alex and Maggie broke up. No one really knows other than Kara and Eliza and that’s exactly how Alex intends to keep it. It has less to do with the reason they broke up (the future, kids) and more to do with the fact that Alex still doesn’t deal well with failure and the embarrassment that comes as a result. She never has, not even as a child. Plus, Sara never asks.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Gideon rushes over to them. “And as your payment.”

The woman presents them with a blue and silver tin with flourish. Sara pops the lid off. Inside, pillowed on red and green tissue paper is a pile of gorgeously decorated sugar cookies. Sara goes for a beautiful star while Alex grabs a Christmas tree for herself. They’re still warm, soft and not too sweet. Perfect.

“These are amazing,” Sara says. “Who baked them?”

“Curtis Holt took over the old Waller Bakery. He likes to toy with all that new age cooking with science trend, which I’m totally fine with since he nails the classics,” Gideon explains. “I heard he’s doing your sister’s wedding cake.”

“Speaking of, we should probably get going. We have to get ready for dinner.” Sara swings her legs off of Alex’s lap and has to push herself up and out of the chair. “Gideon, can Alex keep the outfit?”

Alex pulls Sara’s silly hat down over her eyes and shoves her back down into Santa’s chair.

 

 

While most of Starling never changes in that it’s small, drab and left behind by the times, the Queen Ski Resort never changes in that it’s the pinnacle of elegance and almost bigger than the entire town of Starling.

The resort is about half an hour from Main Street and sits at the base of a mountain. It’s a huge part of the area’s economy and reputation, employing most of the townspeople. During ski season, thousands of people from all over flock to the slopes for skiing and snowboarding.

Sara wonders if Moira Queen knows how often Oliver would let a bunch of them in through the back and raid the resort’s wine cellar or how many times he would bring girls to one of the rooms in the middle of the night and act like they didn’t exist the next morning at school. Paused in front of the cobblestone path that leads to the front doors of the resort, staring up at the imposing, well-lit building, the unwanted memories comes flooding back.

“Hey.”

She feels a touch on her arm and meets Alex’s concerned eyes. “You okay?”

Though she tries, Sara can’t seem to catch her breath. “I will be once we find the bar.”

Alex slips her hand through the crook of Sara’s arm and holds on tight. “Then let’s find the bar.”

Apparently, Laurel’s rich fiancé bought out a whole wing of the resort for the entire holiday weekend and one of the restaurants for dinner tonight. It isn’t a small intimate gathering. Well-dressed people mingle and laugh together in every corner of the restaurant. A woman greets them at the door and asks to take their coats. Sara goes through the motions and lets her even if she feels ice cold.

Alex is her only saving grace right now, keeping her afloat and guiding her through the room of beautiful strangers.

“Sara!”

Fuck.

“Hey, mom.”

She hates the tremble in her voice, glad it came out lower than a whisper. Alex is the only one that could have heard and Sara realizes she doesn’t mind much. Dinah has a pleasant smile plastered on her face and her hair is in wild curls. The deep purple dress she’s wearing has beautiful movement almost like she’s floating. All of these details are lost on Sara who doesn’t know if she’ll be able to talk, her throat bone dry. Where the fuck is the bar?

“Oh, there’s my girl.” Dinah draws Sara into a warm hug that isn’t returned. “How are you?”

And Sara feels the fire ignite in her veins. She should already know. Mothers should know that about their kids.

“Fine,” she grits out.

“And you must be Alex.” Dinah turns her attention away from Sara, but that polite smile still remains. “I hear you’re a doctor. That’s incredible, especially for someone so young.”

“Well, doctor-in-training,” Alex says. “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you…”

“Please call me Dinah. Sara, have you seen your sister yet?”

“No,” Sara replies flatly. “So, did you bring the new husband? Do I get to meet him?”

Dinah’s smile dims at the question. “Oh, Kurt’s around here somewhere…”

“We’re going to go find Laurel and congratulate her.” Sara touches the small of Alex’s back that’s bare thanks to the dress she’s wearing. “We’ll talk later, mom.”

Dinah doesn’t say anything or chase after them, not that Sara expected her to. She stopped expecting her to a long time ago.

“You’ve never met the man your mom is married to?” Alex asks in a hushed voice.

“I’m in National City or traveling, she’s in Central City, sometimes Greece and we don’t visit each other ever,” Sara explains, trying to keep all emotion out of it. “And I was off on assignment the weekend she got married.” Sara suddenly feels so exposed in her dress, wishing she had the foresight to pack something with sleeves or kept her coat. “Can we find the bar now?”

“Let’s make nice with your sister and then we’ll drink anything you want.”

“Anything?” Sara arches an eyebrow. “Tequila?”

Alex scrunches her nose. “Don’t you remember what happened last time?”

“Barely. Why do you think I suggested it?”

“Alex Danvers!”

Once Alex’s eyes are no longer on Sara, the room suddenly feels even colder.

It isn’t one bit surprising that Laurel looks perfect with her champagne-colored dress and her dark blonde hair in neat spirals. It isn’t one bit surprising when Laurel goes to greet Alex before even acknowledging Sara. Even though they only met once before. It’s a lot easier when there isn’t a lifetime of petty fighting between you.

“I’m sorry we don’t have a room for you here at the resort,” Laurel tells Alex. “If someone told me she’d be bringing a plus-one back when we first made all the travel and lodging arrangements, we could’ve worked something out.”

Sara can feel Laurel’s cold eyes on her, but only briefly.

“It’s fine,” Alex assures her with the wave of her hand. “I don’t mind staying at the house. Congratulations, by the way. Where’s the lucky guy?”

Laurel glances over her shoulder and calls out, “Ricardo! I want you to meet my sister and her friend.”

So this is Ricardo Diaz. He’s thickset and moves through the room like he owns it. Dressed from head to toe in black with ink peeking out from under his collar, the guy screams bad news. The smile that stretches across his naturally stern face comes off as unnatural and forced. He couldn’t even pretend to be genuine even if he tried.

Laurel wraps her arms around his waist as she introduces them and pleasantries are traded. Well, Alex trades pleasantries with the happy couple. Sara can’t fight the weird vibe she gets from the guy. As someone who spent most of her young life running with a bad crowd before finding a few good ones she’s proud to call her family, Sara likes to think she’s a fantastic judge of character.

“Well,” Diaz says in a naturally husky voice, “I hate to steal her away from you, but my bride and I have other guests to greet.”

“We’ll catch up later,” Laurel says. “Enjoy the party.”

Sara nearly throws up in her mouth when the guy squeezes her sister’s ass as they retreat.

“So that’s the guy, huh?” Alex crosses her arms. “I wasn’t expecting the neck tattoo.”

Sara chuckles, happy to give Alex her undivided attention. “Was their meet-cute like her defending him in court?”

A smile lights up Alex’s pretty face as she puts both of her hands on Sara’s shoulders, pushing her in the direction of the bar. Fucking finally!

 

 

Ricardo Diaz might look like the guy who sold her pot once in a Big Belly Burger parking lot, but he’s also obviously paying for the open bar so he has that going for him. Sara and Alex frequent the bar before dinner and spend majority of their time there after. Jax always seems to magically pop up when the bartender starts pouring tequila shots. Alex handed Sara’s keys to Sin, their designated driver, a lot earlier in the night.

“So!” Jax has already loosened his tie and undone the top buttons of his dress shirt, claiming he feels like he’s burning up from the central heating (and the alcohol). “See any cute bridesmaids?”

“They’re all sorority sisters and paralegals,” Sara points out.

“You’d be upstairs with at least one of ‘em if Alex wasn’t here right now,” Jax points out. There’s no arguing with that so Sara just bobs her head and clinks her glass against his. “Man, you’re whipped. You should just like catch her under some mistletoe and pray she catches feels.”

“And that, little brother, is why you’ve got no game.”

“Where’d Alex disappear to anyway? Unless she found her own sorority sister to pass the time with.”

Alex isn’t exactly the one night stand type, but tequila can be a convincing enabler.

Sara shoves Jax away by his red face for putting that thought in her head. “I’ll be back. Watch my drink.”

“It’s empty! You already drank it!”

Sara moves from room to room of the restaurant, weaving through wedding guests, feeling a lot lighter than she did when she arrived. She still gets some sideward glances, but she feels too good to care. She has a nice buzz going, but that doesn’t mean the details don’t escape her—Quentin laughing on the other end of the bar with a few of his buddies from the department, how her mom’s eyes shine when she looks at Laurel, the possessive way Diaz paws at his future bride. It’s all trying to kill her buzz.

When she finally finds Alex, Sara has to lean in the doorframe and just admire her. Her hair, longer on one side, glows red violet under the twinkling Christmas lights. How many times has Sara come home from a long work trip to find Alex trying to process emotional distress and changing her hairstyle in the process? The dress she’s wearing is a midnight blue, fits her like a glove and dips low in the front. How many times has Sara tried not to pay attention to Alex getting ready for a date and failed to keep her eyes from dropping to the sweet curve of her collarbone?

(Too many.)

“Hey!” Alex calls out when she notices Sara creeping on her. “Look who I ran into!”

The party room at the back of the restaurant is filled with children that are just as well-dressed as the adults and sugar-high judging by the absolutely destroyed gingerbread house at the center of the large table. An elderly woman (nanny? Raisa?) sits in the corner though she’s more focused on what she’s knitting than any of the kids that are practically bouncing off the walls. Nora West-Allen stands in front of Alex in a red velvet dress, much less shy and more animated than she’d been earlier in the day.

“Hey.” Sara steps forward until her shoulder brushes Alex’s. “Nora West-Allen.”

“Hi, Auntie Sara,” the girl says sweetly. “You’re friends with Santa, right?”

“That’s right,” Alex says.

“Santa isn’t real.” A boy who’s old enough to be annoyed to be stuck in the kid’s room eyes Sara suspiciously. “It’s impossible.”

“He only says that because Santa never brings him anything,” another child says.

“I don’t need a fat guy in a red suit to bring me anything,” the first boy replies heatedly. “My dad told me all my presents come from him and Felicity and they work hard to be able to give me nice stuff.”

Honestly, Sara’s head isn’t even remotely clear enough to deal with a nonbeliever especially one so young. Who raised this kid? Once she processes what he said and takes a closer look at those blue eyes and that expression that’s much too serious for such a young face, she realizes the answer.

“Does your dad happen to be Oliver Queen?”

William Queen. He carries himself with an arrogance that can only belong to a Queen.

“Okay, children,” the old woman says. “It’s time for cake.”

The crowd of children cry out all at once and follow her across the room to a two tier cake carved to look exactly like the resort. Even Nora West-Allen skips over after a wave goodbye to Alex and Sara. Only William remains and he doesn’t seem as easily excited by the prospects of more sugar.

“Okay, kid, you’re right.” Sara sighs. “There isn’t some guy in a red suit with an army of elves and twenty-four/seven surveillance on all the kids of the world, but what Santa stands for is real.”

“What do you mean?”

“Santa is the symbol of giving and goodness,” Sara says. “When you give someone a gift, it makes them feel good, right?” William nods reluctantly. “And we just…want to make people we care about feel good. Christmas and Santa are just…a way to do that.”

Just when William’s face appears to soften, he steels himself again and asks, “Are you drunk?”

Alex tries to hide a laugh behind her hand and fails miserably.

“Hey,” Sara says in that sharp voice she uses on Nate and Mick all the time. “If you quit trying to ruin Christmas for the other kids, I won’t tell Felicity.”

Sara watches him, the way he toys with her words in his mind, and when he gives her that look right before running off, the one Oliver always got on his long walk to detention, Sara knows she called it right. Felicity totally wears the pants in that family.

“So that’s the mayor’s son?” Alex asks. “And Felicity…”

“Is Oliver’s wife, but not William’s biological mom. That would be Samantha Clayton. Ollie got her knocked up his senior year of high school and his mom tried to write her a check to leave Starling. It was like, this big town-wide scandal. Do you see why I hate this place now?”

Alex folds her hands behind her back as they start back to the bar, their safe haven for the evening. “I see that you have a unique way with kids.”

She’s teasing, Sara knows, and tries not to read too much into the way Alex’s eyes glimmer.

“Have you met any of my friends? It’s more babysitting than hanging out. Why? Is that a turn-on for you, Danvers?”

“Shut up.” Alex shoulders into her. “You know, Kara didn’t accept the truth about Santa until she was like, twelve. Growing up, I was such a little William, always giving her a hard time about it. I swear, my mom gave me literal coal one year.”

“And you deserved it,” Sara teases. “We pretty much stopped celebrating Christmas after my parents got divorced. My mom tried really hard for the first few years after, but my dad just stopped. It was whatever. I didn’t get back into celebrating Christmas until college.”

“And now,” Alex adds.

“Yeah. And now.”

 

 

“But why do we have to go?”

“Um, because your sister invited me and she was nice enough to say I could bring you along.”

Alex watches Sara wriggle in bed beside her and press her face into the pillow under her head. She can be so dramatic—another signature of the Legends. Alex slides her hand beneath the pillow under her head and turns to face Sara. She forgot how nice it is to wake up to someone, having someone to enjoy the stillness of early morning with before the chaos of the day arrives.

“Where did things go so wrong with you and Laurel?” Alex asks.

Sara surfaces, but her eyes stay low. “Besides the Oliver thing? We don’t talk unless we have to.”

“You kept in touch with your dad, though.”

“Yeah, because leaving Starling meant him and Sin would be alone,” Sara says. “And he always did the best he could even when I put him through hell. My mom and Laurel left and moved on with their careers and the questionable men in their lives. They didn’t care about us once they left so why should I bother with them?”

“Because that’s what family is?”

Sara shakes her head. “Jax and Sin are my family. Zari, Nate, Ray, Amaya. Hell, even Snart and Mick. You.” Sara shifts so their eyes lock and the intensity of it makes Alex’s heart stutter. “I felt alone for so much of my life, then I found a new family, one I chose. We should be home right now.”

“Well, we’ve made the best of it so far. What’s another day?”

“But wouldn’t you rather cuddle in my sex dungeon than hang out with my sister and her uppity friends? A little birdie told me there is a log chopping competition in the square today. I know how much you like competition and chopping wood is a useful skill.”

Alex hums, but doesn’t let her mind dwell on things that won’t happen.

“Yo, Sara, Alex! Breakfast!”

Alex knows the most ridiculous smile lights up her face as she scrambles to get out of bed and grab her hoodie. She hears Sara’s laughter, definitely at her, but Alex doesn’t care. Quentin said something about fresh sausage and potato bacon hash the night before and all the food out here is amazing! Kara would be so jealous. Alex fights her way into her hoodie, only a little tripped up by the surprise that it smells like Sara.

Once Alex gets her head through, she pushes her hair out of the way and finds Sara hasn’t even moved an inch, still slumped in bed, staring at her in this soft, pleased sort of way. Alex props a hand up on her hip and asks, “What are you staring at?”

“You,” Sara replies. “I’ve never seen you so excited about sausage.”

Alex hurls a pillow right at Sara’s head and doesn’t stay to see her laugh, but the sound definitely plays on repeat in her head as she makes her way to the kitchen.

 

 

Laurel Lance’s bachelorette party is a whole day affair.

By the time Sara and Alex show up, the girls have just moved from getting massages and manicures to the cooking and baking class. Sara almost walks right back out when she sees Moira Queen lingering at the doorway of the ballroom the concierge directed them to. Sara actually does turn right around, but Alex catches her arm and practically drags her the rest of the way.

“It’s about time you showed up.” Moira doesn’t even look at Sara as she says this.

“Moira,” Sara says curly.

“Get in there and don’t ruin this for your sister.”

Sara can feel Alex tense beside her, anger building, ready to say something. It’s not worth it. It’s her turn to drag Alex into the ballroom that’s filled with different cooking stations that mirror the inside of the Great British Bake-Off tent like it’s a freakish replica. There are women everywhere in cute aprons with their names stitched on along with Laurel and Ricardo forever.

Yuck.

Alex is too busy glaring over her shoulder to make fun of the absolute scene in front of them. “Who is that bitch?”

“Oliver’s mom.” Sara spies Laurel laughing with a group of friends, but makes no move to approach her. “She never liked me even before I ruined Oliver and Laurel’s relationship.”

