Alex is out of it after a long day filled with far too many fights, but she still notices the way Astra tenses up after Alex flops down across her legs where she's sitting on the couch. It's subtle, but Alex has spent most of her adult career learning to notice subtle signs and react in an instant. And especially in Astra's body language.
She loves the woman now, but it's hard to forget the months they were enemies or the months after where the truce between them was little more than empty words.
"What's wrong?" Alex asks, tensing up herself on instinct. She's tired, but she can still manage that much.
Astra looks uncomfortable for long moments, the look on her face one Alex is well familiar with. It's her 'humans make so many odd choices' look. Most of the time Alex gets it when discussing health care or how they treat the rainforests, but she's gotten it other times as well.
Iced coffee, for example. Astra still didn't understand the appeal of an ordinarily hot drink served cold, when lukewarm coffee was considered terrible.
"Nothing is wrong," Astra starts, "I just was not expecting the sudden contact."
"Oh, shit, did I startle you?" Alex asks, sitting up and moving away from Astra's lap. Their relationship is still relatively new, and Alex lives in constant fear she'll do something wrong and push Astra away.
Astra looks uncomfortable, and Alex notices she doesn't move to close the new distance between them. It's a small thing, but Alex can't help fixating on it. Maybe this is Astra breaking up with her. Maybe she's finally found whatever habit or tic Astra can't stand, the one that'll convince her the relationship isn't worth it.
"No, Brave One," Astra says after a pause to gather her thoughts. "You did not startle me. I am simply unused to such casual physical contact. It was not common on Krypton save for parent and child."
Alex had never considered that, not with how cuddly Kara's been since adolescence. She's had an armful of excited Kryptonian insistent on hugs on many occasions. Not to mention sister nights and every time one of them needed comforting.
She'd just assumed it was a thing for Kryptonians. And while Alex isn't the most physically demonstrative person on her own, she's gotten used to how comfortable it feels curling up with someone you know and trust.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Astra says when Alex falls silent, clearly misinterpreting the pause. "It was merely unexpected."
"I guess I never thought of it," Alex says, reaching out to place a hand over Astra's. That much, she's fairly sure will be welcomed. "Kara's always like, super cuddly with everyone she cares about."
"Kara was a child when she left Krypton," Astra points out. "She would have only just begun transitioning to the standards expected of an adult."
Alex nods, it makes sense. Kara'd grown to adulthood on Earth. She'd picked up a lot of Earth traits and ideas over the years. Some of them merely as disguise, a surface level illusion of humanity. But some of them had to be real.
Still, if Astra isn't comfortable with cuddling, then Alex will respect that. It doesn't matter what Kara's comfortable with, or what expectations Alex had based on Kara. Astra isn't her niece.
Still, maybe she should be asking Lucy if this came up with Alura, and warn her if not...
The next time Kara's over for a movie night, Alex can tell Astra is watching them more than the movie. On a typical night she'd be staring at the screen trying to keep up with the often strange human decisions, but tonight Alex has caught her looking over three times. And if Alex has caught her three times, it's likely she's looked over more than that. Astra might be a lot like her niece, but she's picked up stealth and subtlety far quicker.
So when Kara gets up to refill their snacks, Alex leans forward across the gap and takes Astra's hand. "Hey, everything okay? You keep looking over at us."
Astra nods, eyes darting between Alex and Kara while she considers what to say. "I noticed how Kara relaxed while you sat together. She was tense when she entered the apartment, but she appears much calmer now."
Stealing a glance of her own towards Kara, Alex has to agree. It'd been a long day for her sister, filled with far too many emergencies. Not to mention the Snapper insults on top of them. If Kara wasn't Kara, if she had Alex's patience instead of her own, there'd likely be a few casualties from the day.
But now Kara is smiling and laughing with the movie. She's stopped angrily munching her way through an entire back of white chocolate, instead eating the snacks with her usual levels of enthusiasm.
"Yeah, she's usually more relaxed after a movie or two," Alex says, thinking back to their movie nights. "Sometimes she's got to vent a little, but sometimes just losing herself in the movie is enough."
"I think there's more to it than that," Astra protests. "I think it is the physical contact between you as well."
"Oh, well cuddling and physical contact are known to increase the release of oxytocin and endorphins in the human brain," Alex says as she thinks about it. "It's why parents are encouraged to hold their child with skin to skin contact, and why it can feel so nice to lay against a lover in bed."
"Ew!" Kara exclaims from the kitchen, looking over at them. "Rule one of my being okay with you dating was no mentioning anything sex-related around me. Alex, you promised!"
"I didn't say anything about sex," Alex points out, smirking a little as both Kryptonians blush. "I said, lay against them in bed. Clothes can be on for cuddling."
Kara doesn't look convinced, and Astra looks like she almost regrets bringing the topic up at all. Amusing, but it doesn't answer Astra's questions or move the night along.
