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all while we shine

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"Lower."

"Are you sure?"

Kelley makes a frustrated noise, pushing air through her lips, but still Alex hesitates.

"Trust me."

Alex concedes, finally, dropping the picture frame about three inches until Kelley growls like a buzzer to stop her, and then she holds it while Kelley tilts her head in both directions and steps further back.

"Uh, up an inch."

"Kelley, this is the last time I'm moving it. You better be sure, because after this you're on your own."

"It's our apartment," Kelley points out, disdain written all over her face, "don't you want it to look perfect?"

"Nobody's going to notice the freaking picture frame is an inch too low, Kel."

"I will."

Alex puts the picture frame down on the mantle and stands facing Kelley with her arms crossed, trying and failing to hide the smile that tugs at the corners of her mouth. Kelley is too focused, looking the wall up and down, and when she comes forward to pick up the frame Alex stops her with a hand on her arm. Kelley's already a better roommate than Allie had been, not that Alex minds Allie, but at least half the reason Alex had urged Kelley to take the Seattle contract she was offered was so that they could live together. For 2014 the Reign was determined not to have the same track record; they hadn't been able to offer Kelley much in the way of compensation, but Kelley had gotten tired of living alone.

Kelley had gotten tired of missing Alex.

That's not what she said, though, when she took the contract. She had enough other reasons to do it; including but not limited to her struggle during the entire inaugural season, and the transition from living with Tobin and Alex to living alone in Brooklyn miles from them.

"Will you just leave it, please?"

Maybe part of the reason Kelley signed the contract was because of the time during Christmas when Tobin was in Basking Ridge and Alex had dragged her out Christmas tree shopping. Maybe she signed the contract a little bit because of the way Alex had hung the mistletoe and kissed her under it, all cherry chapstick and nonchalance. Like it was natural to do, but not as if it didn't mean anything. Maybe Kelley signed the contract because she was curious.

Whatever the reason, she's here, in Seattle, with Alex, alone.

She leaves the picture frame.

-

When they've exhausted themselves trying to unpack and succeeded mostly in making isolated little messes, Alex opens the fridge and takes out the only thing in it- a bottle of champagne- and they sit down to dinner.

It's not dinner, really, because they don't have much to eat other than a sandwich from earlier that they share. The bread is soggy and the lettuce has wilted, and when Alex pours the champagne into red Solo cups it occurs to Kelley that drinking on a mostly-empty stomach might be a bad idea, but she doesn't refuse it. The cups and the sandwich are the opposite of the champagne, which tastes expensive and burns nicely going down and bubbles along her tongue.

"I haven't had champagne since the gold medal match," Kelley says, and it shocks her that it was so long ago. Alex gives her an incredulous look but finishes her sip before she speaks.

"Are you serious?"

"My family drinks wine. We're southern. And Christie drinks cosmos if she drinks at all, and Sophie's a beer person."

Alex makes a noise in the back of her throat that rumbles and makes Kelley's insides jump (she wishes they didn't). When she lifts the cup back to her lips, Kelley sees her opportunity and makes the best joke she can think up: "The only person with taste as expensive as yours is Hope," which is funny entirely because the last time Kelley and champagne were in the same room Hope had poured a 2k bottle of it over her head. Alex splutters and laughs and her hand shakes, which means that the champagne jumps and sloshes down her neck and collar.

Kelley's laughing all the way into the mostly-empty kitchen, digging a towel out of one of the boxes and coming back to Alex, who scowls but bursts into laughter again at the look on Kelley's face.

Kelley wipes off Alex's neck, and to do it she ends up too close- close enough that it distracts her into staring at the path the champagne took, clear down Alex's shirt. She reddens and looks up again, and Alex doesn't seem to care, if she even notices.

"I'm gonna change," She says, taking the towel away and getting to her feet. Shakily, and attempting to recover her composure, Kelley fights for a comeback.

"Don't you dare change. I like you just how you are."

Alex laughs her way into the left-hand bedroom and Kelley swears she can hear a mutter of 'asshole' through the raspy giggling, but she takes another sip of champagne to have something to blame for the way her stomach drops.

-

"Truth."

"When was the last time you had sex?"

"Serv slept over like two days before we broke up. But I'm not sure I'd call it sex. Because he was the only one that got anything out of it."

Kelley raises an eyebrow. She's on her third glass of champagne and she's a lightweight even on a full stomach; she makes a mental note to cut herself off after this glass. Cup.

"Is that why you dumped him?"

"Why, cause he didn't know how to use his hands or his mouth?"

Kelley chokes. Alex quirks an eyebrow.

"Maybe a little. Mostly it was just because I felt like I'd outgrown him."

Alex lets her wait a minute, wondering if the conversation's going to continue, but Kelley's still thrown a little by the notion of oral sex and Alex in the same context and decides to let it drop, for her safety and for her sanity. Eventually Alex kicks back, her bare feet on the cardboard box they've been using as a coffee table. Her toenails are painted navy blue with gray pinkies- Reign colors, and training hasn't even started yet.

"Truth or dare?"

"Dare."

"I dare you to drink the rest of this bottle."

Kelley reaches for it; there's probably another glass left because Alex can and will easily drink her under the box. Table.

"Al, you so don't want me to do that."

"I just dared you and now you have to. It's the game."

"Fine, truth."

"No takebacks!"

Kelley whines about it for a while, but eventually she finishes her glass, and then finishes the last of it. She's buzzing and pleasantly warm and a little numb, but in good places. She feels cross-eyed but she still has no problem focusing on Alex's face.

"Your eyes are really blue," she blurts, and Alex bursts out laughing, almost kicking the coffee table box over.

"You are so drunk."

"You made me drunk."

"I know. I love it."

"Truth or dare?"

"Truth."

"Has there been anyone since Serv?"

Alex shakes her head.

"Six months."

"You've been- for- dude, six months?"

"I can...handle it."

The pun sends them into hysterics, even though now Kelley's imagining Alex with a hand between her own legs and the temperature jumps ten degrees and she hates herself for it but can't make it stop. She wants to see that in person. She's too drunk for that to shock her.

"Truth or dare?"

"Truth."

Alex thinks on it for a moment. Kelley's drunk enough to answer just about anything, but hazily Alex considers that she doesn't want to take advantage. It does have to be something she wouldn't answer if they weren't playing the game, though, so what she comes up with is something she wants to know but is almost afraid to hear the answer to.

"Why'd you come to Seattle?"

"Cause you asked me to," Kelley answers, like it's obvious. Then she adds, without really thinking about it, "cause I missed you."

Alex doesn't say a word. Kelley takes it as her turn, and because of the silence and how dizzy she's gotten, she finds herself hoping for a 'dare' from Alex when she asks. She's so drunk. She's so drunk. And she knows the chances of her regretting this in the morning are much higher than the chances of this going the way she wants it to.

"Truth or dare?"

Alex can tell something is different because Kelley is leaning forward, watching her intently. Unsure whether she's giving the right answer, she speaks softly, wishing she'd left some champagne in her cup.

"Dare."

"I dare you to let me go down on you."

"Truth," Alex splutters.

"No takebacks," Kelley says, "but you can surrender and let me win the game, if you really don't want me to."

"Do you want to?"

"Irrelevant."

"Why do you want to do it?"

Kelley doesn't realize that answering that also answers whether or not she wants it, so she answers smoothly, or at least she thinks she answers smoothly: "Cause it sounds like Serv sucked at it, so I'm betting I could do it better."

Alex blushes, the reddish tint crawling from her chest up her neck and into her cheeks, and Kelley watches its progress shamelessly.

"He never tried," Alex admits, and Kelley shrugs.

"So then I'm already better than him. You taking the dare or not?"

After a heavy pause, Alex nods, lifting her hips and shucking down her shorts. Before she can psych herself out, Kelley drops to her knees in front of the couch, resting her hands on Alex’s knees. Alex tenses and Kelley is beyond aware of it. Through the haze of her own drunkenness she pauses and waits for Alex to relax- waits for permission. Eventually she gets it, though she can’t make herself look up for eye contact. Instead she reaches for Alex’s underwear and starts to tug it over her hips.