“And I’m betting she doesn’t hold her son accountable at all. Ugh, the patriarchy.”

A smile tugs at her lips even though this is the last place she’d expect to feel any shred of happiness. When she told herself to invite Alex along so Alex wouldn’t spend Christmas alone, it was a complete lie. If having Alex here, by her side, was a completely selfish move then Sara doesn’t mind being selfish.

“Hey, guys!” Iris waves them over to their cooking station. “Nice of you to finally show up.”

“Just in time to decorate the cookies we put our sweat, blood and tears into.” Caitlin Snow looks up from the intricate snowflake cookie she’s decorating to send them a smile. “Sara, it’s always nice to see you. And Alex, right? We met at Iris and Barry’s wedding. Caitlin.”

“You’re the bio-engineer, right?” Alex asks. “Are you from Starling too?”

“Oh, I’m not,” Caitlin says. “Central City, born and raised. I’m just here for the wedding.”

“And the limoncello Prosecco coolers!” A blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and square glasses walks up behind them with a tray of drinks. “I had to practically wrestle an intern at Laurel’s firm to get these so drink up!”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Sara takes a glass and hands it to Alex. “Felicity, what were you thinking when you agreed to be Laurel’s maid of honor?”

“I was thinking a simple night of pizza and beer and maybe I could dig up some blackmail on Roy so he’d take his shirt off for a room of drunk sorority sisters and I’d definitely let him keep the tips. I don’t know, Sara. Laurel just seemed so desperate and why can’t I ever say no?”

“Felicity, breathe,” Iris says gently. Caitlin pulls a stool over and Felicity practically collapses onto it.

Felicity breathes. “Okay, let’s try this again. Hey, Sara. And you must be Alex, right? Kara’s sister?”

“That’s me,” Alex says. “What else is on the itinerary?”

“Too much,” Felicity replies. “Hitting the bunny slopes until dinner and then to Verdant.”

“Way, way too much.” Sara snags a gingerbread man from off a cooling rack and bites off the head. “Good cookies, though.”

“If you’re going to eat them, at least help decorate,” Iris says. “Pull up a piping bag.”

Caitlin pushes a tray of cooled sugar and gingerbread cookies toward them. Alex slips out of her favorite worn leather jacket and pushes the sleeves of her soft burgundy sweater up to her elbows. Oh, she means business. Alex washes her hands at their station’s sink and goes straight for the bag full of yellow frosting. Sara follows and goes straight for the Santa-shaped cookie.

It’s nice for a while, away from the center of attention in their calm little corner. Alex listens to Caitlin talk about gene therapy with rapt attention while Iris and Felicity trade stories about their kids. Sara is happy to fade into the background, concentrating on decorating her cookie and giving Santa a rainbow beard.

Sara glances over at Alex’s gingerbread cookie and chortles. “Is that supposed to be me?”

Alex respond with a blindingly bright smile. “In your nutcracker outfit.”

“Okay, but what’s with the expression?”

Raised brows, comma-shaped side-eyes and a half-smile cocked up to one side.

“That’s the smirking face emoji,” Sara points out. “Like this cookie is planning to get with all the other cookies on the cooling rack.”

“I mean, have you met yourself?” Felicity chuckles.

Sara narrows her eyes at the blonde across the table and seeks out that tickle spot on Alex’s hip that she denies exists. Alex jumps at her touch and holds out the piping back in her hand like it’s a weapon and this is nice. It might be more than nice.

Then comes a sultry voice that makes her feel sixteen and stupid horny.

“Sara.”

“Nyssa,” Sara says. “What are you doing here?”

“I was invited, of course. My days of crashing extravagant parties are long gone.” Nyssa motions to the personalized apron she’s wearing and it indeed has her name stitched onto it. Her picture perfect smile shifts to Alex even when she’s still talking to Sara. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Nyssa, Alex. Alex, Nyssa.”

There. Done. Short, simple and straight to the point.

Alex smiles like she doesn’t feel the tension in the air. “Hi.”

“How long are you in town?” Nyssa asks. “We should catch up while you’re here.”

“We’re leaving right after Christmas, actually,” Alex answers when it’s clear Sara has lost all ability to. “I have to get back to the hospital and we throw this New Year’s Eve party at our apartment every year. It’s a tradition.”

“You live together?” Nyssa asks.

“Yup,” Alex says. “We’re roommates.”

“I knew it!” Caitlin holds her hand out to Iris. “Pay up.”

“You know, I should be the one getting kickbacks,” Iris grumbles, opening her purse and slapping a twenty dollar bill into Caitlin’s awaiting palm. “You two met at my wedding after all. Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“It’s Laurel’s week,” Sara says with a shrug. “God forbid I steal her spotlight.”

“Indeed,” Nyssa agrees. “Well, if you ever get a moment…” The dark-haired beauty gives Alex another forced smile. “Both of you. Coffee is on me.”

Nyssa returns to wherever she came from, striding across the room with a confidence she had even when they were younger. There was a time where Nyssa was the only one Sara felt like she could talk to, the only one she could count on. There was a time where Sara would do anything for Nyssa, even taking the blame for something she didn’t do in order to save Nyssa from her father’s wrath. Now, she feels like a stranger.

“Sara!”

“What now?” Sara groans, turning in her seat to see Laurel staring back expectantly. She reluctantly stands and drags herself over to where Laurel is surrounded by the family she chose—grown women giggling over gingerbread cookies that are definitely penis-shaped. “Hey, Laurel.”

“Aprons for you and Alex.” Laurel tosses her two rolls of thick red fabric.

“Thanks.” Sara knows she should just walk away and leave the conversation at that, but she just has to ask. “So, what is Nyssa doing here?”

“I invited her.”

“Yeah, I get that. Why?”

“Because she’s my friend,” Laurel says. As simple as that. “Look, if you think I invited her to torture you, I didn’t. I took self-defense classes a few years ago, she was the instructor and we’ve been friends ever since. I don’t hold people associating themselves with you against them.”

“Thanks.”

“Look, I know you don’t want to be here.”

“Clever deduction, counselor,” Sara says sarcastically.

Laurel’s eyes harden and, man, it brings back memories. When they were kids, whenever Sara saw that look, she knew all she had to do was push just that much more to get Laurel to explode and then it was all out war.

“Leave if you want, Sara,” Laurel says coldly. “Just promise me you won’t make things more difficult than they have to be. Please. I’m stressed out as is. I just want this week to go by as smoothly as possible.”

Because she isn’t that kid anymore, Sara nods and steps back. “Sure.”

 

 

It isn’t a surprise that Sara’s ex, her first love, is drop-dead insanely gorgeous. She should be a model gorgeous! Nyssa has this air of mystery and danger about her and the kind of energy that demands attention. They must have been a force of nature together.

Alex doesn’t know what came over her—implying that they were dating in front of Nyssa. She just saw that glazed-over lost expression on Sara’s face and the need to shield her and protect her took over. Alex likes to think ahead and make calculated decisions, but other times, when it comes to the people she cares about, instinct and impulses win out.

“Get it together, Danvers,” Alex says to her reflection in the bathroom mirror.

She ducks into one of the stalls just as a group of giggly women burst into the bathroom.

“The cell reception up here is awful.”

“Yeah, but the bellboys are cute.”

“Lauren, you’re such a slut.”

“And you need to get laid, bitch. Ho, ho, ho.”

More giggling. Alex rolls her eyes, ready to stop listening.

“So that was Laurel’s infamous sister, huh? Why would someone as hot as Oliver cheat on someone as hot as Laurel with that?”

“Because he can. Just like a man.”

“Heather told me Laurel’s sister came to visit on a college tour once and she walked in on her making out with Anal Ava in the pantry at the Kappa house.”

“Ew. Big dyke-y loser is right.”

Alex shoves the stall door so hard that it swings open with a bang. The three dark-haired woman in red aprons literally jump in their Ugg boots. They all turn to face her and Alex takes the time to scan their aprons embroidered with their names—Melissa, Dana, Lauren. Alex doesn’t say anything at first, just goes to wash her hands and lets the tension draw out.

“Her name is Sara,” Alex says calmly. “Let’s get something straight. You don’t know her, you don’t deserve to know her and if I hear any of you talking about her again…”

She spares them a single scathing look before she leaves, one reserved for the jerks who would dare to pick on Kara back in high school. If they didn’t heed Alex’s warning, she’d make them see the error of their ways. Same thing applies here.

When she walks back into the ballroom, Sara is back with Felicity and Caitlin, listening to Iris tell the story about Nora’s first words—“run, da, run!” Sara points out how ironic this is because running the mile in high school gym class nearly killed Barry. Alex listens politely then leans into Sara and whispers, “Hey, you want to get out of here?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.” Sara starts to stand, ready to slip back into her coat, but then she reads Alex like an open book and pauses. In a startlingly serious voice, Sara asks, “What happened?”

“What?”

Sara’s eyes scan the room. Nyssa and Laurel share a laugh along with Deputy Drake sans the deputy uniform. Felicity has her phone out, texting away. Iris shows Caitlin something on her phone, probably a photo or video of her daughter and/or goofy husband. There are three sets of eyes on them, three brunettes who quickly look away—a few of the sorority sisters. Bingo.

“What did they say to you?” Sara asks, voice low and almost threatening.

When Alex doesn’t reply, just bites her lips, Sara’s hands curl into fists. That’s another thing they have in common. They’re both ready to answer the call to action when it comes to someone they care about. Sara gets two steps in their direction when Alex latches onto her wrist. She has a sure, firm hand. She has to. They’re life saving hands and not just on an operating table.

“Sara, let’s just go,” Alex says. “Trust me, they aren’t worth it.”

For a moment, Alex isn’t sure Sara even heard her, but then her fist loosens and when it does, Alex slips her fingers between Sara’s and holds on tight.

“So, we’re going to go,” Alex tells their friends who awww in disappointment. “But you guys have fun.”

“Wait!” Felicity calls out after them. “Don’t forget your cookies!”

Alex takes the cute cellophane bag pinched at the top with a red velvet ribbon and waves goodbye before guiding Sara to the door. She doesn’t let go of Sara’s hand, not even when they’re free from the suffocatingly warm resort and out in the fresh, cold air.

 

 

“Is what I said okay?”

Sara blinks away the memory of throwing up nothing, but liquid (vodka) right outside of STAR Rink, the best indoor place to skate in town. She tilts her head, dragged straight to the present by the way Alex sits on the edge of the passenger seat in the Jeep and gnaws on her bottom lip. Sara reaches out and brushes her thumb over Alex’s lip, freeing it from between her teeth.

“I knew I’d get you to fake date me sooner or later.”

Sara.”

“Yes, it’s okay. It’s probably a good thing. You see what I mean about Nyssa, right?”

“Uh, I saw that she’s a goddess. How’d you screw that up?”

She knows Alex is just trying to lighten the mood and tries to smile, but all she feels is a strange mix of nostalgia and sadness. “I wanted out of Starling. She couldn’t leave her family…business. We fought about it a lot. Then I left without saying anything.”

“Sara, you didn’t…”

“Not my proudest moment. The next summer, the last time I was here, I felt like crap about everything so I tried to talk to her for closure purposes, but it was less talking and more…We hooked up. And at the end of the summer, I left again and we haven’t talked since. So you see why I don’t trust myself around her.”

“Are you sure you don’t still have feelings for her?”

Sara leans back until her head thumps against the headrest. “I’m sure a part of me will always care about Nyssa, but I’m not that person I was when I was with her. I don’t think I want to be.”

“Okay,” Alex says with more certainty. “Human shield activated.”

“Operation Fake Girlfriend is a go.”

Alex rolls her eyes, but gives Sara’s arm a warm squeeze. “C’mon. Let’s get in there before we miss all of Sin’s game.”

“Right behind you, babe.”

 

 

Sin is easily the smallest player on the team, but she is fearless. She isn’t afraid to body check a boy twice her size into the boards in an attempt to stifle the opposing team’s offense. Not to mention, she’s fast. Once she has the puck, she’s gone.

Jax is already in the stands when Sara and Alex arrive at STAR Rink. He’s huddled close to a mousy girl as they share one of Cecile’s famous caramel apples rolled in red and green sprinkles. Adorable. So adorable Sara has to take a photo so she does and can’t wait to tease him about it, but maybe not in front of Lily. She isn’t completely evil after all.

“What are you doing here?” Jax asks. “I thought you were getting mani pedis or whatever.”

“Laurel sucks, but her friends suck more.” Sara surveys the ice she once competed on herself. “Either I’m getting old or high school kids are getting smaller ever year. Holy shit, that is Mad Dog coaching the team. Who would’ve thought he’d be the mentor type? Coach only ever sent him on the ice to take out the other team’s best player.”

Jax smile. “Those were the days.”

Sin has to fight twice as hard as everyone else, but she does get significant play time. And she has a pretty dedicated cheering section. Sin must realize who’s in the audience because she seems even more determined in the last period of the game. The Starling Blackbirds win by three goals to none.

“Sin demands a hot pizza be waiting for her by the time she gets outta the locker room.” Jax holds a hand out to Lily, helping her down the bleachers. “You two coming with?”

Alex defers to Sara who can’t take her eyes off the ice where Cisco drives the Zamboni while shouting, “I’m king of the world!” Harry Wells has to be up in his office, cursing himself for trusting Cisco with the task. Sara can’t count how many times she’d just sit and watch the Zamboni leave smooth, beautiful ice in its wake as if by magic or some kind of sorcery.

“Save us some pizza,” Sara says. “We’re renting skates.”

“Now?” Alex asks.

“Why not? You can show me your Ice Princess moves,” Sara teases.

“Fork over the camera,” Jax says. “If Old Man Wells sees you out there with it, he’ll probably go out there and try to chase you down himself.”

“That’s always the best part.” Sara tugs the camera strap off over her head and hands it to Jax for safe keeping.

Jessie Quick, a speed skater in her own right, is home for winter break and working the rental counter. She can’t just rent them skates. She has to bring up the exploits of Captain Canary and point out the picture of Sara (yes, with bangs) pinned at the very top of the “Wall of Shame.” Captain Canary is a legend around here. So much so Jessie doesn’t even charge them for the skates.

“What did you do to make the wall of shame exactly?” Alex steps out onto the ice and takes a moment to find her balance and get her bearings. Once she pushes off the ice into a smooth glide, it’s all muscle memory from there.

“More like, what didn’t I do?” Sara skates backwards alongside Alex just because can. “I might have gotten into a few fights. There was a high-speed chase incident on the ice once. I was being chased. Dated the guy working the door for a while so I always got in for free. Tried to steal the Zamboni for a joy ride multiple times. Never succeeded though.”

“Rebellion or boredom?”

“Both?”

Much more comfortable on the ice, Alex starts to do forward swizzles, pushing her skates out then together over and over.

“Show me something, Danvers.”

“Okay, but you can’t laugh.”

“I’d never,” Sara insists.

The gears in Alex’s head start to turn as she shifts her weight from the inside to the outside of her skates. She plants her toe pick in the ice and starts with pumps of half circles, arms out, trying to get reacquainted with the circular motion. Her brow furrows in concentration as she circles her arms, gaining more and more speed and momentum. Then she squeezes her arms and feet into the center of her body, rapidly spinning on two skates before coming to a natural stop.

“Impressive,” Sara says, clapping her hands. “Now let’s see a triple axel.”

“Yeah, I think not.” Alex pushes forward, joining the other skaters moving in a circle along the outer edge of the rink.

Sara skates up beside Alex and matches her pace stride for stride. “So are you really not going to tell me what those bitches said to you?”

“You aren’t going to let it go, are you?” Alex sighs. “I overheard those Delta Alpha Assholes talking about you and I didn’t like it so I said something. Lucky for them that’s all I did. Where do they get off? They don’t even know you!”

Sara smirks. It just comes naturally in this situation. “Alexandra Danvers, were you defending my honor?”

“Well, yeah,” Alex says it like that’s a stupid question. “I wasn’t just going to walk away. Do you know me at all?”

“Yup.” Sara skates up behind Alex and gives her a hug that almost has them both losing their balance. Sara rests her forehead between Alex’s shoulder blades and whispers, “Thank you.”

 

 

Once Jax, Sin and even Lily join them on the ice, they start up a game of tag that gets out of control quick. An unamused, nasally voice comes on over the loud speaker to yell at them to knock it off or risk getting kicked out. So they settle on seeing who can glide the furthest on one skate.