"Look, Kara. Astra was wondering why you were calmer after a night spent curled up on the couch watching movies. So I was explaining some of the benefits cuddling has for humans that might also extend to Kryptonian physiology. That's all."
Kara doesn't look convinced, but she's at least willing to return to the couch rather than fly through the window and back to her loft. "Stick with the parents and babies, huh? Or even why petting animals helps with calming down."
Alex debates pushing, just because it's fun to see Kara flush. But that wouldn't be nice to either Kara or Astra. And while it would still be amusing, it wouldn't answer any of Astra's questions.
"Or sisters on the couch, right?" she says instead, smiling at Kara and patting the seat next to her. "Though aunts are welcome to join."
Astra doesn't look convinced, but when Kara settles onto the couch and cuddles into Alex's side, she stands slowly and moves towards them. "Where should I sit?"
"I've got two arms," Alex points out, lifting her right arm and fixing Astra with a challenging look.
Still visibly unsure, Astra nevertheless curls into Alex's side. She's stiff and unsure of herself, but Alex can tell she's trying. "You've gotta relax, or it won't work," she whispers as Kara reaches for the remote to restart the movie. "I promise, no one will yell at you for breaching custom."
It takes some time, but eventually Astra does relax into Alex's arms. It's a slow, gradual shift, but Alex has long given up paying attention to the movie. All her focus is on making sure Astra isn't overthinking this, that it isn't pushing her too far beyond any comfort zones.
By the end of the movie Astra is nearly limp against her side, and Alex smiles at Kara as she stands to leave. Her other arm tightens around Astra, a wordless plea for her lover to stay close.
"I'll see you guys for game night, yeah?" Kara asks as she gathers her things and heads for the door.
"We will be there, Little One," Astra agrees, eyes closing as the leans more into Alex.
With a look at Kara, Alex manages to get a message across, and Kara sneaks a picture on her phone with a soft smile. Neither of them has seen Astra look quite this relaxed before, and Alex is glad they've given her this for tonight. And now she has photographic evidence to remember the moment.
Feeling her phone buzz in her pocket, Alex knows Kara's already sent it over. And maybe she can't set it as her lock screen and risk any new recruits realizing she has a heart, but it can still be her home screen, right?
"Goodnight, you two," Kara whispers as she heads out the door, sending one last smile back at them.
"Your niece is a sap," Alex teases as she leans her head down to rest on Astra's.
"And I'm sure you had nothing to do with the picture she snuck?" Astra counters. "You are not as stealthy as you think, either of you."
"Mm, can you blame me? I've got my arms full of a gorgeous woman, I wanted a picture."
Her phone buzzes again after that, and Alex snickers, knowing it's likely Kara complaining she can still hear them. Usually she waits until her sister's had a chance to leave the building at human speed, but tonight she'd forgotten. Or just doesn't care, Alex honestly couldn't say either way.
"I begin to see your point about why this contact is helpful," Astra says, acknowledging Alex's words with only a pointed slap to her stomach. "I had not realized how tense I was before this."
"You know what's really good for relaxing?" Alex starts, waiting a moment to see if Kara's far enough to not overhear them. "A massage and that cuddling in bed I mentioned."
Astra looks up at her with a smile then, and Alex can feel herself fall a little more in love with the woman. So few people are allowed to see her this way, so loving and open. Only Kara and Alura, for the longest time. Alex would catch glimpses, those months of uneasy truce, but never more than that.
But now, now she's one of the people who can see the person Astra tries so hard to keep hidden. Not the fierce general or determined warrior. But the woman who wants and deserves a love she'd long thought out of reach.
"That sounds like a perfect end to the night, Alexandra."
Alex finds herself answering more questions about the benefits of skin to skin and general physical contact over the next week than she'd known could possibly be asked. From how it worked to what hormones were released, everything and anything was fair game for the inquisitive alien Alex is falling in love with.
Every question is answered with patience, though after the second day Alex finds herself pulling up actual medical studies when her limited general knowledge runs dry. She knows it's a thing, but Astra is interested in more of the whys and hows than Alex remembers from med school.
Astra absorbs every word, sometimes speed reading the articles over Alex's shoulder when Alex takes too long skimming the information. And every night now finds them curled up on the couch, whether watching a movie or just soaking in each other's presence.
Honestly, Alex is going to miss that tonight, now that game night has rolled around again. With Astra's hangups about what was and wasn't acceptable on Krypton, Alex is assuming cuddling in a roomful of people will probably be too much for her. Which is a shame, because Kara doesn't ever seem to mind curling into Cat's side whenever the chance arises.
Not that Alex is jealous of the easy chemistry between them. She knows that one, her relationship with Astra is a lot newer than Kara's with Cat. They haven't had a chance to work through their emotions and history the way Kara has with Cat. Not to mention the unconscious ease that can only come from months and years spent with another person. They'll get there someday, Alex honestly believes that.