Alex catches her with both hands on both of hers, and Kelley jerks back immediately, flushing with embarrassment. Neither of them says anything at first, and then Kelley moves away completely, rocking back on her heels.

“It’s okay,” Alex says, “It was just a joke.”

Kelley squeezes her eyes shut and wrinkles her nose against the wave of embarrassment and nausea that hits her all at once. She hears Alex tugging her shorts back up and wishes this were some kind of stupid nightmare, but she knows it’s not. She knows when she’s fucked up.

“I need to sleep or something. I’m so,” she breathes out and opens her eyes, and Alex reaches to help her up, “drunk. Like, so drunk. Right now.”

“Yeah,” Alex giggles, still a little pink, “ but we didn’t put sheets on the beds yet.”

Kelley says she doesn’t care, and she doesn’t. She sleeps on the bare mattress, curled up on one side, and she swears, as drunk as she is, that for a moment, Alex was really going to let her do it, and for a moment, it wasn’t a joke for either of them. And she hopes- would pray if she could remember how- that moment doesn’t ruin it for them.

She’s just not sure what ‘it’ is.

-

“Left. Left, Kelley. Kelley, left!”

“I am left!”

Hope grins as Alex sets up for the fake free kick, and Kelley scrunches her nose.

“Just making sure you’re paying attention.”

She punches the shot out, and Kelley races after Alex, who races after her own ball with Jess not far behind her. Kelley can see Kate taking Jess, so she does the only thing left to do- she goes after Alex. A challenge with Alex is always physical. She’s tall, and she’s aggressive, and she’s creative, but Kelley can read her. She ends up forcing Alex out of bounds. Alex continues to play for a moment, like she’s going to keep trying to find someone open to pass to, but when she realizes Kelley’s not after her anymore and looks down to see herself just on the sideline.

The look of utter confusion on her face sends Kelley into hysterics.

-

“There are obviously a lot of good things happening already, alright? But what’s the most important thing I saw today is that you guys are having fun with each other. And in my experience, if you can’t have fun together, even if you win together you’re not going to enjoy it. And there’s no point in winning unless you’re going to enjoy it. And there’s no point in playing in this league unless we’re in it to win it. Fair?”

There are murmurs of agreement among the team. Hope elbows into Kelley to take a sip of her water and Kelley nudges her back.

“Come on, I know you guys agree with me more than that. Why are you here? Why do you play the game?”

“To win.”

Jess is the first to answer, and it comes so quickly and assuredly that half the team cracks up at her. She frowns a little, offering her palms.

“Alright, it’s not the only reason I’m here, but it’s a good one!”

“They’re laughing because it’s true!”

Laura’s excited now, gesturing; Kelley is already more engaged than she can ever remember being in New Jersey and only part of it is being there with Alex and Hope.

“It’s true. You’re here to win. And the first half of last season was not fun, but it’s not going to be like that again, because we’re going to make the fun happen, because we’re going to make the winning happen. Alright?”

She waits until the murmurs of agreement stop, and then she asks it again.

“Alright?”

And this time it’s a shout, it’s the group of women shouting, and Kelley feels it in her bones.

“We’re coming for Portland! Let it Reign!”

And it should be cheesy, but it’s not cheesy enough to deter them. Even Alex- who laughs when Laura says, “no offense,” and says she doesn’t mind- looks ready for anything.

Well, maybe not anything.

-

Three days before the first game, Kelley wakes up with a dry mouth, a plugged nose, and the worst headache of her life. She slogs through breakfast and sucks down some Sudafed that lets her make it through practice, but she sniffles the whole way through, and by the end her headache is unbearable again and her nose is red and she just wants to sleep for a week.

She denies it, though, when Hope asks her if she’s sick.

“Allergies,” is what she says, pulling the collar of her training shirt up to wipe her nose for the thousandth time, “weird shit grows on the other side of the country and that’s what my body’s used to now, thanks, Jersey.”

Actually, though, she’s sick and she knows it. Alex knows it, too, even if she’s got the tact not to say it. Kelley conks out on the couch after practice and wakes up to chicken noodle soup out of a can with some saltines and Alex prodding her in the side with a box of tissues.

“Get up, you giant germ. Blow your nose, wash your hands, eat something, and go to bed.”

“You’re the best nurse,” Kelley says groggily, taking the box, and Alex pulls a face when the honking ensues. She drags the trash can over to the table, though, for convenience’s sake, and Kelley tosses the tissue in from a few feet away just to feel like she’s accomplished something other than making herself sicker.

She can’t taste the soup, but she tells Alex it’s great anyway. Alex tells her it’s from a can and, ironically, to can it. Kelley’s too out of it to laugh much, and laughing hurts her head, anyway, so afterwards she puts the bowl in the dishwasher, fishes some Benadryl out of the cabinet, and turns back to Alex, who is suddenly in her space.

“I’d hug you but I don’t want to get you sick,” Kelley says. It’s funny that ‘but’ comes out ‘bud’, because it’s still something she would say. She laughs a little. It hurts; she stops. Alex reaches out and touches Kelley’s forehead with the back of her hand, furrowing her brow. For some reason, Kelley remembers the last time she saw that expression- complete with champagne and stupid drunk dares- and she thinks she might pass out.

“You’re definitely running a fever. Go to bed, okay? I’ll wake you up again to eat in a while.”

-

She hears the shower going and it sounds remarkably clear but she doesn’t realize why before it’s too late. Vividly she remembers the discussion they’d had about frosted versus unfrosted glass and wishes she could go back in time to change the decision- as it is, through the steam of the shower, she sees too much. Alex clearly hadn’t expected her home so early because the door is wide open, and Alex is leaned back against the tile of the shower, with her head lolled to one side, with a hand between her legs.

Kelley flushes from her feet to her face, clutching the doorframe, and tears her eyes away swamped with guilt and something she’s terrified to put a name to. With her eyes on the floor she approaches quietly enough to close the bathroom door, but she closes it louder than she means to and curses to herself, shaking.

The three pencils she tries break as soon as she tries to write with them, presumably because she’s holding them like they’re scalpels and she’s doing a life-altering surgery. Eventually she gets her hands on a ballpoint and scribbles out a note- ‘sorry, got on an early flight’- and only rips through the paper once. She sticks it by the bathroom, notices that the shower is off, and disappears into her own room, where she flops face-down onto her bed and makes incoherent noises into her pillow until she can’t breathe. The image isn’t gone, though.

It probably won’t ever be gone.

“Fuck. Oh my God, fuck, shit.”

She doesn’t have to be told how stupid it is that she was anything other than horrified and embarrassed. She’s both of those things, but she’s also horrendously hot under the collar, and no matter how much she tries not to think about it all she sees when she closes her eyes is Alex touching herself, which progressively makes the situation worse.

Alex is just as embarrassed.

She immediately turns the shower off and stands in it for another minute before she fully realizes what must have happened. Kelley had mentioned something about getting an earlier flight, but it hadn’t occurred to her- somehow- that it would actually happen. That Kelley had a key. That the bathroom had a door. The bigger problem, besides the fact that Kelley saw her, is that during- when she’d usually be thinking about something else- she found her mind drawn inexplicably toward what she can remember of moving in and being drunk and almost, almost letting Kelley go down on her. That two seconds of almost intimacy did more for her than anything she could dredge up that she used to do with Serv, or anyone else, and the embarrassment had just driven her on. Now, though, considering it was Kelley who walked in on her and closed the door- she doesn’t know what to think.

Other than that she’s an idiot.

Alex slips into her robe and pauses at the door, wondering if Kelley is stricken enough to have stayed, and figuring it’s best to check, to apologize. She’s still not recovered, really, from what she was doing, or from the adrenaline of being caught doing it; her knees wobble when she steps into the hallway but she forces herself to keep going anyway. She feels herself step on something and lifts her foot, expecting toilet paper or something, but when she peels it off the bottom of her heel and reads it she goes to Kelley’s door without thinking about what she’s going to say.

Kelley’s facedown on her bed and Alex almost turns around. Instead she clears her throat, and Kelley jumps, reddening, sitting up.

“Sorry-”

“I should have-”

“No, it’s-”

They stop at once and stare at each other for a long, awkward moment before Kelley looks away, and Alex can’t, so instead she ends up noticing where Kelley’s shirt gaps, and the definition of her collarbones- things she’s never noticed before that bring back her shower. That bring back the champagne in Solo cups and makes her remember a stupid dizzy kiss under mistletoe months ago when she had taken all of it for granted. All of Kelley.

She sits on the bed, crossing her legs, facing Kelley, and embraces the fact that she’s curious.

Alex’s nearness makes Kelley even jumpier than she was before. She looks over when Alex sits, even though she doesn’t want to, and swallows.

“I should have just walked back out,” she says weakly, and Alex bites her lips, which just makes everything worse.

“It’s okay. I should have closed the door. But really, I mean- it’s, you know. It is what it is. Everyone does it. Or almost everyone.”

“I never had the focus to do it in the shower,” Kelley admits, because it feels like the right thing to do- to give some little part of her own privacy, to make herself vulnerable the way Alex was. Alex laughs, which is exactly what Kelley had hoped would happen, and for a moment it’s almost like everything might turn out okay, until Kelley notices that Alex’s robe lies funny when she sits and only partially covers her thighs.

“Kelley.”

She’s been caught staring. She knows she has, even before she looks up and Alex it biting her lip, and she’s embarrassed all over again but doesn’t get the chance to look away before Alex grabs her hand.

“It’s okay.”

“No it’s not,” Kelley says, miserably, and Alex squeezes her hand, feeling herself lean closer and unable to stop it. She has to convince Kelley things aren’t strange between them or they’re going to lose something vital between them; Alex can feel it, and it’s not just the seasons ahead of them that make her scared. It’s the idea of losing Kelley, in any capacity, after getting her back so recently. After having her at all.

"Look at me."

Kelley obliges. Alex wonders if Kelley's eyes have always been this green.

Kelley notices how damp Alex’s hand is and can’t stop herself wondering about other places Alex might be damp, like where the robe gaps at her chest, or- well, maybe she can stop. She needs to, anyway. More than she’s ever needed to do anything in her life, she needs to get her mind out from between Alex’s legs. Except that she can’t.

“We’re adults. We can handle this.”

“Uh huh,” Kelley replies, and she’s making eye contact, but she’s on autopilot.

“We can handle this maturely and responsibly.”

“We’d better.”

She thinks she might be having a nightmare. One of those really vivid, Benadryl-induced nightmares that for masochistic reasons she never wants to end. She starts to tremble. Whether or not it’s nervousness eludes her. Alex drops their hands to her knee. The terrycloth of the robe isn’t even close, and Kelley swallows.

“We’re teammates,” Alex says, deliberately, “we have each other’s backs.”

“Of course.”

Alex’s hand moves up, a little, to her thigh, not far enough to be suggestive but far enough that Kelley sucks a breath in through her nose.

“And you’re my best friend.”

Kelley curls her fingers around Alex’s to convince herself that the heat is from Alex’s palm.

“Likewise.”

“And, you know, I would do anything you needed me to do. I’d bury a body or, like, bail you out of jail.”

Kelley could swear that their hands are creeping higher but she doesn’t want to look.

“That’s,” her mouth is dry, “very kind.”

Their hands are definitely moving higher. Kelley tries to remember the last time she took Benadryl, but at the same time, she knows this isn’t a hallucination. An alternate reality, maybe. Probably. But not a hallucination.

“You’d help me out, too,” Alex says, and it’s not a question, but Kelley nods, painfully slowly, “because we’re friends. Right?”

More nodding. They’re under the robe now; Kelley can feel the terrycloth brush the back of her hand but still can’t look. Does Benadryl give her weird dreams? She can’t remember. Everything’s swimming.

“Okay. Because right now what I really need,” Alex’s hand falls to her wrist, and Kelley jumps a little, and the heat is definitely not from Alex’s palm, “what I really, really need, is to get off.”

Kelley looks down.

Alex is kneeling. Their forearms disappear under the robe and Alex’s fingers are pressing into Kelley’s wrist. Kelley’s fingers are centimeters, probably, from pressing into Alex, and all the blood immediately rushes from her head determinedly southward, and God she wants to, but it takes Alex pushing a little for her to let go of her guilt and do it.

Alex isn't wearing underwear. And obviously, of course she isn't, but Kelley's still surprised when there's just nothing there but Alex. She's clumsy and slides without accomplishing much. Alex shifts forward, so that they're both kneeling, their knees touching, and when she angles herself to give Kelley more room it means that their cheeks brush.

This time Kelley's determined to give Alex what she wants and goes in instead of around, and Alex sighs into Kelley's ear. Alex lets go of her wrist and grabs her shoulder, digging her nails into the t-shirt until Kelley realizes what she's asking and adds a second point of pressure. When her wrist comes forward, so do Alex's hips. After a while she starts to realize that they're really doing this and she presses her thumb in just hoping that Alex will sigh again.

It's better. It's a moan. Alex drops her forehead to Kelley’s shoulder, and Kelley scrambles back to sit against the headboard, dislodging them but in favor of a better position. Alex follows, crawling onto her lap and tugging at the front tie of the robe until it falls open down the middle, and Kelley is momentarily distracted before Alex kisses her.

This angle is better for both of them, mostly because Kelley’s not kneeling and Alex is able to use the headboard for support, which she does, kissing Kelley until it seems like she runs out of breath and just ends up with her face pushed into Kelley’s neck again. The only part of it that’s awkward is the way Kelley’s bending her wrist, but by the time it starts to cramp Alex has one hand on the back of Kelley’s neck, blunt nails digging in, and her whole body curving around Kelley’s.

“God- oh my God,”somehow eggs Kelley on, even though Alex is already over that edge, so- with a cramp- she rocks her hips up, helping her hand along, and Alex says something that starts with a ‘k’ and was probably supposed to be Kelley’s name but ends up muffled in her t-shirt collar.

And then Kelley wakes up.

The muffled ‘k’ comes again.

“Kelley. Kel? Wake up.”

She gasps, throwing the blanket off of her face, and Alex jumps back, startled by the sudden movement. The Benadryl is on her nightstand, convincingly innocuous. Empty. And her head is killing her, and she’s sweating but she’s freezing.

“You were dreaming.”

Kelley laughs deliriously, and the laugh turns into a violent cough that makes her eyes water.

“You should eat something,” Alex says, “it’s been six hours. You can probably take more Benadryl, too.”

“No,” Kelley says, shrinking back against her pillows, “no more Benadryl, ever.”

When Alex reaches for her, presumably to see if she still has a temperature, Kelley too-vividly remembers the part of her dream where Alex’s lips were against her ear and panics, moving away from her as best she can without- she hopes- being too obvious. Alex frowns, retracting her hand, and places it on her own hip.

“It used to give me nightmares when I was a little kid, too.”

“It wasn’t a nightmare.” Alex’s eyebrows rise, and Kelley, desperate to avoid the rest of that conversation, rushes to recover, blinking and finding her congested sinuses with the pads of her fingers. “It’s just, uh- I mean, Benadryl is for allergies, and at this point I think I just have to suck it up and admit that it’s a cold.”

-

It’s so much worse than just a cold.

Physically, it’s not, and Kelley knows it, but she drags her feet getting ready for the game, and it’s almost impossible for her to make eye contact with Alex at all on the way there. Alex seems to think she’s just sick, because if she notices that Kelley’s being awkward she doesn’t say a word. All she says is that Kelley shouldn’t push herself, and Kelley, where she would normally make a mom joke, just nods.

Halfway through the warmup she starts coughing. She excuses herself for a few seconds to get some water, but it happens again, and this time Laura pulls her aside and tells her to sit this one out.

“I need you healthy.”

“But it’s the first game,” Kelley says, “I’ll be fine, I just need a cough drop or something.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion. You’re sitting it. Drink lots of water, get a lot of sleep, and you’ll play the next one.”

-

They upend Portland 2-1. Alex scores both goals. Mana scores the one for Portland, and Kelley claps for her even though she gets weird looks. It’s a beautiful goal, pretty enough that Hope doesn’t pull much of a face- it would have been near impossible to block, anyway, a spin into the top left corner. Each of Alex’s goals make Kelley want to jump off of the bench and run out to hug her, but at the same time the idea of being within two feet of Alex does ridiculous things to her that she knows isn’t just from her low-grade fever and congestion. She figures it’ll take her another two days before the dream fades enough for her to look at Alex and not imagine- she’s not thinking about it.

She’s not thinking about the smoothness of Alex’s thighs and she’s not thinking about the way Alex’s jersey clings to her shoulders when she stretches her arms out in front of her after the game. She’s not. She’s absolutely not.

“You look like shit,” Hope says, when she comes for her water. Kelley kicks her in the shin and Hope uses her free, still-gloved hand to push at Kelley’s forehead.

“I’m getting better.”

“Yeah, Alex said she put you to sleep last night.”

Kelley doesn’t answer, just lets that drop because she doesn’t know what to do with it. Alex hasn’t done anything wrong, and she doesn’t want anyone to think that she has, but she’s ready to not think about Alex at all for a little while, because if she thinks about Alex any more than she already is she’s afraid she’s going to do something stupid like try to go down on her again. Or look at her.

“You played great,” she says, instead of continuing on the same track, “sorry it wasn’t a clean sheet.”

Hope shrugs, but she’s looking at Kelley like she’s seeing something Kelley doesn’t even know she should be hiding.

“It’s alright. It was a good goal. And she shook my hand after.”

Kelley wanders around to find Bue and say hi, and when Alex finds them she puts on a brave face so that Bue won’t see how much she’s kicking herself thinking about the fact that they live together alone. She spends so long thinking about it that by the time they’re in the car she hasn’t come up with anything to say, so she just sits there with her cleats in her lap and picks at the grass between the spikes.

“I need cheese,” Alex says, after a few seconds of silence.

“Twice the cheese for twice the goals?”

She surprises herself with how normal she can make herself sound, but she won’t look up from her cleats. Alex laughs, her voice a little hoarse from yelling for the ball or just yelling in general, and Kelley sucks in air through her nose.

“Yeah. I’m gonna get a quesadilla or something. You want anything solid or just soup all over again?”

“I want to be asleep.”

-

Kelley takes a picture of her pack of tissues and NyQuil and Instagrams it.

Alex insists on instagramming Kelley doing it, and they end cracking up over some of the comments an hour later, when the NyQuil has just started to kick in and Kelley has just started to get loopy enough not to care that her heart stutters a little whenever their knees touch.

They start tallying marriage proposals, and then they start tallying mentions of squirrels and horses, and it devolves into hopeless giggling until Alex reaches over and touches Kelley’s knee and says, “I’m glad you’re feeling better,” and Kelley jumps so hard that she hits her leg on the kitchen table.

Alex gives her a weird look, and Kelley’s snapped out of thinking everything’s back to normal all over again. All it took was being touched, and she feels like a hypersensitive idiot, but there’s really nothing she can do about it other than excuse herself and go to sleep and try not to think about the fact that Alex is sleeping a room away.

-

They travel the next week, so Kelley’s first game is against Chicago, on their field. By now her cold is gone and she’s accomplished something interesting she didn’t even realize she was trying to accomplish- she has enough friends on the team that she doesn’t have to be with Alex unless she wants to. Most of the time, she wants to, but she avoids it; avoids Alex to keep herself as sane as possible. It’s difficult enough to live with her and to imagine, every night as she falls asleep, things she wishes would never occur to her.

There’s no harm in sticking with Kate and Elli, whose easy humor is distracting, or even with Hope. The thing about sticking with Hope is that nobody is as observant as Hope is, and Kelley knows that the first person other than Alex to notice that something is off will be Hope. That’s not her worry. Her worry is whether or not Hope’s going to say anything to her about it, because she won’t be able to lie, but she also won’t be able to talk about it, so for the most part she sticks with the other defenders, which provides her with a distraction and a cover, and for that week it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

Kate takes the seat next to her on the plane, and Alex sits across the aisle with Jess. They’re both on the inside, only feet away, but it’s not too close. It’s the right amount of space. Kelley doesn’t realize it looks awkward until they land and Hope bumps her while they wait for the bus, once Alex and some of the others have gone for the bathroom.

“Everything okay with you and Alex?”

“Huh?”

Kelley wonders if she’s trying too hard to look chilled out about everything. She tries to focus on thinking of the game.

“I mean, I know you’ve lived with her before, but sometimes having a roommate can be hard. Even when you’re married to them.”

“I’m not marrying Alex,” Kelley says, and Hope gives her a strange look.

“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t fighting with her.”

Kelley screws up her face like that’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard spoken out loud, and she watches Hope’s eyebrow raise in skepticism out of the corner of her eye, dread pooling in her stomach. She doesn’t want to talk about it, especially to Hope, because they’re so close, and Hope’s so observant, that she’s terrified it’ll all come bursting out at once. And saying it out loud- that she’s attracted to Alex- will make it too real for her. Not that it isn’t already.

What a mess.

-

Chicago doesn’t draw much of a crowd. The home side of the stadium is kind of empty, really, which is depressing except that the away side is full. Not completely full, but fuller, full enough that she spends a couple seconds waving and making faces before she gets dragged off to warm up. She’s ready. For her it’s the first game of the season, and she’s ready. She’s ready to play at fullback again, after last season. She’s ready to start over and prove that she deserves this starting spot.

“Think we can keep our winning streak?”

Elli laughs at her, nudging Kelley’s knee with her water bottle.

“One game isn’t a winning streak.”

“Whatever, Debbie Downer.”

-

Chicago, a season later, still bases their style of play on essentially bullying people off the ball. Not so much Lori, but everyone else, at least- lots of not-so-subtle pushing and pulling and kicks to the ankles and not the ball. Kelley goes into a challenge against Ella and comes out with a twinge in her ankle that scares her, close to the half, and at the half she takes a long moment to roll it before she walks off. It’s 0-0 but they’ve been making as many chances as they can with Alex constantly flanked by two defenders at once. It’s early in the season, and it’s not a big deal to struggle with momentum in the second game, but Kelley feels everyone’s agitation when they gather by the bench to listen to what Laura has to say. Alex finds her, after, and Kelley focuses on rolling her ankle into the twinge.

“Is your ankle okay?”

“It’s fine. Just got stepped on, I’ll be alright, I’m just being careful.”

Alex reaches out and rubs her knee. Kelley takes a long drink of water.

-

The second half of the game gets more intense.

Corner after corner, two yellow cards- one to Carm and one to Leslie - and Alex gets so frustrated that Laura takes her out with ten minutes left to play. Kelley can see her taking the bench out of the corner of her eye, and she at least looks like she’s trying to chill out about it.

With three minutes left there’s another corner. This time Kate and Carm tell them to move up as far as they can, and Kate goes up, too, leaving Carm a bit behind her, pushing Kelley and Steph up into Chicago’s half.

Fish takes the kick.

Kelley can see that it’s coming to her side, to the far side, farther out than it looks like any of her teammates are ready to run, and before she really thinks about it she’s moving for it, and her ankle doesn’t even matter because she’s going as flat-out as she possibly can towards the right post of the goal, and she’s in the air and miraculously she’s got a head on it, and she hopes someone will finish it because at least it’s going towards the net, and then it’s just- just barely- out of Erin’s reach. Just over her fingertips. Another centimeter and she would have punched it up over the crossbar.

But she doesn’t.

And it hits the back of the net and Kim’s lifting her up by the waist and Jess jumps on them, knocking them both over. Kelley, while she’s jogging back to her spot, catches sight of Alex clapping for her from the bench, and can’t help but grin at her even as she’s feeling her stomach flip. The game’s over before Chicago can really come back at them, and Kelley’s jogging to the sideline with Jess on her back and the rest of her teammates clamoring around her.

When Jess jumps off of her, Alex hugs her, winding her arms around Kelley’s neck, and Kelley’s face ends up pressed against Alex’s neck, and it’s too much all of a sudden. She’s reasonably sure that if she doesn’t break off the hug soon she’s going to be thinking about kissing Alex for at least another week. Breaking off the hug isn’t as difficult when Hope’s trying to get at her- at least she has an excuse.

Hope all but tackles her, and when she’s done nearly knocking Kelley over she lifts her into a swinging hug, and all thought of Alex are mostly forgotten.

“When we go out tonight,” Hope half-yells, “I’m buying you whatever drink you want.”

-

They don’t get drunk. They have an early flight back the next day, so nobody wants to get drunk, except Kelley, who doesn’t particularly want to drink heavily until she sees Alex with her hair down over one shoulder, in a tank top with her arms and shoulders showing, all smiley, and buzzed off of good beer, and then she really, really, really just wants to get drunk. Hope cuts her off after two cans of PBR, and Kelley starts to get antsy because she’s just not drunk enough.

She can’t stop watching Alex. It’s driving her crazy, and she can feel herself being obvious, at least being obvious to Hope, who eventually spins her stool so that they’re face to face and Alex is out of view.

“Talk,” she says, cosmo in one hand, and Kelley scrunches her nose instead.

“I’m serious, you better talk or I’m going to guess until I get it, and I’m going to do it loudly.”

“Jesus,” Kelley says, “can I get another beer first?”

“You can get a Diet Coke or something.”

“You’re a monster.”

She stalls for as long as she possibly can, taking sips of her fresh, non-alcoholic drink and very determinedly not looking at Alex. Hope doesn’t even have to say anything. All she has to do is watch Kelley until Kelley looks at her, and then raise a very purposeful eyebrow, and Kelley caves, lifting the glass to her forehead.

“It’s complicated.”

“Kelley, I swear-”

“It’s really fucking weird, okay? And I don’t wanna talk about it here like this in public. Like- not- I can’t. Not here. So just drop it.”

Hope is gone in half a second. Kelley takes this to mean that the conversation is over and sips her Coke, trying to pretend it’s something stronger, and failing miserably. She’s at least succeeding in not looking at Alex, still. But half of that is moot because she’s still thinking about it. And not the win. Or her goal. Her game-winning goal. Just Alex, because some fundamental part of her brain is broken, probably.

She’s sitting there feeling sorry for herself when Hope reappears with a hotel key held between her thumb and forefinger. Kelley speaks with the straw still between her lips.

“Wassat?”

“Your room key. I switched with Keelin. Come on.”

-

“You dared her to what?”

Kelley groans, rolling to press her face into her pillow.

“Please don’t make me say it again.”

“Did she let you?”

Answering this question- even entertaining the possibility of answering this question- means that Kelley has to think about it. That takes her right back to kneeling between Alex’s legs with her fingertips at the hem of Alex’s underwear. Which is somewhere she really doesn’t want to be.

“Almost.”

Hope is silent for a moment or two, long enough that it prompts Kelley to roll back over and look at her where she’s sitting on Keelin’s bed, one eyebrow impeccably raised.

“Weird,” she says, and Kelley has to agree, even before she hears the rest of it, “if I didn’t know you any better I’d think you were disappointed, Kel.”

“Don’t,” Kelley insists, rolling back over, and Hope continues anyway, of course.

“I mean, obviously this isn’t affecting your ability to play well, and it’s not really any of my business except that I consider you a good friend, and I feel like it’s my civic duty to remind you that Alex is very, very straight. Not straight like maybe she’ll hook up with a teammate for a few months and then marry a man a couple years later. Like...really straight.”

Kelley relocates to the bathroom under the pretense of washing her face. She’s not sure what Hope’s really trying to say, considering that Hope knows her well enough to know that she knows how straight Alex is. Especially now. She waits for Hope to elaborate. Eventually she does.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing, because whatever it is, it’s working. And maybe try to find someone to take some of your sexual frustration out on. For Alex’s sake.”

Kelley drops her hands and turns to give Hope an incredulous look. Hope holds up her left hand and points at her ring, and then Kelley just laughs, balling up her washcloth and tossing it at her keeper’s head.

-

It gets a little easier once Hope knows about it. There’s something about knowing that she can talk to someone about the whole thing- in theory, because she knows she’s not going to call Hope up and complain- that makes things easier to deal with. It also helps that the season is in full swing, which means hours of training, and hours of quiet recovery where they’re both too beat to focus on much of anything. Alex always has something to do, some photoshoot or commercial or interview or charity or something, and Kelley likes to think she has enough to do, too, but she likes having a little more time. She gets used to occasionally having the apartment to herself for the night. If she had a significant other those would be date nights, probably, but mostly she treats herself, ordering in expensive Thai food and marathoning Dance Moms, which Alex absolutely refuses to watch.

For a few weeks everything is fine. Sometimes Kelley dreams it again, or iterations of it, where Alex is hot and smooth and all over her, but usually all it takes is a day or so of avoiding any direct eye contact to get back in an okay place.

Then Alex starts seeing Andrei.

He works for the Reign and they both know him, peripherally, as one of the three team trainers. Kelley doesn’t really notice that they’re flirting or anything until one day when he’s watching them stretch after practice and things get weird.

Alex is lying on her back, stretching her right leg up, so that her knee is pressed into her chest. As far as Kelley can tell, there’s nothing wrong with the way she’s doing it- she has her hands clasped and gently pressed against the back of her knee, to exert enough pressure without hurting herself. Andrei comes over anyway, kneeling next to her and leaning his weight on her leg like he’s trying to deepen the stretch for her. He says something to her, and she laughs, her whole face lighting up, and Kelley rolls over onto her side to avoid looking at it anymore.

-

It’s only maybe three more days before Alex has a date.

She spends the evening prancing around the apartment trying to decide between two pretty similar dresses and doing her makeup and singing to Katy Perry’s new album, and Kelley curls up on the couch with a book and tries incredibly hard not to be jealous, because she knows it’s ludicrous. She’s not even jealous that Alex has a date and she doesn’t. She’s jealous of the way Alex’s face lit up when Andrei spoke to her. As if Alex would ever in a million years go out on a date with someone any smaller or less manly than Andrei, who looks like the guy from the Princess Bride, without the bad ponytail and moustache.

“Can you zip me up?”

Begrudgingly, Kelley drops her book and agrees. The zipper starts at her lower back and won’t pull up unless Kelley steadies the fabric with one hand on Alex’s hip. She has to reach up and move Alex’s hair over her shoulder, so that the zipper doesn’t catch, and in the process she gets a whiff of perfume and shampoo that she really could have lived without.

Alex turns around.

“Do I look okay?”

“Ridiculously okay.”

Alex grins.

“Use protection,” Kelley warns, because it’s something she would say, and Alex laughs. Her face doesn’t quite light up.

-

Kelley decides that sitting around and moping in the apartment is a bad idea. She doesn’t particularly want to feel bad for herself, but she knows that she’s going to, so she might as well go feel bad for herself in a diner. With half a sandwich and a milkshake in her she feels a little better. She wanders into a bookstore and spends an hour and a half just browsing, until she settles on something and heads home.

It’s a bad time. She doesn’t realize it until she opens the door, because she’s not expecting Alex to be back and is rereading the little blurb on the back of her book, but it’s the wrong time to open the door.

She gets a really great look at Alex straddling Andrei’s lap, with her dress pushed up her thighs by his big manly hands and her hands in his pretty blonde hair, before she regains control of her body and closes the door as quietly as possible. Whatever control she had that allowed her to do it quietly is gone, then, and all she can do is lean against the wall next to the door to her own apartment, staring at the paperback in her hands, and make herself as quiet and still and empty of thoughts as possible.

It doesn’t really work. It’s all kind of overwhelming, although maybe not too surprising. Alex could have and probably should have texted her, sure, but part of having a roommate is occasionally dealing with awkward situations like this. She’s trying to decide what to do next when the door to the apartment opens again, startling her, and Alex comes into the hallway, letting the door close behind her.

She’s all flushed, and her lip gloss is smudged, and Kelley wishes she could think about anything but kissing her.

“You can come in.”

“Nah, it’s alright. I can go and hang out at a bar or something for a few hours. Let you get- you know. Give you some space.”

“I’m not gonna sleep with him,” Alex giggles, like it’s ridiculous.

“You could’ve fooled me.”

She tries to keep the bitterness out of her voice, but if she fails, it’s not like Alex notices. She just leans in to whisper conspiratorially into the general vicinity of Kelley’s ear. She smells mostly alcohol. Alcohol and something sweet.

“He’s a bad kisser. Real sloppy. Means he’s gonna be bad at...other stuff.”

Giggling again. Kelley tries to lean away, as subtly as she possibly can, and not think about what Alex is insinuating.

“You know what I mean? Like-”

“Yeah,” Kelley breaks in, “I do, yeah, yes, I’ll come in.”

-

Kelley doesn't score again, but she assists plenty. With Jess in front of her more often than not, and Alex in front of her, there's a lot of chemistry on their side, and they make their way up the table, nipping at the heels of the Flash and the Thorns. Things are, for the most part, working pretty smoothly.

That's why Kelley is completely shocked when Laura says, "let's try Kelley up top with Alex."

It doesn't really work. Alex can't find Kelley in the box, and keeps sort of passing a few feet behind her; when Kelley tries to slow down to accomodate the ball gets ahead of it. It frustrates both of them, to the point that Alex gets that patented look on her face- the look that can only be described as 'pissy'. It's not personal, but it certainly feels that way, especially when Andrei slips an arm around Alex's shoulders and says something that makes her smile a little.

Laura finds her at the sideline, claps her on the back.

"It was worth a try."

"Sorry."

She tries to remember the Kelley who felt at home up top, who scored goals galore, but all she can think of is the frustration on Alex's face.

It's hard being a letdown. She's not used to it.

"Don't be. You're a stellar left back, that's where we'll keep you. I was just curious."

-

Despite tipsy Alex’s confession, she doesn’t end up breaking it off with Andrei. One night that Kelley spends out with Carm and Kate, there’s a text that says, very simply, ‘two hours tops’, and Kelley comes back to Alex glowing a little in that ‘just-fucked’ way that girls have, that Kelley knows she hasn’t had in way, way too long. Alex bursts into giggles when Kelley walks in the door, eyebrows raised, and all she has to say for herself, sipping her water, is, “he wasn’t bad at the rest of it at all.”

-

 

“So you like guys, right?”

“Yes,” Kelley says, but she’s mostly trying to get Hope to stop talking. The playoffs are coming, sooner than any of them want to admit, and Kelley would rather focus on that than the fact that Andrei’s hands are on Alex at every available opportunity, whether or not Kelley’s around. The pretense of spending Saturday with Hope was to stretch and do some cardio, not to sit on her porch and talk sexuality.

“So just go to a bar and pick up a guy. Get it in, get over it. It’ll be that easy.”

“I don’t think sleeping with a guy is going to help my issue being attracted to another girl.”

“Then go to a lesbian bar. You’re cute, you won’t have any trouble. Just, like, put on some flannel or a denim shirt or something, get a little drunk, get it out of your system.”

“That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

-

Being there feels even stupider. Kelley’s smart enough to know that wearing denim or wearing a flannel to a lesbian bar would just make her look like a tryhard, even if she’s never done it before. Her cardigan is just the right shade of green, and she knows it, and she knows it because she gets picked up almost immediately.This girl is comfortingly unlike Alex, all curves and a vague accent, one hundred percent confidence, and, for some reason, very interested in making sure that Kelley knows- again and again- that she’s Colombian.

She’s a great kisser.

-

The last time they play the Flash before the playoffs, they lose. It’s only 1-0, and Sam’s Abby-assisted goal was a beauty, but Kelley’s annoyed by it and she can tell that Alex is, too. After spending the entire game more or less getting shut down by Huffy, she’s frustrated the way she was during the practice where Kelley played as her partner, but this time Andrei doesn’t go right to her- he must be busy or something- and Kelley feels like she should probably do something. Everyone else is kind of afraid to, and anyway her choices are a post-loss Hope or a post-loss Alex.

Considering that she’s sharing an apartment with Alex, she shoves aside everything that’s caused her any kind of grief and goes to Alex’s side where she’s stretching, alone, silent.

“Hey.”

“Don’t try and cheer me up.”

Kelley plops on the ground and stretches her hamstrings.

“You wanna wallow? I get that.”

“Stop being sarcastic with me.”

“Well, stop wallowing. We played a good game. We’ll be ready for them next time.”

Alex huffs something under her breath that sounds like ‘you played a good game’, and Kelley reaches up to grab her by both her hands and tug her to the ground. She sets them up foot-to-foot to stretch better, using each other as anchors like they have a hundred times. It’s hard being this close and touching Alex like this when she feels like she’s hiding something, but Alex clearly needs to talk, and that’s more important.

“Andrei’s married.”

Kelley almost drops Alex’s hands. She gapes, and instead of using her grip on Alex to stretch, she ends up just holding Alex’s hands.

“He was married this whole time, just didn’t wear a ring. She’s finishing her residence in New York and she’s coming back at the end of the season.”

“That fucker. I’ll castrate him.”

Kelley’s vitriol makes Alex smile (which was half the intended effect) and squeeze her fingers.

“Don’t bother. There’s not much there.”

-

The game that determines whether or not they make it to the playoffs is against Sky Blue.

The only part of Seattle's back line fast enough to keep up with De Vanna is Kelley, which means the entire first half is filled with dead sprints and building panic. Every time Lisa gets a breakaway Kelley convinced herself she can catch up and somehow she does it, until the half time whistle blows and she can taste the copper of her throat from running as hard as she has been.

She lies on her back with her knees up, listening to Laura, until her breathing levels out. When she opens her eyes, Alex is there to help her up, offering a water bottle with her free hand. It's 0-0. They need to step it up.

Kelley's not sure that she can.

Fortunately for her, the second half finds Seattle with a majority of the possession, which spares her the sprints she'd been doing earlier. Chasing after Alex and Fish has worn down the Sky Blue back line just enough for Alex to break through and head for the left corner. They've done this before, hundreds of times in crossing and finishing, and it works like clockwork- Christie covers Alex, the other defenders start to crowd in the center, obscuring Jill's view and leaving Kim open for a run to the right post.

Alex serves it in so that it practically hits right on Kim's foot. It's a volley into the net, and it's beautiful, and even as exhausted as she is Kelley runs the length of the field to jump on Alex's back.

-

Tobin finds her after the game, coming up from behind to cover Kelley's eyes with her hands. Kelley knows immediately and laughs out loud, halfheartedly jamming her elbow back into Tobin's ribs until the hands are gone and she can turn around to get a proper hug.

“You’re rank,” Tobin laughs, hugging her back, and Kelley scoffs.

“And you’re a bed of roses. Sorry we knocked you out of the playoffs.”

Tobin shrugs. With anyone else Kelley would think that shrug meant ‘let’s not talk about it’ instead of ‘whatever’, but with Tobin she knows better. It really, truly means ‘whatever’. Tobin’s not one to sit around and be bitter about something like this, and it’s not like they didn’t play a good game or have a good season. She lets go easily when she has to. Kelley kind of wishes she knew how to do it.

“Dinner?”

“I left my evening open just for you, Toby.”

Tobin pushes her, laughing, and for a moment Kelley forgets that anything in her life is confusing or complicated.

“Don’t call me that. Let’s go find Alex.”

And she remembers.

-

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Alex opts out, claiming the need for a nap and some detox and promising Tobin she’ll come visit once playoffs are over. Kelley feels a little bad about it, because she knows that the real reason is because Alex wants to order in and sulk about Andrei, but she needs the out, so she takes it.

“Is Alex okay?”

Tobin peels at the label on her beer, and Kelley takes a swig of her own before she answers. With anyone else she would lie on Alex’s behalf, but she knows that with Tobin there’s no need to- Alex would have told her, anyway.

“Her boyfriend, or...the guy she was seeing, or whatever, was married the whole time. So she’s kinda upset about that and I guess she needs some space right now.”

“Dang, that’s...that sucks.”

“Yeah. Anyway. How’ve you been?”

Tobin shrugs.

“Busy. Glad to be back near home, though, you know? I missed it.”

She’s hiding something, though, behind the little smile at the corner of her mouth. Kelley thinks she knows what it might be, but she takes a few seconds before she asks, takes another drink of her beer.

“Single?”

Tobin shrugs. The label comes off her beer, and she crumples it up in one hand.

“Not so much.”

“Spill,” Kelley laughs, kicking Tobin under the table, but she’s still thinking of Alex sitting alone in their apartment, and suddenly, thinking of Tobin happy with someone else makes her feel a little guilty.

“His name’s Gabe. Before you ask, yes Gabe like Gabriel like the angel and yes I met him at Hillsong and yes I know you think that’s hilarious.”

“Tall dark and handsome?”

“Uh, dark and handsome.”

“Oh my God, is he shorter than you?”

“Do you think Alex is okay alone?”

The abrupt turn in conversation makes Kelley pause, mouth hanging open before she plucks a piece of fried zucchini from their shared plate and pops it into her mouth to keep from saying something she’ll regret. Hope already knows, but the thing about Hope knowing is that she’s not part of their immediate friend group. Kelley doesn’t need Tobin knowing about her thing for Alex. Not now, not ever. Especially since Alex doesn’t even know.

“She’ll be okay. I’ll grab her some Ben and Jerry’s on the way back or something.”

“Flowers,” Tobin jokes, and Kelley laughs a little too loudly.

-

Kelley expects Alex to be asleep by the time she finally get back, but Alex isn’t, and Kelley, when she hears the TV going faintly from the hallway, almost considers leaving again and coming back in another few hours. Eventually she realizes how ridiculous that is- since she bought the ice cream, and it’ll melt- and turns the key, but there’s a part of her that insists running away is the smarter thing to do.

She knows Alex is going to confront her as soon as she steps inside and the TV is suddenly on mute. Going out with Tobin after it was clear that Alex needed her around has completely fucked her over. By avoiding it she’s made it a bigger issue.

“Kel? What’s going on?”

“Hey, buddy. Thought you’d be asleep.”

 

She doesn’t make eye contact. There’s no reason to yet, unless she wants to rush the inevitable. She shrugs out of her jacket, hangs it on the wall, and puts down her purse before she turns around to see Alex watching her, sitting up on the couch like she’s expecting a little more.

“Talk to me,” Alex says, at the exact moment that Kelley blurts out, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Please.”

Kelley clears her throat and looks down at her shoes.

“It’s nothing, alright?”

“It’s not nothing. You’ve been avoiding me for a month.”

Again she considers running. The door’s still ajar a little bit, and her coat will still be warm inside, and her palms are itching. The thing is that she knows she can’t actually run from Alex, or from what she feels, partially because Alex won’t let her and partially because she doesn’t have the guts to do it. Especially when Alex looks at her like this, like she’s breaking Alex’s heart when she’s trying to do the opposite.

So she sits on the couch.

And she tells Alex everything.

It’s the beer, a little, but mostly it’s Alex that makes her want to come clean. The whole time it’s surreal how this is all happening at once, after her avoiding it for so long. This feels more like a Benadryl nightmare than the sex dream did, the way she can’t stop the words from rushing out.

“So when we moved in, that night where we got really drunk and played truth or dare and I almost went down on you and we never talked about it again? And- you- probably you didn’t think about it ever again, but I guess I did.”

She blushes violently, face in her hands, horrified and unable to look up at Alex, but determined to finish now that she’s started. With the heels of her hands pressing into her cheekbones, she takes a deep breath and starts over.

“I don’t mean to say that I thought about going down on you all the time. That’s not what I’m saying. I guess what I’m saying is that after that night I kinda, I dunno, got...it messed me up. I hadn’t ever thought of you as anything but my friend before, and then after that I did. And I had this crazy Benadryl dream about you touching yourself in the shower and it was so wrong, you know? It was so bad, because you’re my best friend and I shouldn’t think about you like that, but it happened and I couldn’t not think about it for so long, and it all just got worse. So I’m sorry I’m being strange, and I’m sorry if I made you feel like I didn’t like you or didn’t want to live with you anymore. I really like you. I just don’t know.”

It all comes out on one breath, miraculously, and by the time Kelley’s ready to breathe again she realizes she’s on the verge of sobbing, and she sucks in air like a drowning woman until Alex says, “Kelley.”

By then she’s actually crying, and she looks up to see that Alex is frowning at her, and she’s not quick enough to avoid it when Alex reaches over and touches her shoulder. Alex pulls her in, hugs her, like nothing’s changed at all. Something has, though, at least in herself. Now when Alex hugs her it’s more than just the comfort of a hug from someone she cares about, it’s also Alex touching her, Alex’s arms around her, Alex’s chin on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, but this time it’s for wanting to construe the hug as something else.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

The crying gets worse after that, because that’s exactly what Kelley needed to hear even if she didn’t know it until Alex said it. She wants to say thank you, but she can’t manage it. Alex shifts so she can lie back on the couch, taking Kelley, hiccuping, down with her. Without a bit of shame Kelley snuggles up, tucking her face in between Alex’s chin and the crook of her neck, and only then, with Alex’s quiet acceptance surrounding her, can she make the tears stop.

They fall asleep like that, and it means everything.

-

Kelley wakes up feeling lighter. She’s lying on her side, head resting on Alex’s shoulder, Alex’s arm around her upper back, their legs intertwined. It’s comforting, but it’s also overwhelming, to open her eyes and see Alex right there. Kelley slips away, replacing the part of her that Alex was holding with a pillow- and she’s not expecting it to work, but it does. Alex doesn’t wake up.

She feels brand new, slipping into a pair of running shorts and a dri-fit shirt and scribbling down a note with the only pencil she can find, a broken nub that almost gives her a splinter because she’s rushing. She even forgets her iPod on the way out, and doesn’t realize it until she’s halfway down their street. She doesn’t go back for it. She spends the whole run listening to her feet hit the ground and trying to decide what to do about Alex.

She had been under the delusion that as soon as she talked about it, something would change. It’s not as if she had a vision in her head of admitting her feelings and being whisked away into the sunset or anything. She hadn’t been expecting anything in particular, but she had been expecting something to change, and right now she just feels stuck in limbo like she did before, only she doesn’t have to keep secrets so she’s not sure what to do with herself.

So she runs.

Alex is up by the time she gets back, with CBS Sunday Morning on, so Kelley doesn’t feel bad about coming in quietly and moving into the kitchen without saying anything- she’s just trying not to interrupt. It’s luck that means she’s also avoiding confrontation again. She needs Alex to be the one to address it this time.

“Kel, c’mere.”

It’s like she knows. Kelley digs in the pantry for a Clif bar, figuring that if she doesn’t at least get something in her first there’s no guarantee she’ll make it through a confrontation. Also, she’s gross from the run and pretty sure she only put deodorant under one arm.

“I just got home, I gotta shower and stuff, can it wait?”

“No, it really can’t. It’ll take two seconds, promise. C’mere.”

Kelley sighs, dropping her bag to the ground and toeing it into an alcove between the kitchen and ‘living room’, where Alex is waiting, presumably to-

kiss her.

Alex waits until she leans over the couch and grabs her by the collar of her t-shirt to kiss her.

She lets Kelley go after a few seconds, leaving no trace except for the look on her face and the wrinkles in the front of Kelley’s shirt.

“Alright,” Alex says, but her eyes are still on Kelley’s lips for a moment, “sorry, go shower now, you do kinda smell.”

The fact that Alex is looking at her lips, even for half a second, leaves Kelley racing to keep up. It’s unreal, but it happened. Alex kissed her. Just like that. Like it wasn’t a big deal.

“What’d you do that for?”

It’s the stupidest possible question, so of course it’s the one that comes out of her mouth. Alex doesn’t laugh, though, just makes a face like that’s a stupid question and gets up off the couch.

“While you shower I’m gonna run, too, I think.”

She brushes past, and some instinct Kelley doesn’t know the name of makes her reach out and grab Alex’s wrist. They’re not in a life-or-death situation, but suddenly it feels like if she doesn’t kiss Alex right now the world might just end. When Alex turns, Kelley lurches forward, and this time their noses clash and their foreheads bump and the resulting kiss is completely different than before, with both of them, Alex especially, laughing afterwards at the awkwardness.

“Let’s try that again once you smell like coconut or whatever,” Alex jokes, and Kelley lets out a breath of relief that sounds like a laugh. She breezes by Alex and calls “passionfruit” over her shoulder on her way to the bathroom.

She watches the suds wash down the drain, running a hand through her hair. Somewhere after her fingers start to prune, the smile breaks out on her face, and she presses her forehead against the tile just to convince herself that she’s alive and awake.

-

They do try again, but it’s not until they’re waiting for dinner. Now that it’s happened twice and they’ve talked about it there isn’t any rush, really, which means that this time when Kelley goes in it’s much more natural, even in the middle of a conversation, and nobody gets bonked on the head or the nose. They kiss for a few seconds without touching each other before Kelley feels the awkwardness of that and reaches for Alex’s neck. Her hand is cold, and Alex startles a little, making a soft little noise that Kelley instantly loves and hates with a passion.

“If we do this we can’t like- un-do it.”

Alex blurts it out and Kelley pulls away, dropping her cold hands back into her lap.

“Aren’t we kind of already doing it?”

It seems like a valid question to Kelley, but Alex gives her a look. After a second or two of the Look, it occurs to her that Alex is talking about sex, and all the blood rushes into her cheeks at once. She’s got to look like some variety of tomato by the time her brain catches up to her mouth.

“We don’t have to. I’m okay with just this- I mean, more than okay.”

“Alright,” Alex laughs, nudging Kelley’s knee with her own, “but if we’re going to be in a relationship or something-”

“You wanna be in a relationship with me?”

This time it’s Alex’s turn to blush, and Kelley watches the redness chase its way up Alex’s neck and into her cheeks, waiting for an answer. She gets cut off by the buzzer, which means the food is there, so she holds up a finger and lets him in. Alex looks like she’s about to speak, and suddenly Kelley gets nervous that she won’t like what’s about to be said. In that moment she’s not sure whether she’s more nervous that she’ll hear a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

So naturally she waits for the delivery in the hallway instead of waiting for him to knock.

She stands with her back pressed against their door and takes even breaths like she’s running a mile. When the elevator opens halfway down the hall, she jumps, knocking her head back against the door, and by the time the guy comes around their corner she’s still kind of embarrassed about it.

Alex is waiting for her when she opens the door again, but she takes the takeout bag from Kelley’s hands and says, so assuredly that it’s pretty clear she’s been practicing it, “I want to try it.”

“Okay.”

“I didn’t even- before we moved in here I wasn’t even curious about it. I mean, there was that mistletoe thing but I didn’t think about that at all until we moved here, and then I just got so curious about it, what it would be like to- to be with a girl like that. And the more I thought about it the more I realized that I didn’t want to be with a girl like that. I don’t like girls like that. But I like you like that. And I want to try it.”

“Okay,” Kelley laughs, grabbing at the takeout bag, “listen, can we eat?”

“Can I kiss you again first?”

Well. There’s no good reason to argue against that.

-

Two things happen within that month.

-

The first is that they try it. It’s a little weird being in the beginnings of a relationship with someone that you’re living with, but Kelley’s determined to satisfy Alex’s curiosity without forcing her into anything too fast, so their first date she takes Alex out to dinner and gives her space for the rest of the evening. Eventually Alex slips into her room and curls up with her- that night they sleep together, but they don’t sleep together. It’s like the night on the couch, only it’s comfortable, and when Kelley wakes up she doesn’t have to run. (Instead she touches Alex’s face and tells her that she’s beautiful, and she blushes even though Alex isn’t awake to hear her say it.)

The official term for what they are is ‘complicated’, at least until the season ends and they have time to talk about it, but it doesn’t feel complicated at all.

-

The second is that they lose in the NWSL final. It’s a close game, and it’s a good game, but they can’t quite get through Kansas City’s back line to score, not with Becky tracking Alex’s every move like it’s specifically her job to do. It must be, because at halftime she looks apologetic, and claps Alex on the back to let her know it’s not easy, she’s doing a good job. On the bench Kelley sits close enough for Alex to rest her head on her shoulder, but she feels it then and there that they’re not going to win.

Cheney’s bigger than her and faster than everyone else and knows every facet of how she plays. Kelley still manages to stay goalside of her most of the time, and goes into challenges that she knows are unlikely to end with her controlling the ball, because she’ll be damned if she won’t at least make them throw-in their way into Hope’s box, and at the end of regulation all either team has to show for it are grass stains and sweat.

Overtime seals their fate. Cheney stumbles in the box just as Hope comes out to block her, and the resulting tangle of limbs and women over 5’6’’ ends with an elbow to Hope’s eye that Lauren profusely, profusely apologizes for, crouching there next to her until the officials get there. The issue is- and Kelley knows this even while she stays as close to Hope as she’s allowed- that their ‘luck’ in allocations meant that they drafted a rookie goalie as their second string. A great rookie, sure, but with Hope in top form she hasn’t gotten many minutes this season, and she looks terrified when it becomes clear that she’s going to have to come on. Hope is pissed, but if she can’t see out of both eyes then she shouldn’t be between the posts, and they all know it.

Jess scores, but the only people who can’t see how offsides it is are her and Alex, who turn to celebrate before they can see the rest of their teammates not celebrating, and when Alex’s face falls it makes Kelley’s stomach turn even from half a field away.

At least the golden goal is Cheney’s.

-

“This was the best season of my life,” Alex says earnestly, looking down at the silver medal in her palm. Kelley took hers off as soon as she could. She’s not crying or anything, but she definitely feels defeated, and she’s almost too tired and bummed out to try and play along.

But she’ll never be able to resist humoring Alex.

“That’s cute. You should go find someone with a microphone or a camera and say that again.”

“I mean it. I played better this season than I’ve ever played before. I don’t need a gold medal to tell me that. I learned so much, you know?”

This seems like the sort of thing Laura ought to be hearing. Kelley looks for her until she realizes that Alex is looking at her, and the look she’s getting is the kind of look Alex gets on her face right before she goes in for a kiss. (Not that Kelley has that look memorized, because she definitely, definitely doesn’t.)

“If I got to choose whether or not to have won tonight or to get to go home with you, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Apparently Alex is sappier and more affectionate on an adrenaline high than she is drunk. Kelley blushes, though, and reaches up a little to pull some grass from Alex’s ponytail.

“I think you did win.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

 

Right here is the perfect place to say it, surrounded by ripped-up grass and the smell of turned dirt, under fluorescent lights and the gazes of hundreds of people. Where battles are fought and won.

-

That’s the night that Alex finally accomplishes Kelley’s dare. And then accomplishes it again.

-

“You were wrong,” Alex says into Kelley’s neck, in that hazy place between orgasm and sleep.

We won.”