(Alex wins, but doesn’t gloat too much.)

Later, Jax gets a text from Quentin saying he picked up some beautiful steaks and he’s firing up the charcoal grill. So they do the only sensible thing—go to the market and buy a box-worth of booze. They literally put all the liquor they bought into a random cardboard box that was in the trunk of Sara’s Jeep. Sin judges them hard for all of the above.

“Did you see the second goal I scored?” Sin asks excitedly from the backseat of the Jeep, sticking her face between the two seats upfront.

“Where you moved the puck between the defender’s legs and faked out the goalie to score?” The pride in Sara’s voice only fuels Sin’s excitement. “Honestly, you’re a lot better than I was at your age.”

“Jeez, Sara, you really are a cheeseball,” Sin says.

The kid obviously adores Sara and her praise means the world.

Alex reaches out to change the station just as “Last Christmas” starts to play on the radio, but Sara’s hand darts out to stop her.

Sara,” Alex hisses.

“Alex, you’re going to hear it at least once a year for the rest of your life. It’s time to face the music.” Sara wiggles her eyebrows. “Nothing to be scared of.”

“I’m not scared,” Alex argues. “Maybe I just don’t like the memory of my supposed friends letting me get on stage to sing this particular Christmas song, totally wasted. Who let me do that again? Oh, you.”

“It was cathartic!” Sara couldn’t even hide her delight even if she tried. “At least I didn’t take any embarrassing photos of you that time and I held your hair back when you threw up later that night.”

“Stupid tequila,” Alex mumbles.

“Wow, true love,” Sin says sarcastically.

Sara turns up the volume of the radio and starts to sing along. She’s been told she has a decent smoky singing voice (most notably by Alex while, yup, you guessed it, wasted) and doesn’t let Alex’s pout deter her. It is a good song after all. A fucking classic! The original. Obviously.

Her jovial mood dies completely when they pull up to the Lance house that’s lit with classic multi-colored Christmas lights and there are more cars parked in the driveway than expected.

“Who’s car is that?” Sara asks. “Donna Smoak?”

“Nope,” Sin answers. “I’ve never seen it before.”

They walk right into the Lance house through the front door they still don’t bother to lock. All of the lights are on inside. Laughter comes from the kitchen along with Christmas music from the radio sitting on the windowsill above the sink. Sara bristles at the sound of one female voice she’d know anywhere.

“That’s great for you, Jax,” Dinah says kindly. “It’s too bad your mother couldn’t make it here for Christmas. It’s been ages since I’ve seen her.”

“Yeah, she sends her love, though.”

Both Sin and Sara try to leave the kitchen just as they enter, but Alex catches them both by the shoulder and pushes both towards the unexpected arrivals.

“Hey!” Jax deliberately draws attention to them because that means it’s off him. “How did I drop off Lily and beat you guys home?”

“I’m a safer driver than you.” Sara tries to joke, but her voice comes out flat.

Dinah smiles at her from her seat at the dinner table. Her hand with the diamond ring lies atop that of a man’s. His hair has gone gray and his face aged, but kind. He looks like an academic Dinah would fall in love with in the faculty break room. Sara recognizes him as one of the men who were talking to and laughing with Quentin at the bar the other night. Is that right?

“We drove by the lights and stopped to take some pictures,” Alex explains. “Some people really go all out.”

Sara feels a tug on her coat and lets Alex slip the thick wool material from her shoulders and down her arms.

“That sounds nice,” Dinah says. “Sin, well, you’ve met before.” Sin gives her husband a lazy salute. “Ladies, I’d like you to meet my husband, Kurt. Honey, this is my beautiful daughter, Sara, and her friend, Alex.”

Kurt stands out of his seat to extend a wrinkly hand to shake. Sara doesn’t shake it so Alex steps in to, trying to minimize the awkward tension that’s at an all time high.

“Girlfriend,” Sara corrects just to see the way Kurt stiffens a moment before forcing an even wider smile just as she expected. “She’s my girlfriend. Where’s dad?”

Dinah returns to her glass of wine. “Your father insisted on going out into the cold to cook his steaks on the grill when I told him an iron skillet on the stove would do just fine.” Jax takes the opportunity to go “check on” Quentin (escape the awkward) and Sin quickly follows him out the back door and into the yard. “Kurt, Alex is a doctor.”

“Surgeon,” Sara corrects her again. “Brain surgeon.”

“Resident.” Alex gives Sara’s arm a squeeze as if a simple touch could get her to relax. It almost does.

“Fascinating.” Kurt smiles in a way that shows off every one of his teeth. “Would you like some wine? It’s one of our favorites. We bring back a crate every time we return from Greece.”

“I’d love some,” Alex says.

Before Sara can steal the wine bottle away to pour a glass for Alex and drink straight from the bottle herself, Dinah’s touch stops her in her tracks.

“I was hoping we could talk before dinner,” Dinah says. “Kurt will keep Alex company, won’t you, sweetheart?”

“Absolutely,” Kurt agrees. “Now, what’s the most confounding case you’ve ever encountered?”

Sara feels her feet take her into the HGTV Christmas special that’s possessed their living room, back tense, arms stiff at her sides. She doesn’t sit and neither does Dinah. Years have passed since the last time they really spoke in person. Dinah floats through the room, stopping in front of each family photo on the wall. They’re mostly of the girls growing up—Laurel’s debate team, Sara’s hockey team, high school and college graduations. Dinah is only in one of them and it’s from when they were much younger.

“Shouldn’t you be out with your sister right now?” Dinah asks. “Enjoying her last days of singlehood?”

“You get me alone for the first time in years and that’s what you want to open with?”

“Sara…” Dinah sighs her name and it tugs at her heart no matter how cold and dismissive she tries to be. “I don’t want to fight.”

“What do you want, mom?”

“What do I want? I want a relationship with my daughters. Both of them. You, Sara.”

Sara keeps her eyes on her scuffed boots. “What if it’s too late?”

“Is it?” Dinah sounds out of breath.

That’s a loaded question if there ever was one. She needs to think, but what she says—

“I need a drink.”

“Sara!” Dinah shouts and suddenly, there’s the woman who once grounded her for bringing a priceless handmade European nude statue to grade school show and tell. “Don’t walk away from me!”

“You showed me how.”

Sara tries to leave the room. There’s nothing she hates more than feeling cornered and ambushed. The anger only intensifies when the back door swings open. Quentin and Jax walk back inside, watching Sin reenact one of her moves on the ice. Sara slips right over to Alex’s side and commanders her wine, drinking the entire glass in three big gulp.

“Things are going that well in here, huh?” Quentin tries to joke. “Well, let’s eat.”

Jax and Sin dutifully set the table while Alex tells everyone a story about a man who was brought into the ER after falling from his roof, trying to hang Christmas decorations.

“It’s a lot more common than you’d think,” Alex says, gesturing even with a wine glass in hand, “or as common as you might think?”

Everyone loves her. Sin begs to hear the most disgusting OR story she has while Quentin grumbles no gore at the dinner table. Kurt wants to know all about Stanford and Jax is just happy that no one’s asking about his future plans. Dinah is quiet and so is Sara, but she’s happy to fade into the background and just listen to Alex talk and her family fall for her just like—

“Oh, so how was the bachelorette thing?” Quentin asks.

“Lovely,” Alex replies. “We decorated Christmas cookies. Felicity did an amazing job putting it all together and Laurel looked happy.”

“Well, I need something a little stronger,” Sara announces, already working toward a good buzz. “Alex? Dad? Whiskey?”

“Don’t you think that’s enough?” Dinah asks. The gentleness in her voice has turned to ice.

“Dinah,” Quentin says weakly. “No one’s driving.”

“That’s not the point, Quentin,” she replies. “Alex, how many cases of alcohol abuse or alcohol poisoning do you see come through the hospital in a week alone?”

Alex’s eyes go wide as she gulps down the wine in her mouth and slowly puts her glass down.

“If you’re mad at me then be mad at me, but leave her out of it,” Sara snaps.

“How old were you when you had your first drink, Sara?” Dinah asks instead.

“You really want to go there?” Sara grits her teeth and calls her bluff. “Thirteen.”

“Was it from your father’s ‘collection’?”

“No. It was at a stupid party you forced me to go to because you thought Laurel might actually look out for me instead of ditching me to fuck around with her friends, which she didn’t, by the way. But if you want to go there, the first time I had a drink with dad was the night he got served the divorce papers.”

“Sara!” Quentin pounds a closed fist against the table, rattling all the plates and silverware. “Enough!”

“She asked.”

“Can we just have one civil family dinner for once please?” Quentin nearly growls.

“This is ridiculous.” Sara shoves her chair back and her head is a spiral of leave, leave, leave. “And you wonder why I didn’t want to come back.”

She nearly stumbles through the back door and out into the cold. It’s snowing and Sara just stands underneath it, letting snowflakes catch in her hair, breathing in the piercing cold air. Her knees give out into a crouch and she thinks about how easy it would be to just stay out here forever, close her eyes, drift away.

The thought disappears as easily as it appeared, chased away by wool and warmth that suddenly envelops her. Alex doesn’t say anything for a long time, not a word, just fixes her coat over Sara’s shoulders, molds her body to Sara’s back and hugs her tight. When Alex does finally speak, her words make Sara exhale a laugh.

“Let’s go break into your old high school.”

 

 

Dinner with Sara’s family makes Alex think of all her failed family Thanksgivings—Eliza nitpicking in her own passive aggressive way, Alex keeping secrets, Kara turning the cheer up a notch and trying to find new hiding places for the hard liquor. They’ve come a long way from those days. Alex might not have thought it was possible at the time. It took a lot of hard, honest conversations. She wouldn’t even know where to start with Sara and her parents.

When everything goes sideways, all Alex can think to do is be there for Sara. How do you even initiate a conversation about abandonment and years and years of built up resentment? When Sara meets her eyes out in the backyard, dark blue glazed with distract me, that’s how they end up breaking into the high school with a bottle of vodka between them.

“This place still smells the same.”

“Like bad teenage boy body spray and stress over things that won’t matter in five years?”

“I was going to say Expo pens and cheap cleaning product, but that too.”

As they walk down the dark hallway, Alex lets her fingers trail over cold metal lockers and a glittery banner advertising the winter formal. She’s a grown woman and yet still feels like a teacher is going to pop up around the corner and tell them they aren’t supposed to be here.

“You know, my mom and I didn’t have the greatest relationship either,” Alex says quietly.

“Why do I find that hard to believe?” Sara takes a swig of vodka straight from the bottle.

“She had high expectations of me. She thought I wanted to follow in her footsteps and be a scientist and I did when I was ten.”

“But then you sutured some pig’s feet together for the first time and all the pieces fell into place.”

“Pretty much. I didn’t tell her when I applied to medical school. She said she was upset because I wasn’t honest, but I knew she was disappointed too. Disappointed I wanted to be a surgeon? Can you believe that?” Alex shakes her head. “Then there was the whole expecting me to be Kara’s big sister after being an only child my entire life up to that point. Not to mention I was terrified to come out to her.”

“But Eliza was always there for you, even if she didn’t agree or approve, she’d drop everything if you needed her.”

The I never had that is implied.

“I get it, I guess,” Sara continues, giving a random combination lock a spin. “Things weren’t great between my parents. He worked a lot. She had to deal with me and Laurel at each other’s throats basically alone. They fought a lot even if they tried to hide it. Then she just had enough, got a teaching opportunity in Central City and took it. My dad flipped out, quit his job and moved us from Star City to here. And I was just…angry all the time.”

“Did you ever talk to them about how all of this made you feel?”

“My family isn’t known for healthy communication. Dad always kept his head down and pushed forward. Whenever we’d visit her in Central City, my mom would try so hard to pretend nothing was wrong and it made me angrier. I was an angry kid. Being in this town just brings it all back.”

When the door to the office unlocks with Sara’s key, her entire mood brightens. Alex fixes her hood atop her head, making sure it hides her face incase Sara is wrong and the security cameras aren’t just for show. There’s a plastic Christmas tree in the lobby and Sara plucks a candy cane off one of the branches.

“Holy shit. Lyla is the principal now? What happened to Dhark? He was the worst.” Sara collapses in the principal’s chair and turns a framed photo on the desk for Alex to see. “That’s her husband, John. He’s responsible for all the meat and eggs you love so much. Their kids, John Junior and little Sara. They named her after me.”

“What do you mean they named her after you?”

“John was stuck helping Oliver with something in Star City when Lyla went into labor. I was seventeen and I drove her to the midwife. Little Sara was nearly born in my Jeep. It was wild.”

“They make a beautiful family.” Alex sets the photo back on the desk and swipes the bottle of vodka away from Sara. “Did I ever tell you Maggie didn’t want kids?”

Sara sucks on her stolen candy cane and pulls her lips off of it with a pop. When Alex catches herself staring longer than she probably should, she takes a swig of vodka.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Sara says.

Alex coughs, feeling out the burn deep in her throat. “Really? It surprised me. It really surprised me. A completely threw a wrench in the future I saw for myself level of surprise.”

“Wait, is that why you broke up?”

“It’s not like I wanted to get married and have kids before next Christmas. It was always an eventually and inevitability for me. The moment I found out she didn’t, it was like it was always there between us and it just got bigger and bigger…” Alex shrugs and swallows down another mouthful of vodka. “We wanted different things and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Just, you know, how it is.”

“Wow. She really screwed that one up. ”

“Stop,” Alex says. “Sara, I mean it.”

Sara stares right at her, so intensely that Alex feels it more than sees it. Feeling she lost Sara to her thoughts, Alex has two fingers poised and ready to poke the blonde right between the eyes as payback if nothing else. Alex steps closer, but then Sara speaks again—

“If it makes you happy, hell, I’ll make a baby with you, Danvers.”

The wide grin on Sara’s face almost has Alex tripping over herself. She settles for a scoff instead.

“You’re drunk.”

“Yeah, a little.” Sara scoots her chair closer and tugs on Alex’s arm and suddenly, they’re sharing the chair, half on top of each other, heads touching. “If Maggie was down for the marriage and the kids and the whole thing, what would’ve happened to me?”

“What do you mean?” Alex wishes she hadn’t left the vodka on the corner of the desk. It might as well be a million miles away right now.

“I mean, you need space for a wife and kids and we kinda live in a shoebox.”

“I love our shoebox.”

“I do too. So, would you’ve asked me to move out?”

Alex frowns at the thought, at the fact that Sara would even ask. She’d never kick Sara out. The apartment is both of theirs. Sure, Alex lived there first and has the bigger bedroom because she pays more of the rent, but the shared spaces are such a mix of their things it’s hard to differentiate what belongs to who anymore. Alex always saw herself raising a family in a house maybe just outside of the metro area with a park nearby. She wouldn’t make any decisions without talking to Sara first, wouldn’t leave without making sure another reliable tenant moved in, but since she isn’t anywhere near that future it’s kind of a moot point.

When Alex doesn’t answer right away, Sara leans in so close, her lips brush Alex’s ear. “B’cause I would if you wanted me to. I would do whatever you want. All you have to do is ask, Alex.”

The lights are off so it’s dark in the office except light streaming in from the streetlight outside the large window. Sara’s eyes are half-lidded and she smells like peppermint and Alex can feel every point where their bodies are touching and the heat radiating from the contact. It feels like a confession and a dedicated one at that. Alex feels a buzzing within her, a buzzing between them.

And also a literal buzzing.

Sara groans and shifts her hips so she can slip a hand into her pocket and answer her phone. “What, Sin?”

“What? What! Where are you? I’m freezing my ass off out here! I don’t like being here during the day so you bet I hate being here in the middle of the night! It’s freaking me out!”

“I’m practically giving you the keys to the castle and you—”

Alex steals the phone away. “We’ll be right there, Sin.”

As comfortable as she is with one leg hooked over Sara’s and squishes into her side, Alex climbs to her feet and tries to straighten the Diggle family photo to make everything look as close to how they found it as possible. Sara doesn’t have half of Alex’s haste as she leans toward the little desktop microphone.

“Alex Danvers, please report to the principal’s office,” Sara says, and they hear her voice echo over the school intercom. “Does this mean you don’t wanna have my baby?”

