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Moonlight Serenade

Chapter Text


 

 

The day had started out basic enough.

As basic as things could while in the middle of a world war, anyway.

St. Josephine’s Hospital was what a polite person might call “quaint”, so as not to offend. But compared to Griffith Hospital, the biggest medical facility in the state, housed in National City, there wasn’t much else you could say to describe the hospital where Kara Danvers worked.

They were over an hour out of the city, by train. Kara had always planned to move to the city when she’d finished her nursing degree, eager to be part of the life and energy.

But then the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour, and all ambition of leaving home had gone up in flames.

These were interesting times. But Jeramiah was still off overseas, and the less frequent his letters and telegrams became, the tighter Eliza’s grip became on the family she had left.

Kara had thought all the excitement and drama would be in the city.

She was wrong.

It was a regular day, until just after one in the afternoon. They had all been in the cafeteria, Kara and the other nurses, chatting together over sandwiches and pots of soup about what had been on the wireless that morning, new films coming out, what soldier had flirted with which nurse.

Then the matron had come in.

All of them sat up instantly to attention. The matron was a stern, middle aged woman, who demanded respect every time she walked into a room, despite her short stature and noticeable limp. Whenever the matron was about to speak, you listened.

“There’s been an explosion,’ was all she said.

It took a moment for these words to sink in, for Kara and the other nurses to all exchange a glance, before the room was filled with the deafening scrape of wooden chairs being scraped against cheap linoleum as they as all rushed to their feet.

The news had come down the line, quick and fast – explosion at the munitions factory, two dead, three critical, seventeen non-critical.

Kara leapt aside now as another gurney wheeled past, blinking out of her moment of reverie. The sound of heavy footfalls, screams of pain, and calls of instructions for vials of morphine to be brought and bandages to be prepared, were deafening. The smell of burned flesh and alcohol turned her stomach.

All around her, the wards were in chaos

They had been coming in slowly and steadily for half an hour. The ambulances were only able to carry so many at a time. The most severe had come in first; two women had been rushed in, one covered with so much blood Kara had not been able to tell what she truly looked like underneath. The other was missing the last three fingers of her right hand, blood streaming down her forearm as she kept it elevated, the bandage around it soaked scarlet and the entire right side of her body singed and charred. Her moans were unlike anything Kara had heard before.

It had almost been too overwhelming. Her shift had suddenly gone from emptying soldiers’ bedpans and fluffing pillows, to complete pandemonium.

But the sense of duty had quickly stepped in, blotting out the screams of agony, the smell of charred skin, the ache in her whole body as she rushed from ward to ward, assisting with as many treatments as she could.

Kara tried her best. Nursing school had prepared her in theory for her duties, but the reality was somewhat different. They had instructed her on what certain jargon meant, how to not take the harsh tones and snappy wards of doctors and surgeons to heart, how she should try and keep calm always. How to bandage wounds, fill syringes, make slings… nothing had prepared her for this.

As expected, the Doctors had shouted orders at her and the other nurses around her, and like her comrades she had rushed to do their bidding. With shaking hands, her fingers had fumbled over bandages, medicines, trays and syringes in her eagerness to get them to the doctors, and in hindsight she would look back and feel a moment of pride in herself for not actually dropping anything.

The smell had been the worst. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. Eliza had burned some dinners, she’d done mulching in the back garden with Jeramiah…

She’d never seen so much blood before.

It had slowed a little now. With every woman who came through their doors, workers of every shape, age and size, the injuries were less severe. From head wounds and burns, they were now dealing with more minor cases, like smoke inhalation and fractures. But that didn’t stop the bustling; the rush, and the running, and the urgency.

“Nurse Danvers! Get in here!”

Kara, arms full of the fresh bandages she had been sent to retrieve, snapped out of her daze once again and dashed into the nearest ward. All eight beds were full. Six bodies were still, triaged and adrift in a blissful haze of pain killers. Two were sitting up, one insisting she was fine despite the giant gash in her arm, the other following the doctors finger as he moved it around slowly in front of her face.

Kara quickly found the woman who had called for her. “Yes, Matron?”

The Matron jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “See to bed forty-six. Doctor Winslow needs assistance.”

With a quick nod, Kara squeezed past the other nurses and headed for the bed in the left corner of the room.

She couldn’t see the woman lying there, at first. There were already two nurses and a doctor standing in the way.

But she could hear her.

Guttural groans sent goosepumps all along Kara’s skin. As Kara pushed through, gently nudging her shoulders against Betty and Marjorie, the two other nurses at the bedside, she saw the woman on the bed, who was squirming away from the doctor’s hands.

“It hurts,’ she snarled through clenched teeth.

Doctor Winslow sighed, looking every moment his sixty years in his exasperation. “Yes, my dear, I can see that. But I won’t be able to help that if you do not let me examine you properly.”

“I told you,’ the woman snapped, ‘it’s my shoulder. It’s dislocated.”

“I need to confirm,’ Doctor Winslow said.

He then beckoned with a little wave, and Kara and Marjorie both stepped forward. Marjorie moved around to the foot of the bed, hands hovering over the woman’s ankles. Kara stepped to her bedside, and placed a hand on her right, and uninjured, shoulder.

The woman’s head snapped around at her touch. Kara saw bright, green eyes glare out at her from underneath an amazing amount of dirt, grease and grime. Her dark hair was matted in places and splattered metal shavings and flecks of sawdust, making her look like some sort of wild thing.

It was enough to make Kara blanch slightly in fear. Being on the same side of the arm that didn’t hurt wasn’t much of a comfort.

But duty overtook her anxiety, and Kara just straightened and gave her what she hoped was an encouraging smile.

“It’ll all be over soon,’ she soothed. ‘The quicker you let us look, the quicker we can leave you be.”

The woman considered her for a long moment. So long, in fact, Kara half expected her to very impolitely tell her to put the nearest medical tools someplace extremely uncomfortable.

But Kara held her gaze, and eventually the woman’s expression softened slightly, and she turned back to Doctor Winslow.

“Hurry up,’ she complained.

The problem was quickly found. All Doctor Winslow had to do was slip his aged hands through the collar of the woman’s shirt, feel around her shoulder, and hear her cry of pain and see her flinch to know.

“Dislocated,’ he nodded.

The woman let out a gruff laugh, and Kara bit her lip to hide her own.

“I need to recorrect it,’

Doctor Winslow nodded at Kara, and she took his meaning instantly. At the foot of the bed, Marjorie’s hands slipped around the woman’s ankles.

Kara squeezed the woman’s good shoulder. “What division do you work in?”

She turned her attention away from the doctor, her face still contorted in pain, every breath in laboured, making her nostrils flare.

What?”

“The factory,’ Kara clarified. ‘What’s your job?”

“Uh, well… usually I’m either in the chemical line, with the bombs, or down with the mechanics,’ the woman ground out. ‘But today they were short staffed in the shop, so I went into help because they know how good I am with…”

CRACK.

The woman swore so loudly, Kara flinched. She’d hung out in enough in bars with men to hear things; not to mention her sister had quite a vernacular, but she’d never heard such a word leave the mouth of a woman before.

The woman’s whole body had contracted; Kara was sure the only reason she hadn’t kicked Marjorie, was because Marjorie had been holding her feet down.

“There now,’ Doctor Winslow said softly, as if he’d simply placed a band-aid on a skinned knee, ‘all better. Betty, the sling, if you would?”

The woman glared at the old man as he stepped around to examine the gash in her leg, but didn’t put up a fight as Betty stepped in to put her arm in the sling.

Instead, she looked back at Kara, her brow knotted in pain but a smile peering out from underneath the filth smeared across her skin.

“Nice distraction,’ she chuckled, wincing. ‘They teach you that in nursing school?”

Kara offered a small smile back. “Yes, actually. It was either that, or ask you recite the Declaration of Independence.”

The woman quirked an eyebrow. “You’ve done this a heap of times, I’m sure.”

“Kara,’ Betty asked, waggling her fingers across the patient, ‘pass the pins?”

Kara did as she was asked, and Betty fixed the sling into place. “Once or twice. Soldiers are easier to distract.”

The woman laughed at that, and then shuddered again. “All they need is a pretty face like yours to look at and I’m sure they’re putty in your hands.”

Kara felt her cheeks burn, and Marjorie’s eyes on them both.

“Well…’ she chuckled nervously.

After a long gaze, the woman breathed, “I’m Lena.”

With a smile in return, Kara replied with, ‘Kara Danvers, nice to meet you.”

Lena offered a quick smile, before she hissed in pain again, and glared down at the doctor. He was cutting open the leg of her overalls, one hand on her upper thigh in an attempt to keep her still.

“You have contusions on calf, and lacerations on your leg,’ he explained. ‘What did you fall into?”

“There were tools all over the ground, and scrap metal…’ Lena, a slight shake to her voice. ‘Am I going to be okay? I heard infection can…”

“We will treat these and bandage you up promptly,’ was all Doctor Willis said.

And with quick instructions to Kara and the other nurses, he then hurried off to the next patient without so much as a ‘feel better’ or ‘you were very lucky’.

Lena squirmed as Marjorie made to begin to clean the large gash in her leg.

“I’m sorry,’ Kara said kindly, ‘I know those overalls don’t come cheap.”

Lena simply sighed. She threw her head back into the pillow, eyes clamped shut and cords of her neck prominent.

“It’s not a problem,’ was all she said.

“I need a nurse in here!”

The call came from the next ward, urgent and firm. Betty was still constructing the sling, Marjorie surrounded with bloody, damp rags.

Kara looked back down at Lena, who was gazing up at her.

“I guess that’s your cue,’ she said.

And because Doctor Willis hadn’t said it before, and because she really meant it, she gave Lena a tight-lipped smile, squeezed her good shoulder again and muttered, “Feel better,’ before rushing off. 

 

-----

 

When Kara stepped through her front door three hours later, the door had barely closed before she heard a voice from the living room.

“Kara? Is that you?”

With a sigh, Kara slumped into the next room. Eliza was sitting in her usual armchair by the radiator, paper crumpled in her hands. The wireless was crooning away just behind her head, sitting on the mantelpiece.

Like the rest of their house, the living room was anything but palatial. A small, slightly cramped room, it felt even more cramped because of the plush furniture. But it wasn’t claustrophobic. Kara liked to think of it as cozy, more than anything. It had enough room to sit them all – when they were all there – and a space in the corner for a Christmas tree once a year. What more did they need?

“There was an explosion…”

“At the munitions factory,’ Kara nodded, flinging herself into the nearest chair. Her shoulders slack with exhaustion and feet throbbing, all her thoughts were on a bath. She’d already washed her hands several times at the hospital, but she still felt as if there were blood and grime along her skin. “I know.”

“It must have been horrible! They’re saying two women were killed? Patty Morningside’s daughters both work there, you know. Did you see them? Are they okay? You must be exhausted!”

Question after question was thrown at her, and Kara knew it would be quicker to let Eliza get them all out and then try and answer what she could remember, than to interrupt.

“The twins are fine. No, I didn’t see them, I was too busy. Yes, there were several burns victims, all of who’s screams I will hear in my sleep… if I get any. I’m not sure exactly what happened, I didn’t get time to hear the details… something about chemicals reacting? I was too busy passing bandages and tools to doctors.

“Fuses,’ Eliza explained simply.

Kara made a there you go gesture, and continued. “No, I didn’t get in on any amputee surgeries, but then there was only one person who was possibly beyond repair and they’re waiting until morning to reassess her. Where’s Alex?”

“Still at the lab. She should be home soon, though.”

Kara rubbed her eyes, and thanked the Lord that Alex had, for once, been malleable enough over dinner six months ago to be convinced that she’d be better off working in the lab with Eliza, rather than at the munitions factory like she had originally wanted to. Otherwise Kara could have seen her on one of those gurneys today.

The thought made her blood run cold.

“Is there anything to eat?”

Eliza put the paper down in a crumpled heap, and Kara followed her eagerly through to the kitchen.

She sat down expectantly at the small, round table where bowls were already set. Eliza was at the stove, the largest appliance in the kitchen, and spooning hot food into Kara’s bowl in no time at all.

Kara had already shoveled three mouthfuls of rice into her mouth before Eliza even had the chance to sit down at the table adjacent to her. Too used to Kara’s ferocious appetite to comment anymore, Eliza simply handed over two letters without a word – one opened, the other still nestled in its envelope – and poured herself a fresh cup of coffee.

Kara adjusted her glasses and read the first one over her bowl. It was from Jeramiah; and update on his whereabouts (stationed just off the coast of Japan), his general well-being, and his well wishes of love to his girls and how he hoped to be home soon. The date at the top read two weeks ago. Kara hated how slow the mail could be sometimes.

The other letter, Kara tucked into her pocket.

“I’ll read this later,’ she said. 

Eliza’s smile was distorted around her coffee cup as she took a mouthful. Kara felt her cheeks burn, and was glad when Eliza didn’t comment.

“I would have thought Alex would be home before me,’ Kara asked, hoping to change the subject.

“She should be home soon. That strike is still happening, and the bus schedules are all over the place. It took me forever to get here, too. I think she said she would try and get a ride home with someone from work.”

“And you thought she was the smart one,’ Kara teased, ‘when I’m the one who chose to work somewhere within walking distance. Speaking of which...’

Kara felt Eliza shift uneasily as Kara got to her feet, the chair groaning loudly as it scraped against the linoleum.

Before Eliza could even open her mouth, Kara explained, “I offered to work a double shift.”

“Because of the accident at Luthor Munitions?’

Kara nodded, and Eliza sighed.

‘Those poor women. I would have thought they would have sent them to National City. Nothing against St. Josephine’s, but they have better facilities in the city to deal with these sorts of injuries.”

“We were closer,’ Kara shrugged. ‘Some ended up going there anyway, we ran out of beds. But we’re under staffed as it is, so I volunteered to go back in... three hours,’ Kara glanced at her watch, and suddenly felt extremely tired. ‘So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go wash up and have a quick nap. Save me some dessert?”

Eliza got up, wrapped an arm around Kara’s shoulders, and kissed her temple.

“No promises. It’s apple pie.”

Kara sighed, feeling her hops diminish – that was her sister’s favourite.

When she made it upstairs, Kara washed and dried quickly. When she finally laid on her bed, she let out a sigh of relief as she felt every muscle in her body uncoil. Her feet were throbbing – not a new sensation for a nurse – and when she angled her neck, she felt the bones shift and crack back into place.

The street was quiet outside her window. The occasional car spluttered down their street, somewhere dogs were barking, she could hear the distance tinkle of children’s laughter as gangs of kids played up and down the street. Normally these were comforting sounds – familiar and soothing.

Not today.

Despite her exhaustion, and the almost overwhelming want to succumb to slumber, as soon as Kara closed her eyes visions of burnt skin, bloody gashes, bones protruding through skin, legs bent at unnatural angles, and other equally gruesome pictures flashed through her mind. Kara felt something for the women who were still lying in hospital beds, dealing with crippling pain, while she lay in her own bed, safe and healthy and comfortable. Was it pity? Guilt? Admiration? Pride? Kara somehow suspected it was a mixture of all of these things, and more.

The women who worked in the factories were notoriously strong, in body and spirit, and Kara had a high regard for those sorts of women. After all, she’d grown up with two of them. It felt wrong, somehow, to see such individuals so vulnerable.

Kara mind was like a beehive. She wanted to ferment every face she’d seen that afternoon in her mind, creating a sort of shine to them in her memory.

But there had been a lot of women.

It was quite a while before she finally drifted off to sleep.

And it seemed like only a few minutes later someone was kicking the end of her bed, jerking her back into the land of the living.

Kara sat bolt upright and looked around blearily. The sun had begun to go down; her room was full of dull shadows, one of which was moving around.

“Mom said you said to wake you up by six,’

Putting her glasses on, Kara’s sister Alex came into focus. Short, brown hair, overalls with a brown jacket, heavy boots that always made a thunk noise on the floorboards, even when she tried to be silent… yep, it was her sister, all right.

She hadn’t switched the light on in the room (they were trying to save power and money), and was now peeling off her overalls and kicking off her boots.

“Damn strike,’ Alex grumbled.

“You didn’t actually walk, did you?’ Kara said. ‘The lab is miles away!”

“I got a ride as far as Market Street.”

“That’s the industrial area. It’s not safe to walk around there alone, Alex! Why didn’t you just get the bus with Eliza?”

Alex didn’t answer right away. She was as exhausted as Kara; she didn’t need the lights on, or to even see her face, to know this about her. Sharing a room for as long as they had, Kara had become quite attuned to Alex’s moods, and could read the slump of her shoulders, and the forceful way she shut drawers as easily as any street sign.

“I was held back.’ Alex said, flopping down on her bed on the other side of the small room. ‘You’re pulling a double shift? You’re keen. At least they let you come home and rest.”

“They insisted. I told them I could stay longer...”

Alex chuckled, and lay down with a sigh. ‘Of course, you did. I heard the factory blew up.”

“It didn’t blow up exactly.”

Kara got to her feet, and began dressing in her nurses’ uniform for the second time that day.

She explained what had happened. How one of the mine fuses had accidently ignited, sending a chain reaction along the entire line. The woman nearest had been killed instantly, and other nearby workers burnt horribly from the proximity. The explosion had shaken the entire factory; the shock felt throughout all the floors, causing other minor injuries on other floors.

Kara stared into space when she was done, shadows dancing across her vision.

“You okay?’ Alex asked.

Kara blinked. “’Course,’ she replied. ‘I’m fine. I’m absolutely fine.”

Alex sat up then, and pursed her lips before crossing the small distance and sitting herself down beside Kara so she could put an arm around her.

She said nothing; all the atrocities they’d seen during this war, sometimes there just weren’t any words that could offer enough comfort, or any at all. Alex was usually good with at finding the right thing to say to make Kara feel better, but this was something that transcended that; something that couldn’t be soothed with emphatic sentences and pep talks.

Sometimes, you just needed to be held, feel an arm around you and a kiss against your temple that said everything that needed to be said.

This was one of those times.

The moment passed as quickly as it started; Kara nodded, feeling the impact; that sense of duty rise up within her once again, recharging her, sending adrenaline to every nerve ending and sinew.

“Hey…’ Alex grip on her tightened, and then she whispered, ‘…wanna see something amazing?”

Despite her exhaustion and apprehension, Kara laughed. “Sure, why not?”

“Just don’t tell Mom,”

This sort of ultimatum was enough to spur Kara to her feet in a flash of movement. Alex lead the way, creping down the creaky staircase like when they were teenagers, sneaking out to watch the fireworks down by the river every near years, or go to the park well after their curfew, with a telescope under Kara’s arm to watch the constellations shift and morph.

They skipped the second last step on the staircase – it would creak loudly under the softest footstep – and peered into the living room. Eliza was back in her usual plush armchair by the fireplace, newspaper open in front of her face, obscuring her two daughters from view.

Exchanging a quick glance, they crept past on tiptoes and ducked out the front door.

The night had turned crisp. Kara could feel the moisture in the air, smell the freshness that suggested rain.

She tugged her cardigan more tightly around herself as she still followed her older sister around to the garage. With a slight grunt, Alex lifted the metallic door and revealed the thing Kara instantly knew was definitely not supposed to be there.

Alex…’ she stared warily.

But her sister just stood aside and beamed, hands on her hips. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Kara stepped forward. Like the rest of the house, the garage wasn’t large. Old, wooden ladders, half empty pain buckets, broken bicycles from their youth and boxes of old toys aside, the was only enough space left to barely fit one single car, if they’d still owned one. They used to – Eliza had sold it last year to cover the bills – and there had been a vacant space for so long now, that it was almost impossible to notice the new, foreign object.

The motorbike rested against its own kickstand; a glint of light flashed against the red and white paint that decorated the fuel tank, where the word Indian was written in large, gold letters. It wasn’t new, Kara knew for sure. Alex would had picked it up second hand.

Kara’s eyebrows rose. “Eliza is going to kill you.”

Alex didn’t seem to hear her. She stepped past Kara and dropped to her knees to run her slender fingers along the metallic frame.

“A nineteen thirty-one Indian Chief,’ Alex cooed. ‘It still needs a little work done, but I have books, and they showed me how to change the oil and everything so I should be able to do it myself.

“How much?”

“You can’t put a price of beauty.”

How much?”

“Not much.’ Alex insisted. ‘They’re practically giving these bikes away to make room for the new models, and this one is over a decade old…”

“Alex!”

Alex sighed. “Two hundred.”

Kara put her head in her hands with a groan. She could feel a migraine coming on.

Her sister was on her feet, facing her again with her hands up and guilt all over her face.

“I know what you’re thinking…’

“That I’m about to be an only child?’ Kara laughed. ‘Because you’re absolutely right. What were you thinking? Two hundred dollars?”

“By not having to get the bus anymore,’ Alex reasoned forcefully, ‘it’s practically going to pay for itself! And I didn’t skive of any of the bills, if that’s what you’re thinking…’

“It’s not what I’m thinking that you need to worry about.”

“I’ve been saving every spare dollar and cent I could for months.”

Kara knew this already. She’d found the jar full of pennies, nickels and crumpled up dollar bills in the bottom of their closet one day. But she hadn’t known what it was for, and hadn’t thought it polite to ask. She’d felt invasive enough finding something personal, and assumed Alex was saving for something special.

She hadn’t ever imagined it would be this.

Alex’s passion for motorbikes was nothing new. Jeramiah had owned one when they were younger, and only sold it when they had needed extra money to buy a new car. Alex had in the past also mentioned that she would like to have her own bike one day. Kara could still remember the argument.

Alex was watching Kara apprehensively now, surely with a dozen more arguments on the tip of her tongue that were ready to let fly, should the opportunity arise. She’d no doubt been ready for this sort of backlash.

Don’t tell Mom, she’d said. Why did Kara agree to these promises every time? When would she learn?

Kara folded her arms over her chest. “Where did you get it?”

“Parsons.”

“The junkyard?”

“It’s not a junkyard,’ Alex frowned, ‘and don’t let Bertie Parson hear you saying that, or he won’t let me come back.”

“What are you going to tell Eliza?”

Alex looked everywhere but at Kara. “The truth. What I just told you. She won’t be that mad…”

Kara laughed at that, short and loud. Alex just rolled her eyes.

“I’m an adult,’ Alex insisted. ‘And I didn’t cheat anyone out of anything, I saved for this fair and square. And I’m going to be responsible and safe, despite what Mom says about weather conditions and accidents and all that other baloney.”

Kara pursed her lips.

“Do you even know how to ride it?”

Alex’s expression softened a little in relief, and she turned back to the bike. She rummaged around for something on the other side of it, and then straightened up and held out a brown, leather helmet with large goggles resting around the rim.

“Come on,’ Alex smirked, ‘I’ll take you to work.”

“I am not getting on that thing.”

“You scared?”

“No, I’m sensible. Unlike some people…”

“Don’t be such a chicken!”

Kara lifted her chin defiantly.

Alex rolled her eyes, too used to this stubbornness to let it stop her anymore.

“Kara, it’s going to rain – I can smell it. You really want to risk walking the twenty something minutes when I can get you there in five? You want to show up at the hospital looking like a drowned rat?”

In a last-ditch effort, Kara gestured helplessly at the motorbike. “How did you even get this thing in here? How are you going to get it out?”

Alex smirked. “I walked it the last few blocks – all uphill. Why do you think I was so sweaty before? And it’s almost six thirty – Mom will be so engrossed in Murder Masterpiece Theater that she won’t even notice. Come on, Kara. You’ll like it, I promise.”

Kara knew few things about herself for certain. Ones twenties, a phase in their lives that was filled with doubt and self-discovery, left little room for certainty and confidence. But Kara had been raised by two strong women – her sister and Eliza. And she knew her self well enough by now, at the age of twenty-six, to know what she was and was not comfortable with.

Riding on the back of a motorcycle, was not going to be one of those things.

But Alex’s expression, so eager and confident and excited, was also hard to argue with. And Kara felt her frown soften and her inner resolve crack under her older sister’s enthusiastic gaze.

“Okay,’ she surrendered. ‘Okay!”

Alex’s smile was as dazzling as the sun.

“But be sure to stick to the speed limit!”

“I always do.”

“And don’t take the corners too hard.”

“Do I look like an idiot?”

Before Kara could even say another word, Alex had rushed back inside. Through the open, living room window, Kara could vaguely hear Alex’s excuse of how she was going to walk Kara to the hospital, and would be home soon, and to save some of the apple pie for her.

All too soon, Alex was back in the garage. Without a word, she handed the small, leather helmet to Kara, and began to walk the motorcycle out into the street.

Kara followed her. It wasn’t until they were well up the road, out of earshot of the house, did Alex swing her leg over the bike, sit herself down and kick the motorcycle into gear. It roared into life with a loud growl; the headlight flickered for a significant amount of time before finally settling – alight, but dim.

Kara swallowed down her apprehension.

“Jump on,’ Alex called over the rumble of the engine.

After a moment of hesitation, Kara fastened the helmet upon her head, positioned herself snugly behind Alex, and when her hands were secured to her sister’s hips, Alex revved the engine with a flick of her wrists, and then they were off.

Kara was glad the engine was so loud – it masked her sudden cry of surprise. They weren’t going dangerously fast, but it was a foreign sensation none-the-less. Kara and Alex had grown up riding pushbikes to school and down to the lake on weekends, so Kara knew how to balance and lean into the corners. It was the engine that unsettled her, the speed, the lack of control.

They weaved around traffic, overtaking Pontiacs, Chevrolet’s, Lincoln’s, all going at a much more sensible speed, Kara thought. Raised eyebrows from men, and impressed glances from women flashed by as they rode in and out of lanes.

The rain was beginning to take form now. Kara shivered as she felt tiny droplets splash against her skin. She wanted to put the goggles which were wrapped around the helmet on her eyes, but she was afraid to loosen her grip around her sister.

Alex obviously didn’t have any of the concerns Kara had. Despite her earlier promise, she took turns with a speed Kara was sure was unnecessary. And when they leveled out, the engine spluttered and the frame shook as Alex went straight back up into a higher gear, increasing their haste.

Kara could only see her profile, if she craned her neck, but it was enough to see the grin on Alex’s face as the wind blew her short, brown hair out of her face.

To Kara’s relief, all too soon they were over the hill, and across Alex’s shoulder she could see the lights in the distance – the hospital.

Alex’s foot backed off the accelerator, and she let the bike roll down the hill. Kara’s stomach churned from the dip. She was immensely glad when Alex controlled herself and didn’t skid to a stop, but instead brought them to a gentle halt at the front gate.

Kara stepped onto the sidewalk with jelly legs, and took a moment to smooth out her nurses’ uniform while Alex laughed.

“Fun, right?’

“You didn’t exaggerate,’ Kara checked her watch, ‘you did get me here quickly.”

The rain thickened the tiniest of fractions. Kara stepped back toward the gate while Alex turned up the collar of her jacket and squinted up at the sky, blinking droplets out of her eyes.

“You’d better get back,’ Kara insisted.

“Won’t take too long,’ Alex kicked the bike back into life again – the headlight flickered again, dimmer than ever. ‘Now you’re not crushing the life out of me, I can go as fast as I want.”

“Alex…’

“Need me to pick you up later?’

Kara told her what time her shift ended, and affirmed that Alex was to show up only if the rain had not passed. With a nod of understanding, Alex blew her a kiss and disappeared back up the darkened hill, tires splashing water out in her wake.

The hospital was much quieter than it had been earlier, Kara discovered, when she stepped in out of the rain. The lights were dimmed. The hubbub from the early afternoon had well and truly died down now. There was no more bustling in the halls. No more loud cries of pain and terror. The dinner ladies were the only ones roaming about now, carrying empty trays back down toward the kitchens.

Kara passed by the wards as she headed for the nurses’ station. There weren’t many people moving about in their beds; only the odd toss or turn here, or a cough there. In the dim light and quiet, the sounds of her shoes on the linoleum, and the rain that was now splattering harder against the windows, seemed to be turned up inconsiderately loud.

She almost tiptoed into the nurses’ station, where Rosie was sitting at the large, oak desk underneath the bay windows that looked out at the hallway.

She was leaning back in her chair, reading the paper, nose almost buried in the pages and red hair as beautiful curled and pinned up as always.

When Kara appeared in the doorway her brown eyes glanced up, and relief was suddenly written all over her face.

“Danvers! You know, this is exactly why I always love it when you’re the one to relieve me,’ she sighed, folding the paper up, ‘you’re always early.”

Kara smiled at her as she hung her coat up. “I got a ride.”

“And I got verbally abused my Watkins.”

“He’s retiring soon,’ was the only solace Kara could offer.

Doctor Watkins was the oldest physician employed there, almost seventy now. His patience and bedside manner had long since worn out, for both patience and nurses. He was the bane of their existence, always talking down to them, making snide, sexist comments, talking about how ‘these boys didn’t know war’, and how ‘they all would have been toughened up if they’d been in The Great War’. If you had been rostered on to work alongside him more than twice a month, you knew to go straight to the matron and apologize, because you had clearly done something to upset her.

Rosie pursed her lips. “Not soon enough.”

Kara smothered her smile. “Anything I need to know about?”

Rosie filled her in on what she’d missed, which apparently wasn’t much at all. One of the women had had a seizure, and had been transferred to the hospital in National City. Another had tried to walk out, not believing the doctors diagnosis that her ankle was broken, and subsequently collapsed half way out the door and hit her head on the door handle, putting her straight back into bed.

“But other than that…’ Rosie shrugged her jacket on. ‘The medication list is there; last rounds were ten minutes ago so you should be right for a while. Oh, I almost forgot… the woman in bed forty-six has tried to sneak in here a few times.”

Kara looked up from the charts. “What for?”

“She wants to use the phone.”

“And we can’t let her because…?”

“Because then the rest of them will want to use the phone, and we’ll be spending all night policing the line like some darn jail warden,’ Rosie explained with a laugh, ‘and they need to rest, and we have better things to do. Just keep an eye out for her, okay? Goodnight!”

Promising she would, Kara waved Rosie off, and sat herself down at the desk.

Papers were scattered everywhere; haphazard evidence of just how chaotic everything had been earlier. The Matron was usually such a stickler for organization.

Kara took a moment to shuffle things back into something of an ordered manor, before checking her watch again and heading off to do a quick sweep of the wards.

It wasn’t too late an hour – only just past seven. But the wards were still quiet, broken only by the occasional cough, or creak of the bed as someone tossed and turned. Kara checked charts, felt foreheads for any chance in skin temperature, fluffed pillows, brought water glasses to patients who had woken up, and administered penicillin shots to the two soldiers on her list. They protested quietly, irritated at having been woken, but lay still as Kara gave them their injections and reminded them again that it was either this, or let their infections get worse and possibly lose their limbs.

“When I get out of here,’ the second solider, Hildebrand, muttered as he held out his arm, ‘and my leg gets better, I’m gonna take you out dancin’,”

Kara rolled her eyes with a smile. “I told you, I’m spoken for.”

“Promise I’ll be respectful. No more than three champagnes each.”

Kara gave him one last withering look. He grinned at her and winked. He’d promised her this every night since he’d come in three weeks ago, infection so severe he had been on the verge of amputation then, but now well on the mend, thanks to the penicillin.

Bidding him a weary goodnight, Kara carried on through to the next ward.

This was where bed forty-six was, containing the woman who had apparently been causing so much strife. The seven other beds in the ward were occupied by slumbering woman, their chests rising and falling slowly with deep breaths.

Thinking it safe, Kara took her chance. She crept down the line to look at the figure in bed forty-six.

She was curled up in the blankets, rolled up like a cocoon. But Kara recognized that long, dark hair, and knew that if her eyes had been open, she would have seen that dazzling green peering back up at her.

Kara frowned. What was her name again?

She moved to the end of her bed and looked at her chart: Lena Smyth.

Despite it being her job, somehow it felt a little invasive to read her chart just now - even though she had had no problem with reading any of the others. Was it because she was asleep? Perhaps because of their short interlude earlier that day? Lena had been the only woman she’d actually had something of a conversation with, which made their affiliation less clinical. She wasn’t just figures on a chart anymore. She was gritted teeth and sparkling eyes and words that would make a navy man blush…

With one last look at the slumbering Lena, Kara read through enough to ensure she didn’t need to be woken for any bandages changes or injections, and then carried on with her rounds.

An hour and a half later (she’d got caught up talking with the other nurses on duty, made herself a coffee, had several visits to the lavatory, and shared in a muffin with one of the dinner ladies), she was sitting back down in the nurses’ station. The wooden chair at the desk was hard, but still a relief from all the walking.

Kara sighed and leant back in the seat gratefully, just as she had seen Rosie doing earlier. She took a moment to listen for any sounds. Other than the usual creaking sounds of the walls, it was quiet – almost eerily so.

Figuring this was as good a time as any, Kara reached into her pocket and retrieved the letter that had arrived for her today. She flicked the envelope open, and a letter toppled out onto the desk, along with tiny granules of dirt, and a small, white, pressed flower.

Kara smiled, touching the flower delicately, and turned back to the note.

Kara,

The division was pulled out this morning, back to base, and I finally have a minute to write this letter to you… hiding behind the cafeteria tent.

I can still smell the last scraps of our dinner – stew with chewy, bland meat and vegetables. They say we need to keep our strength up, and to do that we need as many vitamins and minerals as we can get, and they don’t care how we get it in us, just that we do.

But the thought of your face, the memories of your arms around me, your eyes sparkling, our date by the lake, coming home to you, is what will keep me fighting more than any gut-churning stew.

Even if I could find the words to describe this place to you, I don’t think I would. There are horrors here beyond description. I’ve seen a side to mankind I never thought was possible – and that’s both a good and bad thing. Where I have seen evil, I have also seen heroes rise up against it. It’s part of what keeps getting me up in the morning. That kind of courage, that heroism, is worth fighting to protect.

But I will tell you that, even though I wake up every morning missing you, the sun rises with a golden glow, the colour of your hair, and I feel you here with me and then I don’t feel so alone anymore.

I hope the flower reaches you in a decent enough condition. I carried it all the way through Belgium. I don’t know its true name, but I got bored one morning and called her Patricia.

Keep me in your thoughts, as I do of you. I’ll return home to you soon.

All my love,

Mike.

Kara smiled, and ran her fingers along the flower again. Her heart clenched as she pictured him in a trench somewhere, fighting not just Nazi’s, but exhaustion, hunger, cold, loneliness…

His letters were always short, concise, full of words she knew he would have spent so much time worrying about because even though in person he was often not very ample at expressing his feelings, when he wrote them he had time to think, and he would consider and plan until he found just the perfect ones.

His letters were small solace from her sadness that came from their parting, but anything was better than nothing.

Spurred by her fresh thoughts of him, Kara reached for the nearest pencil with which to jot down her reply.

But in her haste, she misjudged the distance, and knocked the tin of pencils to the floor with a clatter.

Wincing, Kara listened hard for any reaction to the sudden noise. Somewhere, someone snorted loudly, and a bed creaked… but then there was nothing.

With a breath of relief, Kara ducked under the desk to clean up the mess. They had rolled far underneath, and it took a lot of fiddling and stretching to reach them all.

When she straightened up onto her knees, and put the cup and pencils back on the desk with a huff, that’s when she saw she was no longer alone.

Like a deer in headlights, Lena Smyth was crouched in the doorway. Kara’s best guess was that she had just crawled along the bottom of the window to avoid being seen. Her hair was tucked behind her ears; she was dressed in a spare hospital gown, her left arm in a sling.

They were eye-level, and both stared at the other in equal shock of not having expected the other to be there.

Kara was the first to remember herself.

“Miss Smyth,’ she said curtly, ‘may I help you with something?”

“My…’ Lena cleared her throat. ‘My sling… it’s loose.”

“Not something that should bother someone who, just ten minutes ago, looked completely dead to the word,’ Kara replied.

Lena’s eyebrows rose, and then she looked away with a soft laugh.

“Touché,’ was all she said.

Kara got to her feet then. Clumsily, and with a badly disguised wince, Lena followed suit.

“You need to return to your bed,’ Kara said. ‘You need to rest.”

“I know,’ Lena nodded empathically. ‘And I will. Absolutely. I just…”

“Need to make a phone call?”

Lena pursed her lips, like she might try to deny it. But she gave up almost instantly, and took a tentative step forward.

“It’s only for a minute. Please. I need to call my father.”

“Your family will have been notified of your condition by now. The nurses on the last shift…”

“I gave them fake details.”

The words tumbled out of her mouth quickly, followed by a short, irritated sigh.

Kara frowned. “Why would you do that?”

Lena chuckled again. “Well it would defeat the purpose of keeping them secret if I just went ahead and told you, wouldn’t it?”

“Is your name even Lena Smyth?”

“I’m Lena,’ she affirmed, ‘let’s just leave it at that.’

When the moment Kara took to process this information passed, Lena took another step forward – toward the phone.

‘Please? I just need to tell him I’m okay.”

“I can call him for you.”

“If you call him, he’s going to insist on coming down here and it’ll cause a scene. I’ll only be a minute.”

Kara felt concern flare up in her chest. Was her father some sort of abusive parent? Lena was looking at her with an expression bordering on desperation. Kara half wondered if maybe she should call the police.

Lena seemed to read her mind; she shifted her expression in a less anxious one.

“It’s fine,’ she insisted. ‘Everything’s fine. I just really need to speak to him. Please, Nurse - …”

“Danvers,’ Kara finished for her.

Lena nodded respectfully. “Nurse Danvers. You can stay in the room, how about that?”

Kara snorted. “Well, thank you for your permission.”

The anxiety was back, knotting Lena’s brow together. She was clearly and quickly passing by the point of appreciating jokes and sarcasm.

Kara weighed up her options. Either she could let her use the phone and stay in the room and supervise, and then take any further action she felt she needed to take it, be that police intervention or not… or she could send her back to bed, again, and then have to spend the whole night in the nurse’s station because she could tell, from the set in Lena’s jaw and the determined look in her eye, that she would try again and again to use the telephone, no doubt all night if she had to.

With a sigh, Kara pushed the phone toward her. “You can have two minutes.”

Lena nearly collapsed with relief. She breathed her ‘Thank you’ and stepped fully into the office. Kara pushed the chair forward so Lena could sit down, and leaned back against the desk, eyes trained on her as she watched Lena dial.

“What time is it?’ Lena asked, pressing the receiver to her ear.

Kara checked her watch. “Almost nine.”

“Good, he should still be in his offi-… Father, it’s me!’

Her tone had changed instantly. Then she was whispering down the line, and turned away slightly from Kara. But they were still in such close proximity in the small office that, even though she stared at her shoes and tried to pretend she couldn’t, Kara could still hear every word she was saying.

“It was a fuse,’ Lena was explaining what happened. ‘No… no I wasn’t on that floor, but… yes, I know that… you have to –…‘ Lena glanced over her shoulder at Kara, and then turned away again to whisper even more softly, ‘… you need to open an investigation. On any other floor, the entire factory could have gone up. I’m serious! Father, think of the press… if you think it’s worth the risk to lose an entire business…’

Lena was quiet for a long while after this. Kara could just make out a deep voice on the other end of the line, talking away. Lena’s head dropped, and her eyes shut.

“Yes, Father,’ she said, monotone. Defeated. ‘But I’m going back. Yes of course I am. This just shows how much they need me on… Father, you said I could… I don’t know, just tell her I’m at Veronica’s for the night. No, I don’t… oh, hang on…”

Kara shifted her gaze away when Lena looked up at her suddenly, but she hadn’t been quick enough – Lena knew she was listening.

When she turned back, Lena didn’t look mad, but there was a frown there.

“Can I go home tomorrow?’ she asked.

Kara pursed her lips. “I’m not a doctor…”

“What do you think?”

She wasn’t used to that question. Normally, a nurse’s opinion was the last opinion anyone wanted to hear, and even then, they weren’t necessarily respected. But it was late, and there were only nurses on hand right now – the two doctors still there were having their dinner – and Kara didn’t feel she could make Lena wait to go ask them. To do so would not only be leaving her post, but also admitting she’d bent the rules for Lena in the first place.

So, Kara considered Lena’s injuries, and made her own diagnosis.

“You’re one of the least critical,’ Kara finally said, ‘and there are soldiers coming through her often and we need all the beds we can get, so I suppose they will send you home in the morning. But you must understand that that’s not a real medical diagno-…”

“Yes,’ Lena had stopped listening, and turned back to the phone, ‘send him in the morning. Tell him I’ll meet him around the corner. Thank you, Father. I love you, too. Yes, I will, I’m going back to bed now…”

Lena glanced up at Kara, and smirked.

After repeating goodnight’s and I’m fine’s a few more times, Lena hung up the phone with a satisfied clunk.

She turned around in her chair, wincing again, and looked up at Kara with big, green eyes.

‘Thank you,’ she insisted kindly.

Kara shrugged awkwardly under her stare. “Is everything alright now?”

Lena sighed. “It will be. He was about to send out a search party. An actual one, you understand – that’s not an exaggeration.”

Kara got to her feet, and held her hand out. “Come on, I’ll help you back to your room.”

“Can I have some aspirin first? My shoulder is killing me.”

“If it says so on your chart.”

“It’s just an aspirin.”

“And you’re just in my care. Come on.”

Lena could have probably made it on her own. She was obviously mobile enough to have crawled there in the first place. But Lena didn’t argue with Kara’s instruction, and Kara hoped she didn’t suspect that, really, she just wanted to make sure that Lena actually got into bed, and stayed there this time.

As they began to walk, Lena leant a little against Kara. Her weight was not unpleasant. When she let out a little sigh, and swallowed down a yawn, Kara realized just how much repeated attempts to sneak into the nurses station could take it out of you.

“Why did you give us fake details?’ Kara whispered on their way down the hall. ‘We could have called your father and set his mind at ease hours ago.”

Lena’s grip around Kara’s arm tightened a little. “I wasn’t sure if my mother would answer or not.”

The way she said it sent Kara’s stomach churning again. Were both of her parents’ tyrants?

“Your mother doesn’t know you work at the factory?’ Kara surmised.

It wouldn’t have been the first time she’d come across a headstrong woman who was going against her mother’s wishes.

“She does,’ Lena admitted slowly, ‘she just… doesn’t know what I do there… exactly. She thinks I’m just a secretary. And no secretary working up in the offices, would have been hurt like this. The only reason she let my father give me a job there in the first place is because we compromised – I assured her that I wouldn’t step outside the offices or away from a typewriter.”

“So how are you going to explain this?’ Kara gestured toward Lena’s sling.

“Won’t be a problem,’ Lena said. ‘They’re out of town.”

Kara processed this as they entered her ward. She helped Lena sit down gingerly on her bed, and pulled back the covers so she could get in under them.

Lena sighed in relief as her body relaxed. Kara resisted the urge to brush the hair out of her face.

Kara turned to leave, then, but felt like she should say something more.

“I wanted to go overseas,’ she murmured. ‘Enlist… be an army nurse… but my foster mother wouldn’t let me go. Said she couldn’t stand losing another of us. My father is over near Japan right now. He’s been gone almost a year. He writes… but it’s not the same.”

“So, you think my mother is right to be so overbearing?’ Lena frowned.

“No… I’m saying I understand that drive to get away. To be a part of something, feel like you’re making a difference, even when those who are meant to support you tell you not to because they think they know what’s best for you.”

Lena gazed up at her, eyes becoming heavy with sleep. Kara felt herself slightly unsettled by their strange effect on her.

“What’s your father’s name?’ Lena asked.

“Jeramiah. What’s yours?”

Lena yawned then, deeply. “L-L-Lionel.”

Kara frowned. Cogs were turning in her head, pieces were fitting together. They way she’d spoken to him on the phone, about investigations… how he’d been the one to give her the job there…

“Lionel… as in Lionel Luthor? As in… Luthor Munitions?”

Lena pointed at her lamely, eyes closed. “Tha’s the one.”

“I’m… going to get you that aspirin.”

Kara didn’t even stop to check her chart, just went back through to the medical cabinet to fetch the pills.

Her mind was reeling. Lena Luthor? Heiress to the Luthor millions? The Luthor Family were a tycoon, philanthropists, and had big stakes in the war effort, not just in munitions but also in food supplies and transportation. They were famous throughout the nation for their aid in the war efforts both domestically and overseas. Kara even had a picture of Jeramiah, accepting a crate that had been airdropped to his base with the words Luthor Co. printed on it in big, black letters.

No wonder she didn’t care about her overalls being destroyed, Kara thought absentmindedly. Who cared about the price of things when you could afford everything?

Kara’s mind was still buzzing when she walked back into the ward. She had questions of course, but from all the trouble she had gone to, to give a fake name and trying to sneak into the nurse’s station to make secret phone calls, Lena clearly didn’t want anyone to know who she really was. Kara was oddly flattered that she had trusted Kara, someone she hardly knew, with the secret.

And if there was one thing Kara never wanted to do, it was let someone down who had put their faith in her– even if that someone was a total stranger.

When Kara got back to Lena’s bed, the brunette was already fast asleep.

Kara checked her chart properly this time, before putting the pills down on the little beside table with a cup of water.

She tucked Lena’s covers in just that little bit tighter, and then made her way back through to the nurses’ station, mind still buzzing.