But she is a little envious. Alex wants what Kara has found, and patience has never been her strong suit. It will come, eventually, but for now Alex resigns herself to a night without Astra literally at her side.
"Okay, so what are we playing first?" Alex asks as she looks at the pile of games provided for the night.
They've had to stop playing some of their old standbys now that there are more aliens in the group, aliens who are still unfamiliar with Earth's culture and history. Anything trivia related was out, though Alex was secretly glad of that one. Between Kara's memory and Cat's frightening knowledge of so many different fields, once they'd teamed up no one else stood a chance at Trivial Pursuit.
Scrabble was almost banned, but once Kryptonian words were allowed (with fact-checking from Alura, the only one everyone trusted to be honest) everyone agreed it levelled the playing field. It was hard to play in larger groups, though.
"We can try charades again, and make sure both teams have two aliens," Kara offers.
The last time they'd tried charades, Alura had tried to act out a common sight from Starhaven, only for no one on her team to understand what she was attempting. Meanwhile the three aliens on the other team were struggling to keep silent and let the other team guess.
"Why don't we try Taboo again?" Astra asks as she walks up to Alex. "I believe Alura and I would have better luck this time."
The suggestion is surprising, but more surprising than that is the way Astra drapes herself across Alex's back. Her chin is resting on Alex's shoulder, her arms wrapped around Alex's waist. There's very little distance between them.
Unthinkingly, Alex leans back into the hold, relaxing into Astra's arms with a soft sigh. She hadn't realized how much she was going to miss the closeness they'd built over the last week until she had it again.
Kara's giving them a soft look from where she's still curled up against Cat, and no one else is paying attention. So Alex does what she does best and rolls with it. If Astra is content with being this close around their family and friends, Alex isn't going to question it.
"You have been picking up more words and phrases," Alex agrees. "What do you say, Kara? Think they can manage?"
"As long as they don't try x-raying the cards again," Kara teases, looking between her mother and aunt as Alura turns to face them. "Remember, the goal of the game is to guess, not read off the card."
"I believe we've grasped that," Alura says with a smile, one that fades slightly when she turns enough to see how Alex and Astra are standing.
The fading of her smile makes Astra tense, but Alex reaches a soothing hand up to run along her forearms, silently asking her to stay. They can handle this, and Alura isn't the type to cause a scene in front of witnesses.
"Are you two...cuddling?" she asks instead, the look on her face more disbelief than disapproval.
"Alexandra has explained there are a number of physical benefits associated with physical contact," Astra explains, voice even but with a buried strain Alex can easily hear.
Alex, and apparently Alura as well, because the second Astra speaks her twin's expression softens. "I didn't realize there were physical benefits," she says, the words attracting Lucy's attention from where she'd been speaking to James and J'onn.
"Wait, I thought we had to keep game night G rated for the parents," Lucy says teasingly, looking at Alex with a smirk.
"You do," Kara threatens, looking at Lucy with a near glare she'd obviously learned from Cat. "Cuddling, not whatever your mind was thinking."
"I was just thinking I wanted a Kryptonian backpack too," Lucy says, trying for innocent and failing miserably. "Alex looks super comfortable over there.”
Leave it to Lucy to start the teasing up and make everyone laugh, Alex thinks as Astra tightens her hold once more. She really is grateful her friend is here, and that they're finally friends for real. They'd had a rocky beginning, but Alex has gotten better about moving past those now that she's dating the woman she'd once tried to kill.
"Then you should go through a week of researching medical journals. Some of the print is small, but as a lawyer you should be used to that, right?" Alex can't resist getting the barb in, laughing when Lucy sticks out her tongue at her.
"I don't believe that will be necessary," Alura says, stepping up behind Lucy with a challenging look towards where Alex and Astra still stand together. "If it's clear enough for Astra to accept, I will take you at your word."
And then she honest to god climbs on Lucy's back, giving Astra such a challenging look Alex knows exactly what's coming. And sure enough, Astra does the same, hooking her legs around Alex's waist and bringing her arms up around her neck.
Not entirely sure what just happened, Alex hears the boys laughing in the background while she looks at Kara in shock. "They get super competitive," Kara says through a laugh of her own, phone already out to grab pictures. "Kryptonian backpacks will be the newest fashion statement by the end of the week."
"Oh no, they won't," Cat jumps in, elbowing Kara in the side. "I doubt these two covert agents will be setting any major fashion trends, and if you try with me, you'll be sleeping on the couch for a month."
The look on Kara's face has everyone laughing now, and Alura loses track of her still unfamiliar floating abilities in the distraction. The way she crashes to the ground with Lucy beneath her just makes everyone laugh harder, and this time it's Alex that grabs pictures before Lucy can recover.
And if the rest of the night is spent hiding her phone from Lucy, it's worth it. Worth it to have this family in her life. They've all been through a lot, but this makes it worth it, sitting on the couch with her phone carefully hidden and Astra leaning against her side.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.