Lena folded one of the last remaining blueprints carefully. She lined the corners up just so, delicately pressed a straight crease into the grid paper, and then flipped it open again only to repeat the process on the opposite side of the drawing. She took a final look at the design, and then tore it neatly in half. The two halves then went to the paper shredder, no longer satisfying to pull apart by hand.
Her real work had, of course, been finished long ago. Likely before business hours had ended, if Lena had cared to check the clock. At least, whatever ‘business hours’ there were to be had on a Sunday. But she didn’t want to go back to her apartment, because she didn’t want to fall asleep. And so she sat at her desk listening to the gentle sound of the rain falling against the building’s roof and tearing up the diagrams representing the planning stages of what she privately considered the Luthor family’s latest devastation against the world.
It had been a week since the Daxamite invasion came and went, and a week since Supergirl had saved the planet from the potential war Lena had enabled.
(And Rhea had died that day. Lena knew how that was supposed to make her feel, but so far she’s had no luck forcing the emotions.)
‘I want you to know the affection I have for you is real.’ Somehow, that short sentence stuck to the forefront of Lena’s mind late at night more than anything else Rhea had said. More than anything about New Daxam or even producing an heir. Because, God, what if it was true? What if Lena was doomed to watch those who loved her turn into hateful, violent strangers before her eyes? Lex, Lillian, Rhea, and—and Lena could still barely bring herself to think about Jack. It would be so much easier if Rhea had hated her—so much easier if Lillian hadn’t run a hand along Lena’s cheek once they’d escaped and said that she was glad to see her safe, so much easier if Lena could just close her eyes to the world and never have to fear what sort of darkness was festering within herself that was powerful enough to turn love into murder and tragedy.
And so Lena chose not to think of it at all, instead holing up in her office for the past week, seemingly only returning to her apartment to shower, change clothes, prepare herself dinner, and throw away her uneaten dinner. Or so it felt. And she’d only gone three days and one missed lunch into the week without seeing Kara before the reporter came nearly running through her doors, clearly worried.
(“Lena,” she’d lectured, “I’ve been so worried about you! Alex and James are worried, too! Um, since—well, I’ve been kind of talking with them a lot about being worried, ha. But, Lena! Supergirl told me you were kidnapped by the Daxamites, and—and then you just stopped responding to my calls!”
Kara had looked like she could easily go on for another twenty minutes or so, if left to her own devices. And so Lena had stepped in, with her practiced tone of professional condolences: “I’m sorry, Kara. Rhea deleted your number from my phone.”
It was a weak excuse, and from the way Kara had frowned she seemed to know it. “Lena, I sent you so many texts.”
Lena had just sighed, looked down to the messy stack of papers at her desk, spilling onto the keyboard of her laptop. “You’re right. And I really am sorry. I just want some time to myself.”
“Oh, um. But—” Kara had stuttered, seemingly torn between giving Lena the space she was requesting or fighting to push Lena into what she already knew she should be doing. Because of course it wasn’t fair to Kara that Lena was avoiding her like this, but at the same time Lena just couldn’t bear to witness Kara’s easy, honest kindness. Not now, not when memories of the people who had once smiled at Lena the way Kara did now floated through her mind unbidden, their happiness a cruel contrast to what they had done, both to Lena and to the world.
“I need some time, Kara. I’ll call you. I promise.”
And though Lena hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it, somehow the unwelcome thought crept into her head, not for the first time, and spread throughout her body like a toxin. Besides, it reminded her, Kara should be with her boyfriend.)
Kara’s unique ringtone startled Lena out of her thoughts. And, although she’d been ignoring Kara’s calls for the first half of the week, Lena had a nagging thought that something might be wrong. It wasn’t like Kara to call her so late, and she’d been mercifully silent since reluctantly leaving Lena’s office that one afternoon.
So, after a brief moment of hesitation, Lena answered her phone.
“Lena?” Kara’s voice was quiet, distressed in a way Lena had never heard from her before, a way that made something unpleasant churn deep in her stomach. “I—I’m sorry, I—look, something really bad happened, and—could I come over?” And all at once Lena became aware of Kara’s hitched breaths, her obvious sniffles.
“Kara, of course.” As if there could be any other answer. As if there would ever be a case in which Lena would be able to deny Kara when she seemed so hurt and vulnerable. “I’m at my office right now, though.”
“Okay, I’ll just, um—” And then Kara hung up.
But before Lena could even register the moment enough to be offended or worried, she heard a gentle knock at her door. “Come in…?” she called, hesitant. Surely even Kara couldn’t have arrived at L-Corp and passed through security already, no matter how fast she was. And Lena hadn’t gotten the chance to revamp the building’s defensive security systems as she so desperately needed to, what with… everything. Everything that’s happened. But her taser was within reach, her phone unlocked to call for help, and—
And apparently it didn’t matter, anyway, because it was Kara walking through the door, face turned miserably down to the floor, her hair wet from the rain and soaking a distinct wet patch into her suspiciously-dry sweater.
“Hi,” Kara said, and it was as if her voice broke a spell around them, because suddenly Lena was out of her chair, crossing her office, fussing over the woman dripping on her floor.
“Kara! How on earth did you get here so quickly? Have you been outside for long? You’re s—um, your hair is soaked, are you cold? I have some of those snack cakes you showed me in my drawer, would you like any?”
“No, um, no thank you. I’m not hungry.” And that in itself would have been enough of a sign that something was wrong, since Lena had never seen Kara turn down food. It would have been enough of a sign, except that Kara’s cheeks were already blotchy, her eyes red-rimmed and puffy, her fingers twisting together nervously as she made no effort to look in Lena’s direction.
Lena caught Kara’s fidgeting hands, cold and wet, between her own. “Sit down with me, then.” She pulled them to her couch, unconcerned with the way Kara smeared rainwater against the white leather as she sat, back ramrod straight and eyes focused on her lap. “Kara, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry,” Kara said, pulling her hands from Lena’s to wipe roughly at her eyes and bumping her glasses up her head carelessly with her wrist. “I’m sorry.” She kept her hand in its place, covering her eyes. “You’ve already got so much to deal with and I’m just—making it about me, like always. I’m so sorry, you’re the one who should be upset right now. I’m a mess.”
“Kara, it’s okay. Just talk to me.” Lena reached to touch Kara’s shoulder, and when Kara leaned into the contact Lena began to softly rub her back.
Truthfully, Lena thought she was the mess. Because she was upset. Obviously, she was upset. How could she not be? And yet, she was hidden away in her office, uselessly tearing up blueprints like a child throwing a temper tantrum. From detailed, nearly-completed blueprints for a portal system linking major global agricultural hubs together to ensure prompt exchange of fresh food worldwide to crumpled sketches of applications to reduce the size and scale of landfills, drawn hastily on a dinner napkin after an exciting conversation with the woman she’d silently wished on more than one occasion she’d had as a mother growing up. The woman who’d cupped her cheek gently, lovingly, and told her that she was going to singlehandedly change the world for the better, the woman who’d once placed a soft kiss against her temple and told Lena that she made her so proud, that she was an amazing and brilliant girl, that any mother should wish for a child with a mind like hers. The woman who’d looked her in the eye and smiled as she opened the portal for the first time and revealed that Lena’s dreams of a better world had once again turned into a global threat, an evil scheme, a danger to innocent people, innocent children.
(Just like Lex, of course. Just as she’d worried she’d become since the day she’d inherited the tainted LuthorCorp. She’d watched the Daxamite ships arrive on Earth, and she’d thought, ‘Ah.’ This was it. Her legacy. Her best of intentions gone sour. Her decline from starry-eyed utopist to villain, finally cementing her place next to her brother as a figure to be despised by history.)
And so she tore up the blueprints, was destroying any evidence of their existence the way she wished she could similarly erase the memories from her own mind. Would rather run from the emotion than accept it, than cry, than seek out a friend as Kara had done. She was simply not strong enough for that. She was the mess.
Her touch seemed to comfort Kara, though, because after a couple more messy sniffles, she spoke again. “Right, sorry, right.” She moved her hand from her eyes, dropped it back to her lap to fidget with the hem of her sweater, and Lena found herself somehow grateful to be able to see her face in this moment. “I think—well, I don’t think, I—” she cut herself off with a frustrated sigh. “Mike—or Mon-El, now, I guess—he’s mad at me.”
And Lena blinked, because. Okay. That wasn’t really what she had been expecting, with the Daxamite invasion still so recent and raw. But. Right, she could deal with that. Because no matter what she thought of Mon-El himself, she cared for Kara. Wanted her to be happy even if something inside Lena felt sour when she pictured the two of them together, pictured Kara’s adoring smile sent in his direction when he’d complimented Lena’s teamwork with Supergirl during their double not-quite-date, or pictured Kara’s panicked, embarrassed laughter as she tried to run damage control for something peculiarly distasteful he’d said that same night.
But she wanted to be there for Kara, like Kara had always been for her. She wanted to be even a fraction of the type of friend Kara deserved. And so she continued rubbing Kara’s back, let her nails scratch gently at Kara’s neckline above the thick material of her sweater, and asked, “What happened?”
Kara frowned, and the rain had dried enough from her face to let Lena see that she was near tears. “He’s—he’s really upset. About his mom. He, uh, he really hoped Supergirl would have been able to save her. And now he’s…” Kara didn’t finish her thought, instead shivered in place as a tear slipped down her cheek.
(Lena wasn’t sure how far she should push. Wasn’t sure if it would be too much to ask why Mon-El would be upset with Kara for something Supergirl had done. Or hadn’t done, as the case may be. Because she wanted to finally say it, to finally acknowledge the way Kara’s excuses and separation from Supergirl had grown weaker and weaker during their friendship, to finally know that she had Kara’s trust in addition to her friendship, to finally learn more about her closest friend’s alter-ego than a complete stranger catching updates through the local news or Twitter feeds. But that was for a time when Kara was not hunched in on herself and crying next to her, already looking far too open and vulnerable for conversations of damaged trust.)
“Well,” Lena said carefully, “Rhea was… not a good person.” (And it made her nauseous, the way that even a condemnation as fluffy and meaningless as that made Lena’s voice waver, when she knew—she knew—that Rhea was a monster, a snake, a disgusting, awful woman who had made her feel so warm and special and wanted.) “He knows what she was trying to do, and why she had to be stopped.”
“Yeah,” Kara agreed, although she sounded uncertain. She curled further into herself, resting her elbows on her legs, hair slipping from her hastily-done bun to hide the side of her face away from Lena. “But it’s so hard for him, right now. She was his mom, and—and Supergirl could have done more. To save her, I mean. There’s a lot of things she could have done differently? And, I guess—maybe he’s right, maybe she should have done a better job.”
Lena’s hand stilled. “Kara, you can’t honestly think that about—her?”
But Kara’s silence was an answer in itself, and Lena spun Kara by the shoulder so that they could face each other on the couch, suddenly furious. “Well,” she said, her voice harsher than she intended, “maybe if he wanted Supergirl to save his mother, he should have stayed to help her himself!”
Because, Jesus, it didn’t exactly take a genius to see that Kara—whether Supergirl or not—wanted to do more for the world, would give everything she had to help others, would risk her happiness or her job or her life if it meant the possibility of doing good for someone else, whether they deserved it or not. Whether it was staying behind on a targeted ship with the belief that even someone like Rhea could be convinced to surrender or rushing out of an interview over lunch with Lena because a child had fallen from a tree in the park across the street from the restaurant they were eating at, leaving her hot food and still-recording phone behind, forgotten, while she’d carried the crying child to his panicking fathers and then to their car a few blocks away, cradling him carefully around his broken leg, helping them seat him safely in the back seat so they could rush him to the hospital—an anonymous hero with French braids and a cardigan.
Kara would always want to do more. And if Mon-El couldn’t see that about her even with all the time they spent together—well, Lena couldn’t decide if that made him an idiot or just callous.
But the criticism seemed only to upset Kara more. “No, no, I—Supergirl told him to go. It—that day was so hard for him.” She paused and wiped her face briefly, trying to compose herself. “I know you said you wanted some time before you talked about it, and I understand; it’s okay. But Mon-El did tell me about what happened before Supergirl showed up. With—with the wedding.” She swallowed heavily. “He—he told me about how she was blackmailing him.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Lena croaked out a laugh, although she instantly regretted it at the hurt expression Kara directed towards her. “Sorry,” she repeated, softly this time. But as Kara lowered her head again, Lena caught her chin, made sure their eyes met as she spoke. “Kara, what did he tell you?”
“That, um,” Kara hesitated, eyes nervously darting around the room, looking anywhere but Lena’s steady gaze. “That Rhea was keeping you at gunpoint? And was threatening to have you killed if he ‘so much as breathed wrong’?” And Kara’s voice lilted up, phrasing her words as a question. An important question, if Lena could judge by the uncertain tremble of her voice, as if suddenly Kara needed Lena to confirm her statement, was desperately seeking approval of her retelling.
(Lena wondered what lies Mon-El had told her before.)
“Kara…” Lena started, reaching out for her, wanting more than anything to hold Kara close the way Kara had done for her in her worst moments before. And though she didn’t know what she was trying to say, it didn’t matter, because Kara jerked away from the light touch of Lena’s hand to her shoulder like she’d been burned, turning away on the small couch, huddling over and burying her face in her hands.
“Damn it.” Kara’s voice was muffled and watery, and just the sound of it made Lena’s chest constrict, as if her ribcage was tightening around her lungs, forcing the air from her body until she found herself sliding across the couch and wrapping her arms around Kara (who was soft and warm smiles and ‘golly’s, not damp and closed-off and hissed curses), pulling them close and resting the side of her head against Kara’s, still wet, as she cried into her hands. “I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not.” Lena’s answer was automatic, though she meant it with her entire being.
“I am.” Kara lifted her face from her hands and went to fish a packet of tissues from her pocket, its surface shining with rainwater although her pants were otherwise dry. She wiped her nose and spoke quietly into the tissue—a soft, hurt voice that Lena wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to have heard: “This always happens…”
That was all Lena needed to decide. “Mon-El isn’t worth your time.”
(Because no matter what she thought of Mon-El himself, she cared for Kara. Because she wanted to be there for Kara, like Kara had always been for her. Because she wanted to be even a fraction of the type of friend Kara deserved. And, maybe, that meant pointing out the red flags that Kara didn’t want to see, no matter what it would mean for her.)
Kara shook her head weakly. “That’s not—things have been so much better, recently. It was working.”
Lena reached her arm around further until it was draped over Kara’s shoulders, a mirror of the way Kara had held her after Jack had gone away, emotions Lena hasn’t yet had time to deal with welling up in her throat. “I could tell you how he really acted on the ship that day, if you need that,” Lena tempered her voice, tried to keep the defensive edge out of her tone that she was so used to using when discussing her own trauma. Because Kara didn’t need that right now, whether it felt safer for Lena or not.
But Kara shook her head more vigorously this time. “No! No, I don’t—I believe you.” She sounded tired above all, and Lena rubbed her thumb in gentle circles against her shoulder. “It’s just, he’s a good guy. He tries. Really.”
Ah, right, of course, Lena thought acerbically. Because in this moment there were fewer things she was less likely to believe, not when Kara had slumped against her, not when Kara was dripping tears and rainwater onto Lena’s shoulder, not when Kara had sniffled just beneath Lena’s ear, so close together that Lena could feel every exhale hot against her neck. But Lena could recognize a useless task when she saw one, and so she tried something else.
“I just think this isn’t good for you, this relationship. Kara, you don’t seem happy—”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Kara stated with finality, pulling away from Lena just slightly, Lena’s arm still against her back although their heads were no longer pressed together. And then, despite her own words, Kara near-immediately deflated and said, “It’s just. It’s nice to have someone who can understand. It’s—it doesn’t have to be good all the time.”
And Lena’s eyes widened in surprise—not even at the contradiction of Everyday Human Kara Danvers finding in Mon-El someone who could finally understand her, but oh, oh. Lena felt the room shift around her, felt her stomach lurch, felt her heartbeat strong enough that even Kara looked up at her with confusion.
“You know,” Lena said cautiously, “I felt the same way. With Rhea.”
Kara said nothing, though her brow crinkled in a way Lena found just slightly distracting. And Lena was painfully uncomfortable under the scrutiny—this was typically the point where she’d begin to throw in sardonic quips or unprompted barbs, where she would do that, if she were talking to anyone but Kara, looking at her with her head slightly tilted, her own eyes red and puffy but still looking curiously at Lena like she was seeing her for the first time.
“It was… wonderful,” Lena continued, haltingly. “Having a mentor like her to work with. For the first time. When I found out early on that she’d been lying to me about being a human—” (Kara cringed slightly, and Lena moved her arm back around her shoulders.) “—I wanted to believe it had been a misunderstanding. She was so kind to me, I wanted things to work out.”
“I’m sorry,” Kara said, her voice small.
“Kara,” Lena responded, serious, “I trusted her. I respected her. I—I…” Lena took a deep, shuddering breath. “She once told me she wished she could have a daughter like me.” Lena hoped Kara could interpret her meaning, could hear the words she wasn’t willing to say aloud—now or ever. The way Kara suddenly stiffened against her made Lena suspect that she understood. “Little did I know just how far she’d go to adopt me.”
The joke fell flat, Kara’s expression reflecting nothing but distress.
“Um, anyway. She was the sort of person I’d wanted in my life for so long, it was easy to forgive things. And then, when I realized what she’d been doing, all I could think was how blind I was for not seeing it sooner. How stupid.” Lena laughed once, humorless.
Kara turned her head toward her, frowning. “Of course you’re not stupid, Lena! Rhea saw how much you wanted to do something good for the world, she saw how good you are, and she—she took advantage of that.”
(And Lena found herself blinking back tears. She’d dropped mostly off the radar since the failed invasion, ceased all communications not strictly necessary for her company. Had voicemails piling up even as she gave extra care to her emails—text-based conversations, where she felt she at least had some control. Ignored the reporters lingering in the lobby to try to catch her off-guard with shouted questions about her whereabouts during the alien invasion, like rats searching the alleys for crumbs. Avoided, even, interactions with her secretary, telling Jess that she would manage her own schedule for the next few days and to only be disturbed if absolutely necessary. Because this, the kindness in Kara’s words and the way she’d immediately accepted that Lena had no bad intentions when making the portal—Lena had no idea how to handle this.
It made her sick with worry, the kindness, because it just couldn’t be real. Even Kara, who Lena trusted more than she trusted herself, had to have some reason for caring about her, had to be waiting for something. Favors or job recommendations or money or now a forced marriage—anything. And Lena would give it to her, too, so seduced by the warm and friendly aura Kara emanated at all times. She would give it to her, and Kara would leave, and Lena would be alone again, alone with her overactive thoughts, riddled with paranoia and anxiety, causing her to freeze up uselessly at the first sign of any kind gesture, and—
Lena took a deep breath. In through her nose, out through her mouth. And focused.)
“That—thank you, Kara. But that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Lena looked into Kara’s eyes, trying to convey her sincerity, and found herself encouraged that Kara was not turning away this time, not hiding her face or the tears built up in her eyes, so close to spilling over. “Kara, you try to see the good in everyone—even in Rhea, for God’s sake.” Kara made a confused sound at that, but this was not the time. “And I love that about you. So, so much. It saved my life, and it’s… such an admirable way to be. And right now, Mon-El is taking advantage of that, of your trust. And I imagine he’s done it before.”
Kara frowned, opened her mouth, hesitated. Her eyes lowered. “Oh.”
Oh, one word and suddenly the two of them were on a precipice, dangling unsteadily, on the verge of shifting to one side or the other. Oh, and the air around them seemed to still, resisting movement even as Lena registered the faint burning feeling in her lungs and became aware that she was holding her breath. Oh, and it was as if the city stopped all movement beneath them, the people taking pause and turning towards the two of them, waiting for Kara with the understanding that whatever she said could easily tip their world upside-down.
And Kara was crying, again, but she offered Lena a small, helpless smile before tipping her head forward and pressing it against Lena’s shoulder, tucking herself away in the curve of Lena’s neck, glasses pressing into the side of her neck awkwardly and nearly-dry hair brushing lightly against her chin.
“You’re right. You’re right, I just,” Kara paused to sniffle. The first cold tear fell against Lena’s neck, the juxtaposition between it and Kara’s heated face very nearly causing her to startle. “I really wanted it to work.”
“I know,” Lena soothed, squeezing her arms tight around Kara, ready to let her cry.
But it was only moments later—only two cold drips against Lena’s neck later—that Kara sighed deeply, lifted her head just slightly to wipe at her eyes. She took her glasses off entirely, this time, and when she was done she didn’t put them back on, instead folding them and placing them on the coffee table.
Lena wondered if it meant something.
(She wanted it to mean something.)
Kara sighed again, though smaller this time, collecting herself. “Okay, I’m okay.” And that was a lie, obviously. Kara was still as open with her emotions as she’d been the day they first met. But there was strength behind her voice, a hopeful look in her eyes, and Lena thought that maybe ‘I’m okay’ could mean ‘I’m going to be okay.’ Lena smiled at her, encouraging, and when Kara smiled back it was subdued but still so warm and honest and real that Lena had to duck her head down to hide her blush.
Kara reached behind her back to take one of Lena’s arms and move it to her lap, held Lena’s hand between her own. “If I break up with him tomorrow,” and, oh, her words were nervous but certain, and Lena felt an overwhelming rush of relief sweep her away, “will you come to Alex’s place after work to eat ice cream and have a Scooby-Doo marathon with us?”
Lena laughed softly. “Of course.”
Kara smiled (and Lena could see her returning to her usual sunny glow nearly before her eyes, as if just being nearby Lena was enough to make her feel better and want to smile, as if Lena had done something right, as if Lena had brought about something good for once).
“Good,” Kara said. “The dress code is PJs.”
“Good,” Lena echoed. “I’ll bring my Supergirl pair.”
And Kara sputtered and fidgeted and then finally, finally just gave the whole thing up and laughed, disregarded everything but the moment they shared as she leaned into Lena, laughing until she snorted cutely. “Alex will have a fit.”
Lena chuckled and ran her hand through Kara’s hair with her free hand, dry and warm under her fingers, to tuck the strands that had fallen loose behind her ear. “If she’s anything like you when you get flustered, I’ll look forward to seeing it.”
Kara tilted her head into Lena’s touch, smiling fondly. “You won’t be disappointed.” And although it was probably considered strange, probably considered outside the normal boundaries of friendly gestures, the two of them lingered. Lena, tracing light, swirling ‘S’ shapes against Kara’s cheek with her thumb. Kara, smiling dreamily as she stared at Lena, her eyes shining with something Lena couldn’t quite place as they occasionally darted from one side to the other—as if she was switching her gaze between Lena’s eyes, studying them intently—flicking down just once, briefly. Both of them, leaning into each other until Lena could feel Kara’s breath against her face, until she could tip her head down and touch their foreheads together should she choose, until she could think of nothing but closing the little remaining distance between them—
Suddenly, Kara straightened, pulling back slightly and looking towards Lena with a serious expression. “Um, Lena?”
“Yes?” Lena asked, squeezing one of Kara’s hands reassuringly.
Kara’s hands tightened around her own. “Would you—um, okay, wait. I… I want to take some time after I break up with—with Mon-El. Like, some time alone? But not alone alone, just—” Kara stopped herself, took a deep breath. “After that, would you, um, maybe want to do dinner? In a while. But, like! Not that long. A little while.”
Lena laughed once, breathless, her heart racing. Because, yes, there was still a shadowy, ugly voice in the back of her head warning her to keep her cards close to her chest, warning her that showing her hand too early would bring about nothing but manipulation and abandonment. And yet that voice was drowned out, washed away by the excited realization that Kara was asking her out dancing around her head.
“Of course,” she said, smiling the same way she had the first time she’d been able to power up Rhea’s portal without causing an electrical fire, hopeful and excited and finally within sight of the world of possibilities she’d reached for for so long.
“And to clarify,” Kara said, looking nervous, “I meant ‘dinner’ romantically. I don’t want to not have dinner with you before then. I love dinner. And you.” She startled at that, tripped over her words. “And, and, um—and all the other meals, too…”
(And if Kara seemed a bit mortified at herself in that moment, seemed a bit like she was considering whether it would be worth it to throw herself out the window, Lena decided to let it go, just the once. With luck, she would have plenty more opportunities in the future.)
Lena readjusted her hand in Kara’s so she could tangle their fingers together. “I know what you meant, Kara. My answer is still ‘yes’. When you’re ready.”
And Kara practically beamed, her smile brightening the whole room around them.