When her shift ended, three am precisely, the rain had stopped. But there was still a shiny, red motorbike waiting for her by the gate.

Kara didn’t even pretend to find this irritating. Without a word, feet throbbing and eyes itchy with fatigue, she simply settled herself behind her sister with a sigh and rested her cheek on Alex’s back.

Alex squeezed her knee gently, then kicked the bike into life, and they were off.

They rode in silence, but it was only a short trip. They didn’t speak at all until they were in the house, upstairs and settling into bed.

“I told Mom,’ said Alex.

Kara, already curled on her side under the covers, watched as her sister went through her usual nightly routine – watch taken off her wrist and placed on bedside table, hair brushed, stretches of her arms, back and legs – all performed while sitting on the edge of her bed.

“About the bike?’ Kara asked.

Alex nodded, lifting her arms over her head.

“Well the house is still standing,’ Kara observed, ‘so that’s a good sign.”

“I just stood there and let her yell at me,’ Alex admitted. ‘Seemed to be the best way to handle it. But she’ll probably have fresh things to say in the morning.”

Kara smirked. “How lucky that you have an early start tomorrow?”

“I can hardly believe it,’ Alex chuckled. ‘Unfortunate that we work in the same lab though.”

“She won’t yell at you in front of colleagues.”

“My luck continues.”

When Alex finished her routine, settled in and switched off the light, her voice broke through the darkness.

“Anything interesting happen in your shift?”

Kara stared up at the dark ceiling. “No. Nothing.”

She expected Alex to contest this; Alex had a knack for knowing when Kara wasn’t entirely truthful.

But there was no response. All too soon, Kara could hear was soft snoring.

It wasn’t long until she too was doing the same.

Chapter Text


 

“Will you take this to Mr. Nelsons for me?”

No “good morning”. No “how was your extra shift”. Eliza didn’t even look up from her breakfast. She just pushed the small wireless across the table as Kara entered the kitchen.

Kara grimaced. Eliza’s temper was still clearly a steady flame, not yet dwindled down into the embers where she would be open to reason. This was bad.

“Broken?’ Kara asked, picking up the small, brown, plastic thing.

Eliza didn’t answer right away. Her jaw was set. Her eyes were boring into her toast with such an intensity, Kara was surprised it hadn’t combust yet.

“Yes,’ was all she said.

Kara strongly disliked being in the middle. Jeramiah had always been the mediator, but since he’d left it had defaulted to Kara. Eliza and Alex would butt heads so often lately, however, that it was starting to become unavoidable.

As much as she wanted to stay out of it, she would talk to Eliza, she thought. Later. So she bid Eliza good-bye, retrieved her coat and scarf, and headed out.

With Alex at work, and the buses still so unreliable, Kara was left with little choice but to walk.

Not that she minded so much. She had slept in quite late, almost to midday. And not one for sitting around the house anyway, despite it being her day off, Kara was keen for the stroll into town.

The roads and sidewalk were still scattered with puddles, evidence of last night’s downpour. The closer Kara got to town, the more the life and activity of their small community came into being.

The Danvers house was a little out of the way of all the hubbub. Over a bridge, along a long road, down a small hill and Midvale came into being. Cars were parked along each side of the wide road, where two lines of various shows formed orderly rows. Butcher, book store, pharmacy, bakery, café… all these little shops seemed as immortal and impermeable as the asphalt beneath Kara’s feet.

Well, they had used to.

As she walked up the familiar main strip, she felt a slight pang as she saw the boarded-up windows, the signs that said Going out of Business, the shops that were still open but empty save for a bored looking attendant staring out the window and into space.

This war had taken away much. Their family members, their way of life, even their sense of immunity that had, until the events at Pearl Harbor, been instilled strong enough in them all to the point of naivete.

Nothing was safe now. Nobody was safe.

Kara could feel the sense of foreboding every time she walked into town, like a dark cloud that threatened rain and refused to move on. Where there would normally be a jovial air - with people exchanging polite and happy smiles of the streets; where children would laugh and play in parks and in their front yards – now eyes were averted, people were always in a hurry to get somewhere, nobody stopped to chat.

The community was broken.

The world was broken.

Kara tugged her coat more tightly around herself, tucked her chin into the folds of her scarf, as a shiver ran down her spine that had nothing to do with the breeze. It was uncomfortable, like trying to swallow a big pill.

Averting her eyes from the shop windows, Kara adjusted her bag on her shoulder and headed for the second alleyway, where Mr. Nelsons Repairs and Replacements was housed.

The little bell above her head tinkled as she pushed the door inward. The wooden floorboards creaked loudly as she stepped over the threshold. Inside the shop, radios of various sizes and shapes adorned the shelves, some playing music quietly, all different stations.

It was a small shop. The young man behind the counter didn’t look up right away; he was screwing the panel of a radio back into place.

“Good morning,’ he muttered absentmindedly. ‘I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Kara smirked, and stepped right up to the counter. “I won’t hold my breath.”

He looked up at that. Blue eyes, a shade darker than her own, suddenly lit up in recognition.

“Kara!’ he beamed.

“You know, Winn,’ Kara said lightly, ‘if you greeted everyone with that smile, you’d probably have more customers.”

Winn Schott Jr. laughed once, loud and ironic. “But then my father wouldn’t have anything to criticize me about, and where would that leave us?”

“With more money in the till and a higher paycheck?”

“You make a valid point, Danvers.”

Kara shared a laugh with her best friend. Winn had been working at Mr. Nelsons store for almost three years now, and his customers service still had a lot of work to do. Kara knew this, even Winn knew this. Mr. Nelson himself had even said, right in front of her, that if it weren’t for the fact that he was so darn good with electronics, he would have fired him years ago.

Knowing him as well as she did, she never took his crabby greetings personally whenever she visited him at work. But she knew others could be put off. Eliza herself had commented on occasion that it probably wasn’t good for business – not a problem Mr. Nelson needed now.

“All I’m saying,’ Kara reached out and squeezed his cheeks, ‘is that it’s a very pretty smile. I’ve seen it turn girls heads at a hundred paces.”

Winn waved her off with a dismissive noise, but Kara didn’t miss the red tinge flush across his face. They both knew how well he could wear a flat cap.

“You got the morning off?” he asked lightly.

“Double shift last night.”

“Yikes.’ Concern knotted his eyebrows together. And not the kind people forced when hearing random bad news. This was genuine, and it was one of the things Kara admired most about him – he cared, even about people he didn’t know. ‘I heard about the factory explosion… just terrible…”

Kara’s mind was filled with images again of the women, some of them still lying there, drifting in an out of consciousness. Families would have begun arriving today, pushing their way into the wards the second Matron declared visiting hours had begun.

She shook her head, in an attempt to clear her head.

“It wasn’t great. Hey, can you take a look at this?”

Winn, like Alex, like everyone, could of course see right through her. But he was kind enough not to push her, and just straightened up as Kara moved the wireless from under her arm and placed it down in front of him.

With a frown that morphed from concern, to curiosity, Winn pulled the radio closer and turned it over and over in his hands, examining.

“Eliza broke it?”

Kara offered a shrug. “It’s on all day and all night.”

“These smaller models overheat,’ Winn retrieved his screwdriver and began unscrewing the back, eyes narrowed and unwavering on the task. ‘Probably just fried some wires. I can fix it easy.”

“Of course you can.”

“It won’t take long, you can wait around if you -… good morning.”

Winn’s voice had shifted seamlessly back into his flat, monotone customer service voice as the bell over the door tinkled. Kara looked over her shoulder to see a tall, bald, handsome black man enter the shop.

“Be with you in a minute,’ Winn said too loudly.

The other man nodded, lips pursed. “It’s fine.”

Kara considered the man in what she hoped was a casual, out-of-the-corner-of-her-eye kind of way. She knew her subtly sometimes rivalled that of a sledgehammer, and she didn’t want this man to think she was looking at him for the wrong reasons.

He was extraordinarily tall, with bright, alert eyes. His shirt looked as if it were a size too small; the bow tie he wore matched his vest. Like Kara, he’d walked in with a radio under his arms. His radio was much larger than hers, however, and beautifully crafted.

Kara shifted to the side slightly, obscuring her battered, tiny radio from view.

He caught her eye, then, and Kara felt her cheeks burn. But he didn’t seem mad. Instead, he offered her a friendly smile.

“Good morning,’ he said. His voice was deep and smooth.

Kara nodded, returning the smile. “And to you.”

“Oh,’ Winn’s voice was sudden behind her, and his friendly tone was back. ‘James! I wasn’t expecting to see you in here.”

The man sighed, and stepped forward. “Smoke started coming from it this morning. Do you have a minute to look at it? It’s the Chief’s favorite.”

Winn pursed his lips, as the other radio was placed in front of him, beside Eliza’s half-dissected wireless. “I’ll do what I can. Give me until tomorrow?”

“Chief won’t like that.”

“Well if he wants this back with the promise of it not breaking again, he’ll have to do his best to contain his temper. Just tell him I’m taking care of it. Surely you guys have another he can use in the mean time?”

James smirked. “Seven, actually.”

“Well, there you go. Have you met my friend, Kara?”

Winn disappeared behind the curtain with a limp, both radios tucked under his arms and screwdriver between his teeth. Kara turned to find a hand outstretched.

“James Olsen,’ he said with another, friendly smile.

Kara shook his hand. “Kara Danvers. You come in here often.”

James frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“You’re not put off by Winn being… well, Winn.”

James laughed this. His teeth were dazzling. “He’s a good guy deep down. Besides, it’s not his fault.”

Kara only slightly agreed with this, but seen as she’d only just met this man, didn’t think it polite to contradict him.

“So… your boss sent you in here?’ Kara asked.

“No, I was on my way out and I volunteered.’ James absentmindedly reached down to put a hand on the satchel that hung from his shoulder. ‘Chief has been complaining about the weak signal for ages. Figured I’d put him, and the rest of us, out of his misery.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

James shrugged. “It’s no big deal. Stupid thing has been on the fritz for months now. But he refuses to buy a new one,’ he paused then, taking a moment to look out the store window and out into the street, ‘his daughter gave it to him before she left for Japan.”

That thick, awkward feeling was suddenly in the air between them. Kara was used to it – everyone was, at this point. No-one needed it translated.

Kara cleared her throat, conscious that Winn could come back at any moment. “Where do you work?”

Midvale Voice.”

Kara tried to hide her surprise at this news. “You’re a reporter?”

James patted his satchel. “Photographer. Speaking of which, sorry to be rude, but I need to get up to Luthor Munitions.

“You’re going to the factory?”

“Chief wants pictures for this evening’s edition.”

“May I come with you?”

Kara stepped forward before she even realized what she was doing.

James considered her for a moment, before giving her an awkward smile.

“Uh,’ he rubbed the back of his neck, ‘I’m not so sure that’s a very good idea. I heard it’s a bit of a mess down there.”

Kara’s fists curled into tight balls. “More of a mess that the gaping wounds I had to bandage and treat? Than the burned skin I dressed?’

James straightened up. “You’re a nurse.”

“And I’d like to see what kept me up half the night last night, tending to over twenty women.”

Kara could feel her jaw set tight – a maneuver that often worked on most people. James was very imposing as he considered her at length, but Kara’s resolve held. 

“All right,’ he said finally. He gave her a once over, and then backed toward the door. ‘Let me go bring my truck around.”

She watched him long after he’d called out to Winn with a promise to be back in a day or so, given her one last respectful nod, and stepped out into the street. He crossed the road quickly after looking both ways, long strides getting him there easily.

A sigh came from over Kara’s shoulder. She blinked out of her reverie, and turned to see Winn limp back into the showroom, and sit himself back down behind the counter with his usual grimace.

“Okay,’ he groaned, and then sighed again at her with a smile. ‘Give me an hour with this and it’ll be good as new. Better, even. You got something you can do?”

Kara assured she did, and then headed back out into the street.

 

---

 

James’s car was an old, beat up, pick-up truck that probably would have, once upon a time, gleamed a brilliant, emerald green, but now was barely even a sewage kind of colour.

It was a bit of a close fit. The canvas ceiling sagged that little bit too low, and Kara sat as far to the right as she could, trying to maintain something of his personal space. But his large frame and wide shoulders took up most of the room, despite his hunch.

“Sorry,’ he apologized again, ‘it’s normally just me in here. I forget how tight a fit it is.”

As they went over pot holes in the dirt road (James had told her there was a short cut through back roads), the suspension squealed, and the empty wooden barrels in the back bounced around with a loud clatter. She saw James wince slightly out of the corner of her eye.

“It’s fine,’ Kara smiled.

James pursed his lips, looking thoroughly unconvinced.

They’d been driving for almost ten minutes now, and barely said a word to one another. The awkwardness was becoming almost beyond uncomfortable. Kara had many questions she wanted to ask, but at the same time didn’t want to seem nosy or intrusive.

But she was never really very good at silences, so she was just going to have to try the least invasive one she could think of.

“Your truck is very…’ she paused, and finally settled on, ‘… sturdy.”

James let out a laugh at this. “It’s a relic.”

Kara bared her teeth, looking guilty.

“It’s my Mom’s. She sells vegetables in the markets over in Bonnerville, but she let me borrow it today.”

“She never thought of getting something a little more modern?”

“My Dad bought it for her as a birthday present one year. Long before I came along.’ James explained with a small smile. ‘It’s been breaking down for a while now. Too many trips through back roads like this. But it’s been so many years now since he… and well, Mom refuses to get rid of it. She’s sentimental.”

A shadow passed across his face. His meaning was clear.

“I’m sorry,’ Kara offered.

James shrugged. “It’s alright. It was a long time ago. Just after the last war, actually. Can you believe it? He made it all the way through hell, only to come home and get Scarlet Fever.”

Kara felt the injustice coming off him in waves. He looked lost in memories for a moment, his eyes glazing over, only coming back into focus after they ran over a particular deep pot hole.

“Sorry,’ he cleared his throat, and laughed again. ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“I’m easy to talk to,’ Kara said simply.

It was something both Alex and Winn had told her many times in in the past. It was part of what of made her such a good nurse – she had an almost calming effect on people; like they knew they were going to be okay, just because she was there.

“Humble, too,’ he chuckled. After a moment, as if reading her thoughts, he added, ‘I bet you’re a good nurse.”

“I do my best,’ Kara shifted in her seat.

“That’s all we can do.”

She considered him again in her peripheral vision. Kara was confused by him. Not because of anything he had said, or because of the fact that he had such a good occupation – the members of the black community had their own papers, successful publications at that – but how he, a very capable looking man, had avoided being enlisted.

Not all men were enlisted, of course. Some fell under the ‘reserved occupations’ heading, where they were deemed too important to be sent overseas. But surely a photographer wasn’t that essential? Perhaps he had served and come back? He did have the imposing, stiff posture of a soldier….

He wasn’t like Winn. Not that she could see, at least.

He glanced at her again. He was too observant for his own good, Kara thought, as the turned away quickly, blushing.

“Something on your mind?’ he asked.

“No. I was just… looking out your window… the sunflowers in that field back there were enormous…”

He laughed and turned back to the road. “If you say so.”

As they drove on, her curiosity was almost at boiling point once again. She wanted to find out more about him – he was intriguing. And anytime she found anyone intriguing, it was all she could do not to barrage them with a dozen questions. She wanted to know about their past, who they were.

Kara was about to finally stop fighting the politeness, when the car began to slow down.

“We’re here,’ he said somberly.

They rounded the corner, and the factory came into view.

Fenced behind large, black gates that had the words “Luthor Munitions” woven in iron, the factory was a large, brick building right in the middle of acres of land. The perimeter fencing was high, made of wood and meshed metal that looked like chicken wire. There were quite a few people mulling about outside, kicking up dirt as they shuffled around in overalls and bandanas – mostly women – and Kara supposed it might be their smoke break.

James pulled the car up just to the left of the main gate, where other cars were parked. As they stepped out of the car, a stern looking guard dressed in a navy-blue uniform stepped out of the security box. He considered them warily, eyes narrowed, but he did not approach.

Kara took little notice of him. She smoothed her dress down, and squinted up at the massive building.

She wasn’t sure why she wanted to see it, exactly. Shouldn’t visions of women flying about, on fire, having shrapnel embedded in their skin, their bones breaking and bending in unnatural ways – visions she knew she absolutely would have – be something she should try and avoid?

But it was, from the outside, utterly unremarkable. Despite James’s warning of destruction and chaos, none of the damage from the explosion was visible from the outside. Although she could imagine what the inside must look like, ground zero, she felt her enthusiasm for seeing the scene quickly dwindling.

James cleared his throat somewhere behind her. Kara spun around to see him twisting and turning the lens of his camera, now slung low around his neck.

He took a few pictures of the building, then jerked his head back toward the front gate. “Think chuckles over there will let me in?’

Kara looked back around. The security guard was now moving over to them, posture stiff and intent. Kara also suspected he was puffing his chest out a little, no doubt trying to make his height of what could have been no more than five seven, look more imposing against James’s tall frame. She resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“You there,’ he called.

James sighed. “It was a mistake to bring you,’ he said out of the corner of his mouth.

Kara frowned. “Why? We’re not going to get into trouble, are we?” she asked, feeling suddenly nervous.

But James didn’t get the chance to answer.

The guard stopped in front of them, and considered them both in turn with a scathing look he made no attempt to disguise.

“Hello,’ Kara offered quickly, hoping to defuse a situation she could see was possibly about to begin.

The guard’s gaze lingered on James who was standing stock still, a step behind Kara.

“Can I help you, Miss?’ the guard asked.

“Not me,’ Kara gestured behind her. ‘This is my… friend, Mr. Olsen. He’s a photographer for the Midvale Voice. He came to get some pictures for the evening edition and was kind enough to let me accompany him.”

The guard’s eyes, narrowing, shifted back to James.

“Just a few snaps,’ James added. He brandished his camera slightly, for emphasis.

“No unauthorized personnel,’ the guard snapped.

“I have a press badge.”

“Big deal.”

Kara frowned. “Well there’s no need to be so rude…”

“It’s okay,’

James reached out, and put a hand on Kara’s arm, to stop her from moving in between him and the guard. She only saw the guard’s eyes flash to where James’s hand rested for a moment before she looked around at him. James was, to her surprise, wearing a small smile.

“Don’t worry about it,’ he told her softly, and then added louder for the guard, ‘he’s just doing his job. Don’t want the wrong sort hanging around, right?”

The guard surveyed them for such a long moment, it made Kara feel slightly uncomfortable. She knew why he was staring. Behind her she heard the crunch of tires against gravel, as another car pulled up, but she took little notice. She refused to look guilty in front of this small-minded idiot.

The car had attracted the guard’s attention, however, and his cold demeanor shifted so suddenly it was startling. His eyes had glanced over Kara’s shoulder, and then almost instantly he stood up must straighter, to attention, and his expression flattened into utter compliance.

“Miss Luthor,’ he choked.

Kara whirled around at the familiar name.

A large, gleaming, white Bentley was parked just nearby. Standing beside the driver’s side door was a valet dressed in grey. And walking toward them, with her left arm in a sling and her long, black hair cascading over her shoulders, was Lena Luthor.

She looked outstandingly different from the woman Kara had seen crawling into the nurses station on all fours just the night before. Cleaned up, primped and primed, like all women of her stature, her deep, red dress was perfectly tailored and cinched in at the waist, showing off curves and angles that would have attracted many eyes. On her lapel, an intricated floral design was sewn. Her heels sunk in a little into the damp grass as she walked toward them, but she didn’t seem to even notice. Kara supposed she was used to dirtier conditions than that, working where she did.

Lena hadn’t noticed Kara yet. She was smiling politely at the guard, gloved hands clenched around her purse. Kara was glad of this. Lena was striking – a beauty Kara had not fully realized as she lay in a cot in a dark ward, covered in grease and grime. Now that she was here, dressed up to the nines, green eyes sparkling in the sunlight, it was taking Kara a moment longer than she expected to collect herself.

“Afternoon, Nathaniel,’ she grinned. ‘Father told you I was coming down, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am, he did. Call came through just this morning.”

“Excellent. Shouldn’t take too long, I just need to look over the - … Nurse Danvers?”

Kara shivered under the gaze that had finally, inevitably, shifted to her. Lena looked surprised, but not at all unhappy to see her.

Kara waved. “Hello, again.”

Lena let out a laugh, and changed direction instantly from heading toward the front gate, for her instead.

“What are you doing here?’ Lena quirked a playful eyebrow. ‘Did they send you here to check on me? Because, y’know, I got a clean bill of health this morning… except for this darn sling…”

“No,’ Kara chuckled, ‘no, nothing like that.”

Lena smirked. “Well then, if you don’t mind we asking, why are you here? All the injured women are still in hospital, yes?’

“I’m glad to see that doesn’t include you anymore.”

“You were right,’ Lena ran a hand up her along the sling. ‘They kicked me out this morning, just like you said they would. But with more ceremony, of course.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,’ Kara said, meaning it.

Lena stepped forward a little, her voice lowering. ‘Actually, my shoulder is killing me. Doctor told me I have to put ice on it twice a day and stay in bed.”

“Well,’ Kara replied, her tone just as soft, ‘if the doctors gave you this advice…”

“Oh, please,’ Lena scoffed, straightened up, and waved a dismissive hand. ‘You think I have I have time to sit around my living room all day and night? There’s a war on. Not to mention all this…” she waved her good hand at the factory.

Kara nodded. “I hadn’t forgotten.”

When Lena gave her a small smile, and then glanced past her, over her shoulder, Kara realized suddenly that she had forgotten one thing – they weren’t alone.

“I think you’ll find the women here are more than capable of caring for themselves and don’t need medical attention.” Lena said finally. ‘I hope that’s a comfort to you and your… friend, here.”

Kara adjusted her glasses, suddenly remembering herself, and waved a hand. ‘Sorry, how rude of me. This is James Olsen. James, this is Lena Luthor.”

Lena’s eyes shifted back to the tall man over Kara’s shoulder. She gave him a polite smile, her eyes searching him appraisingly.

“Hello,’ she offered politely. Her eyes landed on his camera. ‘You’re here to take some photographs?”

“For the Midvale Voice,’ he responded, taking a step forward. ‘I don’t mean to intrude, Miss Luthor. And I don’t wish to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But I would appreciate it if you’d let me accompany you inside. I’d only need a few quick snaps.”

Midvale Voice,’ Lena repeated. She looked contemplative. ‘Hank Henshaw runs that paper, yes?”

James nodded, looking slightly surprised. “You know him?”

“Only by reputation. He ran an article last week about the new rations LuthorCorp sent over to Europe last month. Very well written, full of integrity. Gave us quite the stock boost.”

James straightened up, then, managing to give her a small smile but not much else.

Lena tilted her head, and surveyed them both again in turn with a small quirk at the corner of her mouth.

“You two came here together?’ she chuckled.

Kara wanted to explain the situation, but a honking car horn cut her off before she could even open her mouth.

A red Buick skidded to a halt nearby, sending dust flying everywhere. Hastily, a man in a hat and ill-fitting suit stepped out of the car, kicking the door shut behind him before jogging over. He looked in his mid-forties, clean shaven apart from his moustache, and already had a giant grin and loud laugh that set Kara’s teeth on edge.

“Can you believe my luck?’ he barked. ‘Here I am, just coming down to sneak in and get pictures of ground zero and Lena Luthor is standing right here before me, like a vision…”

‘Sir, return to your vehicle,’ the guard suddenly snapped. He’d stepped forward protectively, putting himself between this newcomer and Lena.

Lena put a hand on the Guard’s shoulder, and gave it a squeeze.

“It’s alright, Nathanial. Mr. Archer,’ Lena sighed condescendingly, ‘if you think flattery is going to get you any closer to my factory than that of your five other attempts you’ve got another thing coming. Oh yes,’ she added at the newcomers surprised expression. ‘I know all about your little escapades. You can expect an invoice in your inbox any day now. You owe me for two broken windows.”

Mr. Archer gave her a grin. “All in the name of the press. You understand.”

“I understand you’re a cockroach.” Lena’s tone had lost all its friendliness, false or otherwise.

His smile didn’t falter as he pointed at James. “Right. I see. You already have your man, have you? I didn’t realize you were all getting so integrated around here. But come now, we can all play fair. Surely there’s room in that factory for just one more of us.”

Kara felt her skin prickle with rage.

“Patrick,’ James responded flatly, ‘why don’t you just do us all a favour, and leave.”

“Well, that’s not really fair, is it, Jimmy?’ Mr. Archer jeered. ‘You think just because you got here first, you have dibs? Son, you and I both know that’s not how this game works.”

“And it’s all just fun and games for you, right?’ James sneered.

“I’m a public servant, Jimmy. And the public demands information. And, look…’ he paused dramatically, heaving a sigh and a shrug, ‘… you and I both know that the Midvale Voice just hasn’t got the same reach as the Gazette. So maybe you should just let the professionals take it from here.”

James moved forward, then - the only slightly aggressive move he’d made at all. Kara shifted in front of him automatically, as if her small arms were going to be able to hold him back if he was really determined to start something.

But Lena’s voice broke through the tension, like the crack of a whip.

“Gentleman,’ she said firmly, and both James’s glare and Mr. Archer’s smug grin smoothed as they turned to look at her. ‘Control yourselves. This is hardly the behavior expected of such professionals, let alone those in the presence of a lady.”

“My apologies,’ Mr. Archer bowed dramatically. ‘Your beautiful eyes should not have to be subjected to such unprofessionalism.”

Lena pointed at Kara.

“I was talking about her.”

Kara felt her cheeks burn as four pairs of eyes suddenly turned their attention to her.

“I beg your pardon,’ Mr. Archer said, giving Kara barely a nod of acknowledgement before turning back to Lena. ‘Miss Luthor, perhaps we could discuss this inside. The public…”

“The public are aware of what happened here,’ Lena cut over him.

She glanced at James and Kara, pursing her lips in thought before continuing.

‘There will be no access allowed. No photographs other than from right where you’re standing, Mr. Archer… is that understood?”

“But, Miss Luthor…”

Lena raised a dark, elegant eyebrow, and the words died in Mr. Archer’s mouth.

Kara’s gut clenched at Lena’s seemingly effortless and commanding presence.

After a long moment, where Mr. Archer’s pursed lips and furrowed brow made him look as if we were going to argue further, his smile returned (although not quite reaching his eyes) and he simply put his hands up in defeat.

“Absolutely. Whatever your precious heart desires, sweetheart.”

Kara felt her stomach twist at his slimy demeanor. She glanced at Lena; if she was similarly revolted, she didn’t show it.

Instead, she just gave him a curt smile, and then turned to James. “I’m sorry, that goes for you too.”

James nodded. “Understood.”

Lena gave both men a look. When her gaze passed over Kara, her expression softened slightly.

“Well, now that we have that cleared up, if you’ll excuse me…”

With one last smile that made Kara’s cheeks burn, Lena turned to head toward the front gate.

Mr. Archer waved after Lena. “Absolutely no trouble. This is fine.’

He turned to James, and smirked.

“Race you to the hospital?’ he challenged. ‘I know one of the nurses there, she’ll be sure to let me in for an exclusive. Should be easy to get a few pictures of the women in there.”

No.”

The word burst out of Kara before she could stop herself. Mr. Archer had already begun backing toward his car, and in his smug staring contest with James, who had been looking livid, he hadn’t noticed Kara move forward until it was too late.

She had the front of his jacket curled in her fists, her snarl curling her lip and scrunching her nose.

Kara was aware of James calling her name, but her heartbeat was pulsing in her ears, anger pulsing through her veins, and Mr. Archer’s look of utter surprise was too good to ignore.

“You don’t get to go anywhere near that hospital, do you hear me?’ Kara snapped. ‘I don’t care who you think you know, or what you think you’re entitled to because of who you work for. Those women are real people, victims who have been through an ordeal you couldn’t even imagine, all in the name of serving a country that is fighting to keep people like you safe and free. They are not there for you to exploit – they’re there to heal. And they don’t need camera’s flashing in their eyes, or questions being thrown at them. They need time and compassion and respect.”

Mr. Archer just stared at her, unable to do anything else. Her grip on him was tight.

Only when a hand wrapped around her bicep, giving her a soft tug, did she look away.

James was looking at her in such a way; like disbelief, but softer. His jaw was clenched, and when he realized he had her attention, his eyebrows rose.

“Kara,’ he said softly.

It was the first time he’d used her first name. The shock of this brought her to her senses. She looked back at Mr. Archer, who was still leaning back as far as he could in her grasp, eyes wide.

Kara unclenched her fists, let him go, and took a step back. Her heat was slamming against her chest, but as she caught her breath, it began to slow, and her tunnel vision began to widen.

James’s grip loosened once he realized Kara was back to her senses. Kara looked around. The guard had his truncheon out, ready in case he needed to intervene. James had his other hand out, as if telling the guard to stay back. Mr. Archer was slowly recovering from his shock.

Lena was watching with a tight jaw and wide eyes, looking flushed.

At her expression, Kara smoothed her dress out again, and adjusted her glasses, suddenly feeling very embarrassed indeed.

“Right then,’ Mr. Archer croaked, breaking the silence. ‘Guess I’ll just… I’ll just go then.”

“Sounds like a great idea,’ James growled.

Mr. Archer got back into his car with one last look at Kara. She didn’t like the look in his eye. Now that the shock had faded, there was almost a victorious glint in there. Or it could have been a trick of the light; the afternoon was glaring off the windscreen.

As he drove away, kicking up more dust in his wake, Kara sincerely hoped it was the latter.

Kara turned to James.

“I’m sorry,’ she said automatically.

“Don’t be,’ James glanced back around at the factory, and added in a soft voice, ‘The shots I got will do.”

It wasn’t what she’d meant, but she smiled up at him, despite this.  

Kara turned to look back at Lena. She was still standing there, stock-still. But her expression had softened; she was blinking away the hard stare that had been there, as if also remembering herself.

“Are you alright?’ she asked Kara.

Kara adjusted her glasses again, and nodded. Lena’s stare was the most unsettling thing.

She pointed at the factory. “You should head inside. Your injuries… you shouldn’t be on your feet for too long…”

Lena let out a laugh, and somewhere behind them a siren sounded from the factory.

Taking advantage of Lena looking around at the sound of the siren, Kara tugged on James’s sleeve and rushed back to the car without even waiting for him to follow. She was sitting shotgun before he’d even had the chance to put the cap back on his camera.

James waved quickly at Lena and the guard, and all too soon he was back in the car, turning the engine over.

Kara watched Lena as they revered and pulled away. She’d turned back at the sound of tires of gravel, and was still looking after Kara with an almost dazed expression. As they drove away, out of sight, Kara could understand why. It wasn’t common for women to be so forceful with men. Or for a white woman to be in the company of a black man. Or for nurses to show up randomly at sites where their patients had been injured.

Kara herself didn’t know what had come over her.

She looked down at her hands – they were shaking.

“That was really…’ James began.

“Stupid?’ Kara laughed.

James smiled. “I was going to say admirable.”

“You’ve had run in’s with that man before?”

“He’s been in the game a long time. He was a good reporter once, but his head got too big and now he’s just a washed up has been. All he cares about is getting an exclusive, and he doesn’t care who he has to step over to get it. I’ve been in the same location as him a few times, trying to get a picture, and I’ve seen him duck a lot of swings thrown at his head, but that back there…’ he laughed, and glanced at her with pride in his eyes, ‘… that was something else.”

“You didn’t get to go in, though,’ Kara frowned, feeling guilty.

“Chief will give me The Frown for a second, but it’ll be fine. These shots will do,’ James assured her. And then he smirked. ‘Besides, it wasn’t your fault. If Archer hadn’t shown up, I think Lena Luthor would have let me get at least a few shots in. Bringing you was a good idea after all. You know her?”

“A little,’ Kara said lightly. ‘I suppose she came to look into the accident.’

“Did you meet her at the hospital? Is that how she knew you?”

Kara bit her lip, and then told him the story. Not the whole story, however – somehow she still felt it important not to divulge all of Lena’s secrets.

Patient confidentiality, and all.

“I know her parents are still in Metropolis until next month,’ James commented. ‘Business deals with the Navy. She must just be here to put forward a good face. Make it look like the Luthor’s are actually concerned about what happened.”

Ignoring his skepticism, Kara enquired, “How do you know about her parents?”

“I work for a newspaper.”

Kara laughed then. “Of course. Sorry.”

James smiled at her. His smiles had been less tight and polite, passing across his features more easily as their time together had gone on. It was nice.

It had also been nice to see Lena. James’s observation seemed short sighted. Of course, she could understand why he would think so shallowly of Lena; she was the heiress to a world-wide business, and that sort of upbringing no doubt instilled some characteristics in people.

But James hadn’t seen her the day before. He hadn’t seen the way she’d blended so easily into the crowd, how she hadn’t made a fuss or asked for a private room. He didn’t know what she really did in that factory. He hadn’t heard the way she’d spoken to her father over the phone, so insistent on doing the right thing, not because it was good publicity, but just because it truly was the right thing to do.

 

“Come on,’ he nudged her playfully, then, jolting her out of her reverie, ‘I’ll drop you home.”

“Thank you,’ Kara smiled. ‘But can we please not take the backroads this time? My back is killing me.”

 

----

 

When Kara stepped through her front door, half an hour later, she hovered over the threshold as a thought suddenly struck her.

“I forgot the radio,’ she groaned aloud.

Irritated at herself, Kara kicked her shoes off and went to retrieve her scarf from her coat pocket, only to find that this, too, was gone.

Realization that she must have left it in James’s car made her sigh in frustration.

Which wasn’t helped at all, when Alex stamped in through the door behind her, almost knocking her over.

Geez,’ Alex hissed, ‘what are you doing, standing there?”

“I just got in. What are you doing here? I thought you were working late”

Alex kicked off her boots with even more vigor than Kara, and let out a huff before stomping through toward the kitchen. Kara hopped along behind her, trying to peel her socks off her feet.

“Some idiot dropped beakers full of carbonyl dichloride all over the floor. Glass everywhere, chemicals spilt…. whole laboratory had to be evacuated while they sent in teams to clear it up.”

“Carborny what?’

Alex sighed, and retrieved the half-empty carton of milk from the refrigerator.

“Phosgene,’ she explained, as if that cleared any of Kara’s confusion. ‘It’s a… toxic gas.”

Kara frowned. She waited until Alex had had her long mouthful of milk, wiped the rim of the bottle, and then passed it over. Kara knew Eliza would die if she saw them do this, it was a habit she’d been trying to get them out of since childhood.

She knew it was a small act of defiance on Alex’s part, so she took the bottle without comment.

“Why do you have beakers of that just lying around?” Kara asked.

Alex folded her arms over her chest. “Classified.”

Kara rolled her eyes. Half the things Alex worked on were classified.

To her credit, however, Alex always did have a certain guilty look on her face after she said it; as if she would have talked about everything she worked on all night long if she wasn’t afraid of being court-martialed, or worse.

She had that look on her face now.

Kara had her fill of milk, and then handed it back. Alex ran a hand through her hair and swirled the remaining liquid around like it were a fine wine.

“Where’s Eliza?’ Kara asked, suddenly realizing. ‘Did you leave her there?”

“Yeah,’ Alex said sarcastically, ‘I just left my mother behind in a lap to choke to death. Don’t be ridiculous. I offered her a ride home but she refused to get on the bike. She’s taking the bus.”

Kara rubbed her eyes. The stubbornness of every member of the Danvers family was sometimes almost too much to deal with.

Alex glanced at Kara, then, as if only just now seeing her for the first time. “You look awful. Did you go jumping in puddles again?”

Kara sighed. “No…”

She explained briefly what had happened; meeting James at Nelsons, going with him to the factory, Mr. Archer, running into Lena…

Alex let out a laugh, then. “You punched him?”

“No, I didn’t punch him…’ Kara clarified.

“But you wanted to?”

Kara shifted uncomfortably. “I just… grabbed him. I don’t know what came over me.”

“Sounds like he deserved more than that. Do you think he’ll really try and get into the hospital?”

“If he shows up while I’m on shift,’ Kara growled, ‘I’ll be calling the police.”

“Call me, I’ll march him down there myself,’ Alex glowered. ‘Looks like I’ll be heading that way anyway.”

Kara chuckled at Alex’s overly bitter tone. “Why do you need to go to the police station?”

Alex grimaced, and downed the last of the milk. Kara had a sneaking suspicion she wished it were something a long stronger.

“I got a ticket,’ she admitted.

“For what?”

“The bike started to backfire,’ Alex grumbled. ‘And then cop pulled me over on Sycamore Avenue, told me it wasn’t roadworthy…”

She trailed off with a shrug. Alex looked so sullen about it, that despite her sore backside from James’s truck making her irritable, Kara couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’m sorry,’ she apologized immediately at Alex’s reproachful look. ‘I’m not laughing at you. I’m just - … look, let’s go down to the station now. Get it over with. How much was the ticket?”

Without a word, Alex pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket, and slammed it down onto the table between them. Kara unfolded it gently, and grimaced.

“Well,’ she said slowly, ‘I have twenty dollars I can put toward it? Hey,’ she cut in quickly, as Alex open her mouth to protest, ‘if you’re going to be driving me everywhere, the least I can do is pitch in when things like this happen.”

Alex pursed her lips.

“Come on,’ Kara got to her feet, and took Alex’s hand to try and pull her up with her. ‘Let’s go get it done, and then we can go to the dance.”

Alex let out the longest groan yet. “I hate going to that stupid dance.”

“I know you do,’ Kara said sympathetically, ‘but it’s not stupid, it’s actually really fun… which you would know if you could stop sulking for five minutes. Plus, they have that beer you like.”

Alex stopped pouting long enough to look at Kara. “That’s true.”

“And Winn will be there, so it could be enjoyable? Also, it will get Eliza off your back for a while.”

This was the right thing to say. Alex finally let Kara pull her to her feet, albeit with all the enthusiasm of a rag doll.

“You’re buying me as many beers as I want,’ Alex insisted.

Kara just put her hands up in defeat, and followed her sister upstairs to change into their “going out” attire.

 

----

 

Kara nudged Alex beside her. “Stop it.”

Her foot had been tapping impatiently for almost ten minutes now.

The line to see the receptionist at the station had been longer than they had anticipated. Clearly, officers around Midvale had been on some sort of a rampage.

It had been hard not to eavesdrop on the charges laid against the people in line in front of them. One woman had complained loudly to the receptionist about the size of her fish barrels she’d let out on the street at the front of her shop, and the injustice of a corrupt legal system, as if said receptionist could do anything about it.  The next man in line, who stood before them now, was an elderly man who was taking so long to search every one of his seemingly many pockets in his oversized trench coat, it took a lot of self-control for Kara not to step forward and offer to help him; partly because his hands shook with arthritis, but mostly because Alex’s foot tapping had become quite rapid now and it was becoming wearisome.

Alex ran a hand through her short, brown bob again. When she did that, dressed as she was in her trousers, suspenders and shirt, when Kara glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, she could sometimes feel a little confusion. She could look so much like some of the men she’d seen at bars, or dances.

“I don’t like this place,’ Alex remarked. Her eyes were darting around everywhere.

Kara was confused by this. She hadn’t done anything illegal, after all. And Alex was strong-willed, and rarely put off or intimidated by anything. But Kara didn’t get time to enquire further, as the elderly man in front of them had paid his fine, and finally shuffled off.

Alex almost collapsed with relief beside her.

“Good afternoon,’ said the receptionist, ‘sorry for the long wait. How may I help you today?”

Kara stepped forward, right up to the desk, and adjusted her glasses importantly. The desk was quite tall, more like a podium than anything else. The kind of desk a Judge might sit behind. It was slightly daunting, but the woman behind it looked friendly enough.

It took Kara a moment to realize Alex had not moved with her.

She glanced back around. Alex was still standing in the same spot, and she was looking at the receptionist with a slightly dazed and fanciful expression that made absolutely no sense to Kara whatsoever. 

Kara frowned, feeling confused, and turned back to look at the receptionist; to find what could have put such an expression on her sister’s face.

Kara didn’t recognize her, but then as small as their town was, she still didn’t know everyone. Her brown hair was tied into a bun at the base of her neck. She wore a navy-blue uniform, like the rest of the officers, but was clearly still not quite one of them. She had beautiful, blemish-free Olive skin; big brown eyes shone down at them with a polite smile, framed with dimples that were beginning to falter as the moment lingered, becoming awkward with every second.

Kara turned back to Alex, and cleared her throat meaningfully.

Alex blinked, shook her head as if to clear it, and stepped forward.

“I’ve come to pay this,’ she said quickly.

The receptionist took the paper from Alex, considered its crumpled state, and gave Alex a smirk.

“This looks like it’s spent too much time clenched in a fist.”

Alex laughed loudly, and shrugged. “Yeah, well…”

“Don’t worry,’ the receptionist smiled, and the dimples were back, ‘you’re not the first. Collins pull you over?’ she cleaned in a little then, to share in a secret, and Alex leaned in a little too. ‘Don’t take it personal. He’s trying to beat a monthly record. He gets a bonus if he gives out more than twenty tickets.”

“That seems a bit unethical,’ Kara remarked.

The receptionist shrugged, and began filling out forms. “Men,’ she said simply.

“It’s just…’ Alex stuttered, clearing her throat, ‘… just typical, am I right? Miss…?”

Officer,’ the Receptionist clarified, ‘Sawyer. Margaret Sawyer.”

“I’m Alexandra. Alex.”

Kara glanced at her sister, who was pointing at herself.

Margaret smiled at her. “Yes,’ she tapped the ticket, ‘I see that.”

Alex nodded, chuckled, and ran a hand through her hair again.

Kara considered her sister for a moment, feeling thoroughly confused. Alex wasn’t one to get so easily flustered.

Officer Sawyer made a ‘hmm’ noise in the back of her throat, and then gave them both a smile. ‘That’ll be sixty dollars. I assume you’ve come to pay now?”

Alex stepped forward quickly, snatching the twenty-dollar bill out of Kara’s hand as she brushed passed her. She pushed their combined money across the counter, and then stepped back just as swiftly as she had moved forward.

Officer Sawyer wrote them a receipt, and handed it over to Alex, who took it with a tight-lipped smile and shoved it deeply into her trouser pocket.

“If I were you,’ Officer Sawyer mentioned, ‘I’d get that engine sorted out as soon as possible. Don’t give Collins another reason to pull you over. He’s like a bloodhound.”

Alex looked at her for a moment that lasted longer than it should have. And then she smiled, and nodded, and gurgled out a ‘thank you very much goodbye’ before grabbing Kara by the hand and practically dragging her out of the building.

Kara only pulled her hand free when they were out on the street. Alex was on the curb, looking around, wrapping her trench coat tighter around herself. The sun had begun to set while they had been in the police department, and the air had a chill that ran up their spines.

“So,’ Alex said airily, ‘Town Hall, yeah?”

Kara just stared at her.

“What?’ Alex asked.

“What on earth was that about?’ Kara laughed.

What?’ her sister repeated. She sounded out of breath. ‘What was what about?”

“You… in there…’ Kara jerked a thumb over her shoulder.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You looked like she was going to arrest you!”

Alex scoffed, and stepped off the curb onto the road. “Don’t be stupid. Come on, we’re going to be late!”

Kara didn’t get another chance to push the issue; Alex was already across the road, holding up her hand in apology to the cars who bleated their horns at her for crossing in front of them.

She had no choice.

Kara was hot on her sister’s heels the whole way to Town Hall.

All too soon they were paying their two dollars admission, and walking up a marble staircase, down a long corridor, and into the sound-filled hall that was already occupied by dozens of bodies. Town Hall was a giant building; the fortnightly dance was held in the old ballroom on the second floor, and was always quite the social event.

Men were in their Sunday best, some on the dancefloor twirling young women around to the beats echoing form the gramophone in the corner, while the majority were loitering around the perimeter, looking on while chatting with their friends as their eyes scanned the room.

Kara had met Mike here, almost a year ago. He’d been one of those men, hanging around by the bar, thumbs hooked around his suspenders with an easy sort of posture. He’d tried to catch Kara’s eye as soon as she’d walked in. She had wanted none of it.

It had taken him another two dances before he’d had the guts to push through the crowd and ask her good and proper for a dance.

Kara wrapped her arms around herself now, pushing the memory away as she followed Alex through the crowd. They had a usual spot they stood in, and Alex was clearly keen to get there as soon as possible.

Kara didn’t ask her to slow down. It was an argument not worth having. She knew how much coming to these things annoyed Alex. Not because she hated being out in public – Alex was fond of dancing, and certainly drinking. It was more the connotation behind coming.

Because, these dances were, first and foremost, about finding a suitable husband.

Eliza had insisted they start going almost five years ago.

“Young women of a certain age need to put in some effort,’ she had said over dinner one night. ‘I was already married to your father by your age, Alexandra. Mr. Right isn’t just going to show up at your door, you know.”

Alex had flatly refused for the longest time, saying she didn’t need half-intoxicated louts thinking they would get anywhere with her just because they flashed her smiles across a dancefloor, or offered to ‘show her the stars on the balcony’ – an analogy Kara had, at the time, thought was quite specific, but hadn’t been able to argue with.

But Jeramiah had been around back then, also. And after Eliza’s dozens of futile attempts (Kara had agreed to go, only if Alex did), he had taken Alex aside one day, and had a long, quiet talk with her.

Afterward, Alex had found Kara out in the garden and said to her quietly “Let’s go to the dance this weekend”. Kara never knew what the magical words had been that Jeramiah had said to her sister that day, and still didn’t have the guts to ask.

They had both been approached more than once since that first dance. Kara had been on a few dates before finally meeting Mike, even finding potential in a young man called Kenny before he’d been enlisted and sent overseas. Alex had also been out with one or two men, but none of them had made it past the first date.

But they kept coming back, not for Kara’s sake anymore – she was thankfully let off the hook after meeting Mike – but because Alex was approaching thirty, and still did not have a young man on her arm, and that, as Eliza had put it, was going to have people talking soon enough.

As much and as passionately as she sometimes fought with Eliza, Kara knew Alex didn’t really didn’t like it. And if she had to compromise somewhere, just to save another argument, this was going to be where she relented, just shut her mouth and did as her mother asked.

Kara could feel Alex’s resentment ebbing off her. Kara saw a few male heads turn as they wove through the dance floor.

Alex ignored them all.

The demographic had changed somewhat since America had entered the war. Where it used to be all local boys, travelers on their way to National City or beyond, now it was mostly men in uniform, coming into down from Fort McKinnon. Where brown trousers and cotton shirts used to swim before their vision, now they were blinded by sharp uniforms, glinting medals, and shiny buttons.

When they broke through the crowd, they found Winn seated in their usual spot – the corner. The wooden chairs ran around the perimeter, but they were empty most of the time. People were too busy socializing.

He looked up as they approached, grinned, and held up two large glasses filled with foaming beer.

“I already went for you,’ he smiled.

Alex practically snatched the drink out of his hand, and wasted no time in taking a long, deep mouthful. As always, Winn looked up at her with deep admiration for her drinking abilities.

Kara took her drink more gracefully, and sat down beside him. “Thank you. You’re wonderful.”

“No,’ he chuckled, ‘I just know your sister.”

Alex gave him a withering look, and then turned back to the crowd.

“Smiled at any pretty girls yet?’ Alex asked.

“They’re all dancing, and I’m sitting, and I don’t want them to think I’m smiling at their mid-sections… so no.”

Kara looked at him, glad he wasn’t looking back at her. He couldn’t see the sympathy written all over her face.

Alex smiled back at him over her shoulder, giving his left leg, which was stretched out in front of him, as it usually was, a quick once-over.

“You need to start bringing a stool,’ she remarked. ‘Elevate yourself. You’re kinda handsome. Once they can actually see you I’m sure they’ll be over here in a shot.”

Winn snorted, leaning in closer to Kara as Alex turned away. “She’s in a good mood. Did she sneak some brandy in before coming here?”

Alex downed the rest of her glass, remarked, ‘I’m getting another’ and then vanished into the crowd again.

“What good would a stool do me?’ Winn muttered into his glass. ‘Not like I could go dance with a girl if she asked anyway.”

“Girls don’t care about dancing,’ Kara said defensively. ‘Well… okay, yes, some do. But you’re interesting, and funny, and smart, and they’d be more than happy to just sit here and talk to you.”

Winn raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, sure,’ he muttered, sounding utterly unconvinced. “Then they ask me why I won’t dance, and… well…”

He trailed off, and looked down at his leg again. Beneath his trouser leg, Kara knew the skin was an array of red, leathery scar tissue – remnants of his accident. The reason he hadn’t been able to go serve like the rest of his friends. The reason he looked so haunted when he thought no-one was watching. Like right now.

Winn blinked, and the shadow passed from his face, and he smiled at her. ‘Anyway, what happened to you today? I told you an hour and you didn’t come back.”

Kara sat back, took another sip of her drink, and explained in great detail what had happened and the factory – more detail, in fact, than she had given Alex. Winn would understand. He knew James, after all.

And indeed, when she finished, Winn looked contemplative.

“Yeah,’ he nodded, ‘he’s mentioned that Archer guy a few times. Gives him a hard time every time they run into each other. Sounds like a bit of a small-minded slimeball to me.”

“That he was.”

“Kara punched him.”

Alex was back, and was handing more glasses of beer out, despite that they hadn’t finished.

“You what?’ Winn demanded with wide eyes.

I didn’t punch him,’ Kara insisted, laughing.

Alex went into a barrage about what she would have done if she’d been there, and Winn egged her on, pressing for more details about the hypothetical fight.

Kara just sat there, listening with both amusement and disbelief. Winn had been Kara’s best friend since high school, so he’d practically grown up with her family. And when Alex and Winn got together, it was often like this – like he was her other kid brother, who she could rile up and bounce off in a way she didn’t with Kara.

In any other situation, Kara thought they could have been each other’s perfect solution. Kara remembered a dance one time, when they had all had quite a bit to drink, and Alex had turned away yet more potential suitors, and Winn had become sullen at his misfortune with attracting women. They had even made mention of how much easier it probably was to just marry each other and get everyone off their backs.

They’d never laughed so hard. The idea, no matter how hypothetical, was completely absurd.

As they talked now, getting each other more and more riled, Kara let her attention wander.

She thought about Mike, overseas like Jeramiah, fighting for this very sort of freedom she felt right now, sitting with her sister and best friend. She thought about the fact that there were no black people here, the impossible odds that she might run into James there tonight, and felt annoyance at herself for not really having realized this before. She thought about her time with him, being at the factory, getting so angry and defensive she had taken leave of her senses long enough to almost physically assault a man twice her age…

She thought about Lena Luthor.

Her face, more than any of the others, was the clearest in Kara’s mind’s eye. It had been startling, seeing her that afternoon. And not because of the location – it made total sense of her to be there, her family owned the factory and she worked there – but because of the complete and utter juxtaposition she had been from the woman Kara had met the night before.

It was hard to correlate that woman who had stepped out of the Bentley, dolled up to the nines with expensive shoes, flawless make up, hair that looked like silk, with the grimy, half-incapacitated woman who had, quite literally, no more than twelve hours before, begged on her knees simply to use a telephone.

It was harder to fathom that she was only twenty-four.

Kara felt a surge of respect as the thought about her. To have such an effect on people, and yet also be so humble as to keep the secret of her real occupation, was something Kara found herself deeply admiring.

Inexplicably, Kara found her eyes wandering around the bodies in the ballroom, looking for straight shoulders and glistening, bright green eyes.

She quickly scolded herself. Of course, Lena wouldn’t be there. Even the idea was laughable. She would surely attend much fancier social engagements, attended by high-ranking officials, spending the night drinking martinis and being courted by handsome heirs to steel and oil tycoons.

But then again, if she was adamant on being incognito so much, perhaps she maybe would attend a dance such as this?

But if she was so interested in her secrecy, why had she shown up clearly as a Luthor?

“Hey! Earth to Kara… hello?...”

Kara blinked as a hand flashed in front of her face. She looked around. Both Winn and Alex were looking at her expectantly.

“Sorry,’ Kara adjusted her glasses, ‘what were you saying?”

“I was saying,’ Alex grimaced, ‘there’s some fella over there who will not stop staring…”

“I told her he’s looking at me,’ Winn offered, ‘she didn’t believe me.”

Alex smacked him in the shoulder, and continued as if he hadn’t spoken. ‘… and I know what comes next. Can you come dance with me please, so I don’t have to deal with it?”

Kara glanced through the crowd. The man in question was dressed in a navy-blue uniform, complete with hat. He had a strong jaw, and a playful smile, and was looking over at them while at the same time trying to act cool and pretend he wasn’t trying to catch Alex’s eye.

Kara’s eyebrows rose. “You know, he is kind of handsome…”

“Kara!”

“Okay!’ Kara laughed. “Okay!”

She got to her feet, handed her drink back to Winn, and let Alex grip her hand tightly and pull her out amongst the gyrating bodies of the dancefloor.

They held hands, and kicked and twisted and shook and shimmied with the beat. Kara and Alex always did dance well together – they’d practiced enough in their room growing up, after all.

“Surely Winn would be a better deterrent?”

“Not this again,’ Alex laughed. ‘He’s like my little brother.”

“And I actually am your little sister.”

“Women are harder to approach when there’s more than one,’ Alex reasoned. ‘Everyone knows that.”

Kara just laughed, and let Alex spin her, driving all thoughts of Lena Luthor from her mind.

Chapter Text


 

“Danvers,’

Kara looked up from her morning tea. She could feel crumbs of her crackers stuck to the corners of her mouth as she stopped, mid-chew, at the sound of her own name.

The Matron was standing in the doorway of the almost entirely empty cafeteria, just as she had four days ago before announcing the incident at the factory. As usual, her expression was impossible to read.

Susan, the other nurse on break who was sitting beside Kara, who had been talking to her about her new dog she’d rescued from the pound, looked between Kara and the Matron in alarm. When the Matron sought you out, it often was not for a good reason.

Kara swallowed, and adjusted her glasses. “Yes, Matron? I’m not late for rounds, am I?”

Matron’s nostrils flared. “Of course not. There’s someone here to see you.”

Kara swallowed hard. Random visitors to your place of work these days was a bad sign. She looked at Susan beside her, who shrugged.

Matron led her as far as the entrance hall, before giving Kara a nod, tapping her watch, and bustling off again. Kara knew what she meant – make it quick.

The waiting room was a hive of activity today. Families had been streaming in for the past few days, visiting the women still incapacitated from the factory accident. In that time, there had also been a few more soldiers come in, and some children who had come down with a bad case of chicken pox. There were probably about half a dozen people mulling about now; some pacing, others sitting and staring into space. Everyone handled their worry in different ways.

Standing off to the side, chin in the air and purse wedged under her good arm, Kara’s visitor was instantly distinguishable.

Kara wove her way through the bodies, and smiled as she approached. “Miss Luthor?”

Lena, who had been surveying the room with polite respect, looked around upon hearing her name. When her eyes met Kara’s, her expression brightened.

“Nurse Danvers,’

Lena waited for Kara to cross to her. She seemed hesitant about walking through the crowd.

Kara noticed how differently she was dressed again today, compared to the last time she had seen her two days ago. The elegant dress and hat were gone. Instead, she was sporting high-waisted trousers and a plaid shirt, looking very regular indeed. Her ability to carry off so many different styles made Kara feel slightly dizzy.

“Are you alright?’ Kara asked. ‘Is your sling still sitting tight enough? Do you need to see a doctor?”

“No, it’s nothing like that. I’m fine.’ Lena hesitated, looking suddenly unsure. ‘I’m here to see you, actually.”

“You are?”

‘I’m sorry for the intrusion, I know you’re working. But I wasn’t sure how else to get in touch with you. And I’m sorry it’s taken a few days, but things have been hectic and, well… I wanted to return this.”

Kara looked down. In Lena’s hands, flowing across her palm like a crimson waterfall, was Kara’s missing scarf.

“Where did you find this?’ Kara took it appreciatively, reveling in the soft feel of the fabric. ‘I thought I’d lost it!”

“I think you dropped it during your…’ Lena paused, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth, ‘… encounter with Mr. Archer.”

Kara half-groaned, half-laughed awkwardly, and adjusted her glasses. “Ah, yes. That. I really am so terribly sorry for causing a scene. I’m not usually so forceful.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,’ Lena insisted kindly. ‘Patrick Archer has been a bad smell following me and my family around for a very long time, and he got exactly the shakeup he deserved. Besides,’ she added with an admiring look that caused Kara to stand up straighter, ‘I like to see a woman stand up for what she believes in. You really care about the women here, don’t you?”

“I care about everyone who comes through here,’ Kara clarified. ‘But yes, those women don’t deserve to be put through any more of an ordeal than they’ve already been through. They deserve respect. The last thing they need is to feel like animals in a zoo.”

Lena’s gaze lingered. She looked as if she were going to comment on this, but seemed to think better of it at the last minute.

“I’m sure you feel the same,’ Kara said, ‘you actually work with them.”

Lena acknowledged her with a small smile, but said nothing. Kara understood why.

“Well, thank you for returning this,’ Kara wrapped her scarf around her wrist. ‘I really appreciated it. You didn’t have to go to so much trouble.”

“No trouble at all. I was afraid you might be missing it. That perhaps it might hold some significance for you?”

“Not really,’ Kara shrugged, ‘I bought it in a flea market.”

Lena considered her for a moment, and then laughed.

Kara pressed her lips together, trying to smother a smile she knew was becoming too big.

After a quick look around, to see if anyone was within earshot, Lena murmured, “Listen… I know this is slightly forward, and we barely know each other… but would it be possible to buy you a coffee? To say thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”

Kara opened her mouth to protest, to say surely her security guard had done much more than that in the past.

But, once again, it was as if Lena knew how her mind worked. In a sweeping motion, she gestured to her sling, and then down to her leg were Kara knew contusions and lacerations were bandaged, and she understood what she meant.

“Ah,’ Kara laughed, and shifted awkwardly. ‘Well… you don’t have to thank me for anything, you know. I was just doing my job.”

“I know that. But, I’d still like to. If you would be willing.”

On any given day, it wasn’t unusual for soldiers to come back after being released from care, clean-shaved and dressed to impressed, clutching a bouquet of flowers they had usually picked themselves, ready to make good on that promise of drinks, or dinner, or dancing that they’d made to that one nurse they’d developed on eye for.

Kara had seen this happen more than enough times to make the correlation between those events, and what was happening right now. 

But of course, this wasn’t exactly the same.

“Does today work?’ Lena added.

“Well, see, the thing is, my shift doesn’t end until four.”

Kara observed as Lena glanced at her watch, knowing it would tell her the time was only just past eleven.

Lena pressed her lips together. “I’m willing to meet you afterward, if you would like?”

“Oh, er…’

Kara did like the sound of that. Very much.

She scuffed her foot against the bright green linoleum, feeling awkward under Lena’s patient gaze.

“I have errands to run,’ Kara said finally, lamely. She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth.  

Lena’s expression fell. “I see.”

“But…’ Kara added quickly, ‘… they shouldn’t take too long. You could come with me? And then we could have coffee afterward. Of course, I understand if you don’t want to wait… and my errands are dull, but they won’t take too long…”

“If you’re glad of my company,’ Lena cut her off softly, kindly, unsure, ‘I’ll be glad to accompany you.”

Kara sighed in relief.

“So, it’s settled.’ Lena glanced at her watch again. “I’ll meet you out the front in a few hours, then.”

With one last smile, Lena squeezed her way back out the frosted-glass doors.

Susan, clearly bursting with curiosity, met Kara out of the front of the cafeteria. “Who was it? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,’ Kara chuckled. She wrapped her scar around her middle, like a sash. ‘Come on, we need to get back to work.”

----

Her shift had never gone so slow before.

The next few hours passed by at a snail’s pace. Kara could find no distraction from glancing at her watch; not bed pans, not injections, not sponge baths – menial, everyday tasks that would, during any other shift, make the hours tick by.

But finally, the clock became merciful, and she was helping the last soldier into bed with a firm arm around his shoulders, and another around his waist.

“Can you tuck yourself in?’ she asked.

He laughed as he lay down; one clear, blue eye peeking out from underneath the thick bandages wrapped around his head.

“I crawled half-way through a ten-mile trench filled with sludge, barbed wire and other things you don’t wanna know about just to get away from snipers,’ he wheezed. ‘I think I can manage getting into bed.”

Kara beamed at him, and patted his arm. “Glad to hear it! The bed part, I mean,’ she added quickly, ‘not the ten miles of trenches…”

The solider laughed, snuggling into his bed. “Whatever you say, sugar.”

With one last soft, supportive squeeze upon his shoulder, Kara straightened up and headed out of the ward, straight for the nurses’ office.

Gathering up her things, Kara did a quick inspection of herself in the small, dirty mirror than hung by the door. Her face was clean, and glasses still straight. Her hair had not held together as much as she had hoped, but then it never really did, no matter how long she spent in the morning pinning it up. Blonde tendrils had broken free form the masses. Kara tucked them hastily behind her ear.

There was nothing she could do about her uniform. She had not brought a change of clothes.

Surrendering defeat, Kara signed out with a quick scribble, bid good-bye to the other nurses with promises to see them tomorrow morning, and headed out of the hospital.

The sun was still overhead, although angling downward on its usual route toward the horizon. The air was fresh, no longer tainted with the scent of bleach and body odor. Kara inhaled deeply, letting it cleanse her senses.  

And out on the street, on the other side of the high, black fence, a white Bentley was parked right by the curb.

The same smartly dressed driver in a grey uniform Kara had seen the other day, was rubbing at the headlights with a white handkerchief, cleaning away dirt that Kara could not see.

Leaning against the rear, passenger door, with a lit cigarette in one hand, legs crossed at the ankle, looking around with that alert glint her eye, was Lena. Kara watched as Lena blew a long line of smoke from between her lips; admired the way the smoke curled in the air, and then evaporated into nothingness; the ease in which Lena smoked. The cut of her jaw line was sharp and dignified.

And how did one manage to look so refined while wearing a sling?

Remembering herself, Kara put her scarf around her neck loosely and stepped down toward the gate.

As the metal hinges squeaked, Lena looked around. Her disinterested expression morphed instantly into keenness and recognition.

“Nurse Danvers,’ she nodded politely, teeth gleaming as she smiled. ‘How was your shift?”

Kara felt her cheeks burn as Lena stepped aside, and as if rehearsed, her driver swooped in and opened the door for her.

“Typical,’ Kara replied. ‘Bandages, bed pans, complaints… so many complaints. And please, we’re beyond formalities… you can call me Kara.”

“Kara,’ Lena tested her name out.

She had stood aside so Kara could slide into the car first. Kara didn’t miss how chivalrous the gesture was.

With as much grace as she could muster – which wasn’t much, given her excitement of getting the chance to sit in such a fancy vehicle – Kara shuffled over to the far, right side of the car. She only took a moment to run her hand over the soft, leather seat; to wind down the window slightly; to inhale the scent of the car and the soft breeze, before Lena was getting in beside her.

The door shut, and Kara was keenly aware of the open space between them for the long moment it took for the driver to get in the front.

“Kara, this is Henry,’ Lena gestured to the white-haired man at the steering wheel, ‘he’ll take us anywhere you need to go. Which errand do you need to run first?”

“Er,’ Kara hesitated, ‘actually, would you mind if we got coffee first? I could really use some caffeine.”

Lena smiled. “Henry, can you please take us to Leanora’s?”

Henry nodded over his shoulder, offered a “Right away, Ma’am’, and then the car thrummed into life and they were off.

Kara instantly wanted to protest. She knew about Leanora’s, by reputation. It was a pretty fancy place, and you surely ha to be wearing a more fancy get up that a grubby nurses uniform to get in there.

But she didn’t want to be rude, so Kara but her tongue and she watched out the window for a moment as the scenery began to roll by.

“Thank you, Miss Luthor’ she said finally, turning to face Lena. ‘But you really didn’t have to come back and pick me up. I could have just met you in town.

Lena, who had been looking at her, glanced away awkwardly at having been caught.

She cleared her throat before saying, ‘It’s no problem at all. And its Lena,’ she added with a smirk, ‘we’re beyond formalities at this point, right?”

“Lena,’ Kara tested her name out, and smiled. ‘Right.”

 

----

 

Kara had never been inside Leanora’s before. She’d peeked in the window once or twice, but even the front door handle had looked too fancy for her to touch.  

It was a beautiful, two-story Victorian style house that had been converted into a café and restaurant. With olive-green weatherboards, turrets that rose high, white lattice framing the architraves, gleaming bay windows and a large verandah that ran around the border, it sat with dignity outside of the main part of Midvale, half way between Kara’s home town and Bonnerville, the next town over.

There were many large, lavish homes in this space between towns. Estates that sat on acres of land, fenced with towering trees and long, gravel driveways. Kara remembered when she was younger, peering out of the window of Jeramiah’s car as he had taken her through this way as they went back and forth between towns, back when they were still in the midst of sorting out the legalities and red tape involved with her custody.

It was like that now, only Lena’s Bentley was much more lavish than Jeramiah’s old Chrysler.

As they pulled up to the house, Kara tried desperately to quell her enthusiasm. Her nose was almost hurting, pressed up against the window. There were a few other cars parked outside, all just as immoderate as the Bentley she was currently sitting in.

“Have you been here before?”

Kara scoffed so hard, the large breath cloud she created on the window took a long moment to dissipate.

“I had to use the bathroom here once,’ Kara offered. ‘They were… nice.’

Lena chuckled. “Well, I’m sure if you’re so enthusiastic about it, you could do it again while we’re here.”

Kara’s door opened for her then; Henry was standing there, looking straight-faced. Kara looked around to see if Lena was annoyed that he hadn’t opened the door for her instead, but she was already half-way out the door herself, clearly unperturbed.

Kara got out hurriedly, gave Henry a small smile of thanks, and shuffled around the back of the car to join Lena.

Despite her casual attire, Lena carried herself forward with that straight-backed, relaxed shoulders swagger she’d had when she’d arrived at the munitions factory the other day. Kara followed one step behind, feeling very self-conscious and underdressed in her plain, nurses uniform. When Lena had suggested coffee, Kara had been picturing Dee’s Café at the end of Main street.

But she still said nothing, just wrapped her coat more tightly around herself, and followed Lena to the house.

They barely made it over the threshold when a waiter appeared, hair thick with so much oil he looked as if he’d just stepped out of the shower.

‘Miss Luthor,’ he beamed. ‘Will you be dining with us this evening? I’m sorry to say the dining room isn’t yet prepared.”

“Just a casual visit,’ Lena said, and stepped aside to bring Kara into the conversation. ‘Afternoon tea.”

The waiter nodded. “Yes, of course. If you’ll follow me through to The Atrium…”

Their shoes clunked loudly on the polished floorboards. As they wove through the house, Kara caught glimpses into other rooms: a Library, with high walls covered in hundreds of books, half-hidden a haze of smoke as men and women sat in plus chairs, smoking cigars; the kitchen, where chefs and waiters were already buzzing around, clanging pots and pans, wafting scents like garlic and cinnamon through the house whenever the door swung open and closed; a small dining room with round tables, being laid with shining cutlery and glasses that gleamed in the afternoon light.

The Atrium was what, in any other ordinary Victorian home, would have been the parlor. It wasn’t a particularly large room. Five small, round tables took up most of the area, arranged in such a way that they made the most of the space, but also afforded the people sitting at the tables a small semblance of privacy. A small chandelier hung above their heads. Lace curtains framed the windows, offering a view of the back of the property – a space of farmland that seemed to extend for miles.

Their waiter gestured, ‘Please, sit wherever you like.”

Two of the other tables were already taken; one by an elderly couple who weren’t saying anything at all, but instead were holding hands across the table while they read their own, respective newspapers. The other table had one single occupant, a man with mussed up red hair who was bent over a notepad, writing furiously, stopping only to drink more coffee.

Lena gave an encouraging nod, indicating Kara should chose.

She did so – the table right by the open window.

“This place is…’ Kara tried to find the word as they sat down, but ultimately failing ‘… well, it’s something else.”

The waiter returned, and held his arm out. Kara knew what he wanted. Reluctantly, she took off her coat and handed it over to him.

She smoothed out the creases in her light-blue dress.

“I’m sorry I’m so under dressed,’ she admitted finally.

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t give you much notice.’ Lena’s gaze ran over her appraisingly. ‘And that uniform is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Kara gave her a tight smile.

Lena frowned then, concerned. ‘Is this all too much?”

“No! This is great.”

Lena’s eyebrow rose.

Honestly.’

Kara laughter was forced. Kara knew this. She knew Lena knew this. But Lena made no further comment.

A platter of coffee, sugar, milk, and scones with jam and cream was soon laid in front of them. Kara’s mouth flooded; it had been a very long time since she’d had actual cream. Money was tight, rations had been enforced, and cream was a luxury they couldn’t really afford. Priorities had to be made, and butter was a much more versatile option.

It took a lot of effort for Kara to just slow down and savor the platter. Eliza and Alex were used to her appetite, both its ferocity and the speed in which she ate to satisfy it.

But she couldn’t be like that in front of Lena. And in such a fancy place.

Kara took one scone, and began to apply toppings.

She chanced a look up at Lena, to compare, to see if she herself was doing this right. But she frowned when she saw that Lena had a small frown on her face as she added sugar cubes to her tea.

Kara’s gaze must have been obvious, because Lena soon looked up too.

She smirked. “Sorry. This is my good hand, but it’s still not so easy with a sling.”

“Oh, well here…”

“No, wait, Kara, you don’t have to…”

Kara didn’t listen. She reached across the table, took the tiny silver tongs from Lena’s fingers and began preparing her coffee for her.

“How many?”

Lena’s expression softened. “Two, please.”

“Milk?”

“Yes, but not too much.”

“Should I fix you a scone?”

Kara didn’t even wait for her permission. She pulled a scone onto her plate, and began lathering it generously with both jam and cream.

“This isn’t why I asked you out for coffee, you know,’ Lena said, ‘to do things for me.”

Kara shrugged. “Nurses habit. Here…”

She cut the two halves of the scone in half again, and handed the plate back over to Lena.

“Thank you.”

Kara smiled at her across the table, pleased to see a similar one reflected back at her.

“I have to admit,’ Lena smirked, ‘I don’t remember much of your actual nursing, other than your skills in distraction and helping me back to bed.’

“There’s not much else to the job,’ Kara giggled, ignoring the way her stomach did a somersault.

“I highly doubt that. You had to deal with a lot that day, and I’m sure every day. Your modesty is unnecessary,’ Lena insisted kindly. ‘May I ask, why did you choose nursing?’

“Oh, well… it was what I could do to help,’ Kara offered simply. ‘I wanted to help people. I always wanted to be a nurse anyway, even before this war. But then we got involved, and I wanted to serve my country. Just like the rest of my family. Jeramiah chose to serve in the navy. The whole Danvers Family have served, going back generations.”

“Jeramiah is your father?”

Kara nodded. “Alex and Eliza both got the big brains in the family. Eliza is a bio-engineer, she’s helping make penicillin and medicines for hospitals all over the country. And Alex is good at everything science-y, but she’s the same as Eliza. They work together for Lithgow Incorporated. I don’t have those sorts of brains, or the gender-stereotype of needing to serve, so nursing was the next best thing.”

Lena nodded, looking impressed. “And Eliza and Alex are your mother and brother?”

Kara smirked. “Sister – Alexandra.”

“Ah. My apologies.”

“No, it’s fine. We’re all used to it.”

“Years ago, my father used to always be having business meetings with someone called Valarie,’ Lena shared with a whimsical look in her eye, ‘and I always assumed it was a woman. It was quite the shock when I actually met him.”

Kara laughed. “Is that a common name for a man?”

“He was from France,’ Lena replied, like that explained it all.

They fell in a soft, easy silence after that. Kara fixed herself her coffee – white, three sugars, lots of milk – and enjoyed the bitter flavor of freshly roasted beans, of the way it spread warmth through her chest. She let Lena take slow bites of her scone. Privately, Kara was impressed with the way Lena could eat without getting cream all around the edges of her mouth.

Her mouth that was coated with a deep, red lipstick.

Lena hesitated, tea cup hovering just below her chin, before asking, “Can I ask you another question? A more personal question?”

Kara hurriedly swallowed her large mouthful of scone. “Sure.”

“Why do you call your parents by their first name?”

“I always have. They’re my foster parents.”

Lena sat up a little straighter, listening keenly.

Kara took another eager bite of her scone before continuing.

“My biological parents died just over ten years ago. We were living over in New Jersey back then. My father was a doctor, too. But when the stock market crashed he was out of work, and the only way he could earn any sort of steady income was working on the Empire State building. And, well, they weren’t the best working conditions, and he was working a late shift to earn extra money, and…’

She trailed off, feeling a shiver run up her spine. Her chest felt like an anvil were being slowly lowered down on top of her. Suddenly her unused cutlery was fascinating to look at.

Taking a moment, Kara continued, “After his fall, it was just me and my mother. We couldn’t move to the city, where she might have got work, because she kept seeing father’s face everywhere. And she’d heard life was a bit better out this way, so we packed up our suitcases and got on the next train.’

“That must have been incredibly hard,’ Lena remarked, ‘leaving your whole life behind.”

Kara shrugged, brushing the compliment off.

“I remember her so clearly,’ Kara’s eyes glazed over, looking back through her own memories. ‘She was so smart and beautiful… but the world isn’t necessarily kind to a sharp mind and a pretty face. She tried so hard. She became a nurse, too. But then that’s how she caught influenza, and after that she sent me away for my own safety. I never saw her again.”

A long silence followed this admission.

It had been such a long time since Kara had told this story. In fact, the only time she’d really had to verbalize it all was to Mike. Alex had found out from Jeramiah and Eliza, back when they had still been in the process of bringing her home from the orphanage. Winn had discovered it over time, in dribs and drabs, always too sweet to press, instead letting her tell him over time.

Only after a long date night, while under the stars, feeling a delightful buzz from cheap champagne and a warm around her shoulder, had Kara told Mike the whole story.

Kara blinked the images of her father’s smile, and her mother’s long dark hair, from her vision. She looked up. Lena’s cup still hadn’t moved. Her eyes were intense and focused, but her expression was soft; no trace of the sympathy she saw sometimes in people’s eyes, but something else.

She shifted in her seat, and adjusted her glasses. “So, anyway, long story short the Danvers took me in, and I’ve been one of them ever since.”

Kara made a show of helping herself to another scone, hoping as the moment passed, the mood would shift and Lena would change the topic. She hadn’t meant to reveal so much about herself to someone she barely knew; another annoying habit of hers – sometimes she was a little too open.  

Finally chancing a look up, Kara saw that Lena was no longer watching her, but looking across at the red-haired man, still with the same contemplative look on her face.

“I’m adopted,’ she said finally.

Kara put her scone down.

“I don’t remember my other family. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.’ Lena said plainly. ‘Father found me in an orphanage in Ireland. He used to say he ‘just couldn’t resist those big green eyes’. What he was even doing in an orphanage I have no idea… donating money, I believe. But I’ve always been a Luthor, as far back as I can remember. Lex – that’s my older brother – always made sure I was never sad, or homesick. He made me proud to be a part of this family. And I am, now more than ever.”

Kara considered her a long moment; watched Lena smile awkwardly at Kara after finishing this, the small frown of disbelief leading Kara to believe that she, like Kara herself, didn’t tell that story to too many people and was equally shocked to find herself suddenly so full of candor.

Kara quickly realized that her instinct before, about the way Lena’s soft gaze had been locked on her, had been right on the money. Lena hadn’t been feeling sympathy for her, she’d been feeling empathy.

And it was a strange realization that she, simple and skinny and plain Kara Danvers, really wasn’t much different from the smooth, elegant woman across from her.

“Your parents are out of town?’ Kara asked.

Lena didn’t reply right away. She pulled her purse into her lap, and began rummaging around for something. Eventually she pulled out a lighter and cigarette case.

She presented it to Kara, who shook her head.

‘No, thank you. I don’t smoke.”

“Of course not,’ Lena smirked. ‘I’m sure you nurses are all so health conscious.”

“Actually, most of the nurses at my hospital do smoke. I tried…’ Kara let the rest of her excuse die with a shrug

“There you go again, standing out from the masses.”

Kara was used to teasing, Alex had done much of it growing up, and Winn was still a frequent offended. But unlike their taunts, Lena’s didn’t seem to her annoy her as much.

She waited patiently as Lena put another cigarette between her lips, lit it with a ‘click’ of her shiny, silver lighter, and inhaled deeply. When she exhaled, she looked right at Kara, angling the smoke to her left, away from her face

“They’re in Metropolis,’ she answered, ‘overseeing the new rations crates we’ve been sending overseas, rubbing shoulders with wealthy investors, buying war bonds... all that boring business mumbo jumbo. They’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“And you brother? Lex?”

“He’s over in London,’ she smirked, ‘no doubt taking tea and crumpets with the Prime Minister by now, doing much the same thing as our parents.”

“So, you’re here by yourself?”

“They did ask me to go with them… even suggested I head to Paris, help out for a bit… but I wanted to stay here, with the women. I’ve already got a job to do.’ Lena shrugged, and took another long drag of her cigarette. “I don’t mind. Actually, I’m rather enjoying the solitude. It’s quite the relief not to have to deal with my mother sticking her head in everywhere, reminding me how much I’m not like Lex…”

She stopped suddenly, and cleared her throat.

Kara could recognize a need to change topics, and obliged.

“Why did you decide to work in the factory?’ she asked finally.

“Same as you,’ Lena said. ‘I wanted to do my part in the war.”

“But why the factory in particular? Surely out of all the ventures your family has a hand in, I would think you’d be spoiled for choice.”

Lena ashed her cigarette in the ashtray, and her lips curled upward slightly.

“I visited Luthor Munitions about a year ago,’ she reminisced. Her voice was already smooth, wistful. ‘Father brought me along to all our company visits back then, showing me the ropes. He said I couldn’t run a company if I knew nothing about it’s day to day workings. So, we dropped in one day, totally unannounced. Mrs. Partridge – the supervisor, who ironically is now my supervisor – was a little flustered at us just showing up out of the blue during a shift, but she showed us around the factory all the same.’

Lena stared out of the window then, clearly lost in memory. The sun shone through the windows then, illuminating her features, and Kara blinked rapidly.

“I saw every inch of that factory,’ Lena continued dreamily, ‘and I saw all those women working so hard, encouraging each other… I felt the comradery, and the sense of patriotism and community… and I knew, I knew, I had to be a part of that.”

“And they know who you really are?’ Kara clarified. ‘And they don’t treat you any differently?”

“I earned their respect,’ Lena answered. ‘No small feat, I can assure you. If I had a choice between going up against an entire board of directors during the stock market crash, and those women, I know which one I’d rather face.”

Kara smiled at her, feeling a rush of affection.

“Do you work on the line?”

“Sometimes. I like to help wherever I can. I prefer being in the shop, working on the planes and the cars, but I’ll go wherever Mrs. Partridge assigns me.”

“And your mother doesn’t know you work there on the ground floor?”

Lena blinked out of her stupor. She laughed, and inhaled more of her cigarette.

“Absolutely not. A Luthor, doing manual labor?’ Lena snorted. ‘Even the notion…”

Kara bit her lip. “Didn’t your family’s empire begin with railroads? Pretty sure those take a bit of hammering, some lifting, maybe even a bit of pushing…”  

Lena sat back in her chair, her impeccable posture loosening for the first time, and laughed.

“With opinions like that, I can’t wait for you to meet her,’ she jibed.

Kara almost wanted to laugh, unsure of what to make of the way her heart fluttered at the thought of such a thing. Her, taking tea and scones with more Luthors?

Lena downed the rest of her coffee, and peered into Kara’s long empty cup. “Should we move on? You have things to do.”

Kara bit her lip, and peered at the scones. “Maybe just one more? Unless you’re in a hurry… I’ve made you wait so long already…”

Lena just smiled, and sat back in her chair again, like she hadn’t a care in the world.

 

-----

 

Lena, Kara learned quickly, had never really spent much time in the main part of town before.

And Kara felt it her duty to point out every single shop, even the boarded-up ones, as she and Lena strolled side-by-side along the sidewalk.

“That’s the butchers – Mr. McGregor always has great cuts of ham in there at Christmas time. And this is where the candy store used to be, before they closed – they’d let you fill up a whole bag of Mike and Ike’s for only a quarter! And this is Shulman’s Market – they were the first to get Coke from National City. Liquor store… Barber shop… this is where the Laundromat used to be…”

Kara stopped herself, then, realizing that she hadn’t heard Lena said a word in a good long while.

“I’m sorry,’ she adjusted her glasses, ‘this must all be so dull for you. I bet you’ve walked along the Thames, and rivers in France, and climbed mountains in Switzerland and seen things far more interesting than coffee shops with paint peeling off the door.”

“Kara…’

Lena placed a hand on Kara’s arm, pulling her to a stop.

“I’m not bored,’ Lena insisted. ‘I’m just listening.”

Kara was keenly aware of the warmth emanating from Lena’s hand before she pulled it away.

And she believed her. Since leaving Leanora’s, they had been talking non-stop. Lena asked her questions about growing up in Midvale, about where she went to school and if she played sports (“Tried basketball once,’ Kara had admitted, ‘but it wasn’t really my thing. I kept running into everyone and bowling them over.”). Kara asked her about her work in the factory, the hours, the conditions, the specifics of what she built down there (“Best thing I remember working on,’ Lena had admitted proudly, ‘was one of the new Bomber prototypes. We still make them from time to time, when the aircraft factories run out of space.”). They’d discussed the war, compared tastes in coffee and tea, talked about fashion, and shared jokes – Lena’s laugh was something else, all right, and so was her smile, and the way she’d tilt her chin down and look up through lashes…

“Well,’ Kara croaked, and then cleared her throat, ‘get ready for the biggest thrill of your life…”

Lena laughed (there it was again) and followed Kara into the shop three more doors down – Mr. Nelsons Repairs and Replacements.

“Good afternoon, how may I help-…”

Winn stopped dead. Kara bit back the urge to laugh.

As usual Winn had been bent over the counter, soldering wires while surrounded by tools, bolts and screws. Leaning against the counter, watching him with fascination, was James Olsen. No doubt he was keeping his promise of returning to pick up the radio for his boss.

Both men had looked up; the jingling of the bell above the door had signaled their entrance. 

“Winn. Mr. Olsen,’

“James,’

Kara smiled at James’s interruption; on the look on his face that assured her that it was okay to call someone by their first name after you almost both got into a fist fight together.

James,’ Kara corrected, stood aside and gestured, ‘this is Lena.”

Lena stepped over the threshold properly behind her; her shoulder brushed by Kara’s gently as she squeezed into the shop.

With a polite smile and wave, Lena greeted Winn. “Good afternoon.”

Winn cleared her throat, and straightened up with a clatter as his stool shook underneath him.

“H-hello,’ he cleared his throat again, oblivious to the look James was giving him. ‘Kara. You’re here for the radio? It’s ready. I’ll go get it…”

He said all of this in a great rush. With one last, lingering look at the woman standing just behind Kara, Winn slid off his stool and disappeared behind the curtain.

James stepped forward, arms stiff by his side. “Kara. Miss Luthor.”

Kara greeted him with a big smile.

Lena held her hand out. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Olsen.”

James looked down at Lena’s hand for a long moment. His frown dissipated quickly, however, and he took her hand to give it a firm shake, as if afraid she would suddenly change her mind and take it away again.

“So sorry about that business the other day at the factory,’ James said earnestly.

Kara pursed her lips, smothering both the guilt of remembering that day, and also in amusement at the way he was always so direct, never bothering with small talk.

Lena nodded. “I’m sure you are. And I hope you understand that I only put my foot down so firmly as to deter Mr. Archer – a gentleman I’m sure we both feel needs firm boundaries put in place.”

“Yes, ma’am,’ James nodded.

Kara watched their exchange with keen interest. James’s caution was obvious, but Lena was cordial and interested; as she asked him questions, her interest in his opinions on the press were genuine, not just a means to provide small talk to fill in an awkward silence.

“I want to capture the truth, Miss Luthor,’ James said with an air of finality. ‘Honest, raw emotions that can get skewed by other men. That’s not what photography is. My father taught me the importance of integrity.”

“As did mine,’ Lena nodded.

Kara saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Winn was peeking out from behind the curtain, waving at her frantically, gesturing for her to come closer.

With them both still in conversation, Kara felt it safe to silently excuse herself. She side-stepped away, trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible.

“What?’ she hissed as she reached Winn.

Winn was gripping the wall for dear life. “You didn’t tell me you know Lena Luthor.”

“I don’t. Well, I didn’t… not until the other day. I told you she came into the hospital.”

“And so now you’re friends?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, maybe? She wanted to buy me a coffee to say thank you for helping her. And, excuse me,’ Kara added, hand moving to her hips, ‘am I not allowed to make new friends?”

“Don’t be stupid,’ Winn hissed, ‘of course you’re not. I’m number one friend, everyone knows that.”

Kara rolled her eyes. “What about you and James?”

‘What about him?”

“You seemed pretty friendly.”

‘He comes into the shop a lot,’ Winn laughed. ‘Besides, if anyone’s going to be friends with him now it’s you. Running around almost getting into fights is quite the team building exercise, I’ve heard.’

Kara threw him a look. “That’s not how you make friends.”

“Really? Cause he’s been mentioning you non-stop since he got here.”

She glanced back at James. He was still talking to Lena; Kara didn’t know he could talk so much. Lena was frowning up at him, nodding, listening intently.

“Hmm,’

At the hum from the back of Winn’s throat, Kara looked around.

“What?”

“I think I see what’s happening here.”

“Excuse me?”

“I saw the way you were looking just now,’ Winn winked.

Kara’s eyes widened in realization. “No, you’ve got the wrong… absolutely not… I mean, well he is handsome, but…”

“You’re right – he’s very handsome. Such broad shoulders, and a charming smile…”

“Winn!” Kara laughed. “You know I’m spoken for.”

Winn sighed. “Yeah. Mike. Sure. But you wouldn’t be the first person to have a wondering eye while their sweetheart is overseas.”

“I do not have a wandering eye,’ Kara insisted.

She glanced back over at James and Lena, suppressing the completely inexplicable impulse go to over there and politely interrupt.

‘Mike isn’t ‘out of sight, out of mind’, Winn,’ Kara said.

But even as the words left her mouth, she felt an almost crushing guilt. Where she would normally have been thinking of him, her heart feeling heavier because of his absence, she realized she hadn’t thought about him once all afternoon.

“I’m not that kind of girl,’ she insisted.

Winn shrugged beside her. “I don’t think it’s really that simple, Kara. No one really knows what kind of person they are until they’re put in a situation they never considered, or meet someone they weren’t expecting.”

Kara wasn’t sure how to respond to this. Winn could do that to her; even though usually so full of jovial quips and playful nudges, sometimes profound words would come forth and make Kara stop in her tracks.

With a wistful sigh, Winn added, ‘Someone like Lena Luthor.”

Kara’s head snapped around so quickly, she felt something in her neck crack.  

Winn was looking over at the raven-haired woman with a slightly dazed expression…. Which he quickly blinked away, as James and Lena, who had finally finished their conversation, stepped closer to join them.

“Miss Luthor has graciously agreed to give me access to the factory,’ James grinned. ‘And exclusive.”

“That’s very generous,’ Kara beamed at Lena.

“Well, Mr. Olsen here seems to be one of the only decent men left within a hundred miles,’ Lena’s tone implied she was only half joking, ‘and if I’m going to let any press in, I’d like to know they’re someone who will be professional, and respectful. Besides,’ she added, ‘the investigation is coming to a close so it won’t matter if you make a bit of a mess in there.”

“James is very neat,’ Winn said quickly. He was leaning heavily on his elbows on his desk, as if he were about to climb up on top of it. ‘And very… respectful. He’ll do a good job.”

Kara smothered her smirk down. His encouraging words, the emphasis behind them, were no doubt an effort to show that James wasn’t the only decent male within a hundred miles.

James gave Winn a meaningful look. “Thank you, Winn. Look, er, I’m going to head up to the factory now… Miss Luthor, I’ll see you there soon?”

Lena nodded, assuring she would be along shortly. Kara watched her and James shake hands, feeling morose.

Bidding them all good-bye, James ducked out of the shop.

When the bell above the door stopped tinkling, Lena stepped up to the counter.

“Is this a Philco radio?”

Winn glanced down at the half-dissected radio on the bench between them. In silver, embossed letters, Kara could see the word Philco printed on the side facing Winn, and away from Lena.

“It is,’ Winn began warily.

“This a ’42 model, yes?’ Lena leaned against the bench with her good arm, also, peering at the radio. ‘We’ve got one of these in the offices at work. The sound quality is fantastic. The wiring inside is very sophisticated, I pulled one apart once and it was like a maze of wonder. My supervisor is lucky I didn’t have pliers nearby, I would have gutted that glorious thing just so I could put her back together again.”

Winn listened to Lena speak with an expression akin to being bludgeoned across the back of the head.

Kara cleared her throat, and nudged him.

“Yes,’ Winn said loudly. He took a moment to compose himself. ‘But this one, the transformer speaker was busted.”

“That’s an easy fix,’ Lena said airily. ‘You have replacements out the back?”

“Not exacts, but I can adapt them.”

Winn moved in such a rush to get out the back, he tripped on the edge of his stool. Kara instinctively reached out to catch him, but he caught himself just in time, muttered a quick ‘I’m fine’ and disappeared behind the curtain.

Kara sighed. “Now you’ve done it.”

She stepped forward then, into Lena’s space.

Lena, who had been trying to adjust her sling – trying, being the word, and not at all subtly – let her good arm drop instantly as Kara’s hands took over.

Kara was keenly aware of their close proximity; the scent of Lena’s perfume, the rich color of the hair against the dwindling sunlight that streamed through the windows, the soft tickle of her breath on Kara’s jaw as she watched Kara work…

When the sling was adjusted, tightened and fixed in place, Kara took a large step backward.

“Thank you,’ Lena murmured.

“Yeah, well,’ Kara shoved her hands in her pockets, ‘nurses habit.”

Kara was looking at her Mary-Janes, so she couldn’t actually see what Lena’s expression was. But she could feel it, boring into the top of her head. Her own bashfulness confused her. She’d had no problem treating Lena in hospital. Why should she feel so timid now?

Lena shifted her weight from one hip to the other. “I should probably get you home.”

The reality of why they were in the shop in the first place suddenly came flooding back.

In the same instant, Winn whipped the curtain aside in a flamboyant flurry of movement, a small round sort of device in his hand and a wide smile across his face.

His happy sigh, the scrape of the stool against the floorboards, the creak of the bench as he leant heavily against it, burst the tension like a needle in a balloon.

“Wanna help me?’ he asked Lena.

Lena gave him a polite smile. “I would like that, but I need to meet Mr. Olsen at the factory, not to mention get Miss Danvers home.”

Kara tried not to let the fact that she hadn’t used her first name get to her.

“I can walk,’ Kara offered, ‘if you need to get back…”

“I drove you here,’ Lena insisted gently, ‘I would like to see you home.”

Without any inclination to argue, Kara simply nodded.

“Hang on,’ Winn’s voice broke through the silence again, heavy and monotone with disappointment, ‘I’ll get your radio, Kara.”

“That really was very kind of you,’ Kara said when Winn disappeared again, ‘to let James into the factory.”

“He’s a good man,’ Lena said plainly, echoing her earlier sentiments. ‘His paper will be concise and impartial.”

“You trust people easily.”

Lena sniffed in amusement. “Not a virtue, I assure you.”

Winn returned once more, Eliza’s wireless under arm. He handed it to her haphazardly as he tried to lean against her at the same time.

‘Thank you,’ Kara said earnestly. “This is much needed, trust me.”

Winn nodded. “Alex told me.” He turned to Lena, straightening up; his hand, however, remained upon Kara’s shoulder. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Luthor.”

“You too, Winn,’ Lena gave him a gracious nod, and backed toward the door. ‘Kara, I’ll meet you at the car.”

Both Kara and Winn watched her well after the door closed behind her. Through the window, they watched her pause on the sidewalk, hunch her shoulders against the cold, and then head off to the right, back up the hill to wear Kara knew Henry and the Bentley would be waiting.

Winn’s grip on her shoulder tightened. “I’m in love.”

Kara scoffed.

“I don’t know why you’re making that noise - I’ve never been more serious about anything.’

Kara chanced a glance at him. He did look very sincere. The thought prickled at her patience.

“Is she taken?’ he asked.

“I… don’t actually know.”

You don’t know? You spent all afternoon with her! What did you talk about?”

“You know, Winn,’ Kara stepped away from him, taking a sick satisfaction in the way he had to quickly shift his weight to clutch for the bench, ‘believe it or not, women can have conversation without any mention of men.”

“Well can you find out for me please? Pretty please? I’ll be your best friend.”

Despite her irritation, Kara smiled as she headed for the door.

“You already are my best friend.”

“Exactly. Best friends do this sort of thing for each other. Please, Kara?”

Kara paused, hand on the brass door knob, and looked back at him long enough to say, ‘Only because you said please.”

She had a glimpse of the biggest grin she’d seen on his face for a long time, before heading out into the street, following in Lena’s wake.

 

-----

 

Lena actually walked Kara to her front door.

Kara turned back, standing on the top step of her stoop.

The image of Lena, two steps back and down, with the Bentley parked on the street behind her, was an image Kara knew she wouldn’t soon forget.

“Thank you for driving me home,’ Kara smiled. She hitched the radio up higher underneath her arm. ‘And for bringing me my scarf. And for the coffee, and afternoon tea, and everything after. I had a wonderful time.”

“Me too,’ Lena smiled up at her.

Kara smoothed out her coat. “I promise to be more suitably dressed next time.”

“I promise to give you warning before asking you to visit fancy tea houses in the middle of no-where.’

Laughing, Kara jerked her head toward the door at her back. “Do you want to come in for dinner? Eliza’s making casserole.”

“Thank you for the invitation, but I’m sure I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

Kara almost laughed at this. Her time?

“Right, of course,’ Kara adjusted her glasses, ‘you’ve probably got a ten-course meal waiting at home, prepared by Michelin star chefs.”

“Something like that.”

“You poor thing,’

Lena chuckled at the joke, but sobered quickly. She looked nervous; her lips were pressed together in an anxious line.

“Are you busy next Saturday night?”

She had said this so quickly, Kara took a moment to let the words sink in.

“Saturday? There’s no dance on, so I’ll say no, I’m not busy. Why?”

Lena straightened up slightly. “Luthor Munitions is having a little get together at the factory. We’re putting on a social, to raise some money for the families of the women in the hospital who can’t work, and then there’s Josie’s family…’

Lena trailed off then. Kara recognized the name, Josie Miller – the woman who had been killed.

“Those women are the one’s bringing home the bacon for their families,’ Lena continued finally. ‘And we want to do all we can to help them.”

“Sounds like a wonderful idea,’ Kara said.

“Would you like to come?’ Lena asked. ‘Bring whoever you like, of course. It’s for a somber reason but these sorts of socials can be a lot of fun. We’re having a band, and there will be plenty of punch and food and…”

“Lena,’ Kara chuckled, cutting her off, ‘you don’t have to try and talk me into it. Of course I’ll come. I’m honored. And I’ll be sure to bring as many people as I can. Shouldn’t be too hard, it’s a worthy cause.”

“Excellent.”

With one last smile, Lena gave a small wave, turned on her heel, and headed back to her car.

Kara watched her get in, watched the car pull away from the curb, watched until it disappeared around the corner.

Feeling elated, Kara headed inside.

She managed to kick her shoes off and hang up her coat, just before she heard feet stomping somewhere, getting closer.

Eliza appeared at the top of the stairs. “Oh, it’s you.”

Kara frowned. “It’s nice to see you, too. Yeah, I had a great day at work, how about you? Oh really? That’s terrible…”

“Kara, don’t be facetious,’ Eliza rushed down the staircase, looking harassed. ‘I thought you were your sister. She should have been home by now. Do you know where she is?”

“I’ve been out all day,’ Kara explained.

“And where have you been? Your shift ended hours ago.”

Kara frowned, feeling irritation begin to bubble in her chest. Eliza often kept close tabs on them both, but she had been in this brittle mood for almost a week now, and Kara’s patience had now well and truly run out.

“I was out with a friend.”

Eliza looked skeptical, like she wanted to know who, and where they had gone. But thankfully, she bit her tongue.

Instead, she pointed at the radio still nestled under Kara’s arm.

“Did Winslow fix it?’ she asked.

Kara’s bubble, the glow that she’d been reveling in from her afternoon out with Lena, was quickly diminishing. The thought of this made her irritated, and frustrated, which only made the whole thing worse.

Kara strode forward, and shoved the radio into Eliza’s arms. She took only a little satisfaction in Eliza’s shocked expression.

“You know what, Eliza, I don’t like to get in the middle, but this has gone beyond a joke,’ Kara snapped. ‘I know Alex disobeyed your wishes, but don’t take your anger at her out on me.’

Eliza blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

‘She’s an adult and she can do what she likes. And if you think she’s going be reckless on that motorbike, then you don’t know her very well. Alex is the most sensible one out of all of us.”

“What Alex and I discuss,’ Eliza began, voice low, ‘is none of your…”

“It is my business when you make it unbearable to be here for days afterward,’ Kara retorted. ‘It’s not my fault she bought a motorbike. So please, just… just sort out your priorities, Eliza. There are worse things to get upset about right now.”

Kara thought this would bring Eliza to her senses. She was wrong.

Eliza’s blue eyes flashed as she took a step toward Kara.

“The safety of my daughters,’ Eliza said, her voice low and shaking, ‘is my highest priority. Your sister could be lying in that hospital right now with the rest of those women if it wasn’t for me.”

Kara flinched. She’d thought this enough already. She didn’t need Eliza’s help in fueling the fire.

Ever-alert Eliza did not miss Kara’s wince, and this seemed to shake her.

Eliza sighed, and put a hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I just… worry. Those bikes are deathtraps. And the one she bought is a relic. It’s not safe.”

“I know,’ Kara relented. ‘And I know you keep such a tight grip on us because you worry so much… but Eliza, trying to keep Alex boxed in, is what’s going to push her away. You need to accept who she is, or you’re going to lose her.”

Kara didn’t stay to see how her warning settled in Eliza’s heart. She was suddenly in dire need of her bed.

She slammed the door behind her, and changed out of her nurses’ uniform into her pajamas. It was only just past six, but that didn’t matter. Kara was irritable, and she needed something comfortable.

The scent of dinner wafted up the stairs and under the door not long after, and even though Kara’s mouth watered at the aroma, and her stomach rumbled in eager anticipation, she stayed exactly where she was.

Her mind was racing: why did Eliza find it so hard to let go? Where was Alex? Why did there have to be a stupid war that tore families apart, and took her loved ones so far away?

Why did the thought of Winn taking Lena out for a coffee annoy her so much?

Kara felt a harsh pang of guilt. Winn had been alone for so long. His first girlfriend, Siobhan, who Kara once thought had been nice enough, hadn’t been able to cope after his accident, and when America joined the war she was on the first bus out of town – another punch to the gut. Everyone knew how badly Winn had wanted to enlist.

Winn had not been the same after that.

He hadn’t looked at a girl with much enthusiasm since her. Like Alex, he went through the motions, doing what was expected of him. Kara hadn’t seen his eyes light up like they had today in such a long time, she’d almost forgotten how romantic he’d used to be.

Kara could understand his sudden and intense crush. Lena was very intelligent, and seemed to be the only person, let alone woman, within fifty miles who understood all the technical mumbo jumbo he talked about on a daily basis. Not to mention she was extraordinarily good looking, with that long dark hair, bright green eyes, a jawline that looked like it could cut glass, a smirk painted red that suggested a multitude of things…

They certainly would have things in common, Kara conceded. They were both very intelligent, both skilled at fixing and building things, both had been through a hardship which had shaped the course of their life.

Kara rolled over in the bed. As she drifted into a doze, she resolved herself that Winn was her best friend, and she wanted him to be happy. And if anyone could do that, it was clearly Lena.

Her last thought before slipping away, was of black hair, shining in the setting sun, and a resolve to get Winn to that Luthor Munitions social.

 

-----  

 

Alex still wasn’t around the next morning.

“Did she even come home?’ Kara asked Eliza over breakfast.

“Late,’ Eliza murmured.

The air was tense between them now. Normally so easy and calm, Kara found the sensation dreadfully uncomfortable. Alex was used to this stiffness – Kara was not.

But even still, this was different than it would be between Alex and Eliza. It seemed benign, in a way. Like Eliza was just as embarrassed about her words during their conversation the night before, as Kara was of the harsh tone she had dished to her foster mother.

“You heard her come in?” Kara asked lightly, hoping to ease the mood.

“I did.’

Kara considered her foster mother, as she drank her freshly squeezed orange juice.

“And you… didn’t ask her where she’d been?”

Eliza looked at Kara over her glass. “You share a room with her. Didn’t she wake you up? She stomps around so much.”

Kara was embarrassed to admit that no, she hadn’t heard her come in, or leave for that matter.

“Maybe she’s putting in overtime at work,’ Kara suggested, ‘to pay for the…”

She shut her mouth around the rest of her sentence. Eliza, ever sharp, didn’t miss it.

“Pay for the bike?’ she finished flatly. ‘You might as well tell me. I can’t imagine Alex being very forthcoming about it.”

Kara bit back the urge to be snarky, and say something like well maybe if you didn’t bite her head off every time she tries to talk to you…

Instead, she told her about the ticket she’d received, how they’d had to pay the fine, and how the receptionist at the station had warned her to get it sorted as soon as possible. Eliza’s mouth pressed into a thinner and thinner line as Kara went on. But when Kara finished, she didn’t say anything right away.

After a moment, Eliza’s voice was almost too calm when she said:

“Well, I’m glad she’s taking responsibility and trying to do the right thing.”

Kara almost fell out of her chair in shock.

The effort it had taken to say this was visible in the set of Eliza’s jaw, and the way her nostrils flared as she stared into space.

“Will you ask her about last night when you see her at work?’ Kara asked.

Eliza took a long mouthful of her juice. “I will. But… I suppose… a girl is entitled to her secrets every now and again.”

Kara’s eyes widened so forcefully, her head hurt for quite a while after. It was amazing what a good night’s sleep seemed to do. Eliza still looked as though she didn’t quite believe everything she was saying, but she was trying… or trying to try… and Kara supposed that was as good as it could get for now.

The phone rang then, loud and shrill down the hallway.

“I’ll get it,’ Kara offered.

She shuffled quickly down the hall; her socks slid across the floorboards as she skidded to stop by the stool at the staircase. A knot of anxiety formed in her chest, making it slightly more difficult to breathe. The phone couldn’t ring anymore without inciting a hitch of breath, a long pause, in the Danvers women. What if it was finally that phone call?

Kara picked up the receiver, and offered a hesitant, “Hello?”

“Hello,’ came a familiar, albeit unsure, voice, ‘may I please speak to Kara Danvers?”

Kara chuckled silently to herself. “So proper, Miss Luthor. I thought we had agreed to forget the formalities?”

That laugh sounded down the line again, and the last vestiges of Kara’s fatigue from being woken up quite rudely by her alarm clock were brushed away.  

“I know its early,’ Lena said, ‘I was worried you might be at work already. Do you have time to talk? I have a very important question… Billie Holliday or Bing Crosby? I can’t decide which one we should open this fundraiser with.”

Kara sunk to the floor, back sliding down the wall, and made herself comfortable.

Chapter Text


 

This routine that had unintentionally been created, of Alex not coming home until all hours, and leaving just as early the next morning, lasted for almost a full week before Kara finally couldn’t help it anymore.

She had to know.

The following Wednesday night, four nights before the dance, as soon as Alex crept into the bedroom long after Eliza and Kara had gone to bed, trying to step around in the dark as quietly as she could, Kara flicked the light on.

Alex looked around, eyes wide, like a deer in headlights.

Kara,’ she breathed irritably, ‘you gave me a heck of a start! What are you doing up so late?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Kara was ready for this defensive line of questioning. Next would come the scoff, and the shrug, and the muttered half-baked excuse.

And sure enough…

Alex scoffed, shrugged one shoulder, and turned to the chest of drawers to retrieve her pajamas, muttering something about losing track of time.

“Where have you been?’ Kara reached for her alarm clock. ‘It’s almost eleven!”

“Then you should be asleep,’ Alex ticked Kara’s feet through her blanket. ‘Don’t you have an early start tomorrow?”

“Don’t try and change the subject,’ Kara insisted. ‘Where were you?”

Alex kicked her shoes off. “Out.”

“Obviously.”

“I just lost track of time.” She repeated, as if it were any more convincing the second time.

“You have a watch, don’t you?”

With a flurry of movement, Alex threw her leather jacket into the corner of the room, and rounded on her sister. Kara saw the fire in her eyes, and knew what usually came next. If she’d been anyone else – Eliza, a random soldier who dared cross the room to ask her for a dance, the grocer when he insisted he didn’t have any cans of beans left but really had them stashed out the back – Kara knew she would have heard the snappy retort that was, by now, a trademark defensive move of Alex Danvers.

But Kara wasn’t any of these people. She was exception. And the fire in Alex’s expression died as quickly as it had ignited.

“You know,’ Alex muttered as she began to undress, ‘you’re starting to sound a lot like Mom.”

Kara scowled.

When the moment of silence stretched out longer than usual, Alex slowed as she pulled her bed shirt over her head, and turned slightly toward her sister.

“Did you say something to her?’ she asked softly. ‘About… things?”

“I may have mentioned things,’ Kara mumbled. ‘Did she say something to you about things?”

Alex’s smirk pinched at her cheek. “She may have.”

Kara sighed deeply – in relief, in frustration. She ran her hands through her hair; fingernails scraped gently along her scalp. Alex had almost sucked her in again.

“I’ve been trying to talk to you for almost a week now,’ Kara continued. ‘You’re like a ghost around here. “

Alex bit her lip, and then sat herself down at the end of Kara’s bed.

“You’re right,’ she nodded. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve just been…’

The sentence faded into the air. Alex looked off into space, and Kara frowned. Alex was usually so clear.

“I’ve been at Parsons, okay?’ she said. ‘After the fine, I wanted to get the bike fixed up as soon as possible, and I can only afford parts from his shop.”

Kara’s eyes narrowed. There was more she wasn’t saying.

Under her stare, Alex shifted.

“Do you remember that officer we met when we went into the station?”

Kara thought for a moment. “Officer Sawyer?”

“Her name’s Maggie,’ Alex corrected. ‘Turns out she likes bikes as much as I do. She’s been building her own bike from scratch. And her father is good friends with Bertie Parson, so he lets her work in the garage there. I met up with her went I went back for a new lightbulb for the headlight and… well… we became friends.”

All this came out in a big rush, like she thought she might lose her nerve and not say anything at all if she didn’t say it all at once.

Kara laughed at her. “That’s it? That’s the big secret?”

Alex looked up from her feet, lips pursed in a line of guilt.

Rolling her eyes, Kara took both of Alex’s hands and pulled.

In an awkward lurch, Alex rolled forward, crashing into Kara, knocking them both back onto the bed. Their limbs tangled together, Kara enjoyed the feeling of Alex’s weight on top of her, the way her whole body shook with laughter.

Sobering, Kara swiped hair out of her face, and gazed up at her sister. “You don’t have to hide things from me, you know.”

Alex – hovering above her, half of her body off the bed completely, propped up on her elbows – considered her a for a long moment. She had that look on her face again, like she wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure she could.

“New friendships are exciting, I get that,’ Kara continued. ‘But I miss seeing you.”

“I’m sorry,’ Alex got of Kara completely, and went back to sitting on her own bed. ‘I’ll try harder.”

“Good. Because I’ve been trying to ask you something for days now.”

Alex smiled. “What is your very important question?”

Kara explained then, about the dance being held at Luthor Munitions. Alex watched her explain with eyebrows that seemed to rise inch by inch with every syllable Kara spoke, and Kara realized it was because the volume of her voice had risen slightly.

Taking a moment to compose herself, Kara gave a deep, satisfied sigh.

“Can’t even tell you’ve been holding that in for a week,’ Alex said sarcastically. ‘But are we allowed to go to that? Wouldn’t it be for factory employees only?”

“The way Lena described it, seemed like it wasn’t exclusive. Anyone is allowed. Besides, she’s invited us.”

“Us?”

“Well, she invited me, but told me to bring whoever I want. And, look, I know it’s going to clash with the usual dance we go to, and I know how much you love going to that...’

Kara ducked as a pillow went flying at her head.

“Did I mention there will be free food and drinks provided?”

Alex easily caught back her pillow, despite Kara’s aim. “Is it a dry event?”

“I don’t think I even need to answer that.”

“No problem, I can work around that. Winn going?”

Kara snorted, remembering the very quick conversation. She’d gone into the shop to speak to him, two days after Lena had asked her. She’d barely gotten past “Lena mentioned a party and…” before he burst out ‘I’m in!”

“Of course. Oh hey, bring your friend Maggie if you like!”

Alex’s jaw clenched so hard, it looked like she had walnuts protruding from her cheeks.

“Maggie? Wha-… why… I don’t think…’

“Well she’s your friend, right?’ Kara asked. ‘I’m sure she’d have a great time. And it’s for a good cause. And I’d like to meet this so-called new best friend of yours.”

Alex grimaced. “I didn’t say we were best friends…”

Kara shrugged, and snuggled back into her covers, turning her back on her sister. “So, you’ll come?”

After a long pause, Alex muttered, “Sure, why not?”

The light went out then. Kara smiled into her pillow, listening to the rustle of blankets as Alex too got into bed.

 

----

 

On Thursday, three nights before the dance, Kara looked up from the crate of records she had been flicking through, feeling triumphant and smug.

“I’ve decided.”

Across from her, on the other side of the aisle, Lena looked up from the open sleeve of a Nat King Cole record she had been reading the track listing of with relief.

Finally. And?”

Kara held up the Billie Holiday record. “Pennies from Heaven.”

Lena’s laugh was crisp, loud, uninhibited. Kara’s pride swelled.

“That’s not a very subtle song to begin a fundraiser with, Kara.”

“You didn’t ask me for subtlety, you asked me for what will set the mood.”

Lena folded up the vinyl sleeve, and placed it carefully back in the box. “I’m not sure that’s going to set the right mood.”

Kara sighed, and put Billie back just as gently.

They’d hadn’t been in the pawn store very long. But it was empty, aside from the two of them and Mr. Abernathy, the shop keeper, who was too busy reading his comic books to pay them much attention. He did look up every now and again, however, to glance at Lena with the same look of disbelief he’d worn when they’d first walked in – like it was quite unbelieve that anyone who looked like her, dressed in a long, black fur coat, with an expensive purse and even shinier shoes, would ever step foot inside his tiny little pawn shop.

Lena had called Kara that morning, asking her for her help - another routine that had settled into being the norm in the Danvers household. At least one a day, the telephone would ring. And where there had once been a mad rush to answer it – the phone never usually ran much, other than for important conversations – now Eliza barely even looked up as the piercing ring echoed through the house, already now knowing who it was going to be.

Most of their conversations had been short. Four days out of the seven, Kara had been on her way to the hospital. Lena seemed to have a knack for calling her just as she was putting her shoes on, about to head out the door. But mostly Lena just asked Kara’s opinions for the fundraiser, something Kara privately found rather hilarious, considering she’d never even planned anything more than a birthday party for Alex one year in her entire life. But this didn’t seem to bother Lena in the least. She took Kara’s opinions on food, flavors of punch, potential decorations, music to be played, very seriously.

Which is what had inspired Kara’s bright idea to bring Lena out to this store. She knew the collection of records was small, but it was also very diverse, and reasonably priced.

“Okay what about…’ Kara flicked through a few more. ‘I’ll Get By’? Promote solidarity and teamwork and comradery and all that other baloney.”

“Those virtues aren’t baloney.”

“You know what I mean.”

Lena gave Kara a look.

 “Okay,’ Kara corrected, ‘what about a bit of Artie Shaw? Glenn Miller? Start with something like ‘Tuxedo Junction’, relax people. Then get into the Billie Holiday.”

“Right…’ Lena nodded, and began flipping through the records once more with a renewed vigor, ‘… okay…”

She tucked her hair behind one ear with a flick of her wrist. Kara watched the motion with fascination.

Remembering herself, Kara ignored the heat in her cheeks and adjusted her glasses. “Who put you in charge of the music anyway?’

“I did,’ Lena said simply. ‘I have the best gramophone.”

Kara shrugged, conceding that this was probably true.

“Do you have all these records already?’ Kara asked. ‘Or do we need to keep looking?

Lena scoffed. “Have you seen my collection?”

“No, Lena,’ Kara snickered.  

Lena looked up, and laughed. “Right. Of course.”

“I have some Ella Fitzgerald I could lend you?’ Kara offered.

“I found one,’ Lena pulled the case from the crate, and handed it over to Kara without looking up.

Kara chuckled quietly to herself as Lena kept searching. She looked down at the record – it was the exact same one she had a home. A little more worse for wear, but still the same.

Images of late nights, sitting by the gramophone, listening to the crooning voice of Ella that crackled from the speaker came flooding back to Kara so suddenly then. Jeramiah loved Ella Fitzgerald, and when he’d bought this album he played it every night for a whole month. Kara knew this record off by heart.

“You know,’ Lena’s soft voice cut through the cloud that had been beginning to form over Kara’s heart, ‘you should come over sometime soon. I’ll show you my collection. If you would like.”

Lena sounded so unsure, timid, like she had the week before on Kara’s doorstep, asking her to the fundraiser. She wasn’t even looking at Kara; her gaze was still downward on the records she was flipping more slowly through, but her eyes were unmoving.

Kara found her coyness startling. What did she have to be so timid about? Didn’t she already know?”

“I’d love to,’ Kara stated.

Lena finally looked up, and blinked at Kara’s smile, like she’d just looked directly into the sun.

All too soon, a similar grin crossed her own features, and Kara felt herself shrink a little into herself with a sudden overwhelming sense of wanting, too, to advert her eyes.

“Wonderful,’ Lena picked out a record then – Nat King Cole. ‘Shall we?”

 

--------

 

Dearest Mike,

I was so happy to receive your letter…

Kara looked up from her notepad; the tip of her pencil hovering above the yellow paper.

After a long pause, Winn stuck his head around through the curtain of the change room. “Well keep going.”

“That’s all I’ve got.”

That’s it?”

Kara huffed, slamming her pencil down. “I told you I need help.”

The day before the dance, they had taken a trip into Bonnerville together. Bonnerville was a bigger, more affluent town, and had more choice in clothing stores. And Winn had insisted that all his trousers were not up to snuff for such an important social event, and that Kara needed to come with him to help him find a new pair as soon as possible.

Today had been the only day both of them had been free. It was cutting it too close, for Kara’s tastes. In any other situation, she would assume one would need at least five days before an event to go shopping, in case alterations needed to be made, clothing returned, or any other disaster.

But Winn’s mother was excellent with a needle and thread, and Winn was so pedantic in choosing anything, from shoes, to coffee orders, to which screwdriver he used for each job, that she knew he wouldn’t pick just any pair of trousers, and a little of Kara’s anxiety eased.

“So do I,’ announced Winn.

He flung the curtain aside, and staggered out of the change room, leaning heavily on his cane. Standing for so long took a toll on him, and Kara felt sure she had been sitting on her little velvet stool for almost forty minutes as Winn tried on pair after pair. But despite her warnings, and mentions of the time, he was determined.

Kara tilted her head, surveying him. “They sit funny.”

Winn straightened up as much as he could, and looked down at himself. “Where?”

“You know…’ Kara’s cheeks burned as she gestured, ‘in the… in that area…”

Turning slightly, Winn considered himself in the closest full-length mirror. Around them, jackets hung from racks, shirts of a multitude of colours were folded impeccably into tiny little alcoves, ties hung on display, some tied, others free of their knots.

It was her first time in a gentleman’s suit store before. She was the only women in there. All the tailors, shop staff and customers were men. It was a little intimidating. There was a slightly older man having his measurements taken not too far away, in front of three mirrors that reflected him from three different angles, and he kept smirking at her through the mirror on the right.

Kara had adverted her eyes sheepishly the first few times. Now she didn’t even look his way.

“Oh,’ said Winn suddenly. ‘Oh, you’re right, so they do! Ha! I mean, I want to attract her attention, just not that sort of attention.”

He disappeared behind the curtain again, closing it with as much flurry as he opened it.

“Not right now, anyway,’ he added with a chuckle.

Despite knowing he was joking, Kara cringed.

She cringed whenever he spoke about Lena. Not that he was crass, or objectifying. She cringed from the knot of discomfort that clenched in her stomach.

Kara still hadn’t done any of the research Winn had asked her to.

And she didn’t know how to tell him.

And he’d been mentioning her non-stop for days now, ever since she had brought Lena into the shop, in what she knew he thought was a casual, off-handed way. But she knew him too well by now to know when he’s mind was focused on something. And his mind was clearly focused on her.

To change the subject, if only in her mind, she called, ‘Did you hear back from James?”

“Yeah,’ Winn’s voice was strangled, no doubt he was trying to pull the pants on over his bad leg. ‘He said no.”

Kara felt dejected at this news. She had asked Winn, who saw James on a much more regular basis than she did, to extend the invitation to the fundraiser at Luthor Munitions.

“Well that’s disappointing. Did he say why?”

“Something about being sent to National City. Mr. Henshaw is sending him on the train that night to meet some reporter.”

Kara nodded, still feeling disappointed, but comforted by the fact that he hadn’t declined because he’d been worried about some ridiculous sense of social propriety.

“Okay…’ Winn reappeared then, and posed as much as he was able.

Kara was momentarily reprieved from her worry as she took in how handsome he looked.

He’d worn his best, crisp white shirt out today, and tried many different combinations of pants to go with it. Navy, light brown, dark brown, black, pinstripe…

The pair he wore now were a light, tan colour that sat much better than the previous pair, if only needing to be taken in a little at the bottom of each leg. They sat very nicely on his hips, and contrasted well with his shirt and tie.

And then the reason for why he was going to all this trouble came flooding back, and so did Kara’s guilt.

“Hmm?’ he asked, gesturing to himself with a sly grin that suggested he already knew the answer.

Kara smiled, and nodded. “Very nice.”

“I think so, too,’ He turned stiffly toward the mirror again. ‘My dad has a blue vest I could borrow. Or do you think just suspenders? No, suspenders are too casual…”

He did a few little twists and turns, before going back behind the curtain to get changed back into his old woolen trousers, still muttering to himself about shoe colours and cologne.

Kara shifted on her stool, and twiddled the pencil between her fingers. “So, what should I write next?”

“… get some brown polish for my shoes… sorry, what was that?”

“My letter, Winn!”

“Oh, right!”

“It’s been almost two weeks since I got his,’ Kara bristled, feeling the guilt intensify. ‘I need to send him something back today.”

Winn reappeared, back in his own clothes, new trousers slung across his shoulder. His face twisted into a grimace as she crossed over to her, and he sat down with a long, relieved sigh.

“Gimme that,’ He wiggled his fingers, and almost snatched the notepad from Kara’s hand. ‘I was so happy to receive your letter… yeah, okay, and what else? What do you usually write him?”

“Well… romantic things.”

Winn snorted, and nudged her playfully. ‘No need to be so coy with me, Miss Danvers. If you just write him mushy stuff, then why not this time?”

“I don’t know,’ Kara admitted. ‘It just… doesn’t feel right.”

She had tried. Certainly, she’d tried. For the past few nights, she’d sat at the dining table long after supper was done, pencil hovering above the page, waiting to write words that just didn’t seem to want to come forward.

“So just tell him the news.’ Winn offered. ‘Talk about how I’m amazing and fixed Eliza’s radio and saved all your sanities, and how Luthor Munitions almost blew sky high, and about the new records you’ve bought, and how you have a new best friend… put some normalcy back into his day.”

It was such an obvious solution. Kara felt a rush for affection for Winn then so great, she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“What was that for?’ he laughed.

“You’re a good friend,’ Kara insisted.

Winn tisked and turned away, but his grin was wide.

“You make sure you tell Lena Luthor that tomorrow night,’ Winn got to his feet slowly, and began to head toward the counter to pay. ‘With any luck, she’ll show her appreciation like you just did!”

Kara gave him a tight-lipped smile, and followed one step behind so he couldn’t see her guilt.

 

----

 

“Come on Danvers’,’ Winn’s voice echoed up from the street, ‘we’ll be late!”

Alex stuck her head out the window, half leaning out of it. “Shut your cake hole and just get the car started, will you? We’ll be right down!”

“I’m not your darn valet, you…’

She slammed the window shut, then, smothering the rest of his response.

Kara chuckled as she put in her left earring. “He’s so impatient.”

“He’s a fat-heat,’ Alex went back to the mirror. She fingered the loose strands of her hair back into place with a delicate touch. ‘and he’ll wait.”

“But he is being kind enough to drive us,’ Kara tried to reason. She heard the thrum of an engine, then, kicking into life.

Alex scoffed. “In his father’s car, that he had to bribe him to let him borrow.”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, fine!”

Kara let Alex move around behind her, and finishing pinning the rest of her hair into place for her – the task she had been in the middle of before they’d been called upon from the street.

In the mirror, Kara could still see them both. Although half hidden behind Kara, she could still admire Alex. She’d actually decided to wear a dress this time, without any prompting from either Eliza or Kara. It was a nice maroon number with puffy shoulders and a brown belt that cinched in at the waist that Eliza had bought for her years ago, and that Alex only wore on very special occasions. Her hair was wavy, voluptuous, very Ingrid Bergman. Her minimal make up still looked lovely. Her brown, oxford shoes were freshly polished.

Alex could look so glamorous, when she tried – which was hardly ever. But Kara didn’t need to see her dressed up like this to know she was beautiful.

Kara looked at herself, next to her sister, and frowned. Why was she so skinny? Her dark blue dress, much the same style as Alex’s, except much more worn in, did nothing for her figure. Not that she had much of one anyway. Alex had hips, and curves. Kara would have killed for that sort of physique.

A sudden pinch came at Kara’s waist, and she jumped as Alex tickled her.

“Hey,’ she was giving Kara a look in the mirror. ‘You look great. Stop worrying.”

Kara rolled her eyes. Alex didn’t even give her a chance to respond. They’d had the same argument plenty of times. Kara would proclaim her envy for Alex’s God-given gifts, Alex would tell her the grass was always greener and believe it or not, more than once she’d wished she had a body more like Kara’s.

“Not like there’s anyone there to impress anyway, right?’ Alex looked up at Kara as she slipped her shoes on. ‘No Mike.”

“No. I suppose not.”

All too soon they were grabbing their coats at the door, bidding Eliza goodnight, and heading out to the awaiting car still rumbling away on the street.

“Why do women always take so long to get ready?’ Winn sighed as they climbed into the car.

Alex, who had taken shot-gun, punched Winn in the arm. “Just drive, we’re late.”

“We’re late? You’re kidding me, I had no idea.”

“Winn!”

“I was ready half an hour ago!”

“Do you want me to drive?”

Kara tuned the rest of their argument out, far too used to this bickering to care much anymore.

She watched the street roll by as Winn pulled away from the curb, and turned off their road and down Mason street, wondering why there was another knot of anxiety curing up within her.

It was Alex’s earlier mention of Mike, surely. Despite Winn’s help the day before, she still hadn’t managed to finish the letter. She’d written about ten different versions, all ending up as a crumbled ball at the bottom of the waste paper bin. Not to mention there was the thought of him lying in a trench somewhere, while she was on her way to a party.

She wanted to write him, that much she was certain. She still missed him. The image of his face in her mind still sent her heart into a higher gear than normal.

So, what the heck was her problem? Why couldn’t she focus on a simple letter?

“Left or right? Kara?”

Blinking out of her reverie, Kara looked to the front seat. “Sorry, what?”

“Which way?” They had stopped at the traffic light; Winn was watching her in the rear mirror, Alex had turned right around in her seat.

Of course, they’d never been to the factory.

“Oh, uh…’ Kara glanced around to find her bearings. ‘Right. Turn right.”

Winn nodded, and did as she asked.

Alex was still looking at her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,’ Kara smiled, and hoping to change the subject, added quickly, ‘are we picking Maggie up?”

It worked. Alex’s frown melted instantly. She turned around to face the front.

“She’s meeting us there after she finishes work.”

Kara smiled, and turned back to the window. “Good. I’m glad you decided to invite her.”

“Who’s Maggie?”

“My friend.”

“You have friends? Ow!”

“Keep talking, I show you my best friend – my other fist.”

 

----

 

They were most definitely late.

Winn had parked his Ford Anglia as close as he could, but being so late, all the closet spots were already taken.

“Dammit,’ he grumbled as they got out.

Kara felt bad for him. The ground was soft, and his cane sunk into the earth with every step he took. But he said nothing, just walked with that resolute set of his jaw, determined to keep pace with Alex and Kara.

Their tardiness made little difference. Not many people paid them attention beyond a glance as they walked past the security guards, and through the black, iron gates that had been left wide open for the event.

There were quite a few men and women mulling about in the courtyard, smoking and chatting and laughing. Alex was looking around, craning her neck here and there to see who was around. Winn didn’t slow, his eyes focused on the door set into the side of the enormous brick wall, from where music and light were pouring out into the night.

Just inside the door, they were met by a red-headed, young woman seated behind a small, wooden desk.

“Evening dolls. Oh,’ She smirked at Winn, ‘and fella. Hey there.”

Winn’s laugh crackled. He waved back.

“Here for the fundraiser?’ the woman grinned at them, and pushed a large glass jar toward them. It was already half full of crumpled, green bills. ‘It’s just a small donation to get in. All for the cause, you understand.”

“How much?’ Kara asked.

“As much as you wanna give, honey. A quarter, a hundred… we don’t discriminate.”

They all reached into their respective purses and wallets. Alex threw a five in, Winn a twenty.

Kara kissed her ten-dollar note, before placing it firmly in the jar.

The woman grinned widely at them, and gestured to her left. “Have a great time, kids!”

Inside was a lot busier. The doorway opened up into a large room with wooden walls, where many crates with Luthor Munitions stamped across them in big, black letters were stacked. Kara led the way down the first corridor, dodging all the bodies standing about, following the sound of music.

All too quickly they found the hub of the activity – the canteen. It had been transformed into a dance hall, complete with a long table that ran along the length of the wall to the left, laden with a large punch bowl and many different types of food down one end, and at the other were gift baskets filled with jars of food, clothing, even some with bottles of wine. The rest of the perimeter was taken up by chairs, and tall round tables for people to stand at and chat with friends. Streamers and balloons hung from the rafters.

At the other end of the room, there was the biggest gramophone Kara had ever seen in her entire life. In front of it, a microphone had been set up, amplifying the music through giant speakers that was booming from it; the source of power that drove all the gyrating bodies that were dancing in the middle of the room. Lots of soldiers in green and blue uniforms, and just as many young women in beautiful dresses, letting themselves be spun and rocked and dipped with inhibited glee.

Kara smirked, wrapping her arms around herself, pleased that Etta Fitzgerald had found her way in there after all.

“This isn’t like the dances at town hall,’ she remarked, calling above the music.

“This is better,’ Winn laughed. ‘Much better.”

“Drinks?’ Alex asked. ‘Perfect.” She walked off without giving either of them a chance to answer.

“What a turn out,’ Winn was craning his neck, trying to see through the crowd.

“Do you need to sit do-…”

“Nope,’

He darted forward then, disappearing around the edges of the dancers and into the crowd. Kara tried to smother down the natural instinct to follow him, to make sure people didn’t get in his way, accidently knock his cane from under him…

Alex appeared at her shoulder then, and handed her a small cup of punch.

“Where’s Winn?”

“He went that way.”

“More for me,’ Alex threw what was meant to Winn’s glass of punch back in a large gulp, and put the empty cup aside quickly. She handed the remainder out for Kara to hold, and then reached into her purse.

Kara’s eyes widened as she saw the glint of silver.

“Alex!”

“What? Keep your voice down,’ Alex took her punch back, and poured a little of the clear liquid from her flask into it as subtly as she could. She smirked at Kara. ‘You want some?”

Kara hesitated only for a moment.

It was more than enough for Alex.

She took Kara’s punch, and tipped some of her gin into it.

When she handed it back, Kara sniffed at it before daring to take a sip. Alex wasn’t light on her servings. It smelled strong, and when Kara finally took her sip she couldn’t stop herself from pulling a face.

Alex patted her on the back, beaming with pride. “Atta girl.”

Kara coughed, feeling the gin burn its way down her throat; recognizing the metallic aftertaste. “Let’s go find a table.”

The followed in direction Winn had taken, around the right side of the crowd. They found a table to stand at soon enough; a new song had started up, and an influx of bodies rushed forward onto the dance floor.

Kara leant forward, elbows on the table, shoulder-to-shoulder with Alex who was leaning in the same way, and watched the crowd with a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

Watching this scene play out before her warmed her heart, sent tingles of adrenaline along her skin. All these people, individuals who could have come from anywhere in the country, banding together to embrace one, single cause – to support women who were working their tails off every day to support their country, to fight for what was right – was something that filled every ounce of Kara with pride and happiness.

It didn’t seem wrong or callous that everyone was having such a good time, while some women still lay in the hospital, and another had never come home. This wasn’t celebrating in light of a worthless sacrifice, this was honoring them. This was what those women were fighting for – happiness, freedom.

Kara continued to sip on her drink; the gin was well and truly in her system now, and the acrid taste didn’t seem so bad anymore. Her body felt a little numb, there was a pleasant buzz in her head.

When she looked to her left, at her sister; she had just thrown back the last of her punch, and Kara could tell by the smile on her face that she was beginning to feel the same sensations.

“Another?’ Alex asked. She held out her hand for Kara’s glass.

Kara threw the rest of hers back too, and handed it to her sister. “I’m going to look for Winn.”

Alex gave her a fake, half-attempt at a salute, and turned on her heel.

“Not as strong this time!’ Kara called after her.

Alex gave no signal that she had heard her.

Kara rolled her eyes, and began her lap of the room.

She barely made it ten steps before a handsome, young man in deshelled uniform stepped in front of her. He was panting, blonde hair coming free from his combed-back style.

“Hey there,’ he grinned, ‘fancy a twirl, honey?”

“Actually, I’m looking for… oh.”

Without any control, his hand was in hers, and her stomach swooped as he swung her out onto the dancefloor with a firm tug. His other hand went to her waist as she only just managed to stop herself from crashing into him completely, and then they were dancing.

Kara was slow to catch up, irritated at having not being listened to. She put in minimal effort as he tried to twirl her; she stayed resolutely still, letting him just dance around her. He didn’t seem to notice her annoyance with him at all.

The song slowed then, and Kara sighed with relief, ready to set off again.

But his hand was still in hers, and he stepped in to match the decreased rhythm. He was almost a foot taller than her, with big hands and a heaving chest as he tried to catch his breath. The smell of his cologne was only just discernable beneath the scent of whiskey on his breath.

“You one of the dames who work here?’ he asked. ‘I’m just down from New York, on my way through to Hawaii. Special mission, you know, after everything that happened.”

Kara looked around. Alex was no-where in sight, and neither was Winn. And neither, as she had been since they’d arrived, was Lena.

Unable to find the motivation to explain her real job, knowing the look she would get if she did – nurses were highly regarded among soldiers, for more than the obvious reasons, and it was a fact – Kara just nodded up at him, giving him a tight-lipped smile.

“Yes, I work here,’ she lied. Even despite her annoyance, the lie felt uncomfortable.

He looked down at her with raised, golden eyebrows. “Interesting! I heard what happened… my buddy Tony brought me along… pretty great turn out for all those women, hey? I can only stay until the morning, of course. On my way…’

“To Hawaii,’ Kara nodded, ‘so you said.”

She looked around again for an escape route, sensing where this was going.

He nodded. “Special mission. Wish I could tell you, but there’s too many people. Say, maybe you’d like to go somewhere more private? I’m not really supposed to talk about it, but you look pretty trustworthy.”

Kara wasn’t sure what to say to this.

“You here with anybody?’ he asked.

“My sister,’ she said automatically.

Kara cursed herself as his eyes sparkled with opportunity. She should have told him about Mike. She wished Winn was in eyesight; he could have pretended to be her date. But no, she was too honest, as usual.

“Think she’d miss you?’ he asked. ‘Feel like getting some air?”

‘Excuse me,’

Kara looked around, and felt her entire body tingle with relief.

Lena smiled not at Kara, but up at the entirely-too-tall soldier. Kara suddenly felt very aware of her own body; how sweaty her own palms were, how his hand sat at her waist, how she was barely shuffling along with him – a movement that had, thankfully, stopped at the interruption.

She was stunning. Of course she was. Her dress was all black, except for the white trim. Her hair was pinned back in a knot at the base of her skull, showing off her neck and the glittering necklace that hung around it. Her lips were that deep red Kara had seen her wear the last time she’d seen her at the factory, curved upward slightly as she batted her eyelashes up at the soldier that towered over them both.

“Hey there, sweetheart,’ he grinned.

“So sorry to interrupt,’ Lena glanced quickly at Kara, then back up at him. ‘Mind if I cut in? I simply adore Glenn Miller.”

“Oh, well… of course!”

He let go of Kara and took a step back, arms still outstretched, awaiting.

Lena agave him a dazzling smile, then stepped in, took Kara’s hand in hers, put her hand on her waist, and pulled her in close.

Kara flinched. She couldn’t help herself. Lena’s touch, her close proximity, the way she brought Kara in to press gently against her own body with a soft encouragement at the small of her back was not something she had been expecting.

Judging from the look on the soldier’s face, neither had he.

It took a long moment for his realization to sink in. Kara felt like she was under a spotlight as he stood there, staring down at them with confusion. But finally, he blinked, shook his head, and walked away.

Kara let out a long sigh of relief.

Lena chuckled in her ear. “Is he gone?”

Yes. Thank you.”

“I know his type,’ Lena looked around over her shoulder. ‘I don’t like to generalize, but such a typical soldier. I suppose he said something like he’s only here for one night in that implying way?”

Kara smiled. “Were you eavesdrop-… Lena, where is you sling?”

She hadn’t noticed it missing at first, and mentally kicked herself for getting so easily distracted.

“I took it off,’ Lena said simply.

“But…”

“Kara, relax.’

Lena’s hand at the small of her back held Kara in place; she’d tried to back away, to inspect Lena’s condition, to ensure she wasn’t in any pain or potentially doing herself any more damage.

“I had a personal physician look at it yesterday and he said its fine. Only reason I wore if for so long is because I knew you’d blow a gasket. Besides,’ Lena pulled back enough to give Kara a raised eyebrow and a cocky smirk, ‘that sling did not match this dress.”

Kara sighed, but did not argue. If Lena could have her hand on her back, hold her still without flinching, surely must be telling the truth.

It took a lot of effort for Kara to quell her concern.

Kara expected for Lena to let go, then, now that the coast was well and truly clear. But the song changed again, still a slow crooning number, and Lena just kept on swaying. Kara didn’t have any inclination to say anything about it.

Her mind was still buzzing, from the alcohol and now from the scent of Lena’s shampoo. Lena’s hand was so soft in hers, not calloused like that soldiers had been. Her body was warm, a delightful heat radiated from where Lena’s hand was pressed gently against her back.

“Where have you been?” Kara asked.

“I was helping in the kitchens,’ Lena scrutinized Kara with a playful glint in her eye. ‘Were you looking for me?”

“Of course, I was. You’re the only person here I know. Well, other than Winn and Alex.”

Lena did pull back then. She kept Kara’s hand in hers, and jerked her head.

“Come meet some people, then. I’ll introduce you.”

Kara let Lena lead her off the dancefloor, through the swaying couples, only glancing down at their linked fingers the one time.

True to her word, Lena quickly found many people to introduce Kara too.

Kara shook hands with so many women, she had trouble remembering all their names. But she knew she would remember their faces. There were young women who couldn’t be any older than twenty with bright eyes and pretty smiles; women who had strong character lines embedded in their faces, and tough leathery skin on their palms that suggested a long life of working the land; girls who had crooked teeth but beautiful smiles; women who didn’t smile, and seemed to carry the world on their shoulders, but still somehow spoke so softly and politely. They worked on the lines, filling bombs with chemicals. They sat on top of machines, drilling and welding. They would sew fuses and stack crates and cut sheet metal.

They were made of metal, and fire, and courage, and Kara felt humbled meeting them all.

“Kara works at St. Josephines,’ Lena now gushed to the woman standing in front of them. This was how she’s introduced Kara to everyone. Kara was beyond embarrassed, not from the fact, but from the way Lena said it. ‘She actually was one of the nurses who helped us when I went in.”

The woman nodded, not sternly, but still without much expression. “You saw a lot of my girls come in, then?”

“Yes, ma’am,’ Kara nodded. ‘I did my best.”

“I’m sure you did. A lot of them are here tonight, back to the grind. Did you meet them?”

“Some.”

“Kara, this is Mrs. Partridge,’ Lena stood up a little straighter. ‘My supervisor.”

Kara her instant respect for the woman in front of her only swell. It had to be an extraordinary woman not only to just be put in a position of such importance and influence, but also to get Lena, who was intimidating and enough of a force of nature on her own, to stand up to attention like that. Lena didn’t even have that sort of look on her face when she spoke about her own mother.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,’ Kara said.

Mrs. Partridge gave a short not of acknowledgement. “And I you. Thank you again for everything you’ve done for the women here. And it’s nice to put a face to the name.”

Kara frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“Lena hasn’t stopped talking about you.”

Lena laughed then, awkwardly, and took Kara’s hand again. “Kara, I think we should get something to drink. Mrs. Partridge, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Don’t be late, Luthor, or I’ll be docking you.”

“You’re going back to work tomorrow?’ Kara asked as they walked away.

Lena didn’t answer her right away. When she did speak, all she said was, ‘Quick, let’s get that table.”

Lena leaned heavily against the tall table once they reached it, breathing a little harder than was probably necessary. Kara bit her tongue yet again. She wondered if maybe her shoulder was hurting more than she let on, or her leg which had been bruised was giving her trouble.

“There you are!”

Winn appeared then, out of the crowd. He, too, leant heavily on the table. Despite there being more than enough room, he bumped shoulders with Lena.

Kara jerked her chin at him. ‘Lena, you remember Winn?”

Lena gave him a beaming smile. “I do. Nice to see you again.’

“And you. You’re lookin… very lovely, tonight.”

“Thank you. I like your vest.”

Lena ran a hand across his shoulder. Winn exhaled slowly.

“I’m glad you could make it to support us.” Lena said.

“Of course. Anything I can do to help. Got any radios around here that need fixing? Ill fix the heck out of them.”

Kara straightened up, feeling awkward for reasons she didn’t understand. She had a sudden, inexplicable urge to tell Winn to go sit down and relax, or to go find Alex, or to go find another pretty to girl to talk to. There were plenty around, after all.

Lena, it seemed, did not have the same inclination.

She laughed at his joke, and gestured to a gentleman with a very large gut that strained against the suspenders holding up his trousers. “You’d have to ask Mr. Hodge. He’s the main boss around here.”

Winn frowned. “Your name is literally on the gate.”

Lena pressed her lips in a smile. “Did you end up installing that new transformer? I hear the wires are quite fickle.”

Kara cleared her throat. “I’m going to go see if I can find Alex.”

“We’ll be here,’ Lena said.

She gave Kara a look then, amused, like they were sharing in a secret. Kara couldn’t imagine what it was, but liked it whenever Lena smiled at her.

It didn’t take Kara long to find her. Unsurprisingly, Alex was still standing over by the punch bowl. However, she wasn’t alone. The woman she was talking to was shorter than her; dressed in trousers and a dark green shirt, her back was facing Kara, but as she approached she could discern the flecks of light in the long, brown hair than hung down her back.

Alex looked up as Kara approached, and she swallowed.

“Kara,’ she croaked, ‘er… you remember Maggie?”

“Yes,’ Kara held her hand out, ‘it’s nice to see you again, Officer Sawyer.”

Maggie shook her hand firmly. She smiled up at her, and there were those dimples again.

“You can call me Maggie,’ she insisted kindly. ‘This sure is quite the party. Thanks for making Alex invite me.”

Alex sighed. “It wasn’t like that, I already told you.”

Maggie laughed and nudged Alex softly. “Relax, Danvers. It’s a joke. You’ve heard of jokes, right?”

After a long exhale through her nose, causing her nostrils to flare, Alex turned away from a smirking Maggie with a smirk of her own, and back to Kara.

“I’m glad you’re here. I have too many cups of punch. Also, where did you go? I couldn’t see you anywhere.”

Kara counted eight cups, and frowned. “Why did you pour so many?”

“Two each. Then I don’t have to keep walking over here all the time.”

“You know,’ Maggie suggested, ‘you could just not drink so much punch?”

Alex blew air out through her lips, and handed her and Kara two cups each. Before Kara rolled her eyes, she thought she saw a look of admiration on Maggie’s face.

“Wait,’ Kara put hers down, and poured two more for Lena.

As Kara lead them back toward where she’d left Winn and Lena, she told them how Lena had introduced her to many of the women, how she’d heard their stories. She told them about the soldier who had dragged her onto the dancefloor, and how Lena had saved her. She told them about how Lena was being so humble about this entire night, not drawing attention to herself at all.

“So, you and this Lena,’ Maggie asked as they approached, ‘you’re just friends?”

“We are.”

“I see.”

Kara was confused by this, by the way Maggie said, ‘I see’, by the tone that implied there was more meaning underneath the surface.

But she didn’t get the change to ask, or even look to Alex for clarification. Winn’s hands were already outstretched toward Alex.

“Took your time,’ he whined.

“I can take longer,’ Alex moved her arms very, very slowly, ‘if you like…”

Winn gave a false laugh, and took the cups of punch from her. “Did you sweeten these up?”

Alex shot a side-ways glance at Lena.

Lena took her cups gratefully from Kara. “I’m suddenly deaf, I can’t hear anything.”

Alex pursed her lips, smothering a smile. “Do you want yours sweetened?”

“Only if you have enough.”

Kara raised her eyebrows as Lena held her cup out for Alex, impressed at her furtiveness.

“Lena, this Alex and her friend, Maggie,’ Kara introduced. ‘Ladies, this is Lena Luthor.”

“The famous sister,’ Lena smiled.

Alex took Lena’s outstretched hand after pouring her some of the gin, and shook firmly. ‘The woman at the other end of the line.”

“Excuse me?’ Lena asked.

“Just nice to finally put a face to the woman who always has Kara on the phone, is all,’ Alex smirked.

Kara rubbed her eyes, hoping the flush she felt in her cheeks wasn’t visible.

Alex stood off a little to the side, then, moving closer to Maggie, no doubt because she was worried that Maggie may feel like the odd one out. But from the short time she’d had with her, Kara deduced that Maggie didn’t seem to be the type to feel uncomfortable about anything. She certainly didn’t have the tightness to her posture like Alex currently did.

It was something of a surreal experience, having all these different people in the same room together. It had always just been Kara and Alex, or Kara and Winn, or the three of them at the fortnightly dance.

“So this is your factory?’ Maggie asked Lena. She took a long sip of the punch, not even flinching from the alcohol it was infused with. ‘And you couldn’t even splurge for a band?”

Alex looked like she was only just holding herself back from rolling her eyes.

Lena gave Maggie a polite smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“This is a fundraiser,’ Lena explained slowly. ‘And tonight, is the result a group effort by all the women still working here. Those gift baskets over there? We’re going to raffle them off, and they are filled with biscuits that Marjorie Hicks hand made. The sandwiches provided for you were made by Lydia Rogers, her husband is a baker and generously donated a dozen loaves of bread. This party isn’t a Luthor promotion, its all of us – I mean, the women – who work here, trying to do something to help out their fellow colleagues who couldn’t be here tonight. I had no right putting forward flashy gifts and parading bands around like I owned the place.”

“But you do,’ Maggie pointed out, ‘own the place, I mean.”

Lena’s smile only widened a little.

Alex put a hand on Maggie shoulder. ‘She’s just teasing you. Don’t take her seriously.”

“I hope you’ll take place in the raffle,’ Lena said to Maggie, and then took a long mouthful of her own punch. She didn’t flinch either. ‘Harriet McAlister spent hours every night for the past two weeks making all those scarves.”

Maggie gave Lena one last look, before turning her attention back to Alex.

As Alex began asking Maggie about what oil brands she used for her bike, and Winn launched back into his spiel about radio waves and amplification, Kara looked back out at the crowd.

The energy was still there. There was life in this room, a sense of being that Kara didn’t realize she’d been craving. Midvale seemed to be snoozing nowadays, trying to appear as inconspicuous to the world as it possibly could. This was what it must have been like in National City, where people looked up from the sidewalk and didn’t let fear get the better of them. 

That old feeling burst inside her for a split second, like a firework. It was that urge again, to pack her things and just go, to hell with what Eliza said. She could get a job in the city no problem, they would be desperate for nurses. She could get an apartment with big, tall windows, her own open space where she could paint and dance and just be.

Somewhere a woman laughed loudly, and the haze of imagination was gone.

Kara blamed her daydreaming on the alcohol.

She looked back around, and blinked.

Winn was still chattering away in Lena’s ear, and Lena was, for all intents and purposes, listening.

Except her eyes were on Kara.

There was a tiny front in her brow, like she was cramping up. She was still leaning on her elbows, her head turned toward Winn. As soon as she made eye contact with Kara, however, she too blinked and turned to look at him properly.

“Fancy a twirl, Danvers?’

Kara heard Maggie’s request, and turned to answer. But then felt extremely foolish as she saw her hand outstretched toward someone else. Of course she’d been talking to Alex.

Alex bit her lip, and looked at Kara uncertainly. “Er…”

“I’ll be fine,’ Kara urged. ‘Go have fun.”

Maggie didn’t seem to need any more encouragement than that. She took Alex’s punch out of her hand, passed it to Kara, and they were gone.

Kara took up Alex’s position, leaning against the table, and watched as Maggie took Alex into her arms like Lena had done before. Alex only seemed to resist for a moment, before Maggie’s overly dramatic dance moves and shoulder shaking cracked Alex’s stony expression; a smile spread across her face, and then she relented completely.

“I use those pliers!’ Winn was saying to Lena. ‘Good grip, right? And the blades seem to stay sharp forever. So good for wiring.”

Lena nodded. “We use them down in the shop when re-wiring headlights. They’re perfect for the women’s smaller hands.”

Winn looked down at his hands, suddenly dejected.

Kara was saved from trying to stop herself laughing, by the pretty, blonde-haired woman who had just approached.

“Hey, Lena!’ she waggled her eyebrows playfully, her gaze lingering on Winn, who was still looking down at his hands. ‘Who are your friends?”

Lena smiled fondly at her. “Sally, this is Kara and Winn. Sally works on the production line, sanding down casings and all that other fun stuff.’

“Pleasure,’ Sally winked at Kara, and then sidled up to Winn. When they bumped shoulders, he finally looked up in surprise. ‘Hey there, fella. Care to show a lady a good time?”

Winn gaped at her. “Oh, I… er… well…’

He looked to Kara for help. She just shrugged.

“Um… see, I would,’ he then lifted his cane, ‘but I’m not the best dancer.”

This was usually the trick. The cane was the signal, the cue for women to exit stage left.

To Kara’s amusement, Sally eyed the cane, and then laughed.

“Aw, honey, don’t you worry about that. I’m a good enough dancer for the both of us.”

Lena nodded. “She’s right, you know. Sally won competitions when she lived back in Idaho.”

Sally held up two fingers. “Twice.”

Winn looked at Lena with something akin to betrayal in his eyes.

“Come one,’ Sally urged, ‘you can’t be standing there wearing a fancy get up like that, with a face as pretty as your and expect to spend the whole night cooling your heels?”

Mrs. Schott had instilled in Winn during their formative years, a high sense of respect for women, and the manners that were to be show them at all times. This sense of deep seeded responsibility was what pushed him over the edge.

Winn nodded. “Okay, why not?”

Sally grinned in delight, and held her elbow out for him to take. Winn did so, and with one last look at Kara and Lena, he let himself slowly be lead out onto the dance floor.

Lena laughed after him. “He’s very sweet.”

Kara nodded. She watched as Sally took one of Winn’s hands in hers, put the other on his shoulder, and slowly began to lead him in the softest to-and-fro shuffle Kara had ever seen.

“He likes you,’ Kara said. She felt a little foolish, blurting it out like that.

But Lena just snickered into her punch. “Yes, I can tell.”

This was her opening. Kara should ask her now. She doubted Winn would have asked her in the short time they’d been talking, and not to mention he would not have wanted to seem too forward.

“Your sister,’ Lena said then, gazing into the crowd, ‘she’s a good dancer.”

Kara followed Lena’s light of sight. Alex had well and truly relaxed now, and was dancing quite happily with Maggie, twirling and kicking up her heels in a Charleston. When the song ended, and another slow tune began, Maggie took Alex’s hand in hers and brought her in close. Alex looked around uncertainly, but Maggie said something and Alex slowly relaxed again.

“We danced together a lot, growing up,’ Kara explained. ‘We still do. She hardly ever dances with the soldiers at the socials.”

“Is that so? And she doesn’t have a man in her life?”

“Not yet.”

Lena’s ‘hmm’d’ then thoughtfully, a sound in the back of her throat. Kara found this sudden interest in Alex’s non-existent love life to be slightly odd, but chalked it up to simple curiosity on Lena’s part and let it go.

After a long moment, watching Alex and Maggie sway together, Lena cleared her throat.

“Hey,’ she asked, leaning in as if to share a secret, ‘would you like to come see where I work? I know where Mrs. Partridge keeps the keys. Only you gotta take off your shoes.”

“Whatever for?”

“Nails in your shoes. Most of the amatol will be packed away, but we don’t want any accidents.”

Kara giggled at the sly look on Lena’s face. She could smell the fruit punch on her breath, laced with gin, and knew that with their faces in such close proximity to each other Lena could surely smell the same on hers.

Kara kicked off her shoes. “Lead the way.”

Lena drank the rest of her punch in quick mouthfuls, took Kara’s hand in hers, and led the way.

 

-----

 

Kara had already seen the pictures, of course.

The Midvale Voice had published the article the morning after James’s visit to the factory. James had done a wonderful job of portraying the everyday mood of what it was like at Luthor Munitions. His photographs were extraordinary; wide angles that showed the scope, close up shots of the women as they worked, muscles in their forearms flexing underneath grease and grime, eyes hard with concentration as they filed bombs with combustible chemicals. He’d captured the essence of the factory, their purpose and drive.

Walking amongst it during the dead of night, however, was an entirely different experience.

The floor was cold beneath Kara’s bare feet. Her heels hung from her fingertips, swinging freely as she strolled beside Lena.

Lena, also barefoot, led Kara through the main floor, weaving amongst the conveyor belts that, during the day, would have proceeded surely thousands of bombs. All the casings, shells, tools and chemicals had packed away safely, awaiting the first shift the next morning. The lights were all off, to save power. Only the dim emergency lighting, and the bright silver light from the moon provided any light.

“So, they come along the line here,’ Lena explained, pointing, ‘this is the final stages of production. We sand them down, paint them, make last checks on nuts and bolts and fixings, and then they’re stacked in their crates and set down to storage for pick-up by the military. One out of every batch gets kept aside, however, for testing, which is done out in the fields out the back.”

Kara ran her hand along the steel edge of the dormant conveyor belt. Lena had led her through other floors and rooms; sewing rooms where they made cordite bags, rooms where they filed down, turned out and molded parts; the office where they played music (“It helps the women concentrate,’ Lena had explained); the line where they filled the bombs with amatol.

Now they were in the main room. The big room. The end of the line.

Lena pointed to the offices that sat above them. “Mr. Hodge sits up there, with the secretaries. Mrs. Partridge is up and down those stairs all day long.”

Kara eyed her. “That’s where your mother thinks you work, right?”

Lena smiled up at the offices. The shadows that were across her made the cords in her neck, and the angle of her jaw, stand out keenly. It was hard to see completely, or maybe it was the gin still making her vision a little hazy, but Kara could have sworn her expression was one of smug satisfaction.

“That’s right,’ she said softly.

“Will you ever tell her the truth?”

“Nothing good ever comes from her knowing the truth,’ Lena glanced at Kara, then began walking again. ‘Not for me, anyway.”

Kara followed her off the main floor, down another hall, and into a smaller but still impressive room with another, albeit more diminutive long bench.

“This is where they sew the wires into mines,’ Lena said.

A chill ran down Kara’s spine.

This was where it had happened.

She took slow, tentative steps into the room. The windows were on the right angle here; the moonlight filtered in, illuminating the space in a silver glow.

Everything about the room was unremarkable. Like all the other rooms, tools had been put away, no parts of casings lay on the benches after the shift.

But there were scorch marks on the floor.

“I was on top of the plane chasse, when the alarms went off,’ Lena explained. She squatted down by the charred marks in the floor, her expression hidden behind her curtain of hair. ‘Everyone knows what those alarms mean, and I stood up too quickly and lost my balance and fell. But this… this is where Josie stood. She was such a hard worker.”

Kara stepped over to Lena, and put a hand on her shoulder. Lena reached up instantly, and put her hand over Kara’s, giving a slight squeeze. Her heart went out to her. It must have been just as hard, if not surely harder, for Lena to see so many women go through so much as it had been for Kara.

Lena had such a great capacity to feel things, as Kara did. And it was times like this that reminded Kara that the steely, firm, business woman facade she could put on for everyone else was just that – nothing but a facade.

“Should we go back to the party?’ Kara offered.

Lena stood up, then. It took a moment for her to let go of Kara’s hand.

“Not yet. I still haven’t shown you my arena.’

Lena led them out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

“I doubt any of them will miss us, anyhow,’ Lena remarked.

Kara snorted. “Winn most definitely will.”

“Ah,’ Lena nodded.

“Do you have a beau?”

It tumbled out of her mouth without her complete consent. Kara winced at her own callousness, annoyed that her nerves and sense of trying to be a good friend and the effects of the gin had got the better of her. Of all times, why did she have to ask now?

But Lena didn’t look offended. In fact, quite the opposite.

“No,’ she smirked.

Relief flooded Kara, and then so did curiosity.

“Really?’ she asked softly. ‘You must have met so many soldiers and young, rich heirs in your life.”

Lena looked contemplative, then. As they walked down the hall, passing another dim light on the wall, Kara saw Lena’s expression harden a little.

She frowned at Kara for a moment, as if confused by the question.

“Well,’ she began slowly, ‘there was one boy back when I was at boarding school.”

Kara smiled. “What was his name?”

“Jack.’ There was a fondness in her tone as she spoke his name.

“You went to an all-girls boarding school though, didn’t you? How ever did you meet him?

‘He attended the brother school. Both schools would offer social dances once a month.’ Lena’s eyes glazed over, clearly lost in a memory. ‘He was very brilliant, and charming, and handsome.”

“So, what went wrong?’ Kara asked.

Lena frowned at Kara again, the confusion there still, and Kara wondered if there was something she was missing here.

“I finished my education,’ Lena said flatly, ‘and I had to come home.”

Kara pursed her lips. “Where was your school?”

“Kent.”

England? Mike was there just two months ago!”

“And who’s Mike?”

Kara paused. “My beau.”

Lena stopped in her tracks.

Kara, who had realized this a few seconds too late, turned back around when she realized. Lena was frowning at her for sure this time, looking very confused indeed.

“You… have a beau?” she asked.

“Yes, of course,’ Kara was feeling just as confused. ‘I’ve told you about Mike.”

“No,’ Lena lifted her chin, and shook her head. ‘You’ve never mentioned a Mike before.”

Kara frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“But…’ Kara adjusted her glasses, befuddled.

She took a moment to think back through all their interactions, all their phone conversations, every time they had spoken to each other, and realized that Lena was right – she could not recall one instance where she had told Lena about Mike. It was like she had told Winn; they had spent too much time getting to know each other, asking questions and discovering. Boys had not come up at all.

Lena recovered herself. Her expression went slack.

“He’s overseas?’ she asked, her tone steady.

Kara nodded. “Berlin. He wrote to me, but I haven’t written back yet.”

Kara wasn’t sure why it was important to tell Lena this. She was confused. Her mind was still fuzzy from the gin, she found it hard to think straight. She didn’t like the way Lena seemed to have shut down a little, and didn’t understand why she had shut down at all.

“Mike,’ she echoed.

Kara nodded. ‘Mike Mathews.”

Lena laughed then, at herself. She rubbed her forehead, let out a sigh, and when she looked up she rolled her eyes.

“Come on,’ she gestured, ‘this way.”

Fighting an inexplicable compulsion to apologize for something she had no idea what, Kara stepped quickly after her.

After following Lena down another two flights of stairs, they ended up in the biggest room yet. It was an enormous garage, filled with giant, half-finished machines. There were six cars parked at various angles, some still up on stilts with tyres missing, others with the hood propped open, all with tools still scattered around like a minefield.

But the crown jewel was clearly the plane chasse – where Lena had fallen from.

Kara wondered if Lena realized how truly she lucky she was to have only dislocated her shoulder, falling from such a height. She could have broken any part of her body. The long, wingless chasse was also propped up on scaffolding, with ladders here and there, leading up to the missing windows, and roof.

Kara looked at Lena beside her. Lena’s expression was still unreadable

“You built that?’ Kara asked, awed.

Lena shrugged. “Not alone. There’s six of us in the team. It’s a special order come through, and we’re the only factory close enough that has the room. This is the fourth one we’ve made.”

“You don’t have to sound so modest,’ Kara stepped up closer to it, admiring the way the glint of moonlight made the green paint glint. ‘What sort of plane is it?”

“A P-39,’ Lena explained, taking a step closer. ‘We’re not the only ones making them, but they’re in high demand. We just sent one over to France, actually. They’re exceptionally fast.”

Kara ran a hand over the chasse, her fingertips barely scraping over the metal, even on her tiptoes.

She dropped her shoes, and turned back to Lena.

“This is amazing,’ she breathed. ‘This whole place is amazing.”

Lena shrugged again, with one shoulder. ‘We do what we can.”

Kara stepped forward, closing the distance between them a little. “You’re amazing.”

Lena’s jaw tightened before she turned away. “You don’t have to say that.”

“I know, I want to.”

“If anyone here is amazing, it’s you,’ Lena’s back was to Kara, but her tone was insistent. ‘You do know that, don’t you? How incredible you are?’

Kara shifted uncomfortably. ‘Lena…”  

‘I do what I can to help, but compared to what you do…’

“I change bed pans and bandages,’ Kara laughed.

Lena shook her head and turned back around. Her expression was unlike anything Kara had seen on her face before.

“Don’t do that,’ she insisted. ‘Don’t lessen what you can do. What you are. I saw you first hand. The way you are with people, the way you can care for them…”

“Where is all this coming from?’ Kara asked, taking another step forward.

“You’re in the business of saving lives,’ Lena almost snarled, ‘and I’m in the business of taking them. So, you tell me, who’s the amazing one here?”

Kara closed the distance between them, then. She took Lena by the shoulder, her good shoulder.

“There’s no good way to win this war,’ Kara said firmly. ‘Hitler made that very clear. We’re all just doing what we can. I can administer shots and help people rest, and you can arm the brave men out there fighting for our freedom with things like this…’ she gestured at the plane behind her. ‘You built this, Lena. You’re helping shape the world we all want to live in. Standing up for what’s right is not a bad thing. Standing behind the soldiers doing that on our behalf is not a bad thing.”

Lena looked at Kara with a slightly pained expression. Kara held back the urge to pull her into a hug, unsure whether the gesture would be appreciated.

“Mike is a lucky man,’ she said finally.

Her tone was flat, her expression was defeated.

Kara decided to hell with it, then, and went in for the hug.

Lena stiffened a little at first. This was their first real hug. Kara worried for a moment whether or not she had hurt Lena’s shoulder.

After a moment, Lena’s arms were around her too, and Kara let Lena pull her in even closer. If this was the comfort she needed, the closeness, Kara was going to give it to her.

She realized then, like a spark of realization, that she would do anything to make sure Lena always felt comforted.

Soon enough, Lena was pulling back. She stepped away from Kara completely, as if embarrassed. Kara felt a cool breeze rush across her front, where Lena’s warm body had been pressed only moments before.

“I’m sorry,’ Lena laughed, and wiped underneath one eye. ‘I’m such an idiot. I just thought…”

She stopped then, the words dying in her mouth.

“Thought what? Kara stepped closer, then. ‘You can tell me.”

Lena squared her jaw, on the precipice.

But what she thought, Kara didn’t get to find out. Somewhere, behind them, glass shattered, and the sound of a lock being jimmied rang through the garage.

With quick reflexes, Lena grabbed Kara and pulled. She rushed them over to the staircase, and with hands on her shoulders, Lena swung Kara around so they were underneath the stairs, hidden in shadow.

Kara’s back connected, not too roughly, with the wooden beam. To hide in the small amount of shadow, Lena put her hands on either side of Kara’s torso and leaned in close.

“Shh,’ she whispered in Kara’s ear. ‘Don’t move.”

As if Kara could even if she wanted to do, which she didn’t. Lena had Kara well and truly pinned to the spot.

Lena’s attention was elsewhere, her head turned to the right, listening intently. Kara could her someone muttering, a deep voice cursing under their breath as the lock rattled under their attempts to open it.

But it echoed in her ears, as if it were all happening somewhere so very far away. What she could hear much more clearly was the inhale, exhale of Lena’s breath, the scratch of Lena’s nails as they scraped softly against the wooden beam just behind Kara’s head, Kara own heartbeat pounding away in her ears…

Lena leaned in even more then, in her attempts to see what was going on. At the same time the side of her forehead pressed against Kara’s, as their bellies pressed together and Lena’s knee moved a little to the left, the sound of someone falling and cursing even more loudly echoed through the garage.

“I don’t believe this,’ Lena sighed. “That despicable little…”

She looked up, then. Her nose brushed gently against the tip of Kara’s.

Kara’s entire body was pulsing, the same rapid rhythm of her heartbeat that was slamming so hard against her chest surely Lena could feel it. Her hands, still resolutely at her sides, were sweating.

Lena licked her lips. “I’m going to deal with this.”

This statement was enough to bring Kara to her senses.

“What? Lena, you can’t….”

Another loud curse, followed by the crunch of glass under boot.

Lena looked back at Kara. Her eyes flicked down for only a moment.

“Whatever happens,’ she whispered, ‘whatever he says, don’t come out. Don’t let him see you.”

Kara didn’t have the time to form any sort of question or argument to this. With one last look, Lena was gone, shoes left behind, walking barefoot out into the open.

“Mr. Archer!’

Lena’s voice echoes throughout the garage, loud and clear and commanding.

Kara leaned as far as she dared, trying to stay in the shadow. She could just make out the form of a man in a long coat spin around, followed by the sound of a laugh.

“Miss Luthor!’ Patrick Archer announced. ‘I was… wow, I was not expecting you to be down here.”

“I can see that. Another window? You’d tab just keeps growing and growing.”

“Well, you see…”

“I expect your breaking in through the back door because my security would not let you in? Like I told them to?’ Lena harrumphed in mild amusement. ‘I need to give them a raise.”

Kara saw Mr. Archer’s frame take stepped toward Lena. He towered over her, now she was no longer wearing her heels.

“I’m sorry you had to be here for this,’ He said patronisingly. ‘I was just going to pretend I broke in through the front gate, but… well, this is working out better than I hoped.’

His tone was insufferable. Kara fought back the urge to step out of the shadows.

He looked around, then, arching his neck, looking for something. Someone. Kara pressed herself back against the beam behind her, thankful for once for her skinny frame.

“I mean, it’s only natural to wonder why you’re all the way down here.”

Lena put her hands on her hips. “I’m calling security.”

“Got a fella hidden somewhere?’

Kara could hear the smirk in his words.

‘Come on out, buddy! No need to be shy!”

“I’m here alone.”

“I’ve been around a long time, honey,’ Mr. Archer reasoned. ‘And I know how folks get at these fancy events. Spiked punch takes over and people sneak off to have a quiet chat, somewhere like private garages like this – places with lots of intimate corners for even more intimate encounters.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come on, Lena. I’ve been in this business long enough to know when somethings… what’s the word? Oh yes, queer.”

Smack.

Kara jumped as she watched Lena’s arm swing, wide and hard, and catch Mr. Archer in right in the jaw. He went crumbling in a heap to the floor, landing with an undignified thump, and did not move again.

Shaking her hand, Lena stepped away from him. “Kara?”

Taking this for the coast being clear, Kara dashed out from her hiding spot.

Mr. Archer was out cold. Where Lena had hit him, a dark circle was already beginning to form.

Kara looked at Lena. She was still staring down at the limp form of the journalist, her jaw set hard in anger.

But when she spoke to Kara, her voice was soft and controlled.

“Would you please go up to the front gate and fetch Nathaniel for me?’

Kara dawdled on this request, feeling apprehensive. “Lena, I don’t think I should leave you here alone…”

“I’ll be fine,’ Lena looked up at her. ‘Please?”

Kara nodded, and with one last look at Lena, headed back upstairs.

 

-----

 

Twenty minutes later, Mr. Patrick Archer was being escorted from the premises.

Kara stood between Alex and Maggie against the wall in the hallway just by the exit, and watched as he was frog-marched past by two very imposing-looking security guards.

“That’s the guy you roughed up?’ Alex asked.

Kara nodded, hoping he could somehow feel her glare burning into the back of his skull.

“He’s got a bit of a shiner,’ Maggie said, sounding impressed. ‘Did you go back for seconds?”

“It wasn’t me.”

Maggie sighed. “Shame. He looks like a dirt bag.”

People all around watched, distracted momentarily from the festivities by the sudden drama.

Lena followed in his wake after a moment, hair coming out of the bun at the base of her neck. She was rubbing her wrist.

Kara stepped forward, then, nurse mode activated.

“Are you okay?’ she asked quickly.

Lena didn’t let Kara take her examine her wrist. Instead, she held her arm close to her chest, and took a small step back.

“I’m fine,’ she insisted. ‘Not the first time I’ve thrown a punch.”

Kara believed her.

“You shouldn’t have hit him,’ Kara said. She kept her opinion of Lena’s hook being very impressive to herself.

“I know. And you probably shouldn’t have grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. But he’s a Neanderthal and he deserved it for breaking another of my damn windows.”

Kara’s fingers tingled. She wanted to reach out and comfort Lena, like she had down in the factory.

But Lena’s walls were up.

“Look,’ Lena looked around at the crowd, who were now dispersing now the drama was over, and heading back where all the real action was. ‘I need to go make some phone calls in the office.”

Kara understood what she was really saying.

Saving face, playing along, she nodded.

“Of course,’ she adjusted her glasses, ‘you have to call your father? The police? I understand. I’ll just…”

The words died in the air.

Lena nodded, and with one last glance, turned on her heel and disappeared into the crowd of people mulling about in the hallway.

“Is she okay?’ Alex asked, when Kara walked back over.

Kara nodded. “Where’s Winn?”

“Still inside, with that girl Sally.”

With another short nod, Kara wrapped her arms around her slim waist and headed off in search of Winn.

She was suddenly very eager for bed.

Chapter Text


 

Kara looked up when she felt eyes boring into the top of her head.

The grain in the benchtop had been intensely fascinating until now.

Winn didn’t say anything, just raised his eyebrows. James’s lips were pressed tightly together.

Kara took her glasses off, and gently tossed them onto the bench between them. “You were saying something to me, weren’t you?”

Winn shrugged. “Only for the last ten minutes.”

It was another quiet day in Nelson’s. Unable to talk to Alex, who despite her promise to try harder was still like a wisp around the house – impossible to grab and hold on to – and unsure of how to articulate anything to Eliza, Kara had come to the next best place.

All she had wanted was something, someone, to take her mind of this feeling that was gripping her insides in a steel vice grip, making it hard to breathe. But she’d barely heard two words either James seated beside her, or Winn, had said in the entire half an hour she’d been sitting with them at his work bench.

“I’m sorry.” She groaned.

“Don’t be sorry, be here,’ Winn leaned forward on his elbows.

Kara nodded with a determined set to her jaw.

“Yes,’ she put her glasses back on, to prove she meant business. ‘I’m here. I’m listening. What were you saying?”

Winn exchanged a look with James, who gestured for him to continue. Winn considered her for a long moment, chewing the inside of her cheek, before expressing a soft tisk.

“No, I think I want to know what’s going on with you instead.”

“Nothing.”

“Kara, sweetheart,’ Winn’s voice was dripping with patronizing flair as he reached out and tucked a strand of blonde hair back behind her ear. ‘You don’t get awarded the title of Best Friend for letting obvious lies like that go unchecked. You called me this morning, saying you were coming in to keep me company, and then you’ve barely said two words or heard anything I’ve said. You’re off with the fairies, and I would like to know why.”

“And I don’t even know you that well,’ James added, ‘and even I can tell that’s a load of baloney.”

Kara sighed. She was not used to being outnumbered like this.

“As my friends,’ Kara replied, ‘can’t you please just pretend you don’t know me that well and talk about something else? James, you still haven’t told us about your meeting in National City. Winn, tell me more about Sally. You had coffee with her?”

James shrugged. “We compared notes, he said he’d be interested in collaborating, and if I ever wanted to show off more of my work I could always call him. End of story.”

Winn’s jaw tightened. He looked like he very much wanted to completely ignore both her request, and her clear attempt to change the subject.

Luckily, mercy came through instead.

“Only once,’ he offered. And then he smirked. ‘So far.”

Kara managed a smile. “She seemed nice. I’m sorry I made you leave so quickly.”

Winn sighed, and continued soldering his wires. “I told you, it was fine. My leg was starting to hurt, anyway. I needed an out that didn’t make me look like complete wimp.”

“You’re not a wimp.” James insisted.

“And that’s just what we want everyone to continue to believe.”

Kara found herself feeling amused at the way he waggled his eyebrows at her, and laughed for what felt like the first time in a week.

“There she is,’ Winn grinned. He gave her a very gentle and playful jab to the jaw. ‘That’s my girl.”

Kara reached for his hand, and brought it back to her chin, suddenly craving the contact. To her left, James looked as if me might like to put a hand on her knee, but was unsure of decorum.

Kara made the decision for him – she reached out, and took his big hand in hers.

“Come on,’ said Winn plainly, ‘out with it.”

Kara couldn’t fault him for his inquisitiveness. After all, she hadn’t even explained to him her reason for wanting to leave so suddenly the night of the fundraiser at Luthor Munitions. She’d just walked up to him – mid-dance with the charismatic Sally – tapped him on the shoulder and said she’d needed to leave immediately. Of course, he’d done as she asked, giving his apologies to Sally and limping out the door after Kara, car keys already out of his pocket.

Alex had stayed behind with Maggie, who had offered her a ride home later, so she had been spared the questions Alex, who unlike Winn, would have no reservations in asking her.

“I can leave…’ James began, already getting to his feet.

“Don’t be silly,’ Kara insisted.

So, Kara told them… for the most part. Everything but the part about her and Lena’s weird, conversation, and their even more bizarre moment just before the right-hook landed on Mr. Archer’s jaw, that is.

“Okay,’ Winn nodded, ‘so, things got a little intense, I understand. You didn’t want to be in the same room as that Archer guy again after how you almost clocked him once already.’

“Yes,’ Kara nodded, despite this being so far from the truth.

“Wish I could have been there to see it this time,’ James chuckled. ‘I miss everything.”

“I’m sure everything is fine. You’re not going to get charged, if that’s what you’re worried about,’ Winn reasoned. ‘You didn’t even do anything wrong. He was the one breaking in. He deserved to get a smack in the kisser. Heck, Lena actually did smack him and she didn’t even get charged.”

“He wouldn’t press charges against a woman,’ James said. ‘That would be too humiliating, to admit a dame got the jump on him. Lena will be fine.”

Kara gave him a small smile, appreciating his encouragement.

Winn chuckled at James’s explanation, and momentarily went back to soldering his wires. Kara watched him for a moment with admiration.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get much of a chance to talk with Lena.’

Winn shrugged. ‘S’alright.”

“I know you how much you were looking forward to seeing her again.”

“I was, and I did. But, I dunno…’ he trailed off for a moment, and looked up to stare thoughtfully into space. ‘I mean, she’s nice and all… and, holy cow, so beautiful and smart…’

James snorted. Kara supposed he, like her, had not been spared the endless descriptions of how Lena Luthor was.

“But she just didn’t seem to want to talk much. We didn’t really have that click, you know? Not like you and her seem to have.’

Kara shifted uncomfortably. ‘Click?’

“Yeah, you know, one day together and you were already best friends. If you’re meant to be with someone, surely it should just flow, right?”

That thought, the thought Kara had been pushing back further and further into her mind, seemed to pop its head above the wall again, as if it knew it were being talked about; as if its ears were burning.

In her mind, she swatted it away.

“What does Lena say about all this anyway?’ Winn asked then. ‘The party, I mean. Not about me. Unless she said something about me? You should definitely tell me if she said something about me.”

 “Well… I haven’t actually spoken to her.”

“About that night?”

“At all.”

Not at all?’

It was a testament to how often her and Lena had been speaking, that the news of this sudden halt communication put such disbelief in Winn’s tone.

He was looking at her with a barely contained, incredulous look. James, as usual, was looking thoughtful.

“The dance was over a week ago,’ Winn exclaimed.

I know,’ Kara threw her hands up in the air. ‘We used to talk every day, but I haven’t heard peep from her.”

“So why don’t you call her?” James asked.

“I’ve tried. She’s always ‘out’, or ‘indisposed’,’ Kara put air quotes around the word, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

That was Geoffrey’s – Lena’s butler – favorite word. The amount of times she’d called, and he’d picked up the phone with his monotone drawl, and given half-baked excuses… if Kara had a dollar for every time she’d been shrugged off, she could have paid for a weeks’ worth of Danvers household groceries.

“You think she’s deliberately avoiding you?” James asked.

Kara clenched her jaw in irritation, and nodded.

“But why?’ Winn pressed. ‘What happened? Did you two have a fight?”

She rubbed her forehead, feeling the weight of the question she had been asking herself over and over again, pressing back down on her, making it slightly harder to breathe.

Not if they’d had a fight, but why.

But then that thought popped up again, and in her gut Kara knew why.

But she wanted an explanation. She wanted to know more.

Apparently giving up waiting for an answer, Winn blew air out through his lips and began reassembling the corpse of the radio in front of him.

“I find it hard to believe,’ he said. ‘She’s different around you. She gets this look… like when Alex got her motorbike.’

“When we went to the factory together,’ James added, ‘she talked about you the whole way there.”

Kara felt her cheeks burn. “She did?”

“See? She likes you… a lot,’ Winn chuckled. ‘And I’m sure whatever it is, it’s not what you think. She’s a Luthor, after all. Surely she really is just busy doing whatever it is Luthors do.’

Kara wanted so badly to believe him. He did make compelling arguments. Lena was the daughter of a philanthropist couple, heiress to a fortune. That sort of life came with a lot of responsibilities.

Responsibilities that had never seemed to keep her too busy to talk on the phone, or go visit pawn shops or get coffee before.

‘The Kara Danvers I know wouldn’t just let things slide,’ Winn said simply. ‘If you want an explanation, go get one.”

Kara looked to James, who just shrugged.

It didn’t take much longer after this for her resolve to harden completely.

She knew what she had to do.

 

-------

 

“It hurts,’

Kara felt a lump rise in her throat as she looked down at the small child, lying helpless in the cot beside her.

The girl, Dawn, was barely eight years old. Her mother had brought her in two days ago, squirming in her arms as the child screamed with pain. Her stomach pains had lessened since coming in, but still acted up frequently.

Kara, who had been reading to her from a book of nursery rhymes she had brought from home, closed the book around her index finger, and with her other hand reached out and smoothed the blonde hair away from her sweaty forehead.

“I know,’ Kara soothed. ‘I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Let me go get something to help with that.”

Dawn winced again, and curled into the fetal position. Kara was on her feet instantly.

Doctor Watkins was the physician on duty that afternoon. Kara already knew his stance on children – better to be seen and not heard. A belief that would guarantee his approval for any pain medication what would keep a wailing child quiet in his ward.

After getting the green light from him, Kara was in and out of the medical cabinet within moments with a tiny, plastic medicine cup pinched between her fingers.

She was on her way back through to ward one, when a familiar sight caught her attention.

All the wards had big, open windows with which to see through to the patients inside. Kara’s vision was so used to sliding over the sight of beds in a row, patients curled up in bed, that it usually took something extraordinary to make her stop in her tracks.

Lena Luthor was something extraordinary.

She was perched on the edge of a patient’s bed, as if she were riding side-saddle on a horse. Her posture was stiff, immaculate. Her long, dark hair fell down over her back in waves. And even though her back was to her, Kara could see her arms stretched out, hands clasped over the woman lying in the bed.

Kara blinked rapidly, forced the shock from her body, and smothered the urge to walk straight into the ward.

What was she doing there?

She’s visiting Mrs. Hutchinson, her mind rationalized. Mrs. Hutchinson was another, more severe victim of the Luthor Munitions Incident. She had suffered internal injuries, and had been confined to the hospital for quite some time.

But despite this rationalization, a burst of anger flared through Kara. She’d been trying to figure things out for almost a fortnight now, her chat with Winn and James a few days prior only fanning her fire of determination to figure out what was going on. And during that time, her phone calls to the Luthor household had mostly gone unanswered by the person she wanted to speak to most.

Kara had only gotten her on the line once, after daily attempts.

“I don’t have a lot of time,’ Lena had said flatly. Her voice was sharp down the line, despite the crackling. No hello, no usual little quip – just statements.

“When will you have time?’ Kara had asked. ‘We need to talk.”

“Talk about what?’

Kara didn’t buy her coyness for a second. Lena was anything but stupid.

“Are you okay?’ Kara had asked.

There had been a long pause down the line. And when Lena had finally responded, her voice cracked a little.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just very busy. I’ll call you back tomorrow, okay? I’m just on my way out…”

Kara was still waiting for ‘tomorrow’.

She had been going through the events of the fundraiser over and over and over again in her head. In the bathroom while she brushed her teeth, over dinner, half-listening to what Eliza was talking about, on her walk to the hospital for her shift, her feet beating out a monotone that matched the sound of her heartbeat…

Work had been the only solace from her own thoughts, and now Lena was there, invading that space too?

Kara sat back down with the girl, and administered her the pain killers.

“Take them with the water,’ Kara soothed, placing a still-shaking hand on her back as she sat up. ‘You’ll feel better.”

In her experience, children weren’t typically very good at taking pills. But this child sat up, took them in her mouth one by one, and swallowed them down with such determination that Kara found herself feeling extremely impressed.

“Will you sing to me again?’ Dawn asked timidly.

Kara looked around warily. “Oh, er… y’know, I’m not sure I…’

“Please?’ Dawn’s little hand reached out, and grabbed a fistful of Kara’s sleeve.

Big brown eyes flashed up at her, and Kara felt her resolve crumble.

She kept her voice down, like she had the first night she’d sung to her. That night she had first come in, stuck in that awful limbo between pain and the moment when the drugs finally began to take effect, Kara had not been able to think of anything to do but what Eliza used to do for her back when she was younger, when she’d first started living with them; when she was still having the nightmares.

It was a song she’d heard from the film, Pinocchio. A children’s movie she thought Dawn would recognize.

Judging from the way she relaxed back into the covers, and closed her eyes, Kara had made the right choice.

When you wish upon a star,
makes no difference who you are,
anything your heart desires,
will come to you…

Kara reached out, smoothed her soft, dark hair from her sweaty forehead. As Kara sang, her winces died away, the crinkles of pain across her angelic face smoothed out.

All too soon her breathing slowed as she drifted off to sleep.

Kara finished the song, and looked around the ward to see if anyone had heard. They had. Out of the four other patients, lying in their respective beds, one was already asleep, another was reading a book, and two were watching her with sleepy smiles.

Feeling her cheeks burn, Kara gave them both a smile too, and put her finger to her lips.

She tucked Dawn’s bed coverings in a little more snugly, and started back to the nurses station to fill out the medication forms.

For a moment there, a blissful instant of reprieve, she had almost forgotten Lena was even there… until she literally walked into her.

Lena grunted at the contact. She hadn’t been watching where she was going, her attention elsewhere. Her hand came out and grabbed Kara’s arm, to steady herself.

When she looked around and saw that it was Kara, she let go immediately.

“Sorry,’ she said quickly. ‘I was just looking for… well, there you are.”

Kara nodded. “This is where I work.”

Lena sniffed, amused. Her eyes were darting around, looking for an escape.

Kara was not inclined to give her one.

“Not at the factory today?”

“I just got off shift.

“I saw you talking to Mrs. Hutchinson,’ Kara began.

It was infuriating already. Kara didn’t want to have to endure small talk. Their relationships had moved well beyond that point by now. But Kara was caught off guard by her presence, and all the things she’d wanted to say to Lena for the past two weeks suddenly seemed to have vanished.

Lena looked back around at the ward she’d emerged from. “She’s in my team. I just came in to see how she was doing, keep her in the loop… I’ve been doing some of her jobs for her.’ With the tiniest of smiles, Lena added, ‘I’m the only one she trusts with her lucky spanner.”

“You’re working extra? Are you sure you should be doing that? Just because you don’t need that sling anymore doesn’t mean you’re completely better.”

It all came tumbling out in a rush.

Lena looked at her for a long moment, and then to Kara’s surprise and delight, she laughed.

Not the loud laugh she usually allowed herself to express on the phone, or the uninhibited giggle Kara would sometimes hear when they were out together.

It was almost as if, like Kara just now, it had burst forth from her despite her attempts to control it.

“Nurse mode again,’ Lena smirked. ‘You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

It was a flicker of the real Lena, behind them smile. Kara felt a moment of hope at her tiny glimpse of it.

As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished.

“Besides,’ Lena began to inch away, ever so slowly, ‘there’s a war on. Hitler isn’t going to take few weeks off just because I hurt my shoulder. Speaking of which, I need to be going, so if you’ll excuse me…’

Kara stepped around swiftly, blocking her path. Lena looked surprised, but quickly covered it.

“We need to talk.’

Lena’s eyes darted around again, her posture stiffening as people passed by them in the hallway; doctors, nurses, patients shuffling about, visiting family members…

When she spoke, her voice was soft, concealed. “What about?”

Kara almost laughed.

“About how we haven’t talked,’ Kara insisted. ‘You’ve been avoiding me. And don’t even pretend you haven’t.”

“I’ve… been busy.”

Kara stepped in a little closer. Lena didn’t move; her eyes were still looking everywhere else.

“Look…’ she, too, hesitated before continuing, taking a quick glance around herself, ‘you’ve been odd ever since I told you about Mike. And I’m not sure exactly why that’s a problem, but…’

“See, Kara,’ Lena stepped away then, a tight-lipped and very forced smile on her face, ‘that is the problem. You don’t understand… and I’m a fool for thinking otherwise of you.”

Lena made to leave then. Kara reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her to a halt. Lena was like stone, unmoving, still turned away to leave.

“Explain it to me, then,’ Kara urged. ‘Talk to me. That’s what friends do, Lena.”

Lena turned back to Kara, her expression hard. “I don’t want to be your friend, Kara.”

Kara’s grip fell away in her shock. Her stomach dropped. Her chest felt like she’d been punched straight in the solar plexus.

Lena’s face contorted then, like she was the one who had been dealt such devastating news. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if trying to say something. In the end, she let out a soft growl, turned on her heel, and walked stiffly down the hall, disappearing around the corner without so much as a backward glance.

The aftermath of this was like that lull one would feel after crying for so long, and finally running out of energy. Never before had a shift taken so long to conclude. Kara had only an hour left after that, and she was eager leave.

Not to curl up in bed, feeling sorry for herself, but to follow after Lena.

Now, she most definitely wanted answers.

So, it was almost like a sign from the heavens, a gift of grace from some sort of universal being who took pity on her, who supported her crusade, when she stepped outside and saw Alex was waiting for her at the curb.

She was still astride the idling bike, hair ruffled and knee bouncing impatiently.

Kara was sure she’d never been so happy to see her in her life.

“I can walk home, you know,’ Kara smirked.

Alex didn’t smirk back. Instead, she held out the one leather helmet for Kara to take.

“Get on the bike,’ she said flatly.

Alarm flared up inside Kara’s chest. “What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Is it Jeramiah?”

“It’s not Dad, it’s not Mom, I just really need to talk to you… right now…’

“Alex, what’s…”

Just get on the bike, Kara!’

“Alright!’

Kara took the helmet from her sister; she swung her leg over the bike, settled herself in behind Alex and fastened it on her head.

She barely had her arms around Alex’s waist before the engine roared into life, and they were streaming up the road, in the opposite direction of home.

 

--------

 

Kara gave up asking where they were going, and what the hurry was, and why she had to stop asking questions at all, barely five minutes into the trip. Alex was giving her nothing; her shoulders were hunched as they rode, as if she were concentrating extremely hard on trying not to crash into a tree.

She found one of her questions answered all too soon, anyway – Kara finally recognized the route they were taking, and already knew where they would end up when they arrived at the lake.

It was a very small, pitiful looking lake. Surrounded by forest, towering trees held back by a gravel path that ran a ring around the water. Some branches hung over just enough for ropes to be hung from, where people could swing into the deeper end of the water. It wasn’t much, especially now they were older – to children it looked almost oceanic. But it was one of the only respites they’d had during the sweltering summers in their younger years, and it was where Kara and Alex had spent many nights staring up at the stars from a picnic blanket, discovering the constellations, wondering if there were any other life out there, feeling themselves humbled and put into perspective in their place in the universe that made them feel so very small, yet so very big all at once.

No-one was about today, only the crickets. A few birds pecked at the edge of the water, or perched and observed from the branches of the giant willow tree.

The dust kicked up in a cloud as Alex skidded to a halt. Kara’s cheek slammed into her shoulder, and she half-grunted, half-laughed.

“Well, I’m glad we rushed,’ she said sarcastically, dismounting, ‘the crowds here can be simply ridiculous.”

The engine died without its usual splutter. All that time spent at the junkyard were clearly paying off. As Alex pulled the keys from the ignition with a soft tinkling sound, it ticked away, cooling. Alex shoved them in her pocket and got to her feet.

Kara took the helmet off, and watched as Alex began to pace.

“Thank you for coming,’ Alex finally said.

“Didn’t have much choice,’ Kara chuckled, ‘but you’re welcome.”

Alex ran a hand through her hair, ruffling it even more. Her eyes were fixed on her shoes as she continued to walk back and forth.

Kara sat herself down on the closest tree stump.

“I have something to ask you,’ Alex said finally. ‘A favor. But before I ask you, I have to explain something to you first. And then after that… well, then you can decide if you want to do this for me, or if you never speak to me again.”

Feeling alarm rise in her throat again, Kara sat up a little straighter.

“Alex,’ she soothed, ‘whatever it is, you can tell me.”

Alex stopped then, and looked at Kara with her lip caught nervously between her teeth.

“What’s wrong?’ Kara asked.

“Nothing. Well, I don’t think so. You might think differently…”

Kara raised her eyebrows expectantly.

Alex sighed helplessly.

“Alright,’ she breathed, taking a moment to rub her forehead. ‘There’s something about me you should know. Something that, for the longest time, I’ve been trying to discourage myself from even thinking about. Something I thought just too a little bit of self-control, you know? It would pass in time. And I got really good at it, Kara. I mean, so good, that if there were awards for this sort of thing, I would win them. Competition left in the dust, no question.”

Alex chuckled then at her own joke, and Kara felt slightly better. If Alex was laughing, it couldn’t be so bad.

“But then this thing happened,’ she sighed in defeat. ‘This… this person happened. I wasn’t looking for it, I had no expectations… but after that afternoon, every wall I ever put up came crumbling down. Every single stride I’d taken to move away from this… it was like I was right back at the starting line. Kara, there’s something about me I’ve been scared to tell you about… and I’m still scared, but I’m also ready now. I’m ready to tell you.”

Understanding stirred in the back of Kara’s mind.

“Have you… met someone?’ she asked cautiously.

Alex looked at Kara with an expression that confused her greatly; a mixture of helplessness, fear, and excitement.

She nodded.

“You dope… this is wonderful news!’ Kara beamed. ‘This is the big secret? This is what you dragged me all the way out here to tell me? Oh, just wait until Eliza hears!”

Alex let out a loud, strangled laugh, and ran a hand through her hair again.

“This is why you haven’t been around lately?’ Kara teased. ‘You’ve been sneaking around together all this time!”

“Something like that. And I’m so sorry. I just got caught up in it all. But Kara, there’s more…”

“You don’t have to explain it to me,’ Kara chuckled. ‘I know that feeling. It’s exciting! When you meet them, and all you want to do is be with them, and talk to them all the time, and they’re all you can think about…”

Kara trailed off then, another thought suddenly occurring to her.

She was distracted from this train of thought, just as quickly as it had appeared, as Alex dropped to her knees in front of her. She reached out, took both of Kara’s hands in her own. Her head bowed, her hair fell around her face, obscuring her from view. But Kara recognized the sag of her shoulders, the grip as she laced their fingers together.

She was ashamed. Embarrassed. Unsure.

Kara leaned forward, and placed a lingering kiss on the crown of her head.

“Hey,’ she urged softly. ‘It’s okay. Don’t be shy.’ When Alex didn’t move, Kara added, ‘What do you want to ask me? You need me to chaperone a date?”

Alex finally looked up, lip caught between her teeth again.

“Will you come with me to National City this weekend?”

Kara frowned, temporarily caught off guard.

“National City? What for?”

“There’s a club in the city I was hoping to visit.”

“Long way to go just for a club. What’s it called?”

Carmilla’s.”

“Never heard of it.”

Alex snorted at that. “No, I don’t imagine you would have.”

“Okay,’ Kara began slowly, ‘so what’s so special about this place? Oh… does your fella work there?”

Alex sighed, clamping her eyes shut tightly in a cringe.

“No. It’s just a club that I was told holds these dances… special dances, for certain people.”

“Certain people?”

“People like me.”

“Scientists?”

“No, Kara,’ Alex pursed her lips. “Women… who like other women.”

It took a long moment for these words to truly sink in. But then realization flicked on like a lightbulb. The penny dropped. And so did Kara’s jaw.

And all the while, Alex was looking up at Kara with nothing short of fear in her eyes.

“You’re…’ Kara tried to find the right word, the least offensive word. Unable to decide on what would hurt Alex the least, she finished lamely with ‘… not interested in men at all?”

“Not in that way,’ Alex answered quickly. ‘I tried, Kara. I really did try. I thought maybe one day I’d meet a man who would ignite something inside me. But that feeling you get when you look at Mike, that flutter in your stomach and the lump in your throat and your heart pounding against your chest… I don’t feel that for any men.”

“But you feel that for women?”

Alex bowed her head. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper.

I tried.”

Kara’s mind was still buzzing. She knew there were people out there who felt this way, who had these certain inclinations. It wasn’t often talked about, certainly not in her neighborhood. But Kara had heard whispers, mentions, facts hidden behind metaphors and euphemisms. Patients at the hospital sometimes talked about it, always in hushed voices and tones of uncertainly and confusion.

This was believed to be a bad thing.

She looked down at Alex again; she sounded so exhausted.

Such a secret she’d hidden for so long must surely have taken its toll. Kara couldn’t even imagine how Alex had felt this entire time, trying to be someone she knew deep down inside she wasn’t, attending those dances just because it was what she was expected to do, because she was trying so hard to fit in.

Flashes of all their dances, all of Alex’s grumblings and disinterest in attending them, in her reaction to flirtatious advances and offers for dancing and late-night strolls about town suddenly made so much more sense.

Alex looked up at Kara after a long moment. Her eyes were brimming with tears.

“Say something…’ she implored, ‘…please…’

Kara wasn’t sure where to start.

“This is real?”

Alex nodded.

A jolt of fear coursed through her, then. A chill ran down her spine. This sort of thing was illegal, Kara knew, for men anyway. Did the same rules apply for women too? Kara pictured Alex being dragged away in handcuffs, and felt sick.

Kara understood the risk now that Alex was taking in admitting this to her; felt the trust she must have in her to put her own freedom, her own way of life in such potential danger. Kara knew she would never even question Alex’s bravery ever again.

“Why are you telling me this now?’ Kara asked. ‘After so long.”

“I don’t like lying to you,’ Alex said plainly. ‘You’re my sister, my best friend, and I want – I hope – to share every part of my life with you.’ She hesitated before adding, ‘and Maggie thought that I should.”

“Maggie?’ Kara frowned. ‘She knows too?”

Alex snorted. “She knew, alright.”

‘Is she…”

“You can’t tell anyone,’ Alex insisted. She got to her feet then. The hands on her hips meant business. ‘If they find out at the police station…”

“I won’t say anything,’ Kara contended. When Alex looked unconvinced, Kara fixed her with a look. ‘I swear. It’s not my secret to share.”

Alex let out a breath of relief. Once she calmed, Kara felt safe enough to ask more questions.

“Are you and her…’ Kara gestured, alluding, ‘… you know…”

“No.”

Kara didn’t miss the hint of disappointment, despite Alex’s attempt for her answer to seem light and dismissive.

Alex was still looking at Kara with trepidation. And when she spoke again, her voice shook.

“So… what are you thinking?’ she asked. ‘What do you think of me?”

Kara got to her feet, and straightened to her full height to look her sister clear in the eye.

“What do I think of you?’ she repeated, incredulous. ‘I think you’re my sister, and I love you.”

Alex stiffened, like she was barely holding herself up.

“You don’t think I’m… perverted?’

The last word was spat forward, like venom, drenched in self-loathing and fear. Kara had never heard such contempt for her own self come from Alex’s lips before, and it unsettled her.

She crossed to her, took her hands in her own, and squeezed firmly.

“I love you,’ she said again, with as much emphasis and sincerity as she could muster. ‘and if this is who you are inside, then that’s the way it’s gonna be. When I say I love you, I don’t just mean I pick and choose the parts I love. I love you when you’re happy; how when you laugh so hard sometimes you snort, how you always have to open and close the refrigerator door twice before you finally make up your mind on what you want out of it, how you’re always ready to stand up for yourself and others when you know something is right… and I love you when you’re stubborn and close-minded, and even when you snap at me when I drink the last of the juice and don’t replace it, and when you yell at me when I borrow your clothes without asking, and when you always leave your magazines all over the bedroom floor and I almost trip and break my neck…”

Alex laughed through tears. She turned her head and wiped her nose on her shoulder, not wanting to let go of Kara’s hands.

“This secret… this is just a new part of you,’ Kara continued. ‘One, I’ll admit, I never imagined but now in hindsight does make a lot of sense. But look at the world we’re living in. There’s so much hate, and anger, and narrow mindedness and arrogance and fear right now… why would I ever think something as simple and crucial as love is perverted?”

Kara was in Alex’s arms, then, being pulled in so tight she could feel Alex’s heart beat racing so fast. She felt a tiny tear drop down the collar of her shirt, felt Alex shudder against her as she cried. Kara simply held Alex, smoothing out her hair, whispering words of encouragement to her.

Later on, after Alex’s sobs died away, her body stilled, and Kara wiped away her tears, Kara wouldn’t remember who made the decision for them to open up Alex’s jacket, lie down on the grass, and watch the sky turn from pale blue, to a pink and magenta and orange that would finally blend together into darkness. Maybe it had been neither of them, or both.

Finally, however, the mosquitoes began to feast on them, and the crickets chirping were in perfect harmony with the growling of Kara’s hungry stomach.

“What are we going to tell Eliza?’ Kara asked when they were getting back on the bike.

Alex handed Kara the helmet. It was a loaded question, and she took her time in answering.

“One problem at a time,’ Alex finally answered. ‘I’ll think of something for this weekend. The rest… well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Like how we’re going to get there.’ Kara patted the bike beneath her. ‘This won’t make it all the way to National City.”

“We can get the train with Maggie.”

With her head down, zipping up her jacket, Kara was glad Alex couldn’t see her smile.

“Maybe you want to bring Lena, too?” Alex asked.

The question took Kara completely off guard.

“Lena? Why would I ask Lena?”

“’Casue you’re friends. Right?”

Hoping to redirect, Kara asked, “And you’re fine with her coming along to a place like that? With her knowing about you?”

Alex looked up and frowned. “What do you mean?”

“What do you mean?”

Kara was getting well and truly sick of feeling like she wasn’t in sync with everyone else; like she were being left out of an in-joke.

Alex considered her for a moment. “Oh Kara, please tell me you realize Lena is… my way inclined.”

And there it was. That thought that had been burning the back of her mind, fuzzy and indistinguishable, foreign and unrecognizable, that she’d been scared to bring forward to the forefront and truly think about, all of a sudden stepped into the spotlight.

And everything made sense.

Kara could only imagine the look she had on her face as Alex laughed at her.

“It’s okay,’ Alex patted her on the shoulder.

“I did know,’ Kara admitted. ‘Deep down, I think I did. It just… confused me, a little, I guess. But now after all this with you…’

She trailed off, adjusted her glasses, felt like a complete and utter idiot yet again.

Alex snorted. “Glad I could help your mental state.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You’re an idiot,’ Alex ruffled Kara’s hair. ‘Good thing you’re also very adorable.”

“Thanks.”

“Look,’ Alex leaned against the bike, shoulder-to shoulder with Kara, ‘if it makes you feel any better, I didn’t even know until Maggie said something. She’d already guessed but after the fundraiser…”

“What about the fundraiser?”

Alex bit her lip. “Well… she saw the way Lena was with you, and… maybe had a few ideas.”

Above the notions in her mind, smiling up at her from under a spotlight, another small lightbulb clicked into blazing and undeniable life.

“Don’t feel bad for not realizing sooner,’ Alex continued. ‘I’m sure she wanted to keep it private, even from you. Maggie’s just good at reading people. She says there’s ways you can tell about people.”

“I’ll bet,’ Kara looked at Alex with what she hoped was her most convincing, biggest and bluest puppy dog eyes. ‘Can we make a stop on the way home?”

 

----

 

Kara had never been to Lena’s house before, but she already knew where it was.

Everyone in Midvale knew where the Luthor’s lived.

It wasn’t their actual home though, as Lena had explained once over their over-the-phone breakfast one morning. More of a vacation home, somewhere to come to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Lena had been staying there for months, ever since starting work at the factory. And since her parents had gone to Metropolis, and despite the house staff, Lena had been rattling about the house all alone for almost three months now.

The house was on an estate just outside of town, behind high brick walls and big metal gates and a long, gravel driveway.

The guard at the gate stepped forward as soon as the beam from Alex’s headlight washed over him in the darkness.

“State your business,’ he asked.

Alex threw Kara a quick glance of her shoulder. They had not been expecting a guard; a fact, in hindsight, Kara realized she was stupid to not have predicted. Surely not just anyone would be permitted free reign to just stroll right on up to the Luthor’s front door?

“My name is Nurse Danvers,’ Kara explained, ‘I work at St. Josephine’s Hospital in Midvale, and I’m here to check on Miss Luthor’s injuries.”

Kara wasn’t used to lying. She surprised herself with how easily it spilled from her mouth.

The guard looked at them skeptically.

“This is my sister,’ Kara continued, patting Alex on the shoulder. ‘She’s just giving me a ride.”

“There’s no note here saying Miss Luthor is expecting anyone,’ the guard said.

“No, I don’t suppose there would be. It was a last-minute decision from Doctor Watkins, the chief physician. He mentioned in passing he needed someone to head out to see to her, to finalize his handover to Miss Luthor’s personal physician. It’s all paperwork and red tape, you understand. We won’t be long.”

As the bike rumbled softly beneath them, idling patiently, Alex glanced back at her again.

The guard checked his watch. “You have twenty minutes.”

Kara didn’t get a chance to thank him; he’d already stepped back to open the gates. They slid aside, clanging and clanking loudly.

They were up the hill in a few moments, and slowly the house came into view.

It was dark, of course, well past eight in the evening. But Kara was sure that even as handsome as the mansion looked in the night, with lights coming from everywhere, illuminating the marble features, columns and alcoves, Kara was sure it would have been even more dazzling in the day. Surrounded by gardens, hedges and even more lush, sprawling lawns, Kara didn’t feel as intimidated as she might have once. She’d been picturing this house for a long time after all, and it didn’t disappoint.

Alex drove right up to the front steps, and killed the engine.

She turned in her seat, and jerked her head up at the stoop. “Twenty minutes.”

Kara nodded, and swung her leg over the bike. Legs wobbly, as they usually were after riding, she slimbed the massive stone steps slowly.

Finally at the top, Kara took a moment, steeled herself, and then pressed the doorbell.

Behind the giant, oak doors, Kara could hear the distant toll of bells.

The moment stretched out long after the ringing died away. Kara stared at the door, feeling her heart begin to race.

She glanced back around at Alex, who nodded at her encouragingly.

The door groaned loudly then as it swung open. Kara whirled around.

It wasn’t Lena.

Instead, Kara was greeted by a smartly dressed, older man. The hair from the top of his head was gone; what remained was grey as his voluptuous and impressive moustache.

Chin in the air, he looked at Kara akin to the way a Principle, who had been sent a student that had been sent out of class for misbehaving, would look down at them.

“Good evening, ma’am,’ he greeted. His English accent was predominant in just these six syllables. ‘How may I help you?”

Recognition relaxed Kara a little.

“Geoffrey,’ Kara pointed at him. ‘You’re Geoffrey, right?”

He frowned very slightly. “Yes, madam.”

“I’m Kara. Danvers? I’ve been calling for the last few days…”

Geoffrey’s moustache quivered.

“Ah yes, Miss Danvers. How lovely it is to meet you in person. You are here to see Miss Luthor?”

“If she’s around.”

“Please come in, I will retrieve her for you.”

He stepped aside. Kara gave Alex one last look, before stepping over the threshold.

The door shut with a dull clunk behind her. Kara took no notice. The entrance hall laid out before her was very handsome indeed. White, gleaming, polished floors were covered with luxurious rugs; the walls were adorned with beautiful artwork; to her left was a small table baring a vase painted with an intricate design that Kara was sure would cost more than her own house; a grand staircase stretched out before her, curving upward to the landing where no doubt there was more rooms filled with equally interesting, attractive and valuable things.

Lena suited this house.

“Excuse me,’ Geoffrey said beside her. He gave her a curt nod, and then disappeared behind two more double doors below the second-floor landing.

Kara clasped her hands in front of her, and timidly, stepped forward, to have a little more of a look around.

The next room to her right, through a high archway, was a sitting room. Big windows opened up into darkness, and Kara wondered what could be seen out there in the light of the day. She imagined Lena lounging in here on cold nights, curled up with coffee and a book as she sat by the enormous fireplace, now dead, but when alive surely would have been something to behold.

Above the fireplace, hanging above the trinkets and trappings, in a thick, gold frame, was a painting – a portrait of the Luthor Family.

Kara had seen photographs of Lionel Luthor before, in the newspapers. In those pictures, he had been a tall, commanding presence. Completely bald, his sharp features demanded respect when he looked down at people from podiums, or shook hands with senators and councilmen. In this portrait, he was sitting in a handsome, wing-backed chair. Just behind him, on his right, hand on his shoulder, was Lillian Luthor. Her light brown hair was pinned back, showing off a strong jaw and pearl necklace with matching earrings. Opposite her, on Lionel’s left, was a young boy who had to be Lex. With curly, dark hair and ears that stuck out a little, he was wearing a sharp suit like his father. He stood with hands clasped behind his back and chin defiantly in the air, as if demanding to be taking as seriously as the man beside him.

Seated in front of them all, perched on a footstool, was Lena.

She was much younger, as were they all. Kara guessed she couldn’t be older than ten years old. Her hair was down, decorated with a white bow. Her dress was black, matching her mother’s, and her father and brother’s suits.

Kara felt a flutter in her chest. Even in a painting, Lena’s eyes were such a dazzling colour. And while the other three Luthors all looked solemn, and serious, Kara could just see the mischievous glint in Lena’s eye; the beginnings of a smirk at the corner of her mouth…

“Kara?”

Lena’s voice snapped Kara out of her reverie.

She whirled around. Lena was standing there with a leather bag in her hand, looking at Kara with an unreadable expression.

Kara pointed at the painting. ‘This is nice. Such a… serious family. We have a picture on our mantle, too. It’s a strip from a photo booth on our trip to Coney Island. Jeramiah has ketchup all over his face.”

Lena put her bag down slowly by the doorway. It was then that Kara noticed there were other bags, a suitcase…

“I wasn’t expecting you,’ Lena murmured.

“Yes, I know,’ Kara admitted. ‘I’m sorry for just dropping in on you, but it was a last-minute decision to come here and… well, if I called ahead, I’m sure you would have told your security not to let me in.”

Lena looked away. She didn’t deny it.

“I’m sorry,’ Lena said softly.

Kara wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for.

“I don’t want you to be sorry,’ Kara said. ‘I just wanted to talk.”

“So, you decide to confront me at my home?”

“Well you won’t talk to me on the phone, and you won’t talk to me at work, so what else am I supposed to do?”

“You’re supposed to take the hint, Kara.”

“No,’ Kara stepped forward. “That’s not how this works. I know you’re probably used to dismissing regular people with a wave of your hand or a look… but I’m not regular people. And I don’t take hints. And if you have a problem with me, you need to tell me to my face.”

Lena’s jaw clenched. Her brow knotted together like she were in pain again.

“You don’t get to take the easy way out, Lena,’ Kara insisted. ‘If you don’t want to be my friend anymore, fine… I heard you. But you’re going to tell me why.”

“I shouldn’t have said that,’ Lena said sheepishly. ‘I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

Relief flooded Kara.

“So, you do want to be friends?”

Lena rubbed her forehead. “It’s not a simple as that.”

Kara almost laughed. As if she hadn’t already worked this out for herself.

She almost said, ‘I know’, but didn’t want to scare Lena off. She didn’t want Lena to think that, now that she kind of knew the truth about her, a truth Lena had not really consented to her knowing about, that everything was suddenly out of her control.

Nothing was scarier than thinking you weren’t in control of your own secrets. And people did crazy things when they felt like they weren’t in control.

“Explain it to me, then,’ Kara offered. She stepped forward, and was pleased when Lena didn’t step away. ‘Everything was going great until…”

Until I mentioned Mike, Kara mused, and brought us back to reality.

“I promise I can keep up.”

Lena considered her for a moment, like she were a particularly difficult math problem.

“That’s the thing,’ Lena murmured, ‘Sometimes…. I still think maybe you can.”

It had been a while since they’d been in the same room together, that Kara had almost forgot. But it was like riding a bike, a gut feeling that was easy to remember.

As soon as her heart started slamming against her chest, her body stiffened, she remembered how it felt to be near Lena. The memory of the fundraiser suddenly came flooding back to her. The way Lena had pressed her up against the beam under the stairs, how she’d been so close, the way her perfume had smelled...

From the way Lena’s breath hitched, Kara knew she was thinking the same thing.

“Miss Luthor?”

It was like Geoffrey had zapped her with an electrical wire.

Lena jolted, took a step away from Kara, and whirled around to face her butler standing just behind her.

“Yes?’ she breathed.

“Your car is out front. I’m sorry for the delay, but we needed a young woman to move her motorcycle and she was… not terribly cooperative. Shall I take the rest of these?”

“Yes, thank you. Tell Henry I’ll be right out.”

Geoffrey began collecting Lena’s bags, putting some under his arm. He was strong, for an older man.

The moment was gone, the bubble burst.

Lena turned back to Kara. “Alex drove you? I was wondering how you got here.”

“You’re going somewhere?”

“Out of town,’ Lena explained. ‘I have family business to attend to.”

Kara folded her arms over her chest. “You were just going to leave without telling me?”

It sounded childish, but Kara didn’t care. She’d been getting somewhere, a now this?

Even if it was fleeting, Kara was pleased that Lena had the decency to at least look a little guilty.

“I was going to leave word.”

Kara laughed. It was all she could do to stop herself from crying out in frustration.

Lena stepped forward again, then. Her eyes were fixed on Kara’s.

Kara shivered.

“I truly am sorry for what I said today, at the hospital. It was cruel and I regretted it the moment it left my mouth. It’s just you took me off guard, and…’ Lena trailed off with a sigh, and recovered herself. ‘I’ll be back next week,’ she promised softly. ‘And when I get back, we can talk. I swear. I’ll make time for you. Just for you.”

Despite her better judgment – Lena had been promising similar things for over a week now – her eyes were blazing and her voice was sincere, and Kara believed her this time.

Lena gave her a soft smile then. “Walk me out?”

Kara felt Alex’s gaze on her (from her new, more distant position, further down the driveway) as she emerged with Lena to the waiting Bentley. Her bags were already packed away neatly in the trunk. Henry stood by the open, rear passenger door, stoic as always.

Uncaring of his attempts to remain professional, Kara gave him a little wave.

His expression cracked from a split second. “Good evening, Miss Danvers. Miss Luthor, are you ready?”

When Lena gave him a nod, he gave a curt one in return and sat himself in the driver’s seat.

Lena paused, hand on the open door. “I’m really am sorry. For everything.”

“You don’t have to apologize,’ Kara insisted.

Amused, Lena raised her eyebrows. “That would be a first.”

Lena looked like she wanted to move in then – for a hug, or a quick peck on the cheek, Kara didn’t know. Seemingly deeming both of these actions to be inappropriate, Lena simply gave her a tight-lipped smile and got into the car.

 

---

 

In the four days between then and Saturday, after much more pondering and deliberation, Kara came to two conclusions of which she was absolutely certain.

First, that Alex’s presence was truly the best medicine for any sort of emotional crisis.

Since being at the lake, since Alex had bared her soul to her, the fear that had kept Alex away was gone. It was like the old days, and that Alex -shaped hole Kara had been feeling the past few weeks had closed up, leaving her with more of a sense of completeness. They talked until all hours again, they made in-jokes and Eliza’s expense, Alex drove Kara to work every morning almost half an hour early, just so they could sit on the curb and talk without concern of Eliza overhearing something.

Alex barriers had gone down again, letting Kara back in. Kara sometimes wondered how she’d gone so long being locked out; their rekindled closeness cemented in her mind that she would never let Alex keep her at arm’s length again.

The second conclusion – a much harder one to define – was that Kara thought maybe she had Alex’s romantic inclinations, too.

It would certainly clear some things up, such as why she couldn’t stop replying her moment with Lena at the factory over and over again in her mind, why the memory of the scent of her perfume, the softness of her skin along the back of her hand, made Kara’s insides quiver.

Alex’s revelation had been like a gateway into her own subconscious, opening up a door she’d never really noticed before. But now that she was aware of it, she couldn’t look away from

One night, when Kara had been brave enough to ask “How do you really know, though?”, Alex had compared the usual feelings Kara had had about Mike, and explained that this was how she felt about women. Kara still suspected there was one woman in particular, but didn’t think it polite to pry despite desperately wanting too. She decided that Alex would share this, too, when she was good at ready.

But the thoughts and feelings Kara now recognized she had about Lena, were so similar to the sensations she had experienced with Mike.

“You Danvers’,’ Maggie said across from Kara suddenly, ‘minds always wandering.”

Kara blinked, and turned away from the scrolling horizon.

They had their own space on the train; the carriage was empty in this direction. Despite the hour, all the commuters would be on the train travelling in their direction, with people who worked in the city completing their commute home. The nearest fellow traveller was at the other end of the carriage, leaning against the window, snoring his head off.

Despite the distance between where this man was sleeping, and they were sitting, they still spoke in hushed voices. Alex was still touchy about the subjects they'd been discussing, ever since meeting Maggie at the station in Midvale.

“If there were a daydreaming event in the Olympics,’ Alex smirked, ‘Kara would win gold.”

Kara gave them both a haughty-but-amused look as they laughed at her.

Sitting across from her, like Kara, Maggie had the window seat. She claimed it was because she needed to see when they were arriving at the right station. Alex, seated closely next to her, claimed it was because was scared her small frame would fall off the seat and onto the aisle.

“Thin ice,’ she’d growled at Alex.

Alex had just patted her on the head.

Maggie looked quite different tonight to when Kara had met her at the fundraiser. The dress had clearly had not even been a thought in her mind. clad in pants, shirt and suspenders, Maggie sat back in her seat with a swagger Kara herself could barely fathom any woman having. Dresses were clearly not a preferred attire of Maggie’s. She had not looked this comfortable that night.

Alex, too, was in her usual trousers and shirt. Kara realized now how similarly dressed they were.

She smoothed down the front of her own, light blue dress, and suddenly felt over-dressed and self-conscious.

“Can I guess what you’re daydreaming about?’ Maggie folded her arms with a smirk.

Kara adjusted her glasses, and smiled. Most of the conversation Maggie had been having with her had been laden with subtext and innuendos. Kara wondered if Alex had told her about her confusion about Lena, or like everything else that had been going on, she’d simply guessed.

Alex hit Maggie in the arm. “Will you leave her alone?”

 “It’s for her own good. She wants to talk about it.’

“How do you know?”

“My father was a cop. Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” Maggie fixed Kara with a look, then. “Let me guess… you’re thinking about a certain socialite princess, right?”

“You don’t have to answer that,’ Alex insisted, putting up a finger in Kara’s direction before turning back to the brunette seated beside her. ‘I told you, not everyone feels the same way we do, you know.”

Please,’ Maggie chortled. ‘Did you see the way they were looking at each other? And then they just disappeared at that fundraiser? I’ve been at this a lot longer than you, Danvers, and I know the signs.”

Alex sighed heavily. But Kara was quickly getting used to Maggie’s matter-of-fact personality – something she found to be quite refreshing.

“I’m with Mike,’ Kara answered.

Maggie quirked an eyebrow. “And?”

Kara shifted under her stare. Even Alex was looking at her now, awaiting an answer she’d been too cautious to ask about herself. Kara hadn’t talked about any of this much with Alex, not wanting to shift the spotlight from what must have been such an experience for her to be going through.

But somehow, Alex being Alex, Kara guessed she had an inkling anyway.

Maggie did not have Alex’s trepidation, however, and already had much to say on the topic during their current train ride – a journey they were only twenty minutes into.

As many questions as Kara had for Alex, she had even more for Maggie.

“How did you know?’ was the most burning one. ‘About Lena, I mean.”

Maggie shrugged, and sat back in her seat.

“Little things,’ she said. ‘The way she kept close to you, and kept a distance from Winn. How she calls you all the time. How she went out of her way to come see you at work. But, really, it’s just the way she looks at you.”

“How does she look at me?’

“Like she’s a sunflower,’ Maggie said, ‘and you’re the sun.”

Kara looked out the window again, watching as the countryside passed by in a steady rhythm of movement.

“You don’t feel the same?’ Maggie asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

There it was again – this cut-throat way of communicating that Maggie had that, Kara was now sure of, was what had prompted Alex to get to where she was now.

Kara glanced at Alex. She was looking at Kara expectantly, curiously, sheepishly.

Kara wasn’t sure why she felt like she could admit anything to Maggie. Maybe it was because she was in the know, maybe it was because of her sense of self – a sense of confidence she had picked up, both from her father who was a police officer, but also from working at the station so much. The men there were straight shooters, not one to beat around the bush.

Whatever it was, after so long of people skirting around the subject, it felt so good to be around someone to just got straight to the point.

“I don’t know,’ Kara repeated. ‘Is it possible to feel things for two people at the same time?”

Alex shrugged. “Hasn’t happened to me.”

Maggie tiled her head back and forth in thought, weighing her opinions up.

“I’ve met some people who thought they could,’ she offered. ‘One fellow I met said he could feel things for men and women. And another lady said even though she did prefer men, she did sometimes have thoughts about a woman in her book club. So, I suppose it is possible.”

It wasn’t entirely what Kara had meant, but it did clear up another question she’d been mulling over for quite a while now – how she could feel for Lena what she also felt for Mike.

Kara had only ever been aware of herself finding men attractive. She’d never in her wildest dreams even considered women this way, aside from the usual admiration of beautiful features or flawless physiques, of course. But didn’t all girls think this way about other girls?

But it was beyond that with Lena.

Kara couldn’t ignore it anymore. She knew, deep down, that the things she felt stir within herself whenever Lena was near, when she caught a whiff of her perfume, or felt Lena’s arm brush up against hers, or stood so close she could almost count her eyelashes, were definitely not simply platonic.

It had been extremely enlightening. Kara had gone through many stages over the past few days; denial, confusion, fear…

It had given her a whole new appreciation for all that Alex had been dealing with. No wonder she had retreated to someone she knew understood, someone who could help answer the questions burning inside her mind.

“So,’ Alex asked then, looking hesitant, ‘you… think maybe you have feelings for Lena?”

“Well… I have some sort of feelings about her. I just need to figure out exactly what they are.”

Maggie chuckled. “This place should help you sort out a few things. Why do you think I tried so hard to convince your sister to go?”

Alex laughed. Kara could tell by the lingering look she gave Maggie, long after Maggie had looked away, that Alex had a lot more figured out than Maggie gave her credit for.

“I gotta say,’ Maggie remarked, ‘I’m pretty impressed with how well you’re handling all this.”

“There’s nothing to handle,’ Kara said plainly. ‘Alex is my sister, and I love her no matter what.”

Maggie’s gaze lingered on her for a moment, and Kara was a little surprised to see protectiveness staring back at her; as if Maggie was ready to jump to Alex’s defense at even the slightest provocation.

Kara let her stare. She was not going to be intimidated. She meant every word she said, and she didn’t need anyone questioning her loyalty to her own sister… especially not some woman who had known Alex only five minutes.

Finally, the staring competition ended with Maggie blinking, her expression softening, and turning to look back out the window.

“Not everyone feels the same way you do.”

The way she said it, with a heavy tone, peaked Kara’s interest. She looked to Alex; she shook her head, indicating Kara shouldn’t even attempt to go there.

All too soon, they were pulling up at their stop. The train ground to a loud, screeching halt at the platform. Kara coughed at the haze as she stepped off the carriage, but didn’t have much time to look around.

Maggie had already set off, Alex hot on her heels, and Kara and no choice but to follow.

Once out of the station, Kara got to look up at the city.

The scope of towering buildings, the sounds of horns beeping and loud chatter, the smell of smoke and food from vending stands on street corners, brought out a feeling of nostalgia, sudden and overwhelming.

Kara had not been in National City before, but it reminded her so much of New York that she felt like she’d lived there for years.

As she tailed slightly behind, Kara glanced at Alex in front of her. She was keeping pace easily with Maggie, her long legs needing half the effort of smaller Maggie beside her. But her head was swiveling around, trying to take everything in. Alex had not been into the city for quite a few years now; no doubt it was quite the experience.

But Maggie was relentless in her pace, as if eager to get off the main streets.

Indeed, after a few blocks, they were turning down a wide alleyway, much darker and quieter than the rest of the main strip. They passed by large dumpsters, under washing lines laden with clothes, beneath rickety fire escaped that squeaked and whined.

“Is this place, y’know…’ Kara hesitated to even suggest it, ‘… legitimate?”

Maggie laughed. “You don’t trust me?”

“I trust Alex, who trusts you.”

“And I respect that. But don’t fret… because here we are.”

Carmilla’s, Kara quickly discovered from Maggie’s gesture to her left, was an underground bar. Only a small, wooden sign that hung above the alcove, bearing the name of the club on a crumbling sign with faded paint, indicated it was even there to being with.

Kara took a moment to marvel at how drastically her life had changed in such a small amount of time.

Maggie gave them a smile, then descended the small stone steps to knock on the door.

A slot opened at Alex’s (Maggie was too short) eyelevel. A big, blue eye beneath bushy eyebrow peered out at them.

“What?’ a deep voice grumbled. ‘This club is closed for a private event.”

Maggie nodded, looking solemn. “Yes, so I heard. But it’s such a nice night, and me and my friends here thought we’d come out for some blue champagne.”

The eye looked at them all in turn, and then the slot slammed shut. After a moment, there was a rattle of keys in an old, rusty lock, and then the door was opened to reveal a bulking man with a beard as bushy as his eyebrows.

“Welcome to Carmilla’s,’ he grumbled.

Maggie smirked at them, handed the door man a folded, green note, and led them inside.

They went down narrow hallway, some more stairs, and then the club opened up before them.

It took a moment for Kara’s eyes to adjust. The sound was the first thing to hit her. At one end of the low room, a band was playing an upbeat tune. Through a haze of smoke that seemed to glow from the red, low-lit lamps around the room, Kara could see that on the dance floor, bodies were dancing in time with the beat, skirts twirling and uniforms gleaming. The long bar, just below the staircase, was illuminated by many lights that showed off the stools that ran along it, and the shelves lined with so many different types of alcohol Kara couldn’t even hope to know what half of them tasted like.

Alex glanced at Kara, eyes wide with wonder. Kara just laughed, and shrugged.

“You guys tried Ouzo before?’ Maggie asked. Without waiting for an answer, she jerked her head in clear indication to follow, and headed down the stairs.

Kara squeezed her way through the crowd, she and Alex following single file behind Maggie. When they reached the bar, Maggie shook hands with two women and one man, before sticking three fingers up at the bartender.

Maggie introduced the three people to Alex and Kara, and Kara was both surprised and embarrassed to realize that they were all women. The one she had mistaken for a man, Constance, was wearing a gentleman’s suit, and didn’t miss Kara’s guilt she knew would be all over her face.

“First time here, sweetheart?’ she called over the music. ‘Take another look around, you’ll find more confusing people out there than me.”

While Maggie introduced Alex to more people, Kara did as Constance suggested.

Indeed, now that her eyes had adjusted to the light, Kara took Constance’s meaning. The figures she had mistaken for soldiers, were in fact women dressed in soldier’s uniforms. Some of the women, the few that towered over the others, had stubble along their jaws and arms hairier than their shorter counterparts.

Things obviously worked much differently in the bit smoke.

Constance handed Kara her shot. “This place is a haven for people like us. Here, you can be whatever you want to be. Sometimes what you want to be, the world doesn’t approve of. There aren’t any rules like that here.”

Kara frowned. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, honey,’ Constance laughed, clicked her shot glass against Kara’s, and threw back her whiskey. ‘Feel sorry for the kids out there who don’t have a place like this to come to. Feel sorry for the poor souls who are locked in a cage with a pink triangle on their shirts, just because they loved the wrong person – because the loved the wrong God.”

Constance gave her arm a squeeze, and then turned back to the group.

Kara threw back her shot. It tasted like licorice.

Maggie patted her on the back. “Another?”

They all, in fact, had two more each, and Kara decided she liked this Ouzo drink.

It didn’t take long for the alcohol to hit her. Unused to drinking anything heavier than wine, Kara’s tolerance much lower than everyone else’s. As they stood at the bar, the group now a little bigger as people had been waved over to meet Alex – the shiny new addition to the family – Kara had to lean back on the bar.

She watched Alex smile, and laugh, and shake hands with person after person, men and women, some dressed as themselves and some dressed as each other. With every handshake, every pat on the back, every hug and cheer, Alex relaxed. Her determination to stand directly next to Maggie softened as she softened.

The band played on, the energy pulsing. Cigarettes were lit, more drinks were passed around, and at the center of it all was her sister with a smile so big, Kara couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her look this way, like all her cares, the war, the whole world, had simply faded away.

She was relaxed. Content. Unburdened. It must have been such a relief to be somewhere you could just be yourself.

Kara was so happy for her.

This was the perfect setting for Alex to be in, to be around people she could trust.

This was the perfect way to take her own mind of Lena.

Kara wanted to know more about this place. How did people find it? How had Maggie found it? What did these people do when they couldn’t come here? Was there more places like this around?

Maggie leant on the bar beside Kara, then. She turned to ask her her questions; vision blurry and mind hazy from alcohol, Maggie’s form swam a little in front of her.

When it focused, the questions died in Kara’s mouth. Maggie’s attention was elsewhere.

Kara followed her line of sight, slowly – of course she was looking at Alex.

“She’s come a long way, your sister,’ Maggie remarked.

“She’s special,’ Kara said. She hoped her words weren’t slurring, but wasn’t so sure. ‘There’s nothin’ she can’ handle.”

“Tougher than nails.” Maggie tore her eyes away from Alex, and regarded Kara with a laugh. ‘You doin’ okay?”

“Fine.”

“Do I need to sit you down too?”

I’m fine,’ Kara insisted.

Maggie didn’t look convinced.

“We’re gonna go have a twirl,’ Maggie jerked her head, ‘you coming?”

Kara shook her head, and Maggie laughed.

“Maybe drink some water before you have another shot, okay? We’ll be back.”

It was the best advice Maggie had given her. Kara watched as Maggie put the suggestion of dancing to the group; they all smiled and headed off into the crowd. One of the men, Jacob, slung an arm around Alex.

Alex looked back, eyes peering over his wide arm. Kara waved her off dismissively.

Holding up one finger at Kara – just one quick dance – Alex let herself be swept up in the tide of people.

Kara watched Alex laugh and dance as Jacob spun her around. Her short, brown hair twirled out around her as she turned on the ball of her foot; her hands changed her partners regularly – they all wanted to dance with her.

Kara turned back to the bar, eyes wide, willing the world to stop spinning as fast as her sister was.

“Glass of water, please?’ she asked of the barman.

He nodded, and moved to the right to retrieve her drink. Kara kept her gaze on him, making him a focal point, trying to stop the haze.

That’s when she saw her.

And the end of the bar, long brown hair framed a face that was oh-so-familiar.

Kara blinked rapidly, shook her head, slipped her fingers under the frames of her glasses to rub her eyes so hard she saw stars, unsure if she was seeing things.

But no, there she was, plain as day and beautiful as ever – Lena Luthor.

It was inconceivable. What were the chances? Wasn’t she meant to be away on business?

But, Kara suddenly realized, she hadn’t really specified where.

Kara’s whole body was shaking. Somewhere to her right, she felt a large glass of water pressed into her hand. She took little notice, muttering what she hoped was a half legible mention of gratitude.

Lena hadn’t seen her yet. She was leaning back on the bar stool, with a cigarette burning gently between her fingers, and gazing up at the woman standing beside her. The stranger, talking to Lena, was almost as good looking as Lena; tall, thin, dressed in a suggestive red dress that showed off more skin than might have been appropriate anywhere else, and hair pinned back in a tight bun that showed off a low, enticing neckline.

She was smirking down at Lena, a suggestive quirk at the corner of her mouth.

Kara had almost brought herself to the point where she was going to start walking over there.

That’s when the woman leant down, and kissed Lena softly on the lips.

A hand reached up, gently cupping the side of Lena’s face. It was a soft, chaste but lingering kiss. Lena’s eyes barely fluttered shut; she didn’t move right away, but after a moment, with the softest of movements, tilted her head up just enough to kiss back.

Kara’s heart was pounding in her ears. Any doubt she’d had left about Lena’s true romantic intentions were swiftly dismissed.

It was over as quickly as it began. The woman’s lips hovered above Lena’s for a moment; she took the time to stroke Lena’s cheek before pulling away completely. She said something that made Lena roll her eyes with a smile, and turn away. The woman laughed, trailed her nails along Lena’s knee, and then walked away.

Lena ashed her cigarette out in the tray on the bar, put it to her lips to inhale some more, and reached for her glass.

That’s when their eyes met.

A jolt of electricity went through Kara. Even in this low light, in the cloud of smoke, at opposite ends of the long bar, Lena’s eyes were piercing.

And were looking at Kara with wide, unbridled surprise.

Kara was moving before she even realized what was happening. Glass of water still in her hand, she made her way toward Lena in what felt like slow motion.

Lena watched her approach, frozen and unblinking. The only part of her that moved, was the thin spiral of smoke emitting from the end of her cigarette.

She sat down on the empty stool beside Lena, putting her glass down on the bar with more force than she intended to.

“Kara,’ Lena breathed.

Hearing her own name was enough to shock Kara out of her haze.

“Hello, Lena.”

It was utterly pathetic. But the combination of alcohol, and the surprise of seeing Lena there and now, had rendered her without much room for other thoughts.

Lena blinked a few times, and then sighed long and deep, in defeat.

She turned toward the bar, and downed the rest of her drink.

“Of all the gin joints…’ she chuckled.

Chapter Text


 

“You’re drunk.”

Kara scoffed. “I am not.”

Lena quirked an eyebrow. “Yes, you are. But, if helps, so am I.”

Kara glanced at the empty, crystal glass on the bar beside Lena, wondering which number it was.

“I tried something called Enzo. No, wait… exo? No…’

“Ouzo?”

Kara clicked, and pointed at Lena. “That’s the one!”

“That’s quite a drink to start your night on.’

“Wasn’t entirely a choice.”

Lena chuckled. ‘How about something a bit smoother? Do you like Dom Perignon?”

Kara reached into her purse, pulled out what she hoped was a twenty-dollar bill, and slammed it down on the bar.

She pointed at the copper dregs left in Lena’s glass. “Two more of whatever this was, please.”

The nearest bartended nodded with a smirk, and reached for a bottle of whiskey on the highest shelf. All too soon, Lena’s glass was refilled, and a similar glass was placed in front of Kara.

She sniffed at it experimentally. It was a hard, strong-smelling scent; an aroma that would sometimes waft from Alex’s flask.

“I dunno know what th’ hell Dom Pelician is,’ Kara slurred, giving Lena a stern look, ‘and I won’t have you spending millions of dollars on a bottle of stupid wine. I’m buying.”

Lena’s eyes widened, as did her smile. She put up her hands in surrender.

She leaned in a little then. Kara knew it was so she could be heard over the music, but it didn’t stop the ripple of goosebumps that flooded over her body.

“What are you doing here, Kara?’

Kara considered her, eyes still a little blurry. Instinctively, like the had become accustomed to through their many coffee dates, and phone conversations, Kara wanted to tell Lena everything – about Alex’s teary admission at the lake, about Maggie’s leadership through the streets of National City, of how they were there in solidarity to show Alex that her life didn’t have to be as isolated and suppressed as she’d previously thought.

But instead, Kara said:

“I should ask you the same question.”

Lena raised her eyebrows, and turned to accept the glass placed in front of her. “A slightly intrusive, but fair, request.”

“You said you had to go away on business.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?’ said Lena. ‘You don’t believe me?”

Kara shrugged. “You’re here.”

“Kara, its ten o’clock at night.”

She took another long drag of her cigarette. As always, whenever she smoked around Kara, she angled her jaw to exhale away from Kara’s face.

“Even Luthor’s don’t do business twenty-four seven,’ Lena reasoned. ‘I am allowed to have a break, you know.”

“Yes, but… here?’

This wasn’t how she had intended this, or any conversation, to start. Alcohol was not only blurring her vision, but taking control of her mouth. Somehow, she felt like she was interrogating Lena, but her inhibitions were down and her curiosity was at an all-time high, and she didn’t care how she sounded anymore.

“You realize what this place is, right?’ Kara asked.

Lena smirked. “Yes, here. The woman who owns this bar is… an old acquaintance of mine.”

With a finger, Lena pointed out a woman making her way through the crowd – the woman who had only a few moments ago kissed her. Kara had never seen a woman with such innate sensuality before. Unlike Kara’s technique of squeezing through a crowd, with hunched shoulders and stiff limbs, trying to be as thin as possible, this woman walked slowly, smiled at everyone, and people actually made a conscious effort to move aside for her, like the parting of the red sea.

Kara smoothed down the front of her dark blue dress again, now feeling extremely under dressed.

“An acquaintance?’ Kara asked.

“Veronica Sinclair,’ Lena explained, as if this explained anything.

Kara felt an outrage, that she quickly quelled, at the tiny smirk that crossed Lena’s features.

‘We’re old friends from boarding school,’ Lena elaborated. ‘She bought this place with her inheritance. Well, part of her inheritance, anyway. From what I understand it was quite a substantial figure. It started off quite reputable, and still is on every other night of the week. Nights like this are… well, they’re kept under wraps, you understand.”

Kara eyed Lena. “This isn’t your first time here.”

“Of course not. I was the one she dragged around the city one Saturday afternoon, looking at shady holes in the ground all over town until we found this place.”

“And the… clientele… doesn’t bother you?”

Kara was being facetious, she knew this. Deliberately coy. And she knew Lena knew this.

Lena took another long sip of her whiskey, and then held it up to the light so she could peer into it, as if it held all the secrets of the universe.

“Why should it? Besides, she lets me drink top shelf liquor for next to nothing, so I make a point of coming here whenever I’m in town.”

Lena took a long drink from her glass. Kara made a point not to stare at the cords of her neck, so pronounced as she arched her head backward to swallow.

Kara glared down at her own whiskey, still untouched. “So… I just wasted twenty bucks?”

Lena laughed then, starting as a splutter from her lips and then opening into something lighter, and Kara looked up. And she was still laughing; the alcohol in her own body making her forget she should put a hand up to cover her mouth, or to worry that she may have a double chin or be showing too much emotion in public.

It was the Lena that Kara had been on the precipice of seeing, before she’d retreated. And Kara wasn’t sure if it was the Ouzo or not, but another thrill ran up her spine at the sight of her now, completely open and uninhibited, even if it was just for a moment.

Something that wasn’t alcohol was making her body thrum, her mind swim, her nerve endings scream move forward.

“I did offer to pay,’ Lena chuckled, giving Kara a smug look, ‘just remember that.”

Kara scoffed. “Just because you’re rich you think you can afford everything?”

Lena gazed at Kara in such a way, then, that Kara was glad she was already sitting down. It was like no time had passed at all. Like Kara hadn’t gone two weeks without talking to this woman who had become so important to her.

At this thought, reality slammed back into focus, and the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.

“You owe me a conversation.”

Kara poked Lena’s shoulder.

But the witty retort she was waiting for, expecting, didn’t come. And the moment went on a moment too long, when she finally realized that the banter bubble had been burst.

Lena’s eyes narrowed. “Not now, I don’t. Not here.”

Kara’s body flooded with panic.

Eager to recover the feeling, Kara offered Lena a big, toothy smile. “No time like the present.”

“Said by someone who has nothing to lose.”

“Come on,’ Kara urged.

And then Lena was on her feet. And to Kara’s sudden horror, she watched as Lena threw back the rest of her whiskey, and gathered up her things.

“Enjoy the rest of your night, Kara.”

Stuck, unmoving, like in a dream when you try to run but can barely make your limbs move, Kara stood up too late – Lena was already half way across the room, weaving through the crowd.

Then the world caught up in real time, and the spell that had slowed Kara down was broken, and Kara threw back her own whiskey with one big, burning gulp, and pushed away from the bar.

Dark hair and a red dress were still within sight. Lena wasn’t having as easy of a time making her way through the dance floor as Kara was; her frame was not as slight, and her politeness not completely stripped away by alcohol as Kara’s was.

Kara could feel the bass through her floor, reverberating all the way up from her feet to her stomach. She dodged elbows and twirling skirts, eyes locked on the flash of red, determined not to let her get away…

Then a hand grabbed her elbow, pulling her to a halt.

Kara whirled around. Alex’s grin was right in her face. When she leaned heavily against Kara, the sweat that stuck her hair to her forehead glistened in the lights. Her breath reeked of alcohol. Behind her, Maggie was watching curiously, the other group of people still jiving away.

“You made it! Dance wi’me…”

“I… I cant…”

“Where are you going?’ Alex’s smile faded slowly, realizing. ‘What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just… I need to go to the bathroom… I’ll be right back…”

Kara pulled her hands from Alex’s, gave her what she hoped was a smile convincing enough, and set off again.

Lena was at the base of a staircase, ready to ascend. Kara called out to her, pushing her way through the last vestiges of the crowd. But Lena continued on, like she hadn’t heard her, and maybe she really and truly hadn’t… the thought made Kara anxious…

Then the arm came out, blocking her.

It was a man closely resembling the bouncer at the door. Towering over her, he looked like a gorilla in a leather jacket. Lena, who had heard Kara call her name that time, stopped two steps up to turn around and still wasn’t as tall as this man.

“Members only,’ the man grunted.

Kara ignored him. She stared up at Lena.

“Don’t do this,’ she called over the music. ‘You can’t just run away.”

Lena laughed. “What do you think I’m doing here in the first place? All I wanted to do was to get away… and here you are.”

“This is ridiculous. You’re ridiculous. I don’t know what you think it is I’m going to say to you, I don’t know what you’re so damn scared of…”

Kara’s stern language surprised herself, and it definitely surprised Lena.

Her green eyes widened, and for a moment she was stunned. But she didn’t get to say much more of anything, because behind her, then, a woman in a red dress descended the stairs.

“Luthor, what are you doing?’ Veronica Sinclair chuckled, giving Lena a look. ‘Have you forgotten how to climb stairs? Do I need to install an elevator? Oh, no… but what do we have here?”

Unlike Lena’s stares, that could bore right into her, looking and searching and exploring, Kara did not like the way this woman was looking at her – brown eyes, glinting with mischief.

Refusing to be intimidated, Kara straightened up to her full height.

“Found yourself a pretty one,’ Veronica crooned. ‘And what’s your name, darling?”

“Kara Danvers. And I was just trying to have a private word with my friend, Lena.”

“I see.’ Veronica smiled, and considered Lena with raised eyebrows.

Lena, who’s gaze was still on Kara, didn’t acknowledge her.

‘Lena, don’t be so rude. Did all my booze make you forget your manners? Invite your friend upstairs to join us.”

“I don’t think Kara wants to be away from her friends too long,’ Lena said, her lips barely moving, her jaw was so tight. ‘You told me to come up alone when I was ready.”

Nonsense,’ Veronica laughed again, and swatted Lena playfully on the shoulder. ‘I’m sure they’re having a great time. Besides, Miss Danvers here looks pretty determined to talk to you about something. I’m sure we can help her out. My office is very quiet, after all.”

Lena sighed deeply, shook her head, and turned to continue up the stairs. Kara didn’t miss the ungentle way her shoulder brushed past Veronica, but if Veronica minded at all, she didn’t show it.

She put a hand on her grunts’ shoulder, and his arm lowered.

“Please,’ she stood aside for Kara, ‘after you.”

Kara was sure this was extremely bad idea. She didn’t want to be around this woman, but she did want to be around Lena. And alcohol was not helping her rational, decision-making skills in the slightest.

So, she gave the woman three steps above her one last look, before following in Lena’s wake, trying to smother the urge to take the steps two at a time.

This wasn’t at all how Kara thought this night – or this conversation was Lena – was going to go.

The staircase led to an elaborately decorated office. In a way, it reminded Kara of the nurses’ station at the hospital. Big, open windows afforded a view of the entire club below them. There was a large, oak desk, so solid it looked like it had been carved entirely from a giant tree trunk, and in the back of her mind Kara wondered how many men it had taken to carry such an immense thing up here. The carpet underfoot canceled out the sound of her heels. The entire room breathed out an overwhelming sense of wealth, not at all subtle and not even trying to be.

Kara hovered just over the threshold, eyes on Lena. She was already over at the drinks cart, her back to them, pouring herself some amber liquid from the crystal decanter.

Veronica breezed into the room behind Kara with that smooth, sashay of hers. She shut the door, and passed by Kara, giving her a lingering look.

“Help yourself,’ she said sarcastically to Lena, sitting herself down at her desk. ‘You wouldn’t mind pouring us one?”

Lena threw a glare over her shoulder, but began the task all the time.

It was even more unsettling – more than being in Veronica’s presence, more than being in this place at all with Lena avoiding her like she had the plague, more than not being anywhere near sober enough to deal with this situation with any sort of decorum – to see Lena so submissive.

They were trapped. And with an unintentional third party; another pair of eyes baring witness to something they themselves hadn’t even defined yet. It felt perverse, somehow, and Kara felt an overwhelming urge to leave. She hadn’t heard the door lock. Nothing could stop her from just walking out; from refusing to play whatever this little game was for Veronica.

But she wasn’t going anywhere without Lena.

Veronica took the glass Lena handed her with that same, easy smirk that hadn’t left her face all night.

Without looking at her, Lena crossed to Kara then, not forgetting her manners even now, and handed her a glass. Their fingers brushed against each other in the exchange, and Kara felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the alcohol still burning through her body, flash through her like a bolt of lightning.

Just as fast, Lena was taking her hand back, and without another glance she crossed to the window and stared determinedly out at the club below.

“So,’ Veronica lit herself a cigarette, leaned back in her chair, and gave Kara another of those head-to-toe apprising looks. ‘What seems to be the problem, Miss Danvers?”

Veronica gestured to one of the handsome chairs across the desk, indicating Kara should make herself comfortable.

Kara frowned, unmoving.

“It’s private,’ she said.

“Even better. I do enjoy a mystery.”

“Leave her alone, Roulette,’ Lena snapped over her shoulder. ‘Stop teasing her.”

She glanced at Lena, then back at Kara.

“But she’s so… fresh,’ Veronica, Roulette, leaned forward, elbows on her desk. ‘What brings you to my humble little club tonight? Your first time, right? I can always tell the new ones. They have such a wide-eyed wonder about them.”

“This is my first time in National City,’ Kara said.

“How overwhelming this must all be for you.”

“Compared to New York,’ Kara couldn’t help the smug tone in her voice, ‘it’s quaint.”

Roulette’s eyebrow rose, and she chuckled.

“Tell me… how exactly did you find Carmilla’s? I’m always interested to hear how word spreads.”

Kara glanced at Lena again. Her posture was stiff, her gaze still out the window, but Kara could tell she was listening.

“I came here with some friends.’ Kara offered. She didn’t want to tell the whole truth, but old habit implied that she shouldn’t lie either, despite her distrust of Roulette. ‘One of them told us about this place.”

“Ah yes,’ Roulette laughed, and created air quotes as she repeated the word, ‘friends. Not here for your own reasons, of course. How presumptuous.”

“No,’ Lena interjected, ‘she really is here with friends. It’s not a euphemism.”

Roulette turned to Lena. “And how would you know?”

A heat crawled up the back of Kara’s neck, a feeling of panic. She wondered if she’d spotted Maggie and Alex down in the club. Kara didn’t want to out either of them without their permission. Despite the fact that they were all in this particular club, for one particular reason, Kara still wanted to maintain a semblance of their privacy.

But all Lena said, plain and simple, was, ‘She doesn’t lie.”

Despite the awkward situation, Kara felt a rush of affection.

Roulette turned back to Kara, that sparkle back in her eye.

“Really? Well that must make for a very interesting relationship between the two of you – one who never lies, and one who can spin a tale as easily as breathing.”

Kara felt annoyance sober her up slightly.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Sinclair,’ she said, ‘but my reason for being here, and my life for that matter, is none of your business.”

Roulette stood up, then, eyes glinting.

“And I beg your parson, Miss Danvers, but this is my club, and you’re drinking my alcohol and enjoying my band, and everything that happens down here is my business.”

Kara squared her shoulders. “Well this isn’t.”

Roulette’s jaw tightened, as she fixed with Kara with a long, hard stare.

And then she laughed.

Goodness,’ she giggled, and took another drag of her cigarette, ‘they do grow them tough as nails down in good ol’ Midvale, don’t they? I assume that’s where you know Lena from. You work at the factory too? In the garage, perhaps? I bet you’re stronger than your skinny frame makes you look. No, wait… delicate hands like that… you must be in fuses.”

Kara glanced at Lena – she was still staring out the window.

“Oh, yes,’ Roulette smiled, not even bothering to hide her smugness. ‘I know about Lena’s little secret job at the factory. I know a lot of Lena’s little secrets. In fact,’ she stepped out from behind her desk, then, and took a few slowly steps toward Kara. ‘I think I just figured out one more.”

That’s enough.”

Lena had turned. Her whole body was stiff, crackling with anger as she glared at Roulette.

“Enough,’ Lena snapped again. ‘Leave her alone.”

“I’m just getting to know your friends, Lena.”

“You’re interrogating her, and Kara doesn’t need to get sucked into your stupid little mind games.”

“I don’t hear her complaining.”

Roulette reached out, then, to tuck a stand of wayward, blond hair back behind Kara’s ear.

Kara slapped her hand away.

“Did you hear me that time?’ she demanded softly.

Roulette glanced at both them again, in turn, and laughed.

“Well,’ she strolled back to her desk, and retrieved her glass of bourbon, ‘I can take a hint. I’ll just let you two talk then, shall I? After all, that’s the whole reason why you hurried up here, right Lena?”

The set in Lena’s jaw, as she watched Roulette leave the room and close the door firmly behind her, could have cut every pane of glass in the window behind her.

Kara suddenly felt guilty, like seeing animals trapped behind bars at the zoo.

Lena began to pace.

“Damn her,’ she growled. ‘Why do I always let myself get sucked in by her? Why? It’s been over ten years for Christ sake…”

Kara adjusted her glasses. “She is… pretty compelling?”

Lena stopped in her tracks, then, and glared at Kara. “Don’t you start.”

Excuse me?”

“You’re the whole reason I’m here in the first place.”       

Kara’s felt something snap. Her teeth bared at her nose scrunches so hard, her glasses almost feel from her face.

Me? You think this is my fault? You’re the one who keeps running away from me!”

“Did you ever think that maybe there’s a reason I keep running away from you?” Lena snapped. Kara was caught off guard for a moment by a tone in her voice she’d never heard directed at herself before. ‘Did you ever stop thinking about yourself for two seconds and consider that I’ve just been trying to do the right thing this? That leaving was my only option?”

It was beyond her control. Kara’s body moved forward of its own accord, fueled by whiskey and frustration and adrenaline.

“How could I ever think anything like that when you just walked away? When you never stopped for one second to just explain.

Lena let out a cry of frustration, ran her hands through her hair, and began pacing again. Kara wanted to do the same, her annoyance just as palpable.

“Just tell me what’s going on, Lena.”

“Okay, fine,’ she snapped. ‘You want to talk? Let’s talk. What do you want to talk about, hmm? Where should we start? Do you perhaps want to start with how my family almost disowned me when I was sixteen just because I felt something for someone that nobody, not even God approved of? Should we perhaps touch on the fact that I have no choice but to live half of my life in secret, in hovels like this with old friends who set my teeth on edge but know too much about me to abandon or let out my sight, just so I can feel something real? Or do you want to fast forward to about a month ago, when I met this amazing, beautiful, astounding woman… and made a complete fool of myself?”

Kara was speechless.

There it was again – that look. Like a swollen river, ready to burst its banks, held back only by sheer will. But now cracks were beginning to show, and Kara suddenly wondered if Lena had ever had her own Alex, or Winn; someone she could lay bare to, who would just sit and listen, and make her feel she could be strong enough to make it through to the other side.

 Somehow, looking at the tightness of Lena’s mouth, the line between her brow, the sheer panic in her eyes, Kara sincerely doubted it. The thought made her sad.

And determined.

Kara sat down in one of the black, leather, wing-backed chairs on the other side of Roulette’s desk.

“God doesn’t judge like that,’ she started.

Lena let out a scoff. “Tell that to Hitler.”

“Oh yeah, right. Like he’s got the right idea about anything.”

This stopped Lena in her tracks for a moment. She looked down at Kara, and then laughed.

“He even cuts his moustache like a moron,’ she murmured.

Kara kicked the other leather chair around slightly, and sat back in her own, arms folded and waiting.

“Sit down,’ she insisted. ‘I bet your legs are tired from all that running.”

Lena considered the seat for a long moment, before finally sitting down in defeat. After heaving a long sigh, running a hand through her hair, crossing and uncrossing her legs, she lit herself another cigarette. After that first, long inhale, her body seemed to relax as she exhaled.

“You’re infuriating,’ Lena muttered.

“And you’re going to the Olympics, with all that running you do from your problems.”

Lena rolled her eyes, smirking. “What do you know about my problems?”

“I’d know a whole lot more if you stopped running away from me for five minutes.”

“Ever think maybe I had good reasons?”

“I’d like to hear about them,’ Kara sat back in her seat, blinking through the lingering effects of alcohol. ‘If you would like to share. No pressure, I just… I care about you, okay? Something is wrong, I wanna help.”

“You can’t help this.”

“Maybe not,’ Kara shrugged, ‘but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. I don’t let my friends push me out that easily. I’m sure this is hard, but you don’t have to be afraid of me. And I’m sure, growing up the way you have, you’ve seen your fair share of cads and shady people. But not everyone is like that. I’m not like that.”

“No,’ Lena blew smoke out the corner of her mouth. ‘I know that.”

“Good. Then I’m listening, if you’re ready to share.”

Kara leant forward then, elbows on her knees and eyebrows raised, daring Lena to continue.

It had been the right move.

Lena glared at her in defeat. She took another drag of her cigarette before beginning.

“You remember me telling you about Jack?”

Through the haze of alcohol – a buzz that was, blessedly, beginning to fade – Kara recalled the brief mention of Lena’s old beau.

“The boy from boarding school?”

Lena nodded. “One of the important things you should know about my family, is that we have a bad habit of twisting the truth, picking and choosing what parts we share – a habit, I’m sorry to say, didn’t pass me by. What I told you was true, to a point. My relationship with Jack was real. What I neglected to mention was what happened before I met him – about Ingrid.

Kara sat up a little straighter.

“Ingrid was a prefect,’ Lena explained slowly, ‘the year above me. For extra credit, she used to run study session in the library every Thursday night. Not many girls attended, mind you. Thursday nights were when the field hockey games were held.’

Lena’s eyes glazed over a little, then, clearly lost in memory. Sitting in this room now, Kara didn’t find it hard to imagine a younger Lena amidst towering oak shelves, filled with dusty tomes, rows of handsome writing desks, somewhere a clock ticking away, the only sound in the room other than the scratching of pencils on paper, and pages turning.

“I was usually one of about five or six who attended, but then those other girls would always leave early, hoping to catch the last few minutes of the game out on the field, and ever the scholar I would always be the last to leave. So, Ingrid and I would have a lot of one-on-one time, and… well, we became close.”

Kara hesitated before asking. “Did you fall in love with her?”

Lena’s eyes snapped to attention; her whole body stiffened, as if Kara had jumped the gun and gotten to the point way too soon. Kara didn’t understand how Lena could still possibly think Kara didn’t know about her, or why she looked so exposed. But then again, this was Lena’s story, and she no doubt wanted to share herself with Kara at her own pace.

After a long moment, where Lena’s eyes stared into Kara, as if trying to evaluate whether it was safe to continue, she seemed to breathe again.

“In love? No,’ Lena said. ‘Infatuated, yes. But then, one always is the first time.”

Kara empathized with this, to a point. Peter Corner had been her first crush, years and years ago when she was still living in New York. He was two years above her in school, and he had the regular paper route that always brought him by her front door every morning. He’d been a skinny thing, and didn’t say much, but there was a sort of mature integrity about him, even at the age of ten, that had fascinated Kara to the point where she’d begged her father for weeks for her own bike, just so she too could take part in delivering the news.

But liking boys was expected of her. Lena’s experience, her new understanding about herself and her feelings, must have been extremely overwhelming.

And it was a familiar feeling, Kara suddenly realized – this was how she had been behaving in regard to the woman sitting across from her now. She just hadn’t understood it completely until now.

Lena ran a hand through her hair, and got to her feet, and Kara felt a flash of panic.

But Lena wasn’t leaving, like Kara had been afraid of. Instead, she went back to the decanter, and poured herself another considerable amount.

“Are you okay with scotch?’ she asked over her shoulder.

“I’m not sure I should drink anymore. Maybe you shouldn’t either?”

“If we’re really doing this,’ Lena insisted, her voice shaking, ‘if I’m really telling you everything… I need a drink.”

Kara, still buzzed from her own previous beverages, sat back in submission.

Lena sighed, and did the same as she handed Kara a glass and reclaimed her seat.

“I’m sorry. It’s just… this isn’t something I normally talk about. My private life has to be kept private, you understand? Luthor’s are under scrutiny all the time. Any chink in the armor, any chance these scumbag journalists sniff out potential for a story… I mean, you’ve seen the way that Archer cretin behaves…”

“I should think taking a right hook square to the jaw would have been all the opportunity he’d need,’ Kara joked. ‘Or some crazy woman grabbing him and shaking him up.”

“Pressing assault charges against me would only ask questions of what he was doing down in the garage in the first place,’ Lena dismissed with a wave of her hand. ‘And he’s already got enough black marks against his name. Breaking into a Luthor facility… well, you don’t mess with that kind of power.”

“Well, forgive me if I’m just being naive… but if you’re family is so influential, such a force to be reckoned with, why are you so afraid?”

Lena’s eyes flashed, unhappy with the description.

“I’m cautious.’

‘Maggie told me… well, not necessarily about you… but she said people in higher circles get away with questionable things all the time.”

 “I imagine working at the police station, she hears a lot of stories. Lena’s lips pressed together. ‘Yes, politicians will have their affairs, and their doting wives will have their vices, usually the kind you can fit in a short glass. Money will be spent on frivolities, and secrets and trysts will of course be had… but this, what I did, what I am… this is the sort of scandal you don’t want to get out.

‘So, I’m sure you can imagine my mother’s horror that not only was her child discovered fraternizing with another girl, but the daughter of a very influential businessman who shall remain nameless.”

Kara didn’t need Lena to elaborate this. She could already imagine; as hard as it would be for Alex, effectively a nobody in the world, she could already conceive the complications it would have for more well-known families who were perceived a certain way.

Despite knowing Lillian Luthor personally, having never met her, Kara had gauged enough from Lena’s reactions to the mere mention of her name, that this was a woman not to be trifled with. And the thought of Lena being thrown onto the pyre in front of her made her squirm and cringe.

“Someone exposed you?”

“The librarian found us in the stacks one night,’ Lena turned away in shame as she forced these words from her lips. ‘Of all the nights. Until then it had been nothing but lingering glances, soft touches that felt barely there as she passed by my desk, her fingers trailing across my shoulders or down my arm…easily explained away as a trick of the light, witnessed out of context…’

‘But after that it was a blur. I remember being marched straight to the Headmaster’s office, my arm caught in the librarian’s grip, Ingrid’s arm in the other. She dragged us both there, in the middle of the night. And then the Headmaster lectured us until the small hours of the morning, about morals and sin and dignity, about the difference between right and wrong and how we should know better, and by the time the sun came up our parents had arrived. Ingrid’s family lived not too far from school… and mother was staying nearby at a hunting lodge. It was meant to be Family Day that weekend.”

Kara already knew the answer, but asked anyway. “She didn’t react well?”

Lena looked up at Kara incredulously, and laughed. She looked like she was about to go into further depth; the curl of her lip and downward angle of her eyebrows suggested much swearing was to be included.

Somehow, she seemed to control herself.

“She threatened to pull me out of school,’ Lena explained. ‘Ingrid was. It was her last year, anyway, and what I heard the excuse was she was going to finish her education in Paris. More cultured that dreary old Britain, you understand. But Mother was worried taking us both out would only fuel the rumor mill, give more momentum to whispers that had already begun the next morning. A boarding school full of girls, I’m sure you can imagine there aren’t many secrets.

‘After we’d finally left the Headmasters office, Mother didn’t say a word, or even look at me, until we were out on the grounds, in the boat house where no one could see or hear us. It was one of the worst fights we’d ever had. We were in there for what seemed like forever, screaming at each other. She demanded the truth, insisted I tell her it was all a lie, but I wouldn’t budge. I was so humiliated, and ashamed, and even though at the time it hadn’t felt wrong… well, four hours sitting in the Headmasters office, Ingrid sobbing in shame beside me, it had changed my opinions. So… I lied. I lied right to her face over and over again, telling her it had been nothing but a misunderstanding, that of course I would never do such a thing.”

Lena’s glass was suddenly empty; the back of her hand swiped against her lips, wiping away the last remnants. It was such an unrefined gesture, it grounded Lena even more in Kara’s mind. She must have been intoxicated enough, immersed in her own memories, to forget etiquette, and Kara didn’t feel any sort of urge to remind her.

“In the end, she still didn’t believe me. Even to this day, she doesn’t. She only let me stay at the school because I denied it even happened so forcefully, that I suppose she thought that if I could be so vehemently sure of denial with her, then I could handle everyone else. Father and Lex never knew, I was forbidden to tell them. As if I ever would. Mother knowing was enough.’

Lena sighed, and then laughed in disbelief – at herself, at the memory, at the fact she was telling Kara all this now, Kara didn’t know, and didn’t have the frame of mind to ask.

‘So, after that, I kept about school as I always had, studying hard and being present, keeping my head down and brushing off rumors. But somehow, they never really went away. Even as weeks went by, eyes still trailed me. Hushed voices would silence as soon as I entered a room, and giggles followed me as I walked out. But when that dance that year finally happened, and I met Jack, I knew I’d found the perfect deterrent.”

Kara accepted the refilled glass Lena handed her wordlessly; watched as Lena downed half of hers again in one, big gulp before continuing.

“I did grow to care for Jack,’ Lena insisted, as if Kara had tried to argue her intentions. ‘He was so smart, and thoughtful, and funny… my god, he could make me laugh until I had tears streaming down my face. We would spend hours together reading, and philosophizing, and inventing, and the feelings I developed for him were almost enough to convince me that maybe what I had shared with Ingrid really was just a phase. Almost.”

It seemed like she was finished for the moment – Lena was gazing suddenly very intensely into her glass, holding it up to the light to stare at the golden liquid inside – and Kara took the opportunity to ask one of her burning questions.

“Jack was the only man you’ve ever been with?’

Lena blinked out of her gaze, and chuckled. ‘Of course not. Rumors such as the adopted, illegitimate child of at Luthor having some scandalous, perverted secret don’t just go away. I’ve had to keep up appearances.”

“So, you’ve been forcing yourself into relationships all this time?”

Lena shrugged, trying to act nonchalant.

Kara frowned not buying it for a second. If this lifestyle truly didn’t bother her, it wouldn’t have been so hard to share all this time.

“I have to maintain the status quo,’ Lena said.

“Is that your belief, or your mothers?”

Lena’s glass lowered; her head tilted as she considered Kara, a soft smile smothered behind pursed lips. Then she got up, put her drink down on Roulette’s desk with a soft clunk, and crossed back to the window. She folded her arms over her chest; Kara could see the soft protrusion of her shoulder blades through the back of her dress as she had another puff of her cigarette.

The buzz in her head had lessened, but was still present. Kara got to her feet without wavering, and cross the room to stand beside Lena. She gazed down at the crowd dancing and laughing and drinking below them. Somewhere down there, amongst the masses, her sister at the start of a long and challenging journey; a path that these new people they had met tonight had clearly long begun walking down, and were trying to smooth out for her as much as possible, not wanting her to trip up and scrape her knee, or feel the danger they themselves had been through.

Kara looked back at Lena. She could see that pain, the scraped knees and the bruised elbows and the wounds, all over her now – evidence that her path had not even anywhere near as smooth.

“Do you understand now?’ Lena asked. She blew out a long line of smoke, that gently hit the window pane in front of her, sending the cloud bouncing in every direction. ‘Do you see why I had to leave?”

Kara pursed her lips. “I’m beginning to.”

“The first time I met you… well, I was doped up on pain medication and trying to break into your office.’

Kara laughed.

“But the second time, when I saw you at the factory, something about you just… floored me.

“Must have been the way my muscles flexed as I grabbed Mr. Archer by the front of his jacket. I hear they’ve very impressive.”

“No,’ Lena offered a soft chuckle at the joke, ‘it was more than that – it was you. The way you just effortlessly stood up for what you thought was right, and damn the consequences… the way you were so sure in yourself… and then I got to know you even better, and learned how open and honest you are…’

Lena trailed off, with a tiny shake of her head, and a small exhale of disbelief.

“I’ve never met anyone like you before,’ Lena murmured. ‘It’s no wonder I fell for you.”

Kara straightened. She wondered if Lena could see a heart-shaped outline, slamming against her chest. It was beating so hard.

Lena was looking at Kara with trepidation, as if wondering if she’d finally crossed the line. As if half expecting Kara to storm out of the room, without so much as a backward glance.

Determined to show she wasn’t going anywhere, Kara folded her arms over her chest.

“When I asked if I could call on you,’ Lena finally continue, ‘and took you out, and received positive signals back to the ones I was putting out, I thought we were on the same page. But then when you mentioned Mike, I realized we weren’t… and I panicked. I got scared. And I ran. Because what I was feeling for you was becoming so fixed, and intense, and…’

Lena paused, took another drag of her cigarette to calm her nerves, and looked up at Kara.

“I do care about you, Kara,’ she insisted softly. ‘Despite my coldness these past few weeks, I do care. Too much, it would seem. And I know those feelings aren’t reciprocated… and its okay. I had to leave to come to that conclusion. It’s a self-preservation thing, you see? I broke my number one rule with you, and I was… I was scared that if you knew the whole truth, you would reject me… again… and I had to prepare myself for the worst.”

Kara took a step closer to Lena, who’s eyes were back on the floor.

“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

Lena let out a laugh, and smoke exhaled past her lips and through her nostrils in one, mingled cloud.

“You’re right. You came here with Alex, right? I don’t mean to pry, but I saw her down there.’ Lena looked a little guilty. ‘You’re here in a place like this, supporting her with so much love, and then there’s your friendship with Mr. Olsen… how could I ever be so stupid as to think you’d be so narrow minded about me?”

Kara took a step forward.

“That’s not what I meant.”

It took a moment for realization – the true meaning behind her words – to sink in. Kara watched the shift with a racing heartbeat that pounded in her ears; Lena frowned in confusion, then her expression began to relax as the weight of Kara was saying affected her seemingly slowly at first, and then all at once in a great rush of understanding.

Lena frowned, and took a step back. “Excuse me?”

Kara wanted to tell her, then. She wanted to say what she’d been wanting to tell someone for over a week now – that she was feeling something not entirely platonic for her new best friend, and it was scary and confusing and she didn’t know what to do or how to act, because it surely wasn’t appropriate to have a boyfriend overseas, so dearly missed, but still want to take this particular woman in her arms and feel the softness of her skin, smell her perfume so sweet and crisp, taste how soft her lips would surely be…

Lena looked at her skeptically, before deciding she must be telling the truth, because Kara always told her the truth.

“You…’ Lena began. She adjusted what she was going to say, her whole demeanour shifting, closing off.

With a hand outstretched, insisting the distance between them stay that way, Lena’s voice was level.

‘You’re with Mike.”

“Yes,’ Kara admitted softly. ‘But, you see…”

“No,’ Lena shook her head firmly. She put her cigarette out, hand still outstretched. ‘No buts. Don’t say another word.”

Lena was headed for the door this time. Kara didn’t feel the panic she had before when she watched Lena walk away – she understood now, it was a self-preservation tactic.

But she did feel exasperated.

Lena,’ Kara groaned, following after her.

The sound of the club exploded up the staircase as the office door flew open. They were out of the office, but only half way down the stairs before finding their way blocked.

Kara, who had been on Lena’s toes, brushed past her as she noticed the two people at the bottom of the stars. “Alex?”

Beyond the guard’s bulky arm, Maggie was standing there, almost crumpling beneath the weight of Alex’s bigger frame leaning heavily against her. Maggie had Alex’s arm slung over her shoulder, and a grimace on her face. Alex looked like she’d just swum the English Channel.

“She’s had a bit too much excitement,’ Maggie chuckled.

Kara ducked under the guard’s arm, and moved in to take her sister. Maggie gratefully handed her weight to Kara. Alex was almost a dead weight, drenched in sweat from head to toe.

Kara patted Alex’s face. “Hey, Alex. Look at me… open your eyes…”

Agonizingly slow, Alex did as Kara asked. Barely open at first, they soon widened with realization.

Kara!’ she breathed. Kara winced at the scent of her breath. ‘I di’… s’much dancin’…’

Alex laughed again, and wrapped her other arm around Kara, trying to pull her in for a hug.

“I’m sorry to… interrupt…’ Maggie’s eyes leave Alex, only to spare a split-second glance up at Lena, ‘… but your sister is heavier than she looks, and I saw you guys head up there…”

“We don’t tolerate drunk and disorderly behavior here,’ said the guard, eyeing them all. ‘Let me show you to the door...”

Ah…’ Kara swiveled both herself, and Alex, out of the guards reach with a sharp, defensive turn of her shoulders. ‘We can take her, thank you very much.”

“R’we goin’ dancin’ som’whr els’?’ Alex cooed, trying to pull away from Kara. ‘Bu’ I lik’ it her’…’

“Come on, Danvers,’ Maggie patted her on the back, ‘we’re going to get some air…’

“Maggie! Y’know, y’re so pretty…”

Maggie dodged Alex’s wide swipe, her attempt to pat Maggie on the face, and began to push a path through the crowd.

Kara threw a glance back over her shoulder. Lena was still on the stairs, watching with a strained expression.

Without a word, priorities set, Kara adjusted her hold on Alex, and proceeded to drag her through the crowd, toward the door.

After wrestling Alex up the stairs, they stepped out into the dark and empty alleyway. The temperate had dropped significantly while they’d been down at the club, or maybe it was because they were all now drenched in sweat.

Kara sat Alex down clumsily on the curb. Alex dropped like a ragdoll, and grunted with a laugh when her rump hit the hard ground.

“Ouch,’ she giggled.

Maggie sat down beside her, arm around her middle to keep her upright, while Kara squatted down in front of her. She took her face in her hands, checking her pupils, and then took her wrist to time her pulse.

Kara shook her head as she watched the seconds tick by. “What did you give her?”

“Just those first few shots, Dutch courage,’ Maggie glanced at Alex with a soft smirk, and brushed hair from her sweaty brow. ‘She can certainly put them away. I’d love to see her up against a navy man.”

“It’s not funny,’ Kara insisted. ‘You should have stopped her.”

“She’s a grown up,’ Maggie argued. ‘She can make her own choices. And she was having a good time, which is the whole reason we came all the way out here tonight, in case you forgot…’

“You were supposed to be looking out for her.”

“I’ve been looking out for her for months…’ Maggie snapped. ‘What have you been doing?”

Kara glared at Maggie only for a moment, deciding to deal with that guilt later.

“Her heart’s racing.”

“She just needs to sleep it off,’ Maggie adjusted Alex’s jacket. ‘And drink a few gallons of water.”

Kara stood up, hands on her hips, and sighed. “What are we going to do? I can’t take her home like this. Eliza will kill us.”

“We can take her to an all-night diner, she can drink some coffee and eat some food… she’ll be right as rain in a few hours.”

“We don’t have a few hours. The last train back to Midvale is forty minutes from now.”

“You can come back to my hotel.”

Kara spun around at the familiar voice. Lena was standing a short distance away, trench coat back on, purse in her hands.

“I’m staying not too far from here,’ Lena continued. ‘We can walk. You can bring your sister up for late night room service, get her anything she needs…’

“She doesn’t need anything from you,’ called Maggie.

Both Kara and Lena looked around at her. Perhaps, if Alex hadn’t been leaning against her, trying to slip her hands inside Maggie’s jacket, she would have looked the intimidating figure she’d clearly wanted to project.

“We can take care of her,’ Maggie insisted.

Kara turned back to Lena, feeling her frustration with Maggie and Lena melt a little considering the generous offer.

‘Thank you,’ Kara said softly, ‘but we just need to get her back on the train, put her to bed…”

“She won’t make it to the station in that condition,’ Lena pointed out. ‘not without stopping to puke in every trash can she passes. Do you really want to risk her vomiting on the train?”

Kara pursed her lips. “We can’t impose…’

“You’re not imposing,’ Lena said, ‘I’m offering.”

“Well…’

Kara looked back at Maggie, and the wriggling form of her sister. Maggie was trying to bat Alex’s hands away, and shook her head. But Kara was less worried about Maggie’s stubbornness, and more concerned about her sister, who was losing more and more energy by the second.

“Is there enough room for us all?’ Kara asked Lena.

Lena looked awkwardly at the ground. “It’s the presidential suite.”

Maggie scoffed behind them.

“It has two bedrooms, and a large living room…’ Lena continued, ‘…enough room for us all.”

“I wan’ see th’ pres’den,’ Alex grumbled, nuzzling into Maggie’s neck. ‘Tell ‘im to shoo’ Hitl’r… mmm, Maggie y’smell good…”

Kara wasn’t entirely sure what had inspired this gesture in Lena. Did she feel guilty?

Good, said a voice in the back of Kara’s mind.

Kara adjusted her glasses, and with a sigh she crossed back to her sister. She batted Maggie’s hands away, took Alex by the wrists, and heaved her to her feet. Once she had her securely by the waist, she looked at Lena.

“Which way?”

 

----

 

“This isn’t the White House!’

“Alex, be quiet. We’re in a hotel, remember?”

“Where’s the bar?”

Kara rolled her eyes, and stopped again as Alex struggled against her. What should have been a five-minute walk had taken almost thirty. Alex caused them to stop frequently – demanding to go back into the club and dance, needing to sit down because the world was spinning, stick her head in a trashcan while dry heaving, trying to pull Maggie into hugs and whisper god knows what in her ear – and by the time they were in the lobby of the Hilton, Kara was at her wits end.

Maggie had done nothing but chuckle at the whole situation the entire walk there, and Kara wondered if she’d find it all as funny if she’d been the one hauling Alex for the past half an hour.

The elevator ride was even more unpleasant. Stuck in such a small space with Maggie, who was alternating between glaring at Lena and soothing a singing Alex, plus the tension between Kara and Lena, the air was think with awkwardness, and it was a relief when they heard the familiar ding, and the doors clanged open into a wide corridor.

Of course, Lena’s room was right at the end of the hall. The carpet muffled their footsteps, at least. But Alex’s volume control seemed to be broken, and she had no qualms about asking her questions very loudly.

“Why did we have to leave? Magnus was going to show me how he puts on his lipstick.”

‘Because you’re off your face, Danvers, that’s why.”

“Oh yeah… that’ll be the vodka. Does this club have a bar?”

“We’re in a hotel, Alex,’ Kara murmured in her ear. ‘The Hilton, to be exact.’

“Wow… that’s a fancy place. How did we get in?”

“Through the front door. Now please, keep your voice down.”

“I’m not loud, you’re loud!” 

It felt like the longest hallway in the world. Watching Lena walk in front, leading the way, not even looking back, was not helping Kara’s mood. Lena had barely said two words to them since leading them away from Carmilla’s, not even glancing back to ensure they were following.

And it was hard enough to keep Alex and herself upright, without the vision of swinging hips and flexing calves, beckoning her forward like a carrot on the end of a stick.

Lena had her key out as they approached the door. It was soon unlocked, the door swinging inward to a darkened room.

“Ladies first,’ Alex giggled. ‘Get it Kara? Cause we’re all ladies… did Maggie hear my joke?... oh….”

Alex’s knees seemed to give out a little then, and her hand pulled hard on Kara’s neck to steady herself. Kara grunted, pain flaring through her shoulders and skull.

“Easy there, Danvers,’ Maggie insisted, arms out to catch Alex.

“I got her.”

And in one, sweeping movement, Lena kicked her shoes off (shrinking an inch or two), turned back and stepped in to, quite literally, sweep Alex off her feet.

Kara sighed at the release of pressure, and watched in amazement as, with a strength Kara had never imagined her having, Lena carried Alex over the threshold, like a groom carrying his bride on their wedding night.

Alex put an arm around Lena, and murmured, ‘My hero” as they disappeared into the darkness.

Without a word, Maggie rushed in after them.

Kara heard Maggie’s voice call, ‘Where the hell is the light?’, a split second before golden light flooded the room.

Picking up Lena’s abandoned shoes, Kara followed them inside.

Of course, the room was enormous.

Kara took little notice of the plush and handsome décor, or the marble tiles that were cool underfoot as she took her own shoes off – even though it was incredibly soothing under her bare feet – and just watched as Lena set Alex down gently on the couch.

Alex laughed for a moment, then her face went slack and she moaned.

Maggie appeared from the kitchen, with a large glass of water in one hand, and an empty waste paper basket in the other.

“Just rest there for a moment,’ Lena insisted gently. ‘I’ll call the front desk and get you some food.”

“Can I have fries?’ Alex asked, hand pressed against her forehead. ‘And a hotdog?”

Lena smirked as she picked up the receiver. ‘I’ll do my best.”

Alex leaned over then, resting her head in Maggie’s lap. Maggie stroked her hair gently, muttering something in a soothing tone, and Kara took a moment to appreciate what Maggie had said earlier.

She really had been taking care of Alex this whole time. And not just for tonight, for months now. And now, seeing them together for probably the first time – the way Maggie encouraged Alex to keep taking sips of her water, the gentle way she rubbed her shoulders and back, how soft she was – Kara had an inkling that her sister’s budding feelings weren’t as one sided as she thought.

Kara felt a rush of affection for Maggie, and made a mental note to have a conversation with her later.

But now that she knew her sister was going to be okay, all her attention had shifted back to Lena.

Lena, who had finished talking with the front desk, hung the phone up and then arched her back, seemingly as exhausted as Kara felt. After her moment to collect herself, without a glance at them, Lena disappeared into what must have been the master bedroom. She flicked the light on as she entered, illuminating for Kara the end of a giant, luxurious-looking bed, and began to turn the covers down.

It was so simple, and domestic, and Kara was transfixed.

“Psst… Kara…’

Kara dropped to her knees in front of her sister. “Are you okay?”

“I need water.”

“There’s water in your hand.”

“Oh, right,’ Alex giggled, and beckoned for Kara to move in closer. ‘Thank you so much for coming tonight.”

 “You’re welcome. And you can tell me what a good time you had in the morning, if you can remember…”

“Shh…’ Alex gestured for Kara to come even closer, ‘… don’t tell Maggie, but I really liked dancing with her. She’s so adorable when she dances, you know.”

Kara exchanged a glance with Maggie. She reached out, and stroked Alex’s face.

“Just rest,’ she soothed.

“I don’t feel so good,’ Alex groaned. ‘I can’t meet the President like this, Kara… I’ll embarrass Dad…”

Kara pacified her again, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead. Maggie’s fingers were still stroking her hair gently, the other hand rubbing her back.

“The bed is ready,’ Lena announced.

Kara looked over her shoulder, to see Lena hovering in the doorway of the bedroom she’d disappeared into.

‘When she’s ready for bed, it’s ready.”

“Mmm,’ Alex crooned, and began to sit up. ‘Bed…”

Maggie had Alex’s arm around her shoulders instantly, and slowly walked her into the bedroom.

Kara looked at Lena, who stood in the middle of the room, looking lost.

“Thank you,’ Kara murmured. She was suddenly extremely aware of how sore her entire body was. ‘You’ve saved us a lot of trouble.”

Lena nodded. “Of course. Shall I show you the spare room?”

Kara didn’t give any answer, and Lena didn’t need one. She led Kara the short distance, into the other room. It was dark, illuminated only by the lights of the city that were visible through the giant, glass windows.

The bed was not as big as the one in the master bedroom, but still twice the size of her own bed at home, and looked just as inviting.

The doorbell to the room tinkled.

“That’ll be room service,’ Lena stated, before disappearing to answer the door.

Kara heard murmured voices out in the main room, but paid little notice. The bed was like a powerful magnet, and she didn’t have the energy to fight against it. With a few steps, her knees knocked against the mattress, and when Kara collapsed face down onto it, she let out a loud, but muffled, groan of relief.

She’d never slept in a bed this soft. It was like a cloud. She found a little more energy to roll off her front, and crawl up a little to lay on it properly. Even the pillows were like heaven, and Kara felt every tense muscle in her body uncoil in bliss. Her back was on fire, but with every passing second, the fire ebbed away.

“Ahem,’ came a soft cough from the doorway.

Kara tilted her head up enough to see Lena’s unmistakable silhouette hovering on the threshold.

“Just letting you know I put Alex’s food in the over, in case she wants it tomorrow morning,’ Lena explained.

“Thank you,’ Kara breathed. ‘You’re a good person.”

Lena didn’t answer right away. When she did, her voice was a little croaky.

‘I’ll let you sleep…”

“Where are you going?”

She stopped, mid-turn. “I’ll sleep on the couch… more appropriate.”

Lena…”

Her cry was hoarse, and loud, but Kara didn’t care. She was too tired to care.

Lena, who had turned to leave again, curved back.

“Get in here,’ Kara insisted.

“Kara, I’m not sure…”

“You already gave up your own bed to my stupid drunk sister. You can’t sleep on the couch. Just get in the bed.’

When Lena didn’t move, Kara sighed again.

“Please don’t make me chase after you again,’ Kara groaned, putting an arm over her eyes, blocking out the world. ‘I’m too tired.”

There was a moment of hesitation, so palpable, Kara was sure she could have reached out and touched it… if she’d had the energy to raise her arm.

“But…”

Get in the bed, Lena.”

After a long, resigning sigh, another moment passed, and then Kara felt the mattress sink a little beside her. The bed was so big, it barely felt like anything at all.

“You’re bossy when you’re drunk.’

Lena’s voice was so soft, and so close. Kara rolled onto her left side, facing the silhouette of the woman lying beside her. She could smell the stench of scotch and cigarettes on Lena’s breath, but it didn’t occur to her to mind.

“I’m not drunk anymore,’ Kara insisted. And after a moment, she added, ‘I’m glad you came back.”

Lena let out the softest of laughs, a timid ‘hmm’ at the back of her throat. The bed rustled as Lena got in properly under the covers. It was the comfirmation Kara didn’t realize she’d been waiting for – that Lena was sticking around – and she felt herself relax even more.

“I almost didn’t,’ she admitted.

“What changed your mind?”

“You,’ Lena’s voice was barely a whisper. ‘Always you.”

Kara smirked, and curled into the pillow. “I have that effect on people.”

Lena laughed again, more pronounced this time, a giggle that she smothered into the bed covers.

After her laughter died away, Kara felt herself becoming overcome with fatigue. The silence in the room was a heavy comfort, like three blankets piled on top of her, pressing down comfortably, providing a sense of calm.

“Did you mean what you said earlier?’ Lena asked gently, suddenly. ‘Back at the club?”

Kara didn’t need to ask her what she meant. She already knew.

“I don’t lie,’ Kara replied just as softly.

It took so long for Lena to answer, Kara almost dozed off.

“You’re with Mike.”

It was like a broken record, that had somehow become a mantra between them, always the full stop – the definitive line they couldn’t cross – whenever they came close to discussing what was really going on.

Kara blew air out through her lips. An image of Mike’s face, his big, brown eyes that were like melted chocolate, so soothing to look into, popped into her head.

She felt her gut twist.

“I am.”

“I understand,’ Lena replied. ‘But I also understand that, as hard as it might be to do so, I can’t just walk away from you anymore. I tried. I thought taking some time away from you would help me. But you’re here, you’re always here to me. And I just… I can’t do it anymore. I give up. I can’t.”

“Good,’ Kara breathed, sleep beginning to take hold. ‘I don’t want you to. I never did.”

“Me neither.”

Kara felt Lena shift again, and wondered if she’d tried to reach out, or wriggle closer, or had simply just adjusted her position.

“I’m sorry you’ve been through so much heartache,’ Kara muttered. ‘I’m sorry we live in such a narrow-minded world where people fear the unknown, and then pass that fear onto people who are just trying to live their lives.”

“It’s what our boys our fighting for,’ Lena murmured. ‘It’s what Mike is fighting for.”

Kara reached out then, and patted Lena’s hand. Her skin was so soft, like the velvet sheets they were sleeping in. She didn’t want to talk about Mike now.

“I know you don’t want to be friends…’ Kara whispered, ‘…but do you want to try?”

Kara could hear Lena smile in the darkness.

“I do enjoy a challenge.”

Chapter Text


 

From somewhere in the darkness, the sound of retching echoed in Kara’s ears. But it wasn’t this that had woken her up.

Kara was curled on her side, facing the window. Her senses came back to her slowly; first the noise that, because of it’s slight echo, Kara assumed was from the bathroom. Then she noticed how dry her own mouth was, like she hadn’t had a drink of water in months.  The city was lying before her still. Blurry in the dim light, and without her glasses, but she noticed the grey tint to the horizon; a sign that dawn wasn’t far away.

Then there was the real reason she had woken up.

It was the warm spot, pressing gently into her back. And when it moved slightly, Kara realized what the strange sensation was.

It was Lena’s hand.

Although Kara couldn’t see it, she knew Lena must have wriggled over at some stage in the night, and in her slumber, thrown her arm out, and now had the back of her hand resting pleasantly against Kara.

Kara entire body tensed. She didn’t want to move, afraid she would wake Lena, and that she would snap her hand away with mumbled apologies.

But the retching sound was turning Kara’s stomach.

Tensing her body, Kara coiled like a spring, and then jerked off the bed in a clumsy movement that almost had her smacking her head into the window. Her strategy had been to move quickly, unnoticed, like ripping off a band aid.

When she turned around, Lena was still asleep, and Kara felt her pulse quicken.

Until now, she would have thought it impossible for someone to look as beautiful asleep as they did awake. Kara had seen Alex asleep across for her half her life, and was no longer surprised by the awkward positions she got herself into, or the way her hair always seemed to end up covering her face. She’d caught Jeramiah snoozing in his armchair more than once, entire body slack, head thrown back and mouth wide open, emitting loud snores.

But if there was going to be anyone to pull of such a phenomenon, of course it was going to be Lena.

Her arm was outstretched, like Kara had imagined it to be. She too was curled onto her side, facing toward where Kara had been lying. Her hair was splayed out, like a wayward ink stain, stark against the whiteness of her pillow. But the most striking feature, even in the dim light, was her expression.

She had none.

No usual tightness to her jaw, taut from trying to keep her usual upper-class composure. No smile she tried to suppress, because it wasn’t appropriate to laugh loudly and with as much mirth as she wanted. No pained expression, or lip caught between her teeth, or quirked eyebrow.

Just peace.

And it was beautiful.

The retching brought Kara back to reality. With one last look at Lena, she followed the sound of what she knew was her sister vomiting into a toilet somewhere in this enormous hotel room, taking care to gently shut the bedroom door behind her so the sound wouldn’t disturb Lena too.

As she predicted, they were in the bathroom. The room was enormous, the size of her own living room back home. The lights were on, giving the marble floors and golden fixtures of the sink and shower a golden glint.

Kara squinted against the sudden brightness, and sighed at the sight of her sister, hunched over the toilet, heaving quite forcefully indeed.

Maggie, who was kneeling beside her, brushing hair out of her face and rubbing her back, looked up as Kara stepped over the threshold.

“Is she okay?’ Kara mumbled, rubbing sleep from her eye.

Maggie snorted, and turned her attention back to Alex. “She will be.”

“Is that Kara?’ Alex shifted off her haunches so quickly, she fell onto her backside with grunt. ‘Kara, I’m so sorry… I’m just… ugh…”

Alex’s head was back in the toilet then, groaning and heaving.

Maggie looked at her sympathetically. “She’s not even bringing anything up anymore, it’s just bile.”

“She needs water. She’s dehydrated…’

“I’ll go,”

Maggie gave Alex’s shoulders one last squeeze, before getting to her feet. She did it so slowly, and Kara then noticed how tired she looked, and she wondered how long Maggie had been in this bathroom with Alex before she’d woken up, and if indeed she’d gotten any rest at all.

After leaving the room, Kara knelt beside her sister. The smell from the toilet was acrid, but Kara had inhaled far worse scents in her line of work.

“I’m sorry,’ Alex groaned again.

“Don’t be stupid,’ Kara soothed, rubbing her lower back. Her shirt was still damp from sweat. ‘As long as you had a good time, that’s all that matters.”

“I did,’ Alex managed a soft smile. ‘I haven’t had so much fun in a really long time… except for this part, of course.”

Alex laughed at her own joke, then groaned and heaved again into the toilet, and Kara felt a sudden pang of sadness as she realized that Alex was telling the truth. Kara couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Alex look as happy as she had at Carmilla’s. It was just such a shame the proprietor was such a sleaze.

When she’d finished heaving, her body relaxing again, Alex sighed and sat back against the wall, drawing her knees up to her chest.

“Will you do me a favour?’ Alex whispered.

Kara was already on her feet. “Anything.”

“Find out what Maggie’s favorite flower is,’ Alex murmured. ‘I want her buy her a bouquet… heck, a whole god damn florist…”

“Just rest.”

Alex smacked her lips, grimacing at the taste of bile on her tongue, and it reminded Kara how dry her own mouth was. And with one last check on her sister, a hand to her forehead and an assessment of her pupils, she got to her feet and padded out into the kitchen.

She found Maggie, leaning against the countertop, head down on her arms.

“You need to sleep,’ Kara remarked.

Maggie straightened up suddenly; long, brown hair flying everywhere in a magnificent display.

“I’m fine,’ she insisted. But the redness in her eyes said otherwise.

Kara leant on the counter, across from her, and gave her a look.

Maggie ignored her. She grabbed another glass to fill right up to the brim.

As Kara watched her, that guilt from earlier came back. “Thank you… for looking after Alex…”

“I’m here for her,’ Maggie said simply. She pushed the glass across the bench to Kara. ‘Besides… you were busy.”

Kara, who had downed half the glass in a second, swallowed hard, and put the glass down on the marble bench top just as roughly.

“It’s more than that,’ Kara continued, hoping to change the subject. ‘You’ve been here for Alex in a way that I haven’t, and… well, I just want you to know how much I appreciate that she’s had you to get her through all of this. How much I appreciate you.”

Maggie frowned at Kara. She was skeptical, but Kara could tell, like Lena, it was just a protective front.

“You’re not like most people,’ Maggie finally remarked.

Embarrassed by the compliment, Kara ran a hand through her hair.

“I hear that a lot,’ she answered.

She felt brown eyes on her for a moment longer. Then Maggie sighed.

“This is stupid,’ she remarked. ‘We should have just taken her home.”

Kara glanced back at Maggie – she was glaring in the direction of the spare bedroom.

“What’s your problem with Lena?”

The question came out much harsher than Kara would have normally asked, but it was the middle of the night and she was tired and thirsty and didn’t understand.

Maggie considered Kara for a long moment. “I don’t have a problem.”

“Right. And Nazi’s have decided that Jewish people are actually alright and they made a mistake.”

With a withering look, too tired to argue, Maggie ran a hand through her own dark hair.

“Have you heard of Mitcham Tools?”

Kara considered this for a moment. “It rings a bell.”

“It used to ring a lot of bells,’ Maggie almost spat, her anger at such a height. ‘Mitcham Tools was one of the foremost industries in Midvale… until the depression. It never really recovered, but it was doing okay. Until Lionel Luthor decided it wasn’t in his best interested to keep it open anymore.”

Kara had already half-guessed where this was going, by the time Maggie took a long drink from Alex’s water.

“My father was on the production line,’ she continued.

Kara frowned. I thought your father was a police officer."

"Now he is. Back then though, he worked at the factory. He was good at this job, too. In line to be foreman, even. He was the only reason we had food on our table, or heat in our house. But then one day, poof, all that was gone… just because Lionel Luthor decided that it wasn’t worth his time to keep the factory open. So my Dad was out of work for months until he got into the police academy. They'd kept denying him because of his age. Like someone fresh out of high school with barely any judgement or wisdom was preferable for a job like law enforcement, over a sensible, hard-working, grown man. Because of the Luthors, we almost got evicted. My brother had to move away to our cousins farm, so he could send us a pittance back so we could just keep a roof over our heads. Those Luthors don't care about the little people, they only care about how they little people can help them. ”

It all clicked into place, then.

But Kara was too drained – emotionally, physically – to be tactful anymore. And Maggie was the sort of person who would quite happily share her opinion without much thought for tact, that Kara fed off that to the point where her response was simply:

“I’m sorry that happened to your family. These past few decades have been so difficult for everyone, and for you family to go through such a period of hardship… well, I feel for you. I honestly do. But Lena isn’t her father. She’s good, and considerate, and thoughtful and just wants to do the right thing all the time… and I would like to think that as someone who doesn’t want to be judged for just one part of their lives that is out of their control, such as yourself, you would perhaps like to get to know someone properly before being so judgemental.”

Maggie’s eyebrows rose the smallest of fractions.

Kara pointed at the extra water glass – the one meant for her sister.

“I’ll take that. I’ll stay with her. You go get a head start on some sleep,’ she insisted gently. ‘You both need it.”

Kara didn’t wait around to hear if she had any objections to her reasoning. She took her glass that Maggie had poured for her, and slunk quietly back into the bedroom she shared with Lena.

After taking another mouthful of water, she placed the glass gently down on Lena’s beside table, before gently and carefully tiptoeing back to the door.

Lena hadn’t moved.

Kara looked at the other side of the bed – the empty side – longingly, before resigning herself to spending the rest of the night on a cold, hard floor and slipping back out of the room

 

----

 

The next morning, it felt almost as if the past two weeks hadn’t happened at all.

Kara was both glad and annoyed by this notion.

Surely such turmoil should be addressed. Surely going through such emotions, and confusion, and contemplation and realization should count for something.

And it did, in Kara’s own mind.

But in that moment, as Kara and Lena sat across each other as the train rattled onward, there was no more resentment, or impatience, or misunderstanding, just a sense of ease – an easy sort of click, like the last puzzle piece fitting into place – that made Kara second guess if the last few weeks had even happened at all.

They had. Of course they had. Kara had a good memory, and the feeling of discomfort under her skin at the very thought of Lena not being in her life anymore; the sensation of feeling as if her entire world were suddenly on a tilt, disorienting and different, but not frightening, was still clear as day in her mind.

But Lena was sitting opposite her now, staring out the window as the countryside rolled by, not going anywhere, and it suddenly all seemed insignificant.

Kara, again, took a mental note to talk about this later with Alex.

This thought process was not regular.

She was trying not to look. The coach, like the night before, when they’d traveled toward the city, was entirely empty. No-one would be venturing out this far on a Sunday morning, and certainly not at this hour.

But Kara still felt a sense of propriety. And in her attempt to appear like she wasn’t admiring, in the corner of her eye, Kara noticed the way the morning light caught Lena, shining through the living room window, illuminating her with a golden aura, and all thoughts left her mind.

“Are you sure you know which stop we are to get off?” Lena asked again for the fifth time.

Kara smirked. “Yes, Lena. It’s Midvale station. It’s not hard to forget.”

“Sorry,’ Lena chuckled. ‘I’m not used to taking public transportation.”

“Is this your first time on a train… ever?”

No.”

But the ‘O’ sound extended unnecessarily, in a way that heavily implied that Lena was lying through her perfect teeth.

Knowing she was caught out, Lena shifted in her seat. “We’re awfully late. Can’t these things go any faster?”

“Not being an engineer, Lena, I’m sorry I have no idea.”

“I’ll make them faster.’

The simple, matter-of-fact way she said it, almost made Kara laugh. But this was Lena, technical genius, who could build entire airplanes from the ground up. If anyone was going to modify trains in the future, it would be her.

“I hope you don't get in too much trouble with your foster mother.”

The knot of anxiety clenched in Kara’s stomach again, as she thought of her sister.

In a fit of gallantry, and because both of their bikes were parked at the Midvale train station and it was a practical solution given the river of do-do they were currently in, Lena had insisted that Alex and Maggie go on ahead in her chauffeured Bentley.

Where Kara had expected Maggie to protest, she was surprised to hear her instead mutter a gesture of thanks, and then leave the penthouse hotel room with Alex without so much at a glare.

All four of them could have fit in the car, of course. But Lena had insisted that Alex should be made as comfortable as possible, and three people jammed into the back of a car was sure to be too claustrophobic for a hungover person to bare the forty five minute trip home.

The plan had been for Alex to have a little more rest (her head in Maggie’s lap, or on her shoulder) and by the time they got back to Midvale station they would both be well enough to ride their respective bikes home. And when Kara and Lena arrived, Henry and the Bentley would be there waiting for them, to take them both the rest of the way home.

It had been very kind of Lena to do this; to give up her usual means of transportation for people she barely knew. But Kara didn’t for one second believe it was entirely out of the kindness of her heart, and more an excuse to be alone with Kara.

Kara found herself unable to mind.

“It should be over quickly,’ Kara answered. ‘Just like my last shred of hope of ever moving to the city.”

Lena tilted her head. “Surely not.”

Kara sat back in her seat, and looked out the window. “I couldn’t even spend one evening out without getting into trouble. She’s going to have nightmares about this forever.”

“I’m sorry about Roulette,’ Lena offered suddenly.

Kara turned back to her. The downturn to the corner of her mouth made her look very remorseful indeed.

‘I didn’t want to bring you into all that, I just…’

“Ran?’ Kara smirked.

“Panicked,’ Lena clarified with her own grin. ‘And I didn’t think you were sober enough to follow me.”

“Seems like I’ll always follow you.’

It came out, not entirely with permission – something that was clearly becoming routine. But something about Lena always made her want to expose everything, not hold anything back.

‘Sober or not,’ Kara added, hoping to lighten them moment.

It worked.

Lena chuckled, crossed her leg over the other, and looked back out the window. “I’ll keep that in mind next time you come over, and I have to go to the bathroom.”

Kara laughed, and then they were both laughing, and the morning sunshine streaming through the window was no longer the source of the warmth that spread through Kara’s body.

“This is nice,’ Lena remarked, once their laughter had died away. ‘I’ll be honest… I have missed you. Which I know is ridiculous, considering I’m the one who put the distance between us, which I hope you remember my reasoning for last night… we had both drunk quite a bit of alcohol…”

“Lena,’ Kara put a hand up to stop Lena’s rambling, ‘it’s okay. I understand. And I forgive you.”

Lena’s shoulders relaxed, her relief clear.

“And… I missed you too.”

Lena’s smile was brighter than the sun.

Kara held her hand out. “So, friends again?”

“You’re not going to make me pinky swear?”

“You’re a business woman,’ Kara smirked, ‘a handshake will suffice.”

Lena took Kara’s hand in hers, gripped it with intention, and gave one, short shake.

“Friends,’ she agreed.

Neither of them made mention of how it took a moment longer than was probably necessarily to release each other’s hands. 

The conversation that flowed from then on reminded Kara strongly of all those mornings she’d spent on the floor, back against the closet door, listening to Lena’s voice down the other end of the telephone line – back when nothing had been different between them. It was easy, and light, and Lena’s tone wasn’t stilted or inhibited, and Kara didn’t feel that distance between them as they talked about flavours of alcohol, tastes in music, the possibility of going back into National City when they both had a day off to explore the city a little more together…

As the horizon seamlessly transitioned from city skyline, to countryside, to towering trees, which eventually opened back up to a semblance of civilization, they were pulling into Midvale station just as Lena was getting into the good part of her story – a tale of her first year at boarding school, and how with one mishap in chemistry she had almost blown half of the school apart.

After convincing Lena that, yes, this was there stop, and stepping off the train and heading out into the street, they found Henry to be parked on the side of the road just as he had promised.

On the ride back through town, Kara heard almost the end of that story.

She was up to the part where Lena had to draw on her singed eyebrows for the next week, when they were pulling up at her own front door.

Alex’s bike was parked out in the driveway. Of course she’d made it back first. Besides it, leaning against its kickstand, Kara recognized Maggie’s bike.

Lena leaned over a little, to look out Kara’s passenger side window, her arm pressed up against Kara’s and her face far too close.

“Come on,’ she murmured, ‘I’ll walk you to the door.”

Like the first time they had been out together, Lena let Kara lead the way, and paused a step behind her on the stoop.

Kara turned back to her, house keys jingling in her hand. “Thank you again, for what you did for Alex.”

“It was nothing.”

“No, it wasn’t. Especially not after everything…”

“Kara, honestly. It was no trouble. And, especially after everything, I’m glad I could start to make amends.”

“So, you only did all this just to get back in my good books?”

Lena gave Kara a weary, but amused, look. “You know what I mean.’

Kara adjusted her glasses. “Then just accept my gratitude, will you?”

With a smile, Lena began backing toward the car. “I’ll leave you be with your family.”

Kara bit her lip. “Would you like to stay for lunch?”

Lena stopped, mid-turn.

“Oh… well… I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“Why not?”

Lena didn’t answer. She didn’t have one.

“Friends stay for lunch,’ Kara insisted. ‘And I know you don’t have work on a Sunday, and you don’t have to rush home to do laundry or cook dinner because you have people to do all that for you. So, unless you’re offended by the taste of egg sandwiches, I don’t see why you wouldn’t the pleasure of the entire Danvers’ family company. Plus, Maggie, apparently.”

A sigh heaved from deep in Lena’s chest. Kara watched the rise and fall of her chest, the way the chords in her neck flexed as she inhaled and exhaled in defeat, and was sure the buzz she was feeling was the sense of victory.

“I like egg sandwiches,’ Lena affirmed. ‘They’re the first finger sandwich I reach for during Hight Tea.”

Kara, unsure of how to respond to this, took the lack of negative wording and the fact that Lena hadn’t moved back anymore as the green light, and turned back to her front door.

Once opened, she stood aside and gestured for Lena to go first.

Lena pressed her lips together, hesitating, and then began up the stoop. She didn’t glance at Kara as she passed, or when she stepped over the threshold. Her eyes were looking about the small entryway, up the stairs to the left, through to the living room on the right.

Kara took her coat off, hung it on its usual peg, and then put her hands upon Lena’s shoulders to take hers, too. Lena’s head turned slightly; once realizing what Kara was trying to do, she smirked and shrugged her coat off her shoulders.

It was quiet in the house, something Kara took to be a bad sign. If Alex really was here with Maggie, and Eliza, surely there should have been the sound of voices?

All too quickly, the sound of footsteps broke through the silence; a heavy sort of stomp that Kara recognized, and she found herself wishing for the silence again.

Eliza emerged from the kitchen then, her pace not slowing as she barraged down the hallway.

Where in Lords name have you…’ Eliza stopped short as she noticed Kara wasn’t alone, ‘… been. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought my daughter was alone.”

Kara, having stepped in front of Lena out of instinct, moved aside. “Eliza, this is Lena Luthor. Lena, my mother.”

Eliza’s eyes widened the tiniest of fractions; a reaction that would have gone unnoticed by most people who didn’t know Eliza as well as Kara did. But when Lena stepped around Kara, her hand outstretched, her expression shifted again.

“Well,’ Eliza’s tone was brisk, ‘it’s nice to put a face to the sound of my telephone ringing every morning."

“How do you do,’ Lena responded politely.  

Eliza nodded, shaking Lena’s hand short and curt. ‘Alex told me you two were coming back from the city together.”

“My apologies for our tardiness,’ Lena said, ‘I’m unaccustomed to taking public transportation, and sometimes my anxieties will get the better of me, and… well… your daughter is quite the caretaker.

Both Eliza and Lena looked around at her, but Kara’s mind could not process any more facts other than one, just as Roulette had said, Lena was an extraordinarily good liar, and two, the sound of Lena’s voice as she spoke about Kara.

Oh boy.

“She is,’ Eliza said shortly. ‘If only she were as good at reading the time.”

“Not Kara’s fault, the train speeds are abysmal. But I’m sure an adjustment to fuel injection would increase…”

Kara cleared her throat, and Lena stopped with an embarrassed cough.

“I invited Lena in for lunch,’ Kara said, perhaps a little too loudly.

Eliza cleared her throat. “Fine. Miss Luthor, I hope you don’t look down at our dismal lunch. I wasn’t expecting so many people.”

Before Lena could even protest to this, Eliza was heading back up the hallway. Lena looked over her shoulder, for reassurance. Kara just shrugged, and gestured for her to follow; that it was too late to back out now.

Kara entered the kitchen last, and almost laughed at the sight she was greeted with.

Alex was leaning so far back in her seat at the small, kitchen table, stretched out like a wooden plank, she looked like she could slide right off the chair and onto the linoleum. Her head was thrown back, her eyes clamped shut. She was holding half an eaten sandwich limp in her hand. Kara wondered if she was praying for death.

Beside her, munching very slowly on a sandwich, was Maggie. Her eyes were darting about, between Alex and then to the back door and then back to Alex, as if trying to decide if Alex was finally well enough for her to be able to bolt out the back door and make her escape.

Eliza, now by the counter, gestured for Lena and Kara to sit.

It seemed bizarre to see Lena seated at her table; elegance and sophistication in such stark juxtaposition to Kara’s humble and dated surroundings.

Lena’s shoulders stiffened as she sat, but – as Kara would later realize – it wasn’t because she was used to such small space, or hard chairs, or sandwiches with egg and lettuce…

It was the palpable feeling of awkwardness.

Kara herself sat down beside Lena, and bit eagerly into the sandwiches placed before her. Both because she was starving, and because it was an excuse to do something other than acknowledge the looks Eliza was throwing both her and her sister, the way Maggie was still glancing at the door, the feel of Lena’s knee touching hers underneath the table…

Eliza hovered over them all, like a storm cloud (there weren’t enough seats at the table for five people), a plate with one half of a sandwich because that’s all that was left.

A chair groaned, and as she sat up with a barely contained sigh, Kara glanced at Alex. Her sister, despite her fatigue of nausea, was in enough of a right frame of mind to feel Kara’s eyes on her, and gave her a look that silently screamed one, single word:

Help!

“So,’ Eliza began, ‘Margaret…”

“You can call me Maggie, Mrs. Danvers,’ Maggie responded meekly.

Eliza paused. “Margaret… how do you know my daughter?”

Maggie cleared her throat, running a hand through her hair.

Forty-five minutes later, Kara was back at the front door, Lena back on the stoop.

“I’m sorry if I got you in trouble,’ she said regretfully.

Kara shrugged. “We’re always in trouble for something. You didn’t do anything wrong. Quote the opposite, in fact.”

Lena considered Kara for a long moment. “What nights are you free this week?”

“Thursday afternoon after three, that’s really it. I had to take time off for this weekend.”

“Would you like to come over to mine for a while?”

Kara assured her that, yes, she would like that very much. And then Lena got into her car with one last smile, and a squeeze of Kara’s shoulder, and Kara watched the Bentley drove away until it had disappeared around the corner.

When she stepped back inside, it wasn’t long until she found Alex now passed out on the sofa, and Eliza sitting back in Jeramiah’s armchair.

“So…’ she began.

Suddenly aware of how truly exhausted she was, Kara sighed heavily. “So, what?”

“Start talking.”

Kicking her sister’s feet off the edge of the couch, Kara sat herself down – putting Alex’s feet back in her lap – and did something she wouldn’t normally do.

She made up a story.

 

----

 

Despite their efforts, their great intentions, just friends wasn’t as simple as they had hoped. But then again, it wasn’t as complicated as Kara had feared, either.

And it only took six outstanding instances to bring Kara to the Luthor Mansion one night, long after an hour that would have would have been appropriate. 

But four days after their big weekend in National City, four days after the invitation of coming over had been extended, Kara was following Lena Luthor down the wide, ornately decorated halls of her mansion, getting the official tour that she hadn’t gotten the chance to indulge in the last time she’d been there.

“And this is the library…”

Kara neck was getting sore; she’d been marveling admiring, always up and around and past and through the splendor and extravagance of Lena’s home. And even though the kitchens, the parlor, the sunroom, the living room and the dining room had all been just as Kara had imagined them to be, and now so was the library, she still felt that sense of wonder.

The library was one of the bigger rooms of the house. Towering bookshelves took up two of the walls; the third was decorated by the handsome, but currently dead, fireplace, and the last wall wasn’t a wall at all – floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over the estate. There were leather couches, a large round desk laden with books and papers, small writing desks arranged in a corner, and in another corner, Kara recognised the giant gramophone Lena had used at the fundraiser.

“Wow,’ Kara sighed.

Lena chuckled behind her. “You’ve said that about every room… including the bathroom…”

“You have a pool for a bath, Lena. A pool made from marble.’

Kara threw her a look over her shoulder. Lena, dressed very casually indeed today in trousers, shirt and suspenders, shrugged and put her hands in her pocket with a smile.

“You’ve seen my house,’ Kara continued as she crossed to one of the enormous book shelves. ‘Nothing wow about that.”

Unable to even consider the notion of perhaps controlling herself, Kara began to climb up the brass ladder that ran along the rail at the head of the bookcase. She stopped on the third step, reached out and ran her fingertips along the leather spines, traced the thin little golden, embossed letters of the books that probably were worth more than her whole house. The smell of leather, dust, paper, reminded her intensely of the public library.

“Oh, I don’t know,’ Lena said airily from below. ‘Your family is in that house… they’re pretty wow to me.”

Kara smiled, tilted her head to read the title, Foundations of Quantum Theory. “You didn’t get much of a first impression of Eliza. I swear, she’s not always that intense.”

“Next to my mother, she was practically zen.”

Kara laughed. “They’re pretty wow to me, too.”

“I hope you didn’t get in too much trouble with Eliza.”

“Me? Never. Alex, on the other hand…’ Kara trailed off, feeling guilty at the memory. ‘She took the brunt of it, as usual. She’s an idiot, I told her she didn’t have to do that, but she’s so stubborn. And as usual they butted heads about it – Alex maintained the fact that we’re adults and if we want to be out all night we can, and Eliza insisted on unnecessarily reminding us that we’re in the middle of a war and no-one should break curfew, especially her daughters. We’re in the ‘being civil’ stages now. Their anger never lasts too long.”

“They both make valid points.”

Lena pushed the ladder slowly, Kara still on it. Kara withheld a squeak of delight as a kaleidoscope of books shifted past her vision.

“That’s the problem. They’re always right in their own way. It just takes a lot of shifting and altering to get them both to the point where they’re just willing to agree to disagree.”

Lena halted the ladder, and surveyed Kara. “And I’m guessing you’re the manipulator.”

Kara climbed back down, setting herself firmly on the polished floor

“I wouldn’t say manipulator,’ Kara chuckled. ‘Mediator, is more like it. The official Danvers family fence-sitter. Even though, just between you and me… I’m usually on Alex’s side.”

“I don’t doubt it,’ Lena chuckled.

“Do you and your brother side against your parents?”

Lena turned away slightly, jawline sharp and lips quirked upward in amusement.

“We used to,’ was all she said.

Kara adjusted her glasses, and after a moment of hesitation, she reached out and patted Lena gently on the shoulder.

Their physical contact had been minimal the past week; something that hadn’t been too much of an issue, considering this was only the second time since their adventure in National City that they were in the same room together. Their daily phone calls had resumed – Lena taking the initiative on that – but it had been almost some sort of unspoken agreement that the step back they were taking from each other wasn’t just metaphorical.

They had run into each other at the hospital again, with Lena visiting her friend once more. But unlike last time, Lena hadn’t run out the door. They’d been able to chat for a few moments, exchange pleasantries. But where once Kara and Lena would hug in good-bye, or nudge against each other playfully as Kara walked Lena to the exit, it was a simple pat on the arm, or nothing at all.

Just like now.

Lena didn’t look disappointed at the hospital, and she didn’t look disappointed now, and Kara knew it was because she was still just grateful Kara was still there at all.

“Would you like to see the gazebo?’ Lena asked, changing topic.

Kara’s eyes widened. “Why am I excited but not surprised to hear you have a gazebo?”

“I’ll take you through the gardens. We have a shrub sculpted into a swan.”

“Oh, my God.”

 

----

 

“I bet her garden resembles the Queen of Hearts garden. You know, from Alice in Wonderland? Big hedges and croquet and flamingos and all that baloney.”

Kara laughed at the irony, turning the spanner over and over in her hands. Ever since clapping eyes of Lena crawling across the hospital floor that night, she felt as though she’d been falling through the rabbit hole into an entirely different world.

“Well, I didn’t see any croquet… or flamingoes…”

“Next time you go there,’ Alex chimed in, ‘take Dad’s camera. I want pictures of this palace.”

Kara rolled her eyes.

They were at Parsons, sitting in the open mouth of the shed that afforded Kara a horrendous view of rusted car chassis, broken tires and bent engines.

Well, Kara was sitting at least, on an upturned milk-crate. Alex was on her knees, her bike half-gutted before her. The variety of old, frayed towels she was using as a breaker between her backside and the cold, hard, concrete floor were smeared with so much dust, grease and oil they almost disappeared into the ground. Scattered around Alex were tools, cans of oil, even dirtier rags she was wiping her grimy hands on. 

“So,’ Alex continued airily, ‘what else did you get up to all afternoon?’

“Not much. Where’s Maggie? I would have thought she’d be here with us.’

“She had to fill in for someone. And nice try,’ Alex added, ‘but you can’t change the subject that easily.”

Kara sighed. When Alex had invited Kara to come with her to the garage, giving them both some privacy to talk, despite hoping with all her might, Kara had suspected that Alex was only doing so to get the scoop on what had happened the weekend before.

Kara almost folded her arms over her chest in defiance. But Lena was always a topic that got her chatting.

“She showed me around the mansion,’ Kara began, ‘and we had a picnic on the lawn, and she taught me how to play chess, and we listened to music and drank tea…”

“Hmm….’

“What? What’s that noise for?”

‘Nothing. I didn’t say anything.”

“Alex…”

Her sister looked up from her bike. Kara felt a moment of amusement at the sight of black greased smeared down her cheek.  

“Things are okay with you two again, then?’

Kara felt the weight of the question. It was loaded with so many layers, dripping with subtext, that she had to stand up.

“Yes,’ Kara said firmly. ‘We… talked. And we understand each other a bit better, and now we’re friends again.

Alex considered Kara for a long moment.

When she turned back to her bike, fiddling with fuses, her jaw was set.

“You can never have enough friends.”

Kara felt it only fair, considering how easily Alex dropped the subject for her, that she not question her sister’s heavy tone.

 

----

 

“Thank you for not getting the executive box.”

Lena, seated beside her, smiled. “Words I’ve never heard before.”

“And probably won’t again. Besides, everyone looks like ants from up there!”             

Putting her sunglasses on, Lena shook her head with a laugh.

The sun was blazing above them, and the breeze was refreshing as it cooled their skin, and wafted the scent of roasted nuts and popcorn from the vendor walking up and down the aisles.

Newcome Park was laid out before them in a glorious display of green grass, containing the brown triangle of the pitch. 

Kara had always been a big fan of baseball. She tried to listen to a game over the radio whenever she got the chance. But it had been years since she’d actually been to a game before; the last time would have been with her father, back in New York, watching The Dodgers play. He was a big fan of the sport, and The Dodgers, and long giving up on her mother, he then turned his efforts into moulding Kara into the best baseball fanatic she could be.

But the Danvers weren’t big into sport, more into science, which made Kara the odd one out. It had never really bothered her, but she did admit it would have been nice to have had someone to try and attend a game with. Even Winn never really seemed interested.

When Lena had mentioned that the women’s baseball league were in town for a weekend, and put forward the idea of maybe making a day out of the trip to National City, Kara had begged and pleaded with every nurse she could to swap shifts, promising to work double, until finally convincing Betty with all this and one of Eliza’s infamous pies.

Sitting there in the stands now, absorbing the sights and sounds, the smells and atmosphere, Kara knew her double shift she would be working next weekend was going to be worth it. Around them, people were already striking up choruses of, take me out of the ballgame... Up the aisles, men with trays full paper bags of of roasted nuts and popcorn were yelling into the stands, trying to sell snacks to the crowd, to their left, on the other side of the aisle, a man was smoking a pipe, while wheezing and spluttering. 

Lena eyed him. “You’re right. The crowd down here in general admission is far more… authentic.”

Kara laughed at her. “Don’t be such a snob.”

“I am not. Do you see me shying away from crawling on all fours in the bowels of machinery, elbow deep in grease and oil?”

“Considering that’s how I met you – on all fours – no, I don’t.”

Lena’s eyebrows rose, and she laughed.

Kara’s follow-up quip was lost. The players were walking out onto the field now, dressed in their tunics and skirts, hats upon their heads, bats on their shoulders and gloves swinging from their hands.

Feeling a thrill of excitement run up her spine, Kara stood to get a better look.

“I’ve read about this league, but I never thought I’d be able to actually see them play. Francis Englert is captain of the National City Howlers, she has a batting average that rivals Joe DiMaggio! But of course, no-one cares, because she’s a woman…”

Kara put a hand to her forehead, shielding her vision from the afternoon sun. The rival team – Gotham City Bombshells – were in the pits already. National City Howlers were mulling about by first base, stretching and chatting.

“You really like this sport.”

It wasn’t a question. Lena was admiring her.

Kara had told her about her history with this game on the way to the city, in the back of her Bentley. As usual, Lena had sat quietly and listened as Kara had gushed about her past.

Kara nodded, and glanced back at Lena. Kara could see her own, distorted reflection in Lena’s sunglasses. She looked akin to a child watching lions and elephants in a circus ring.

“It’s the Great American Pastime,’ she insisted.

Lena bit her lip before asking her next question.

“Did Mike bring you to games?”

Kara turned to look back at Lena, and sat back down slowly.

“He was more of a football fan,’ she admitted. ‘And Midvale High has a great line up, usually, so we’d always go to those games. Sometimes games in Bonnerville when we could both get away. Baseball bored him.”

Lena pursed her lips. “That’s unfortunate.”

Kara shrugged, and turned back to the field. She didn’t want Lena to see her frown, and she didn’t want to see Lena’s lips barely containing a smirk.

She sat down, and pointed out another player. “That’s Jennifer Thompson. She’s the pitcher. I read her pitch once went ninety one miles per hour.”

Lena cleared her throat, and leaned in a little. “I know Jennifer.”

“What?’ Kara swiveled in her chair, eyes wide. “You do? How?”

Lena glanced around before answering. “Carmilla’s.”

Realization hit Kara like a truck. Her head snapped back out to the field, the tiny figure of Jennifer Thompson, back to Lena, and back and forth a few more times in disbelief.

“Really?’ Kara whispered.

Kara shrugged, looking nonchalant.

“This was before she was on the team, of course,’ Lena smirked. ‘Under the radar, its much simpler to blend into the crowd. Now, being in the spotlight…’

Lena trailed off, and Kara didn’t need her to finish.

She didn’t want her to finish. She didn’t want to know about how Lena had met her at Carmilla’s. She didn’t want to think about how their evening would have ended up. The soft, wistful smirk at the corner of Lena’s mouth said enough.

“Do you like corndogs?’ Kara asked loudly. ‘I’ll get us some. I’m starving.”

“You’re always starving,’ Lena chuckled. ‘Here, let me pay…”

“You paid for the tickets! And you drove us here!”

“Just be quiet and let me treat you, for once, will you?’

Kara wanted to argue, but Lena was already rummaging around inside her purse, and the sun was reflecting off her dark har in such a way that Kara lost all train of thought.

“Here,’ Lena held out a green bill for Kara to take, ‘will this be enough?”

Kara took the note, and laughed. “Lena, this is a one hundred dollar bill.”

Lena frowned. “Is that not enough?”

Kara rubbed her forehead, laughing.

 

-----

 

“What’s going on with you?”

Kara looked up from her paper. Across the table, adding too much sugar to his coffee as usual, Winn was surveying her with narrowed eyes.

“I beg your pardon?’ Kara asked, confused. ‘I’m just reading this article…”

“What’s it about, unicorns?”

“Yes, they just discovered a new species living in Canada,’ Kara rolled her eyes. ‘You really are a fathead, sometimes.”

Winn scoffed. “Well I don’t know what else would put such a smile on your face.”

With a very rude snatch indeed, the paper was rippe from Kara’s hands as Winn pulled it around to read what she had been reading.

Kara felt her cheeks burn as Winn’s eyes danced over the page. Her heart pounded in her chest, but her panic was for naught.

All too soon, