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The first time she takes your face in her hands and kisses you, excitement radiating from her skin, your heart breaks a little. Yes, you've wanted this too, though you're not allowed to admit how much. You close your eyes for the duration of this kiss, breathing in the moment and the closeness and the tenderness of her lips, knowing how much it's going to hurt when she opens her eyes. Even when you pull away from her, your eyes stay shut a moment longer in an attempt to delay the inevitable, and when you concede, she's already gazing at you. Gazing, her cheeks flushed.

Wow.

I have been wanting to do that, she says breathlessly.

You smile softly and take a small, distancing step. Her hand slips from your bicep.

Yeah...I can tell. You smile again. You need to encourage her, you have to, you can't be the one to shatter her confidence this way. It isn’t fair.

Her nervous smile falters nonetheless.

Was that not okay?

You didn't do anything wrong. Your smile doesn't reach your eyes, you know this. You're trying, God, you're trying. She can read you too well for this.

...But something is wrong. It's something between a statement and a question. You know, she knows, but the hope that she's wrong is all over her face. She wants you to reassure her. You wish more than anything that you could.

How do you tell this girl that choosing you is a mistake? That falling for you was a matter of circumstance, that she's confusing the recognition of a kindred spirit for desire? She is too good, too bright, deserves too much to settle for you. How do you tell her you don't know which would be crueler; letting yourself have this only for the day to arrive when she realizes how little you have to offer, or, if the epiphany never comes, knowing the lives you've kept her from living.

You won't hold her back.

You do your best to explain why it's best that you remain friends, but the words come out wrong. Even as they spill from your lips you know that they're wrong, that the words in your head don't match the ones you present to her. You're protecting her, you know you are, but all she hears is not us. Not you.

She turns to go. You ask her to stay, but she waves you off. She doesn't want to face you this way. She won't let you see her vulnerable, not again. This was a mistake.

And then she's gone.

Then she's gone, and you're left staring after her. You bring your fingers to your lips and trace where hers had been. You don't deserve to remember this, but you want to. With the desperation of one starving, you want to remember the brief, fleeting sweetness of her lips on yours, of her thumb gently stroking your cheek. You will hoard this memory like gold, held close to your heart in its greedy talons. This is all you get, that one moment. That one glimpse into what--in another lifetime--might have been.

She's so much more than you deserve.

- - -

You don’t know if you can call it a first fight, really, but it’s the first dispute of interest that puts you at odds (butting heads over jurisdiction notwithstanding.) The first since becoming meaningful parts of each other’s lives.

She avoids you for an agonizing two weeks. Avoids the bar for two weeks. Screens your calls and leaves your texts unanswered. It takes showing up at her doorstep and pleading for an audience before she’ll see you.

You bare as much of yourself as you can to her. You don’t tell her how often your last meeting replays in your head, how many nights you lie awake with her name running through your thoughts, how much bleaker your life has become without her light. You can’t tell her you want her too, because once she knows you won’t be strong enough to fight this, to keep her safe from your sharp edges and shaking hands.

You settle for the tamest version of the truth: I don’t want to imagine my life without you in it.

She softens at that. It’s not what she wants--not the way she wants you--but she isn’t willing to lose you.

Later, she thanks you for fighting for her. Apologizes for making it seem as though she only wanted something from you. She tells you she’s okay with friendship. She says she doesn’t want to go back to the version of her life without you in it.

It’s comforting, but not enough to dissolve the stone in your stomach.

- - -

You’re there the first time she kisses someone else.

She invites you to the gay club earlier that night; Kara and Olsen have been dying to go, and Winn is a regular. Clubs have never been your scene, but you enjoy the company.

You lose track of the time once you’re there, and sometime after the drag show you lose track of her too. You turn away from the bartender, beers in hand, and there she is.

Across the room. She’s dancing, arms wrapped around another girl’s neck, their bodies pressed close together. The girl leans forward suddenly, and Alex’s hands are in her hair and you tear your eyes away. You spend the rest of the night at the bar, refusing to face the dance floor. A few girls notice you throughout the night and try to introduce themselves. You smile politely and tell them you’re not interested.

She raves to you that night about kissing girls. You feign enthusiasm with a high five and an ‘Atta girl, Danvers and let her excitement bubble over until your laughs are genuine too.

You’re happy for her. You are. She deserves this.

She deserves the next four months, too. Of meeting girls at clubs, bars, Starbucks. She tells you about every one. You’re her best friend, her closest confidant next to Kara. She teases you too, pries for details into your own love life, asks when you’re going to get in on the action. You laugh every time and shrug her off with a when the stars align.

You’ve decided it’s better this way. Better for anyone who might care for you if you’re alone.

- - -

It’s not the first time you’ve been shot, but it’s the first time it scares you. Terrifies you. Not death, not pain, but the realization that you could lose her.

Your jobs are dangerous, you’ve always known this. Either of you could be killed on a daily basis. But until now, you’ve never understood the gravity of it; you could die without her ever knowing the truth.

You show up at her doorstep with pizza and beer that night. She’s not expecting you. She’s in her pajamas, and you know you’re one of only two living souls privileged enough to be allowed to see her this way: unguarded, comfortable, vulnerable.

She’s surprised to see you. Pleasantly so. She starts asking about the cases you’re working on and you tell her you needed to see her. Talk to her.

You don’t know how to do this. You don’t know how to do this. You don’t know how to do this.

I was so stupid. I thought that--and, and I guess I was kinda right, that you came out for me. And that scared me.

She’s opening two beers as you begin, and her brow is furrowed as she watches you. You can’t keep your hands still.

But, uh...but life’s too short. And...and we should be who we are. And we should kiss the girls that we wanna kiss.

She listens to you in a way no one else ever has, not only now but always, always, as if your thoughts are worth hearing. She nods solemnly now, trying to figure out where you’re going with this.

And I really just...I wanna kiss you.

You move toward her. Confusion is written all over her face and you ask in a whisper because there’s no way your voice won’t betray you Can I…?

She nods ever so slightly, eyes wide with disbelief, and you close the gap.

You kiss her. Deeply, with half a year’s worth of longing. You’re aware of nothing in the world besides Alex, Alex, Alex. Alex’s mouth on yours and kissing you back and the smell of her shampoo and the whiskey on her tongue, her tongue, and her face in your hands and her pulling you closer like she’s drowning and you’re her last breath of air.

It’s your first kiss. In all your life, the first one that mattered.