Alex grabs the bottle of vodka with one hand and Sara’s hand with the other. “Ask me when you’re sober.”

 

 

Sara wakes up before the sun, desperate for water.

It takes all her energy just to untangle herself from around Alex. Her head feels like it weights a million pounds and all she wants is to fall back in bed, but she really does need water. She might as well be climbing a mountain trying to get upstairs to the kitchen and once she makes it, Quentin is already up and dressed for work. He turns to her and that guilt she hears in his voice every time they talk on the phone shows on his face.

“G’morning,” Quentin mutters. Sara just hums in acknowledgement and finds the biggest cup she can to fill with water. “Listen, kid, about last night…” Sara gets through half a glass of water before he can find the words. “That’s not what I imagined when I invited your mom and Kurt to drop by…”

“Why do you still take her side?” Sara cuts to the chase. She has Alex all warm and waiting for her in her bed and she’d much rather be there than standing here with her bare feet cold against the kitchen tile. “After everything she’s done to you?”

“Because of everything she’s done for me.” Quentin drags out a chair to sit and motions to the one across from him, but Sara stays on her feet. “When I was young and hungry, kicking ass and climbing the SCPD ranks, who do you think stayed home with you and your sister? When I’d chase serial killers and the corrupt of the corrupt in the city…it broke me. Who scraped me off the floor and took the bottle outta my hand? That’s why when your mom left, I couldn’t stay in the city. We wouldn’t have survived it.”

“Doesn’t it make you angry? That she just left? It makes me angry. I couldn’t say it back when I was a kid, but it did. I’m still so angry, dad.”

Quentin rubs his hand down his face. “When your mom moved to Central City, she wanted to take you and Laurel with her permanently.”

Sara nearly drops her glass. “What?”

“Yeah, she fought like hell for full custody of you two.” Quentin keeps his eyes low as if in shame. “We had lawyers and everything. It was a fucking nightmare. Remember that night I took you two to that really nice restaurant by the water and told you we were moving to Starling?”

“Laurel bitched because I wore combat boots and it wasn’t up to the standard of the steakhouse.”

“Yeah. That night. Originally, I was supposed to tell you that you were going to go to Central and live with your mom, but an hour earlier, she called and dropped the whole thing.”

“Why?”

“We never really talked about it, but I figured… Marriage isn’t easy. Falling in love, that’s the easy part. Living together, juggling careers and kids… Even if it ends badly, you don’t go through all that without getting to know your partner in all of it and your mom knew…I was a mess already and without you kids, there wouldn’t’ve been anything left of me. Your mom knew so she let you stay. She’s always been the strong one. You and your sister got that from her, y’know.”

“That’s not an excuse for her disappearing from our lives.”

“I’m not making excuses,” Quentin says. “I’m just sayin’… It’s no secret that you were an angry kid. There were times I didn’t know how to get through to you or if I even could.”

He laughs weakly even though they both know that’s an understatement. There was a point where they didn’t know if she’d even graduate high school. Now that they’re so far past it, all there is to do is laugh.

“But you grew up.” Quentin smiles like he’d punch her on the shoulder if she was in reach. “And I know getting you out here wouldn’t mean we’d all forgive and forget and be a big happy family, but…”

He hoped. Hopes?

“It’s just…when I’m not here, I try not to think about any of that, then I see mom and Laurel and I feel like that angry kid again.” Sara finally drops into the seat across her dad. “I acted like it too. Right when I think I’m not that person anymore…”

“You’re not,” Quentin assures her. “Like I said, you grew up. You’re living on your own and you’ve got a successful career and I’m proud of you, kid. I know I don’t tell you as much as I should, but I am.”

“Thanks, dad,” she says. And means it.

“Even if things with your mom and sister are beyond repair, can you at least promise to be civil? Please, for me? I don’t think my heart can take another night like that, Sara.”

“Okay.”

Quentin lifts his head really slowly like he’s afraid to meet her eyes or unworthy or something. “Okay, huh? Would I be pressing my luck if I asked you to visit more? And bring Alex too. If she’s seen that famous Lance temper and didn’t run for the hills, I’d say she’s a keeper.”

Sara chooses to ignore that. “Heading into work again?”

“Yup, but don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten. It’s Sara’s Birthday Eve. You know what that means.”

Pancakes. Chocolate chip pancakes to be exact.

As much as she would love to crawl back into bed with Alex, Sara spends the wee hours of the morning in the kitchen with her dad. She drinks a lot more water and helps herself to a strawberry or two (and a handful of chocolate chips). She sits on the counter as Quentin throws pancake batter together, hamming it up the entire time, like he would when she was a kid. It’s a reminder that not all of her childhood memories are bad ones. There’s always good mixed in with the bad.

Alex wanders into the kitchen a little later, looking cute in her reading glasses and favorite hoodie. As much as she’d like to turn off her brain and enjoy the view, all the stupid things her stupid mouth said the night before resurfaces. You said too much, Sara scolds herself, took it too far, scared her off. Sara can usually read Alex like an open book, but there’s something stopping her from trying. Maybe she isn’t ready to know what damage she might have done.

Ask me when you’re sober.

Sara can be outspoken and reckless, but brave?

Fat chance of that.

 

 

“That’s…intense.”

“Try sitting there and feeling helpless.” Alex sits out on the steps of the back porch, phone pressed to her ear, gazing out at the untouched snow that fell all last night. It’s pretty out, clear and serene in contrast to the loud laughter and sounds of things being knocked over inside. “Sara’s always been there for me, through everything with Maggie and when Dr. Haley questioned if I was cut out to be a surgeon…I just wish I could do more for her…”

“Here we go.”

“What?” Alex asks. “Is a cow going into labor this time?”

“No, I just know that tone.”

“What tone?”

Kara is quiet for a long time, enough for Alex to get anxious and starts pacing up and down the wooden deck.

“Kara.”

“Remember when you first met Sara and basically talked about her all the time like she was the coolest—not that anyone could blame you, Sara is the coolest—and even when you started dating Maggie—”

“Kara, what’s your point?”

“You still talk about Sara like you did before you knew all the scary, dark stuff and now you do know and from the sound of things, you care even more…”

“I do.”

The screen door squeals behind her and it’s Sara, mid-laugh, mid-conversation with whoever’s just inside. She doesn’t even say anything, just hands Alex a mug of coffee and smiles at her in that way that makes her chest constrict, before ducking back inside and shouting something at Jax. In that moment, that simple, wordless gesture, Alex’s entire world crumbles to pieces and reassembles anew. Everything clicks in place.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Her legs start moving of their own accord. Alex ventures out into the snow, trudging forward in Sara’s old rubber boots because she just has to move. She can’t have anyone in the house overhear the conversation (freak out) she’s about to have.

“No! No,” Alex hisses into her phone. “I don’t—She doesn’t—”

Kara snorts with laughter. “Uh, she has for a long time. She flirts with you all the time.”

“She flirts with everyone all the time! She’s Sara! She flirts with you all the time!”

“Yeah, but that’s different.”

“How?”

“Come on, Alex. You know her better than anyone else. You know when Sara’s serious and gets all intense and when she’s just playing around.”

Yeah, she does. But…

Shit.

“Kara, I hate you.”

Kara’s laughter rings in her ear. “I should text Jax to put up mistletoe everywhere.”

“Don’t. You. Dare.”

“Would it be so bad if you let it happen?”

Alex stops and stares down into the coffee made just the way she likes it.

Would it?

 

 

Alex has been skiing a few times so she isn’t terribly afraid of falling down a mountain and completely embarrass herself. Sara and her siblings are something else entirely. They’re like a pack of wolves on snowboards, carving down the mountainside, racing and yet never straying too far from one another.

Despite her competitive nature, Alex is happy enough to trail behind them on her skis, coasting along. It proves to be a good idea when Jax and Sara start to swing their arms out, trying to knock each other down. They had very different upbringings. If Alex had knocked Kara into the snow even playfully, Kara would’ve cried, Eliza would’ve yelled and Alex would’ve denied doing anything, but spent the rest of the day feeling awful.

Because Queen Resort is basically Santa’s village, of course there’s a hot drinks cart at the bottom of the mountain that sells minty hot cocoa floats. Between sips of hot cocoa, Jax and Sin vow to build a record-breaking snowman and their boasting draws in a crowd of children, most of whom want to help while some of the older ones want to watch them fail.

“Well, I’ve never seen a snowman with such big breasts,” Alex says, watching Jax pat down the snowman’s chest region. “So they have that going for them.”

“You’re obviously not from around here,” Sara says.

“I’m guessing you spent a lot of time up here as a kid?”

“Not here specifically. Here, the snow is mostly manufactured. We learned to snowboard in the backcountry. Dad literally just watched us fall down the mountain until we figured it out for ourselves. He used to lug around one of those big cameras and tape the whole thing.”

“It’s too bad he has to work so much while you’re here.”

“Yeah,” Sara agrees. “It’s weird because the crime rate in Starling is usually less than zero. We never had to worry about locking up the house. Guess times are a’changing.”

They watch in comfortable silence as the snowman becomes so top heavy, the large breasts fall right off and the rest of the snow structure crumbles. All of the gathered children begin to screech with laughter, pointing fingers and celebrating their failure.

“C’mon.” Sara stands and offers Alex’s a hand. “Let’s go get some lunch before Jax and Sin do something to get us banned from the slopes too.”

 

 

The small town in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be complete without a little diner that advertises the best coffee in the world. The Arrow Diner features a red and white color scheme all year long and when Sara touches the bristles of the Christmas tree by the door, it’s real. They’re met with a blast of heat and “Jingle Bell Rock” blasting from an old juke box.

“Hey, Mrs. S!” Jax waves to a woman making her rounds through the diner with a coffee pot.

“Jax, Sin,” the older woman greets them by name. “Sara, welcome home. And you must be Alex! I’m Clarissa Stein. My husband, Martin, told me your answer to his little midterm extra credit question. It’s been haunting him. Sometimes I find him just sitting in the dark staring at the fireplace, murmuring to himself about combusting reindeer.”

Alex visibly cringes, but Clarissa acts as if she’s sharing the greatest news in the world.

“Your favorite booth in the back is open,” Clarissa says. “I’ve been saving it for you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. S,” Jax says sweetly.

As they make their way toward the back room of the diner, Jax gives Sara a bump, so much so she knocks into Alex. Sara braces a hand against the archway and catches Alex around the waist to keep her from falling. Their faces come so close, breath mixing, noses nearly touching.

“Yo, lovebirds, look up.”

They do. Oh. The dreaded cliché mistletoe.

Jax shoved them right under it. That sneak.

Alex practically leaps away from Sara and yanks Jax into a surprise headlock. “Did Kara put you up to this?”

“No! I don’t even have her number! But if you wanna gimme her number—”

Alex releases Jax and punches him hard in the arm. It really is like having Winn around even when he isn’t.

“Nice try, J,” Sara says, just noticing the other diner patrons who have stopped to stare—some with amused expectancy while others scandalized judgement. “Sorry, people, we have a no mistletoe clause in the fake dating contract.”

“Oh, Sara, you were always so funny,” Clarissa says fondly. “Now respect tradition and kiss the girl.”

“I don’t mind,” Alex says, trying not to sound too eager. “It’s just mistletoe and tradition.”

But Sara remains resolute. “I’m not going to make you do something you don’t want to do. You aren’t a game to me, Alex.”

Alex gazes into Sara’s sincere blue eyes for maybe a second and then she’s grabbing Sara’s face with clumsy urgency and probably too tight a grasp in her haste for their lips to meet. And their lips do meet. Alex knows she’s kissing her more fervently than required for mistletoe, but Sara’s words have that effect on her so she lets this happen. It takes Sara a moment to get past the shock. Once she does, Sara returns the kiss with equal passion and Alex feels her back press into the archway and Sara’s fingers in her hair. Kissing Sara chases away all of the doubt and denial she felt on the back porch this morning. Kissing Sara feels right, more so than anything else in her life as of late. She could probably kiss her forever if not for the sound of clapping, laughter and an annoying catcall.

“Alright! Show’s over!” Jax shouts. “What’s wrong with you people? Haven’t you ever seen two people kiss before? Back to your regularly scheduled lunch!”

Or they can keep kissing and we can start charging.” Sin earns a smack on the back of the head. “Ow! What? I’d split the cash with you. Fifty-fifty.”

Sara gives Sin a shove toward the booth in the back before eyeing Alex in this almost hesitant yet resigned way like she’s waiting for a bomb to detonate.

Alex purses her lips, wishing she didn’t realize how hot her face feels. “This town is insane.”

“Told ya.”

 

 

The kiss changes things.

Every time Sara feels Alex on the edge of slipping into her thoughts, wanting to overthink everything, she distracts her with a touch on the arm or her knee. They sit closer than they ever have, at least consciously, and whenever their eyes meet, it’s clear they’re both on the same page. Alex wants this, wants her. Sara never really let herself indulge in the thought that Alex might want her in any capacity beyond friends or roommates. Now that she has an inkling, she isn’t about to let the opportunity pass.

Now, to get rid of Jax and Sin…

Sara pulls up her group chat with them on her phone discretely hidden under the table and types:

I’ll give you $50 each to get lost till dinner

She prays it isn’t too obvious when both Jax and Sin’s phones vibrate at the same time. Jax laughs, actually laughs and looks right at Sara from across from the table. Sin groans and lets the back of her head hit the back of their booth. Could they be any more obvious? Jerks.

Jax: LOLOLOL

Jax: sis wow

Sin: NOT ON MY BED!!!

Sara: stfu jax

Sara: YES SIN FINE NOWHERE NEAR YOUR BED!

Honestly, she almost throws her phone at one of them.

“Alright, I think we’re all warmed up on the bunny slopes,” Jax says. “Courtney and some of those J Society showoffs are hitting Vandal Savage Ridge. We should go crash the party.”

“I’m in,” Sin says.

“Meh.” Sara steals a potato wedge off of Alex’s plate. “I could use a nap.”

Jax tries really hard to hold back a laugh, but can’t.

“The wedding rehearsal’s at 5:30 and dinner’s around 7,” Jax says, “which means I gotta be home by 5. That’s tons of time.” He slides his keys across the table to Sara. “Take my SUV. We’ll catch a ride back with Courtney or Kendra.”

Sara tilts her head toward Alex. “That cool with you?”

“Yeah.”

 

 

Alex presses herself up against the cold wooden door of Sara’s bedroom without breaking eye contact. Sara stands at the foot of the stairs, frozen as if afraid the wrong move will break whatever wonderful dream this is. And Alex realizes she has dreamt of this before, of Sara and that exact expression on her face, one that says they’re more. She hadn’t been able to admit this to herself, couldn’t admit it to anyone, scared that it’s all just in her imagination, some ridiculous fantasy about someone who only ever saw her as her dorky roommate.

Now, Alex knows. If they don’t stop right now, there’s no going back. She could turn away, change the subject, remove herself from the situation, but then she realizes, she doesn’t want to. She takes in the way the light from upstairs outlines Sara, giving her an almost etherial glow, and decides she wants her. To hell with everything and anyone else.

Alex presses back until the door creaks open, stepping backwards into Sara’s childhood bedroom and stares at her rather brazenly. Sara’s face is pure intensity as she moves closer, close enough that Alex can feel the heat of her that’s become familiar with the cold nights spent pressed together in bed. Their eyes hold for a single, endless moment as if the whole universe pressed pause just for them to have this.

Sara takes a step back and pushes the bedroom door until it closes. This time, she takes the time to lock it.

What happens next happens so fast, it comes as a surprise even though she’s been anticipating it since back at the diner. The speed and ferocity of Sara’s kiss is startling, all-consuming. She kisses Alex skillfully and hard, insistent, as if there’s some kind of ardent fury inside of her that Sara works very hard to control. Alex just wants her to know it’s okay to unleash it, that she wants her to.

They’ve kissed before this. Once, twice, a few times. Always with the taste of liquor on their lips and laughter, writing each off each incident as exploratory and playful and fueled by alcohol. This kiss is none of those things. It’s serious and purposeful and real.

Sara maneuvers them toward the bed and Alex feels like she’s on fire and the layers she’s wearing have to come off now. Her hip bumps into the night stand. Alex curses. Sara laughs. Once her sweater is on the floor, Alex sees she knocked a folder off the edge of the night stand and sent a cascade of papers spilling onto the floor.

“Shit,” Alex curses.

“Leave it,” Sara insists, pressing a sweet kiss to her collarbone. “It’s Sara’s Birthday Eve. I demand it.”

Alex Danvers isn’t the type of person to just leave a mess on the floor ever. Maybe she could be one of those people for Sara, especially with the way Sara’s fingers dance along the waistband of her jeans. Just as she’s about to say, fuck it, and give in to this sudden, insatiable need to touch and be touched by Sara and no one else, something on the floor catches Alex’s eye.

“Is that a mugshot?” Alex bends down to retrieve a black and white printout of a man with a neck tattoo. “That’s Ricardo Diaz. That’s your sister’s fiancé. Does Laurel know about this?”

Sara sits on the edge of her bed and pouts. “You bringing up my sister really kills the mood.”

The lust gives way to concern as Alex drops to her knees and starts looking through the scattered papers that include a few newspaper clippings, candid photographs, bank statements—all things that belong on a cop’s evidence board or in a private investigator’s files.

“Where did you get all of this? Have you been investigating Diaz?”

“Not me. Mick and Snart.”

“Drug trafficking, gang affiliation, eluding law enforcement,” Alex says as she sifts through the papers. “He’s linked to at least ten different aliases. This is serious, Sara. And you’re just going to let her marry this guy?”

Sara moves onto the floor, pushing through the scattered papers and each piece of incriminating information. She hasn’t looked through any of it until now. Mick and Snart might not look or act professional, but they do thorough work. Richardo Diaz belongs in prison. What the hell is he doing out here in Starling, preparing to marry a lawyer?

“Maybe she knows?” Sara suggests.

“I may not know your sister well, but she doesn’t seem like the type to willingly, knowingly marry a guy like this. Maybe, I don’t know, you should try talking to her.”

“I could wallpaper the entire town with this and she still wouldn’t believe me. We aren’t like you and Kara. We’ve never been close. I’ll just make things worse.”

Sara starts to lose herself to her thoughts and doubts and—

Poke.

Sara blinks hard. “Did you just…poke me in the forehead?”

“Maybe you have a little more thinking to do.”

Alex busiest herself, collecting all the fallen papers into her lap and inspecting a few further. If finding out Maggie didn’t want kids derailed their entire relationship, she can’t imagine how she’d feel or deal if she found out her partner was an international criminal and her sister found out, but didn’t say anything at all.

 

 

It’s tradition for the bride’s family to host the wedding rehearsal dinner. Honestly, it’s the strangest thing, seeing Quentin with his arm around Donna Smoak, standing with Dinah and her husband, as they share the hosting duties. Even as a child, Sara wasn’t naive enough to think that her parents getting back together would solve all of their problems. They were miserable together and it was plain as day. Time has proven they’re better apart. Still, seeing them getting along and with new partners is so fucking weird.

“You’re still full of surprises, aren’t you?”

Nyssa. Again. She doesn’t even acknowledge Sara as she says the words, too busy signaling the bartender for a refill. Her dark hair cascades down her shoulders and she’s wearing this incredibly form-fitting dress. Sara tries not to think about that, but it’s hard not to, having eyes and all.

“Do I want to know what that’s supposed to mean?” Sara asks.

“Nothing. I just thought I would’ve heard from you by now.”

“I’m with someone else.”

“So I’ve seen and heard. The town won’t shut up about the formidable doctor and how she’s reformed you or how you’ve got your canary claws in her. Depends who’s talking. She seems decent if a tad gangly.”

Sara feels the corner of her lips tug without her say so. Nyssa was always the jealous and possessive type.

“Well, if you ever get bored…”

Sara feels Nyssa pry her fingers out of the fist they’ve formed, slipping a plastic key card into her hand.

“Fifth floor. Room 511.”

Nyssa takes her new drink—a martini. When did she start drinking martinis? She’s about to take her leave when Sara asks, “Is that all we ever were? Something to do when we were bored.”

Nyssa pauses mid-stride and something like anger flits across her dark eyes. “No. Of course not. You know I loved you, Sara. I went against my father and everything he taught me for you.”

“But you could never leave.”

“And you could never stay.”

And that’s the crux of why their relationship never extending into their adult years. What’s left for them to say? Sara tips her beer bottle—that’s all she’s drinking tonight, she swears—to Nyssa whose eyes turn cold with disappoint. Sara slides the keycard into her back pocket just as Alex finds her, surely taking note of Nyssa’s retreat.

“What did I miss?” Alex asks.

“Closure is overrated. Acceptance is real closure,” Sara says. “You look beautiful, by the way.”

“Thank you.” Alex tucks her hair behind one ear. “You look great too, but I think I like you best with your hair in pigtails and snow just all in your face when you tried to show off and ate it hard. I should have been recording. It would have gone viral like that.” Alex snaps her fingers.

“I knew I should’ve faked an injury so you could play doctor all day.”

“You wish.”

“I do actually.”

Sara leans in closer, wanting to reestablish that closeness that’s always been there between them, but she always downplayed in her head. Alex looks at her in this incredibly soft way, but it disappears just before Sara hears the giggling and inhales the cloud of expensive perfume and hairspray that revolves around her sister. The bridesmaids hit the bar just behind Sara and by Alex’s expression, this is the group that said whatever about her. Sara toys with the neck of her beer then the bottle tips over and falls, spilling onto the bar in the direction of the bridesmaid who jump away shrieking.

“Oops,” Sara says innocently.

“Sara!”

Sara glances over her shoulder to find Laurel with beer soaked through the front of her dress. When they were young, this would be the part where Laurel started chasing her around, trying to hit her. Trying being the keyword. Laurel rarely caught her. Instead, Laurel storms off. Yikes.

Alex smacks Sara on the arm. “Now would be the time to go after her.”

“Do I have to?”

Alex doesn’t even dignify that with a reply. Sara slips off her barstool and half-walks half-drags herself after her sister and right into the bathroom. Laurel stands at the sink, scrubbing at the stain on her dress. Sara grabs a few paper towels and holds it out to Laurel who snaps them away.

“It was an accident.”

“Was it?” Laurel hisses, staring at Sara through the mirror like she can see straight through the lie.

“Okay, it wasn’t—”

“Goddamn it, Sara!”

“But if it makes you feel better, you were not the target.”

“So I was collateral damage in whatever game you’re playing now? Lovely.” Laurel scrubs at the stain that doesn’t seem to want to budge. “I don’t know what Alex sees in you.”

That strikes a nerve.

“And what do you see in Ricardo?” Sara asks. “Besides his money.”

“Spare me, Sara.”

“What do you know about the guy?” Sara continues. “Did you know that he goes by a lot of names, but his favorite seems to be the Dragon?” Laurel stops scrubbing and freezes up completely. That has to mean she knows. “I’m guessing that neck tattoo of his—Dragon, right? He runs with the Scorpions, a criminal organization that operates out of the Star City Glades. Mostly drug trafficking. I wouldn’t rule out murder. He had to have gotten his hands dirty to get where he is.”

Laurel’s eyes fly around the bathroom. She walks down the line of stalls, pushing at every door to make sure they’re alone before turning on her sister with a vicious desperation Sara has never seen from her before. “Sara, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I could show you the receipts—incriminating surveillance photos, eyewitness accounts that put him in the middle of some sketchy dealings, paper trails.”

“You had my fiancé investigated?”

“Not by choice.” Sara takes a breath, trying to let down the wall that naturally builds up around her sister. “Laurel, if you’re in trouble, I can help you. Dad can help you. He’s a cop for god’s sake!”

Laurel’s eyes are wide and wild when they meet Sara’s. “You can’t tell dad any of this. You can’t tell anyone. Sara, promise me.”

“Okay. So what are we going to do?”

Laurel stares hard at her reflection in the mirror. “I’m going up to my room to change. This dress is ruined. You are going to forget whatever one of your sketchy PI friends told you. I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you?”

“Why are you doing this, Sara? Why do you care?”

“Because you’re my sister!” Sara practically explodes and Laurel just stares at her with such distrust in her eyes. “Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you want. It’s your life.”

Sara starts to walk away, but Laurel catches her by the arm and keeps her still.

“You can’t tell anyone, Sara.”

“Or what?”

“Or I’d rather you not show up at all.”

 

 

“Enjoying the party?” Quentin leans against the bar next to Alex and signals the bartender.

“Yes. Yes, I am,” Alex says. “It’s another beautiful party.”

“Too fancy if you ask me.” Quentin tugs at the collar of his dress shirt uncomfortably. “How many fancy dinners do you need, leading up to a wedding that’s followed by another fancy dinner? You know, when I married Sara’s mom, we eloped.”

“Did you?” Alex says with surprise. “That’s very romantic.”

Quentin turns bashful, revealing a dimple in his cheek that’s just like Sara’s. “I was a beat cop. She was in grad school. We were dirt poor, but we were happy.”

Alex follows his gaze to where his ex-wife and his girlfriend (?) are talking like old friends, zero animosity or tension. “It’s nice that you can still get along even if you aren’t together anymore. How? How do you do that?”

“Lemme tell you, it wasn’t easy and it took a long time, probably too long. Maybe if I got my shit together sooner, Sara and Laurel…” Quentin’s voice trails off as he taps his knuckles against the bar. “The girls don’t know this, but when their mom was on her book tour, she stopped over in Star City and I went to see her. That was the first time I saw her with Kurt. I expected the angry, but it didn’t last. I could tell she was happy, doing what she loved with the person she loves and I felt at peace and it was easier to reach out. I’m grateful, actually. It takes guts to leave someone you love when you know you don’t fit no more.”

Alex feels her breath hitch at that. Quentin couldn’t possibly know about Maggie. He has no idea how his reflection on his past relationship so easily applies to her own.

“And now you have Donna,” Alex points out, needing something else to focus on. “She seems wonderful.”

“She is. She’s the one who pushed me to go to Dinah’s book signing,” Quentin says. “We always spend Christmas together. Obviously, tomorrow we’ve got the wedding, but Laurel is coming over to the house to open presents and whatnot before they take off to Star City… Do you think Sara would mind if I…?”

“Invite Donna,” Alex says. “Sara will be happy as long as you’re happy.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. I’ll make sure of it.”

Quentin smiles so fully Alex feels almost unworthy to be on the receiving end of it. “Speaking of, where is my daughter?”

“She went to talk to Laurel last I saw.”

“Ah. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get those two to talk? You give her a little push?”

If you call pumping the breaks in the middle of a life-changing kiss to let Sara stew a push…

Quentin seems to take that as a yes and nudges Alex just as the bartender places a new drink in front of him. “Hey, s’cuse me, bartender, whatever the lady wants put it on my tab.”

“You got it, boss.”

Quentin lifts his glass to her. “Merry Christmas Eve.”

“Thank you, Quentin. Merry Christmas Eve.”

The room starts to clear out and there’s still no sign of Sara. She feels a hand on her hip, heavy and male and she’s right about to pry the hand off of her, but then she realizes it’s Jax. He lets out a laugh that’s very bad college theater then whispers, “Please please please please just go with it.”

Oh. Just go with it, huh?

“Jax, you have five seconds to move your hand before I break it.”

He snaps his hand away and steps back for good measure. “I just needed to scare off some bridesmaids is all.”

“And you thought you’d use me?”

“Did I mention I’ve been drinking?” The faint redness to his cheeks is all the sign she needs. “Anyways, Sin was ready to go like an hour ago. Where’s Sara?”

“I don’t know.” Alex scans the room and finds Laurel talking to some guests, wearing a different dress from before. “We should find her and go.” She takes one look at Jax nearly spilling off his barstool and holding a random cool glass to his forehead. “Or I will find her. You, have some water.” Alex waves for the bartender’s attention, points to Jax and asks, “Can he get a water?”

“Thank you,” Jax says. “You’re the best, doc.”

“I threatened to break your hand like five seconds ago.” Alex pats Jacks on the shoulder. “Sober up. I’ll be back.”

Alex checks the bathroom then makes her way through the few people left. Barry and Iris haven’t seen Sara and she thinks better of asking Laurel directly. She nearly collides with Sin on her way to check the resort lobby.

“Sin! Have you seen Sara?”

The teen can’t seem to meet Alex’s eyes when she says, “Yeah. She gave me her keys so I can drive home and asked me to make sure you ride back to the house with us.”

“Where is she?”

“Shit!” Sin dashes back into the restaurant and over to the bar just in time to keep Jax from falling off his stool. “We need to keep him awake. If he passes out on us, there’s no way we’re going to get him in the house. Dude is dead weight stone cold passed out. Jax!”

“I’m up, I’m up,” he grumbles.

“But what about Sara?” Alex asks.

“I don’t ask questions! She just said to go home without her. Now, let’s go!” Sin brings Jax’s arm around her shoulders and tries to stand. When his stocky, athlete body proves to be too much and Sin starts to wobble, Alex grabs Jax’s other arm and takes the bulk of his weight.

“Sara probably just got caught up in somethin’ ridiculous,” Jax says. “You know Sara.”

“Yeah.” Alex thinks of the room key she saw Nyssa slip to Sara, the one she didn’t mention, the one Alex begged herself not to bring up. Sara would tell her if she wanted to. And now Sara isn’t anywhere to be found.

 

 

It wouldn’t surprise much of anyone to know this wouldn’t be the first time Sara woke up and had no idea where she was.

Everything is too bright and her mouth feels dry and disgusting. Once her eyes adjust and focus, a beautiful Christmas tree comes into focus along with three figures—a man, woman and child—sitting near it. A ripping sound echoes through the room and it makes Sara groan. She turns over and realizes she’s on a couch, which means less space, which means she topples over and lands on the floor.

“Oh!” a female voice cries out. “That is not good!”

Sara twists over, still in last night’s clothes and twisted up in a knit blanket. She feels a tender hand on her shoulder and blinks up at blonde hair in a high pony tail and sexy librarian glasses.

“Felicity? Hey. Merry Christmas? Happy Hanukkah? Chrismukkah?”

“Hanukkah ended two weeks ago, but it’s the thought that counts,” Felicity replies.

Sara looks back and the tree and finds both Oliver and William staring right back at her. They’re both dressed in pajamas. So is Felicity. This is their precious Christmas morning spent as a family and Sara feels so out of place like she just woke up in a handcrafted Christmas card come to life.

“William, this is…Aunt Sara.” Oliver smiles as if this isn’t totally weird.

“We met,” William says. “At the party. What are you doing here?”

“That’s a very good question.” Sara picks herself up off the extremely soft and probably expensive rug. When she tries to think about the night before, her throbbing head persuades her not to. “What am I doing here?”

“William, why don’t you and Felicity open up that cool forensic kit Uncle Barry got you while I get breakfast started?” Oliver suggests. “Sara, we have aspirin and water in the kitchen. I’m betting you could use both right about now.”

The boy loses all interest in their new guest and grabs for a box that promises four crimes to solve and an evidence bag. Such a gift from Barry. Felicity is just as excited. Sara’s gaze shifts to Oliver watching his wife and son. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him look at anyone that way, except maybe Thea. His eyes are so full of love.

Sara gives the three a moment alone, wanders down the hallway and opening doors until she finds a bathroom. She stares at her reflection—smeared eyeliner, limp hair and dry lips.

“Happy birthday,” she whispers to herself and splashes water onto her face.

When she finds the kitchen, Oliver has a dish towel over one shoulder as he plugs the chord of a waffle iron into the nearest outlet. Holy fucking alternate universe. He really is a Stepford dad.

“I can’t help, but notice,” Sara says, “your kid is a nerd just like your wife.”

“Thank God, right?” His smile is downright giddy. “Remember what I was into at that age?”

“A real bow and arrow and shooting things out in the woods with Tommy.”

Oliver hands her a bottle of aspirin and fills a glass of water for her. Sara thanks him and washes down two pills with the entire glass.

“Tommy got really wasted last night and as designated best friend, I was also designated driver. Does any of this sound familiar?” Oliver asks. Sara shakes her head no. “By the time I wrangled him into my car, there you were, punching a tree in the parking lot! Completely wasted. Dinner was mostly over so I wrangled you into the car too.”

“I bet the conversation was stimulating.”

Oliver laughs as he gives a bowl of batter a few stirs. “It was great, especially the part where Tommy said he’s going to object at the wedding and you egged him on to do it. Something about what a—what did you call him? Oh—a ‘criminal dick’ Diaz is.”

“You’re enjoying this too much, Ollie.”

“Not at all. I don’t like to see my friends hurting.”

Sara rests her chin in her hand. “Who says I’m hurting or your friend?”

He ignores the second question, but certainly answers the first. “You punched a tree, Sara!” Realizing his volume level, Oliver peeks into the next room then lowers it. “You also asked me how come I got off so easy, why Laurel forgave me and not you.” Sara stares hard at the equally expensive marble countertop. “And she didn’t. She was pissed off at me for years and past-me thought I could buy her love back.” Oliver scowls. “It was rough for a long time and I realized we’d never be together again, but just being apart of her life was important enough to fight for. So I did.”

“And you weren’t her sister.”

“And I wasn’t her sister,” Oliver adds.

“So why didn’t you take me to my house last night? Why’d I end up here?”

“You begged me not to. You tried to grab the wheel at one point.” Oliver shakes his head. Again, such a dad filled with disappointment. “You talked a lot about Alex last night too. Said you didn’t want to disappoint her. Said if you went back to the house, you’d probably end up saying too much and you didn’t want to do that so here you are. Not that talking to her would be a bad thing. Honesty is important in a relationship.”

“Who are you and what did you do with Oliver Queen?”

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to stay in Starling and grow up.” Oliver starts to make a test waffle. “Look, Sara, I made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t like who I was—getting kicked out of school, trouble with the law, your dad, how I treated Samantha… I thought I was beyond saving. Then I met Felicity. She believes in me more than I ever thought possible, a hell of a lot more than I believed in myself. She makes me want to be better. William makes me want to be better. That’s what family is to me now.”

“Shit,” Sara curses. “And Sin thinks I’m a cheeseball now.”

“Oh, you want to hear cheeseball?” Oliver gets that half-smile on his face that has always meant trouble. There’s a hint of the Oliver she knew. “You talked about Alex’s hair from the resort to Main Street and it was snowing pretty heavily so I was driving slow.”

“Alright! I’d stay for breakfast, it smells delicious, but I gotta get going.” Sara pushes off the kitchen island and stretches her aching body. “I’d hate to pull you away from your family on Christmas, but I could use a ride.”

“Take the Impala.” Oliver tosses her a set of keys and she snatches it out of the air. “Just leave it at the resort when you go to the wedding.”

“Yeah, I was kinda uninvited from that.”

Oliver tilts his chin up in a challenge. “It wouldn’t be the first time Sara Lance crashed a wedding.”

She gives him a gun finger on her way out the door. “Touché.”

“And Sara,” Oliver says, making her pause, “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks, Ollie. Merry Christmas.”

 

 

“Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Alex echoes. Kara, dressed in pajamas and cuddled up to a baby lamb, appears on the screen of her phone. “You know what happens to baby lambs when they grow up, right?”

Hush!” Kara swats at her phone the way she’d swat at Alex if they were in the same room. “So today’s the big day, huh?”

“Yup. We’re heading over to the resort in a little.”

“Where’s Sara? Why isn’t she there to greet me in her annoying, totally platonic way?”

“She never came home last night and you know what that usually means.” Alex plays with her hair, twisting the longer strands around her finger. “She’ll probably have some wild story to tell when she eventually turns up.”

“Aw, Alex…”

“Don’t ‘aw, Alex’ me. Sara can do whatever she wants and she doesn’t need my permission. We’re friends and roommates and I like being just friends and roommates. I just…let myself get caught up in all of this.” Alex flicks her wrist weakly, motioning to Sara’s empty bedroom. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Please say something so I’ll shut up and please don’t look at me like that.”

“You’re amazing and Sara’s an idiot. You can bet I’m going to tell her first thing when I see her.”

“Please don’t. Once we go back to National City, everything will go back to normal.”

“If you say so…”

“So what’d you name the lamb even though the Kents warned you not to name them?”

No Christmas morning is complete without seeing Kara’s goofy grin.

“Scratchy Two and Whizzy.”

Alex snorts. “Kara, those are terrible names. Scratchy Two? Someone’s been hanging out with Brainiac Five too much.”

“What would you have named them? Fred and George?”

Probably. But she can’t give her little sister the satisfaction of knowing the truth.

A female voice calls out to Kara and her entire face alights when she shouts, “Alex! Carolers are here!”

“Go.” Alex waves her away. “I know you want to sing harmony. I’ll text you later.”

“You better! I’ll see you in a few days. Love you!”

“Love you too.”

Alex stares at the ceiling when it begins to shake. You can track someone’s movement through the house from the so-called dungeon. Quentin’s footsteps are heavy, but few and far between. Jax moves swift and smooth. Sin near stomps and doesn’t care who can hear it. Alex stayed up most of the night, waiting to hear Sara’s near silent, ninja-like movement, but she never comes home.

And it’s nearly impossible to have a private conversation anywhere in the house.

“Uncle Q, can’t we open one present each? Just one? Please?”

“Kid, I gotta stop into work, but I’ll see you at the resort on time! And I need you to pick up the cake on the way, alright? Jax, don’t forget.”

The front door shuts. More stomping. Merry Christmas.

The smell of coffee lures Alex out of the dungeon and up to the kitchen. Sin slams cupboards because she’s annoyed, but also to piss off Jax who has his head buried between his arms and groans loudly at the sound.

“Merry Christmas, guys,” Alex says, helping herself to coffee.

Jax lifts his head. “Hey, Merry Christmas, doc! What do you prescribe for a killer hangover?”

Alex hums and peeks into the refrigerator. “Yeah, that’ll work. I could make you a foolproof hangover cure, but you can’t ask what’s in it. Once you ask what’s in it, you’ll definitely puke.”

“Holy shit,” Sin says excitedly. “Do it, Jax. If you blow chunks at Laurel’s wedding, she will murder you in cold blood. Might make this Christmas actually fun if you do.”

Jax groans into his sleeve. “In Doc Danvers we trust.”

Alex grabs the tomato juice and a Corona out of the refrigerator. “It’s Sara tested and approved if that helps.”

“Have you heard from her, by the way?” Jax asks.

Alex shrugs her shoulders, busy going through the spice rack for what she’ll need for the drink. “She probably met someone at the party last night.”

“Uhhhh, and that’s cool with you?” Jax asks. “Weren’t you two sucking face just yesterday?”

“It was mistletoe. It wasn’t real.”

Sin scoffs. “Your tongue looked real down her—”

“Aye, chill.” Jax places a gentle hand atop Sin’s dark head and the little move silences her as surprising as it is. “Well, it’s Sara’s birthday and Laurel’s wedding day and Christmas. The least we could do is push all the other shit aside and try to get through the day, right?”

Alex slams down a glass filled with red liquid and dark spices floating throughout. “Drink.”

“I’d prefer it if you chug,” Sin says. “I’m dreaming of a very red Christmas.”

Jax takes the smallest of sips and cringes. “Damn, girl! You didn’t go easy on the Worcestershire!” He smacks his lips together. “And the black pepper.”

A phone buzzes on the kitchen table. Jax takes one glance and slides the phone to Sin who then scowls and slides the phone to Alex. “Felicity” on the screen. Alex frowns at the two of them.

“What do you expect me to do?” Alex asks. “I barely know her!”

Jax scowls and answers the call. “What’s up, Felicity?” He cringes and moves the phone far away from his face when all three of them can hear Felicity talking on the other end and not bothering to pause to breathe. “Yeah, I can’t.” He tosses the phone to Sin who tosses it to Alex who scowls deeply at the two of them.

“Hello? Felicity? It’s Alex. How can I help?”

“Alex! Laurel is hyperventilating and I am freaking out!”

“Felicity, you need to get her to focus on taking controlled breaths,” Alex says, slipping into doctor mode.

“Yeah, see, when I’m losing my shit, being told to breathe is the last thing I want to hear!”

“Okay, put me on speaker.”

Felicity does. Alex can hear the blonde say, “Laurel, Dr. Alex is on the phone.”

“Laurel,” Alex says, but the only response she gets is a series of loud, shaky breaths. “Laurel, listen. This isn’t going to feel natural, but you need to do it okay? Purse your lips like you’re going to blow out a candle. Felicity, do it with her.”

On it!”

“Breathe in slowly through your nose, not your mouth. Then breathe out slowly from the small opening between your lips. Take your time exhaling. Inhale slowly. Exhale slowly.”

In,” Felicity says. “Out.”

“Good,” Alex says soothingly. It doesn’t happen right away, but eventually, the harsh breaths over the phone quiet until she can’t hear them at all. “Better?”

Thank you,” Laurel croaks.

“No problem,” Alex says. “Just remember, controlled breaths.”

She feels like she should say more, Kara definitely would, but she doesn’t know what.

Thank you, Alex,” Laurel says, stronger and more certain. “I really mean that.”

“Helping people is sort of in the job description,” Alex replies. “If there’s anything I can do to help, I’m happy to.”

Well, in that case…” It’s Felicity again. “Speaking of small mishaps, the reason I actually called, we can’t find the veil. Laurel thinks she might have left it at the house. I was going to have Jax look around for it…”

Jax takes another tiny sip of the dark red concoction and grimaces.

“Hey, have either of you seen Laurel’s veil?” Alex asks.

“That’s what that was?” Sin asks. “I thought it was a mosquito net!”

“We have it, Felicity,” Alex says. “We’ll get it to you before the ceremony.”

Great! And there’s one other thing…” Now Felicity really sounds reluctant like she’s about to ask for a kidney. “Could you put me on speaker? This is mainly for Jax, but we could use all the help we can get…”

“Oh. Okay.” Alex places the phone down on the table and puts it on speaker. “Alright, Felicity, everyone can hear you.”

“So! After dinner last night, Thea, Oliver’s sister and one of the bridesmaids, went home with someone. You might know him as Roy Harper.”

“Roy?” Jax makes a face. “Lifty backwoodsman Roy? Huh.”

Sin scoffs. “He would like that princess.”

“Yes, him. They went to his family’s cabin up in the woods and got hit by a massive amount of snow last night. Roy had to dig himself out of the house and dig his truck out, but now it won’t start. We were hoping you guys could go, swing by and pick her up on your way here. I don’t know how bad the roads are, but I’d suggest you leave now.”

“You sure this isn’t one of Laurel’s elaborate tricks to get me and Thea together?” Jax rolls his eyes. “She’s been trying since her and Oliver broke up.”

This is serious and you’re still on speaker, jerk!” Laurel shouts. “Jax, please. You can show off that all-wheel drive you’re always bragging about.”

“Yeah, yeah, Merry Christmas to you too, sis,” Jax says. “Alright, we’re on it.”

“William wanted to open a few presents this morning. Oliver and William are at the house, getting ready. That means we have an open suite at the resort so if you bring your things, you can get ready here.”

Thank you,” Laurel says, much more gently. “I owe all of you.”

“What’s family for?” Jax responds. “See you in a bit.”

Once the call ends, Jax psyches himself up and takes two big gulps of the hangover cure before tapping out.

“Yup,” he says sarcastically. “I feel better already.”

The front door opens with a bang. “Where is everyone? Merry Christmas!”

Sin and even a sluggish Jax go to sandwich Sara in a group hug, raining “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Birthday” down on her. Alex watches the three of them together from across the kitchen. It would be so easy to push aside her doubts and give in to the feeling she gets when her eyes meet Sara’s. It would be so easy to forget that she stayed up all night, wondering and worrying. Alex knows what’s happening, what happened without her even realizing. She’s falling hard, but is that enough? It certainly wasn’t last time.

“Hey you,” Sara purrs. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.” Alex hugs Sara, a very platonic hug where their bodies barely touch at all. “And Happy Birthday.”

Sara leans in as if to kiss her, but Alex moves at the last second so she only catches her cheek. The smile fades from Sara’s face and it was faint to begin with. Alex’s eyes scan over every inch of Sara (in last night’s clothes), searching for any clue as to what happened. She catches sight of the fresh cuts and forming bruises on Sara’s knuckles and lets out an audible breath.

“What happened to your hand?” Alex asks.

Sara tries to hide her hand, but too late.

“You know, just another night in the life,” Sara says dismissively.

“We’ve got a first aid kit around here somewhere.” Jax starts going through the cupboards.

“Hate to see what the other guy looks like,” Sin mutters.

“The other guy was a tree so…”

Alex takes Sara’s calloused hand in hers and brings it up to eye-level to inspect. “You can usually tell if a finger is broken or jammed visually… You look alright, but we should get some antibiotic ointment on the cuts just to safeguard from infection and bandage it up.”

“Alex, it’s not a big deal.”

Alex narrows her eyes. “Sin, Jax, get your things together. I’m going to clean up Sara’s hand and then we’re going to go. And don’t forget Laurel’s veil!”

Neither Jax or Sin say a word. Jax hands Alex the first aid kit before doing as the doctor orders, leaving Alex and Sara alone in the kitchen. The impressed smile on Sara’s face nearly makes Alex blush. Instead, she concentrates on the task at hand, leading Sara over to the sink and holding both their hands under the cool water, rubbing around the irritated, broken skin.

“Aren’t you going to ask why I punched a tree?” Sara asks.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Alex replies, trying to keep her voice neutral. She shuts off the sink and pats Sara’s hand dry with care.

“Apparently I got blacked out drunk last night, which I can only think was an attempt to forget the terrible conversation I had with Laurel.” Sara’s eyes go out of focus as she watches Alex apply a little ointment to each little cut on her shredded knuckles. “I told her. She already knew and she told me to mind my own business. Hence, the tree-punching. I ended up with Oliver and Tommy apparently. The details of which are more than fuzzy. I woke up on Oliver and Felicity’s couch.”

“Why didn’t you come to me?” Alex asks. “We could’ve at least got drunk together.”

“I don’t know. I guess…” Sara presses her lips together as Alex starts bandaging her hand. “This is my shit, Alex. I don’t want to weight you down with it.”

“You don’t have to deal with shit alone, Sara.”

“I know. I’m learning.”

Alex smiles down at her work and the softness in Sara’s bright blue eyes. “Okay, get your things. I promised Felicity and Laurel we’d pick up Thea Queen before we go and your dad asked if we could pick up the cake and flowers. He had to go into work. Felicity is giving us her room at the resort to get ready before the ceremony.”

Alex starts to get moving, but Sara holds her hand, keeping her in place.

Sara winces. “I kind of got uninvited to the wedding…”

Alex pauses, digesting her words and the guilt on Sara’s face. “Laurel didn’t mean it. She can’t. She’s your sister.”

“I think she did.”

“So you’re just not going to show up?” Alex tugs her hand away from Sara’s and folds her arm across her chest. It’s what Kara calls her lecture pose. “You aren’t even going to try?”

Sara slumps back against the edge of the sink. “It’s not that easy, Alex.”

“The things that matter most rarely are.”

“My relationship with my sister is nothing like yours with Kara!” Sara shouts, and it takes Alex by surprise. She shouldn’t be surprised by the pent up emotion, but she doesn’t think Sara has ever raised her voice at her before. “Can we please accept it and drop it?”

“Fine, Sara. I obviously can’t stop you from doing whatever you want.” Alex throws her hands up and starts to leave the kitchen. “Jax! Sin! We’re leaving in ten!”

“Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?” Sara chases her. “Did I miss something? What did I do to piss you off? And don’t tell me this is about Laurel. You don’t even know Laurel.”

“I don’t need to know her to know she’s going to look back on today, look at all the photos and how you’re missing and she’ll regret it,” Alex says. “I don’t want you to regret not being there either. I don’t want to look back on today and how I didn’t say anything. Come on. We’ll sit in the back and make fun of how extravagant the whole thing is. We can make it fun.”

“I can’t,” Sara says hoarsely. “Don’t push me on this, Alex.”

Silence has only ever been comfortable between them, while Alex studied up for a procedure and Sara did the crossword or both of them nursed hangovers. This is different. It’s tense. They both feel it. One wrong move chould shatter everything.

“I’m sorry if that sounded harsh,” Sara amends, “but I’m not your responsibility.”

Alex doesn’t answer, emotion thick in her throat. It aches.

“Yo.” Jax sticks his head into the room. “I just got a text from Felicity asking our ETA and I told her we’re halfway up the mountain to Roy’s right now so if we’re going, we gotta book it.”

Alex tilts her head to Sara as if in a challenge, but Sara doesn’t budge.

“Five minutes,” Alex tells Jax. “I’ll get my things.”

Alex heads for the stairs of the dungeon, fighting back tears. It shouldn’t surprise her that Sara is notoriously stubborn. It should be less of a surprise that her own solid resolve would clash with Sara, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.

 

 

Maybe Alex is right.

In the time they’ve known each other, Sara has found that Alex is right more often than not and isn’t too humble to rub it in your face, but not in a mean way. She does it in a very Alex way, which generally means worthy of an eye roll, but also a smile. This doesn’t feel like an affair to smile about.

Honestly, Sara is ready to give in, put on the stupid dress she packed and go to this wedding. As long as Alex is there, by her side, like she has been throughout this entire torturous trip back down memory lane, it can’t be that bad. She has come too far to not see how it all ends.

Then, Alex’s phone vibrates against the kitchen table next to a cup half full of some kind of red monstrosity that can only be Alex’s patented hangover cure. Sara catches a glimpse of the lit up phone screen and the photo of the two of them on the airplane with their heads pressed close together, mimosas tipped to the camera. The warm feeling she gets completely disappears when she sees who the multiple texts are from:

Maggie.

The first text is a simple Merry Christmas, Danvers! Coffee in the new year?

The one that quickly follows is a lot longer, a whole goddamn never ending story. It starts with “Been thinking about things and you a lot lately…” and Sara doesn’t catch the rest because the screen goes dark before she can finish rolling her eyes.

It’s not that she didn’t like Maggie. Who doesn’t love a badass cop? Well, Mick, but Mick doesn’t like much of anyone. Sara could spent an evening sitting across from Maggie, drinking beers and swapping work stories. It’s just the behind-the-scenes stuff that rubbed Sara the wrong way—walking into the apartment to tense silence, instinctively knowing she just interrupted a fight, having to watch Alex shut down after Maggie walked out the door, just for them to reconcile the next day. Maggie isn’t a bad person, Sara knows, she’s just trying to figure her shit out like everyone else. It was just…annoying.

“So what you’re saying is you’re jealous,” Lena had summed it up for her once.

And Sara swore never to tell Lena Luthor anything ever again.

It’s not jealousy. Jealousy implies that she’d want to take Maggie’s place and sometimes, more often in the past week, Sara could see herself doing that, but in the long-term? Alex deserves the best and Sara can already feel herself making a mess of the best thing in her life and they haven’t done more than kiss even if it was a great, electric kiss…

The text from at this exact moment can only be an omen, Sara decides.

So once Alex comes back upstairs, Sara hands her her phone and watches from the window as they drive off without her.

The house feels too quiet and too empty without Jax beatboxing under his breath and Sin stomping around in a cloud of teenage angst. Sara sits for a moment, staring at half-eating Christmas cookies and the barely touched hangover cure.

Being alone on her birthday isn’t new. Some years she’ll fly out to Central City to visit Jax or they’ll both meet Sin and Laurel in Star City. One time she was on assignment at a bioluminescent bay in the Caribbean and the time before, she was in a little tavern in Tibet. Being in this house and alone on her birthday isn’t something she wants to think about so she doesn’t.

Sara drinks the rest of the hangover cure and shuts herself away in her old dark room, blasting angry music she listened to as a teenager. She puts all her focus on developing and printing. Working under red light, measuring out chemicals, placing paper into one tray and then the next, gently rocking the solutions back and forth, reviewing and adjusting accordingly. It’s soothing work and mostly muscle memory.

Once she has the first batch of photos developed and hanging to dry, Sara has to admire her work—Sin sticking out her middle finger at the camera, local children all pelting Jax with fistfuls of snow, Barry kissing Iris’ forehead as she holds baby Nora tight, Professor Stein doing his best Santa Claus big belly laugh and Alex. So many of Alex. Alex smiling and Alex crinkling her nose and Alex with snowflakes caught in her hair, eyes closed, so at peace and at one with nature. There are so many photos of Alex, Sara kind of feels like a stalker and so completely alone.

A knock on the door almost makes her fall off her stool.

“Sara, what are you still doing here?”

It’s Quentin.

“Working.”

“Could you come out here so I can at least wish you a happy birthday?”

Sara slips outside, surprised by the sight of her father in a perfectly tailored black and white tuxedo. She can imagine him all uncomfortable as a tailor took his measurements and Laurel sat nearby, reading a magazine and telling him to suck it up. He isn’t any less uncomfortable, pulling on the knot of his bowtie the way she’s seen Jax do a time or two.

“Lookin’ sharp, old man.”

“Yeah, yeah, Happy Birthday, kid.” They embrace in a warm hug. “You gonna tell me why you’re still here and not dressed for the wedding?”

“Laurel and I got into it last night and she’d rather I no go to the wedding so here I am.”

“Stubborn as hell. Both you and your sister. You got that from me, unfortunately…” Quentin lets out a mighty sigh. “Look, I know things between you and Laurel aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I definitely think she’ll appreciate you being there. Maybe not right this second, but in the long run.”

That’s exactly what Alex said. She has half a mind to think they’re conspiring against her.

“That isn’t what she said, but you keep thinking that, dad.” Sara gives him a pat on the shoulder and spins around. “I’ll be in my fortress of solitude if you wanna bring me a piece of cake later.”

“Fortress of what? Alex isn’t in there with you?”

“Nope. I’m pretty sure I screwed that one up too so I’ll be homeless by the new year. Happy birthday, me.”

Quentin blinks like what she’s saying—an inevitable outcome if you ask Sara—is simply unfathomable. “Something happen?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now and you have a wedding to get to.”

Quentin checks his watch. “Eh, I always have time for you. Did I ever tell you about your mom and me and our clunky start?”

“Where she turned you down like a million times?”

“Hey.” Quentin points a threatening finger at her. “It was only like ten or twenty give or take.”

“Are you sure that’s the example you want to go with?”

“Sure, your mother and I didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love her or what we had wasn’t real. You know I’ll never regret being with your mom, right? Look what we made together. You. Your sister. It was far from perfect and far from easy, but I’m grateful she finally said yes and if I could go back, quit while I was ahead, if it meant I wouldn’t have you and Laurel? Hell no.”

“Do you regret not fighting for her when she asked for the divorce?”

Quentin huffs out a heavy breath. “Some days, yeah. Some days I hate myself for giving up the way I did. Other days, I look at you and Laurel, how successful and strong you are. I look at Donna…” She can’t remember the last time she saw her father blush. Other than now. “And I can’t regret it. Even with all the mistakes I’ve made, I can’t. And I like to think your mom feels the same way.”

“That’s why you’re making nice with Kurt?”

“Something like that. I’ll always love your mom. She was too big a part of my life to not. That is why I make nice with Kurt and you should too.” Quentin gives her a nudge with his elbow. “So I guess I’m not the greatest example in that way. If you love her, it’s never too late to fight.”

A buzzing sound fills the hallway. Quentin curses and pats his pockets until he finds his phone.

“Your sister’s probably asking where I’m at. You sure you don’t want a ride?” Quentin asks. Sara can’t meet his hopeful gaze. He lets out a barely audible sigh and brushes a kiss over her forehead. “Alright. We’ll be back later with cake and we’ll open presents and I’ll make some of my famous eggnog.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Quentin answers his phone as he makes his way back up the stairs. “Deputy Drake. Laurel called you, huh? She said what?”

Sara doesn’t stay to eavesdrop. She slips back into her darkroom and sits heavy on her stool. She might not be able to fix things with her mom and Laurel, but Alex…

Her train of thought comes to a screeching crash when one of the photos catches her eye. It was from when she took Alex and Sin to the neighborhood that has made a tradition of going overboard with their Christmas decorations. Past all the inflatable light up Santas and reindeer wrapped in colorful lights, something in the background catches her eye.

Fuuuck.

 

 

Alex was never one of those people who planned out her entire wedding by the time she was nine. She knew she wanted to find a love like her parents had, wanted to make a home with that person and have kids of her own. At least two specifically. After how Kara has changed her as a person for the better, how could she not?

That future felt so close with Maggie, so much so Alex let herself start to imagine the smaller details—J’onn, her mentor at the hospital, would stand in the place her father once would have, there’d be a DJ not a band and maybe Kara would sing. Maybe a fall or spring wedding. She never saw herself having a Christmas wedding, but she’s starting to see that it isn’t as bad as she imagined.

Rows of white chairs are lined with garland, poinsettia and lights. One wall of the room is glass. Snow slowly falling on pine trees draped with white lights will make the perfect backdrop for the ceremony. Alex sits with Sin on the bride’s side. Both in suites. While Alex went with black, white, ultra fitted and paired with heels, Sin is in black from head to toe with a red poinsettia pinned to her lapel like the groomsmen.

Sin blinks her eyes hard. “It’s crazy. When I close my eyes, I can see Fortnite.”

“You need more sleep and to look away from the screen for twenty seconds every twenty minutes,” Alex says. “Doctor’s orders.”

“I should have told you about Sara last night,” Sin says. Her voice is so uncharacteristically soft, it takes Alex by surprise. “I knew she was drunk. If I told you, maybe she wouldn’t’ve messed up her hand, but she asked me not to say anything and I…”

“She’s your sister,” Alex says knowingly. “I know what that’s like. I have a sister too and I’d do anything for her. Don’t worry about it. Sometimes we can’t save people from themselves no matter how badly we might want to.”

Sin glances at Alex out of the corner of her eyes. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, right?”

Alex feels her lips press to one side as her thoughts drift to the unanswered texts from Maggie on her phone. Texts that are left unanswered on purpose. She’s too busy thinking about Sara to even begin to deal with that. Being here, in a room full of people who knew Sara before Alex did doesn’t feel right. Maybe she should’ve just trust Sara to know what’s best for her and pushed aside everything else even if only for a day, her birthday at that.

Despite what she told Kara, she isn’t sure she can go back to pretending this trip didn’t change things for her, for them. It doesn’t feel right being away from Sara and at odds with Sara. Just as Alex starts to think of ways to get back to the house, her phone rings.

The photo of Sara that pops up, expression incredulous and snow in her hair, has to be her absolute favorite.

Alex answers the call without a second thought. “Hello?”

“Stall the wedding.”

Alex’s brow furrows, wondering if she heard her wrong. “Sara, what?”

“I’m on my way. I found something Laurel and everyone should see. Just, please, Alex. Trust me.”

“Always,” slips from her lips. Even when she thinks about it, yeah, she means it. “Drive safe.”

Alex ends the call and walks to the back of the venue provided by Queen Resort. Stall the wedding? Stall the wedding? How does Sara expect her to do that exactly? Just as Iris walks out out of one of the back doors, holding her daughter’s hand and a basket of white and red rose pedals in the other, Alex grabs the door for her. Iris smiles gratefully while Nora waves her little hand and wishes Alex a Merry Christmas. Alex echoes the sentiment and slips through the door where she finds a few groomsmen (Jax included) and bridesmaids indulging in flutes of champagne.

“I’m a big girl. I know when to concede a losing battle.”

Alex blinks with confusion as Nyssa saunters up to her, gorgeous even in the same red dress and up-do hairstyle all the other bridesmaids are sporting. Damn her.

“Excuse me?”

Nyssa laughs. Even that is beautiful. “You must be otherworldly for Sara to pass up on my offer.”

Alex can’t figure out if that’s a compliment or an insult, but she doesn’t have time to either.

“I made her an offer and spent all night alone in my bed.” Nyssa’s critical eyes rake up and down Alex. If only she knew Alex spent last night the same way. “I will say you can sure wear a suit.”

“Thank you?”

“Take care of her, doctor, or else she’ll be hearing from me.”

Nyssa goes to grab herself a glass of champagne, leaving Alex standing there dumbly.

What the hell just happened?

“Aye!” Jax walks up to her with a champagne flute in each hand and offers her one. “You and Sara really are booze hounds, huh? You just sniff out all liquor in a hundred mile radius, don’t you?”

“Not now, Jax.”

HIs eyebrows shift up in surprise. “You chose an interesting day to stop drinking.”

Alex leans into his ear and lowers her voice. “Sara called. She said to stall the wedding.”

“What?”

“We need a plan. Some kind of distraction.”

“Like what? You want me to pull a fire alarm?” His face lights up at the very idea of it. “That was my speciality in high school. Never got caught, not once.”

Alex inwardly cringes. “I was thinking I could just talk to Laurel? Do you know where she is?”

“She’s right through that door over there, still getting ready.” Jax nods to the far side of the room. “I’ll walk you in, but we should have a code word or a hand signal in case you change your mind about the fire alarm.”

Jax knocks on the door.

“Come in!” Dinah shouts back.

Laurel makes a beautiful winter bride. Her dress has a scoop neck that shows off, snowflakes embroidered into the beaded bodice, short in the front, but a long train trails after her like snow. Her mom refuses to take her eyes off of her, dabbing at tears with a ball of tissue in one hand.

“Wow, you look amazing, Laurel,” Alex says.

There’s anxiety in her eyes and tension in the set of her shoulders, but she paves over it with a smile. Laurel spins in her gown with a laugh. “Thank you so much for everything, Alex.”

“Thank you for inviting me.” Alex checks the clock on the wall. “I just wanted to let you know that Sara’s on her way and she has something important to tell you. I know it’s almost time, but if we could wait just a minute or two…”

All that happiness evaporates from Laurel’s face. It’s like shutting off a valve.

“I think Sara and I said everything we had to last night.”

“Laurel,” Dinah says softly.

“Sara always says she’s a photojournalist because her pictures say more than she ever could,” Alex says. “Did you know there’s this picture of the two of you Sara keeps by her bed? You’re both sitting at a kitchen counter and treating cookie dough like playdough. When I asked, she said baking was your favorite thing to do together because you both suck at it.”

That gets a laugh and more tears out of Dinah.

“Sara’s made mistakes and she never lets herself forget that, especially when it comes to you,” Alex continues. “But you’re still sisters and she’d do anything for you, including staying away from your wedding if you ask so if she’s on her way, it must really be important. Can you please just take a few minutes and hear her out?”

Though that whole little spiel sounds like begging to Alex’s ears, she’s beyond caring. Laurel’s face remains cold and perfectly composed. No one says anything until there’s a knock on the door. A hesitant hand pushes the door open.

“Wow.”

They all turn to find Quentin in the doorway with his eyes full of tears and a big smile. Laurel returns his smile and runs into his arms. He lifts her off her heels and for a brief moment, Alex thinks of Jeremiah and how if she ever marries, she won’t get this, a moment she once anticipated and dreamed of. Suddenly, Alex feels like she’s intruding, but before she can excuse herself, she feels a hand on her shoulder—Dinah.

“Honey,” Quentin whispers into her curls. “It’s time.”

Laurel spares Alex a glance and her eyes soften. “I can’t leave my groom waiting. He isn’t very patient.”

Quentin offers Laurel his arm and escorts her out of the room.

Alex drops down onto the couch, hanging her head in failure. Damn it. She should have just let Jax pull the fire alarm. Maybe it isn’t too late…

“Sara is very lucky to have you,” Dinah says. “I’m so very glad you found each other.”

Alex weaves her way through giggly bridesmaids and scruffy groomsmen and makes her way back to her seat next to Sin, wallowing in her failure the entire time. Diaz and his best man join the officiant at the front of the room. The music starts and the processional begins with Jax escorting Dinah down the aisle. Alex barely resists biting her nails to bits as pairs of ushers pass and there’s still no sign of Sara.

Everyone stands when it comes time for Quentin to walk Laurel down the aisle. The music crescendos when Quentin literally gives her hand to Diaz.

“Does anyone have cause for why these two should not be married?”

A dark-haired man begins to stand, but Oliver Queen pulls him back down into his seat. Right as the officiant takes a breath, poised to continue, the back doors are thrown open in a very dramatic fashion. It can only be one person.

 

 

“Stop!”

All heads swivel and find Sara at the back door, wearing a forest green dress beneath a long cream-colored coat, hands stuffed into the pockets. Even from a distance, she can see the color drain from her older sister’s face. Ruining her wedding will either be the start to mending their relationship or what breaks it for good.

“Sara!” Laurel glowers from the front.

“Laurel, let me explain,” Sara says.

She tries not to get distracted by the way Sin stares at her with her jaw nearly on the ground or Jax who did not learn his lesson from drinking the night before. She really tries to not get distracted by the shimmer in Alex’s eyes, the slight smile and the suit she’s wearing because holy shit.

Sara clears her throat and comes to a stop just as she reaches the front row of chairs. “Ricardo Diaz, not only is he a criminal and petty thief, he just strikes me as a real asshole.” People around the room gasp while Diaz tosses his head back with a rough laugh. “What? This isn’t a church and I don’t know a better word to sum up this son of a—”

Quentin clears his throat and, yeah, okay, she gets the message that time—too far.

“Where were you on the night of the parade?”

“I was with my beautiful bride,” Diaz replies.

“What about the night of the bachelorette and bachelor parties?”

“At the resort. My boys can attest to that.” Diaz turns his attention to Laurel. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Really? Because I have photos that suggest the opposite.” Sara reaches into her coat and pulls out the photos she printed earlier in the day. “I’d like to admit Exhibit A and Exhibit B into evidence, your honor.”

“Kid, you’re really pushing it with the dramatics,” Quentin grumbles, but takes the photos. His eyes then darken and move to Diaz. “Care to explain why you’re present at the scene of two separate crimes?”

Diaz’s eyes dart from one side of the room to the next, looking more and more like a trapped animal by the second. In one quick move, Diaz pulls a gun from his hip and points it at Laurel’s face. A woman cries out from somewhere in the room. Just as Diaz prepares to monologue, maybe deliver what he thinks is a witty one-liner, Laurel ducks under the gun and shoves his hand holding the gun up as she delivers a swift kick right between his legs. Laurel steps in, shoving the gun into his belly and pulls back, stepping away with the gun pointed at Diaz who doubles over in pain.

“Good girl,” Nyssa murmurs under her breath from the front row.

Quentin tackles Diaz to the ground, pinning his arms behind his back. His best man starts to reach for his hip, but he hears a click and feels the barrel of a gun against his back. Deputy Drake, who snuck up behind him through all the commotion, clicks her tongue. She calls out to her superior and tosses him a pair of handcuffs.

“You should know better than to try to pull one over on a cop’s daughter,” Quentin growls, cuffing Diaz’s wrists behind his back.

“At a wedding the entire Starling sheriff’s department wouldn’t miss for the world, no less,” Deputy Drake adds, taking the best man’s gun and slapping a pair of cuffs on him. “It takes a special kind of stupid.”

“Ricardo Diaz, you’re under arrest for breaking and entering, burglary and who knows what the hell else.” Quentin hauls Diaz to his feet. “I’d gladly read you your rights, you son of a bitch.”

Sara smiles wide at her father’s choice of words.

Quentin marches Diaz down the aisle and Deputy Drake follows behind with her own perpetrator. The other members of the sheriff’s department begin to question the other groomsmen, but Laurel assures him it was just Diaz and his flunky. Everyone else is family. Once Diaz is out of the room, Laurel’s legs give out and she drops down to the slightly raised stage, placing the gun on the ground with a thud.

Sara saunters up to her sister’s side with her hands in her pockets. “So…it’s a good thing you went with the short wedding dress, huh?”

Laurel narrows her eyes. “You couldn’t just stay out of it like I told you, could you?”

“Are you seriously mad at me?” Sara asks. “Uh, I saved you from marrying a criminal!”

“I knew he was a criminal, Sara. Well, I didn’t know when we started dating, but I definitely knew when he started extorting my firm. We let Diaz think he had my firm in his pocket and that I was so in love with him I’d do whatever he asked.” Laurel rolls her eyes at that. “Meanwhile we were buying time and keeping him in the country to build a bulletproof case to nail him with.” Laurel crosses her arms and lets her eyes flicker to Sara. “Your intel should help in that department.”

“Wow, that’s…a lot.” Sara drops down and sits next to her sister on the stage step.

“I told you to stay out of it because I didn’t want you to go snooping like you always do and get hurt,” Laurel says gently. “If I lost someone I love then none of it was worth it.”

“So this whole time…?”

“You really thought I’d have a winter wedding on my sister’s birthday if it wasn’t the only option?” Laurel asks. “I wanted to get him out here in the middle of nowhere, on my turf, for the arrest so he’d have less resources, less of a chance to run and disappear. Everything went to plan other than you trying to blow up the entire operation.”

“Only because I don’t want to see someone I love marry an asshole,” Sara grumbles under her breath.

“I appreciate that,” Laurel says. “Now that that’s all over… Happy Birthday, Sara.”

“Well, that’s one of my more eventful birthdays,” Sara says lightly. “Laurel…I just want to say I’m sorry. I know I should have said it years ago, but I really am.”

“To tell you the truth, I was mad at you for a long time, Sara,” Laurel says. “Not even just about Oliver, but how you wouldn’t even pretend to try with mom and Kurt, how you just bailed so I had to drop in to check on dad and Sin every month.”

“I’m sorry.” She said it once and now it’s like she can’t stop. “It was just easier to…not.” Sara sits up a little straighter and lifts her chin definitely. “But I’m ready to be better so I hate to disappoint, but you aren’t getting rid of me that easily.”

“Same,” Laurel says. “You know, I tried to go as ridiculous as I could with the wedding planning since he was paying for it and I wouldn’t have really married him anyway, but it all turned out pretty nice.”

“Shame it’s all going to waste.”

A sneaky smile plays across Laurel’s face as she rams her shoulder into her sister’s. “Unless you and Alex…”

“Not today, Santa.” Sara chuckles and searches the crowd to find Alex in conversation with Martin once again, probably talking about the most scientifically sound way to build a gingerbread Millennium Falcon. “So, who are you taking on your honeymoon now that you dropped the dead weight? I hear Tommy was about to steal my thunder, but my vote is for Deputy Drake.”

Laurel rolls her eyes. “Sara…”

“What? It would be the most delicious irony given all the ‘stay away from boys’ talks dad gave us over the years.” Laurel shoulders into her and Sara takes it with a grin. “It’s funny what weddings can bring out in people.”

“It is.”

 

 

While the rest of the family makes their way into the house to finally, finally open presents and have a proper Christmas, Alex feels a hand on her arm and sees Sara cock her head towards the tree swing. They barely left each other’s side during the reception, but were constantly surrounded by family and friends so they barely got a chance to talk.

“So,” Sara starts, “I made it to my sister’s wedding that wasn’t actually a wedding, but an elaborate sting operation. Happy now?”

“Ecstatic.” Alex fiddles with her hair—a habit she can’t seem to break. “Sara, about earlier… I’m sorry for how I was acting. I-I was scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Oh, just you.” Alex sits on the surprisingly dry swing. “How I feel about you. How you make me feel.”

“We really do have more in common than I thought.” Sara squishes beside her and covers Alex’s hands with hers. They’re both wearing gloves and she would really prefer skin to skin, but this will have to do. “Do you know what I thought when I first met you?”

“Wow, this grown woman is a total nerd.”

“No, that came when I saw your Chemistree ugly sweater for the first time, the one with the periodic table in the shape of a Christmas tree.”

“That sweater is awesome! Kara bought it for me!”

Sara purses her lips and can’t quit staring at Alex’s. “My first thought was, wow, she’s hot and clearly doesn’t know she’s undercharging me rent. This could be a really good thing and there are so many ways I can screw it up. I could still screw it up.”

“Oh.”

Alex kicks at the snow-covered ground to they start so swing back and forth, but just a little.

“What about Maggie?” Sara asks.

Alex’s brow furrows. “What about Maggie?”

“I might have saw she texted you,” Sara says, aware of how uncharacteristically sheepish she must sound. She hopes it comes off sincere and not cowardly. “And I know you really loved her. I had front row seats.”

“I did. Part of me always will, but I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” Alex lifts her head to meet Sara’s eyes and the uncertainty there makes her heart squeeze in her chest. “What about you?”

“I know Maggie isn’t a bad person, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I loved her.”

Alex shoulders into her a little rougher than necessary, nearly enough to send Sara tumbling off the swing and into the snow, but Sara steadies herself with a hand on the chain keeping them suspended and she doesn’t really mind. “I mean, you have options literally everywhere you go and you travel for a living.”

“Sure, but the best part is always coming home to you.” Sara leans in until their foreheads touch. “You’re the first face I want to see the second I’m back… That look you get on your face when Kara and Lena make you watch their doctor drama TV shows and you know the actual medicine is totally wrong and all you want to do is talk about it…. How you plan and just know what you want and put everything, all of you, into getting it… I could never… And you and Maggie drove me crazy, but you loved her and I… I want you to have everything you want.”

Alex’s heart feels like it’s bursting.

“For a long time after Maggie, I couldn’t… I couldn’t let myself…couldn’t handle watching something that meant everything to me not… But you, Sara…” Alex stares right into Sara’s eyes. Hesitation completely gone. “I didn’t plan for you and normally that would freak me out, in a way it does, but I don’t mind… So when you say you want me to have everything I want, does that include you?”

Sara gives her the shortest of nods and the biggest of smiles, bringing a hand up to Alex’s cheek to kiss her. Just a gentle press of their lips, a very end of the movie now roll the credits kiss. Because it’s the two of them, because this is life, their life, the moment plays on and the kiss turns insistent. It’s all heat and teeth and a flash of tongue and a sudden burst of snow right to the face.

They pull away to find Sin surrounded by an air of mischievous and snow on her gloved hands. Laurel rests an elbow on Sin’s shoulder.

“Sin, you’re fucking dead!” Sara shouts.

“Sin has been waiting all day to open presents so save the making out for the plane or bus!” Laurel shouts back. “With my student loan debt, I could probably afford Greyhound, but only for Alex. Sara, you’re on your own.”

Sara hops down from the tire swing and offers Alex a hand to help her.

“My big sister, black window and comedian,” Sara teases.

“It’s cute you’re all getting along now so can we go inside already? I’m freezing my ass off!” Sin stomps her feet impatiently. “And we want to open presents before the new year!”

The front opens with a bang and Jax appears in the doorway, holding a slice of cake the way a normal person would a pizza. “And we got cake! So much cake! You better get in here and have some before there’s none left!”

“There were three tiers!” Laurel stomps up the steps behind Sin. “Jax, you’re going to make yourself sick! It’s going to be Lily’s bat mitzvah all over again!”

“I’ve made up my mind and spending Christmas here isn’t as terrible as you said it’d be,” Alex decides, leaning into Sara on their way into the house. “Next year we’ll have to bring Kara. She might be a little disappointed by the lack of livestock.”

“But it’s a Gilmore Girl snow globe!” Sara closes the door behind them and starts to shed her coat. “So maybe it isn’t terrible, but I think I like the idea of having everyone over at our place for Christmas next year.”

Alex’s breath catches at that. It’s their place. It was always theirs, but now it means so much more.

“Oh, sure, we’ll stuff your entire extended family into your tiny room,” Alex says. “That’ll work out.”

Sara winces. “I was actually thinking of turning my tiny room into a darkroom.”

“Santa works fast, but Sara Lance works faster.”

Sara brings an arm around Alex, leaning in close to kiss her again when the doorbell rings.

“Seriously?” Sara groans. “Aren’t all the interruptions supposed to stop once the will-they-won’t-they is resolved?”

“Not in this house!” Laurel shouts from the next room.

Sara opens the door and comes face to face with her mother. Alex’s hand darts out to touch Sara’s arm, not knowing how she might react, but wanting her to know she isn’t alone.

“Thank you for inviting us, Sara,” Dinah says. “Happy Birthday.”

Hearing the words, Alex relaxes, but doesn’t let go of Sara.

Sara isn’t ready to hug and pretend like the past ten years didn’t happen, but she does nod and try to smile. She tries. “Come in. We were just about to start opening presents.”

“Wonderful,” Dinah says.

A fire crackles in the fireplace where the stockings still hang heavy with untouched stuffers. Quentin sits in his favorite lounger with Donna leaning on the arm, trying to divulge him of the secret to his eggnog. The Lance family patriarch seems completely content, free of stress probably for the first time since Laurel announced her engagement. Both Jax and Sin are on the ground near the tree, hunting through the pile of gifts for the ones with their names on it. Dinah has about a million concern-dripping questions for Laurel while Kurt just seems happy to be there.

“Where are your manners, huh?” Quentin nudges Jax with his foot. “The guest of honor should get to open the first gift of Christmas. Who raised you knuckleheads?”

“Bold of you to assume Sara’s gift to the doc is appropriate for the whole family to see,” Sin shoots back. Alex half-hides her face against Sara’s shoulder, trying to ignore how hot it is all of a sudden and not because of the fire.

“Here’s one.” Jax lifts a square present wrapped in brown paper and covered in silver snowflakes. “Technically, it’s for Alex and Sara. You’re already in the couple gift phase? Damn, news travels fast in this town.”

Jax reaches over and hands the present to Alex when Sara is too lazy and much too comfortable, half-lying across Alex’s lap to so much as move.

“Do the thing, guest of honor,” Sara says.

The gift wrap is almost too pretty to ruin. Almost. Alex rips a strip off right down the middle. Sara takes it from her, balls it up in her fist and throws it at Sin with as much force as she can. Alex smacks Sara on the arm and Quentin thumps her on the other one.

Alex runs her hand over the from Gideon on the tag and tears through the wrapping paper. It isn’t Christmas without the satisfying sound of wrapping paper being torn to shreds. Alex feels a twinge in her chest when she sees the photo behind a pane of glass and set in a dark wood frame. She tilts it so Sara can see the two of them sitting on Santa’s throne in their respective elf and nutcracker costumes. Alex is mid-laugh with her head tilted back and her eyes scrunched tight. Sara only has eyes for her and the dopiest grin. How did she not see it sooner?

“Look at that idiot,” Sara says.

“Two idiots,” Alex corrects her. “A pair of idiots.”

“Matching set of idiots.” Sara leans up and kisses Alex lightly on the lips. “I know exactly where we should put this in the apartment.”

“Above the drink cart?”

“Above the drink cart.”

Sin mumbles something that sounds a lot like “cheeseballs”—plural this time. Sara holds out a little box to the youngest of her siblings, but pulls back the moment Sin touches it and makes her promise to shut up before handing it over. When she sees the set of keys and instantly knows where it leads, Sin nearly tackles Sara and Alex purely because of proximity.

Long after all the gifts under the tree are opened, toasts are made and opinions of eggnog have changed, long after half the party returns to the resort and the other half turns in for the night, Alex and Sara sit close to the fire and watch the snow fall outside. Okay, so they watch the snow for maybe a few minutes before Sara presses Alex into the couch and brings their lips back together. Jax is on the phone with Lily in the den and Sin is in her room, probably still wearing her new USA hockey jersey, but they might as well be the only two people in the universe. Alex leads Sara to her bed that night, tugging on the red scarf around the blonde’s neck and giving her best come hither from over one shoulder.

The next morning, when Alex wakes up with Sara’s arm tight and warm across her middle, there’s no panic. She feels as loose and relaxed as she did when she first stepped foot in the snow in the Lance front yard. Sara presses a kiss to Alex’s bare skin and traces the curve of her shoulder with the tip of her cold nose.

“I don’t know what was on your agenda for the day, but if it involved leaving bed, it’s cancelled.”

Alex twists over to face Sara and kisses her cold nose. “No complaints here.”

Sara opens one eye and then the other. All the other times they shared a bed to just sleep, Alex had always woken up facing away from Sara and didn’t let herself indulge or accept how much she wants this. How did she ever pass up on the sight of Sara with her hair sticking up a little and fanned out across her pillow, eyes still half-closed, lips begging to be kissed? So Alex does, kisses her lips.

“Kids!” Quentin calls out from upstairs. “Breakfast!”

Alex feels the corners of her lips turn up and she opens her mouth to say something, but it’s drowned out by Sara’s groan as she turns onto her stomach and presses her eyes into the pillow beneath her.

“Fine,” Sara grumbles without Alex having to even say anything. “Breakfast then we aren’t leaving this bed.”

Alex drops a kiss to Sara’s neck, then her cheek, then her forehead. “Best Christmas slash birthday ever?”

Sara draws Alex closer until she’s mostly on top of her. “Best Christmas slash birthday ever.”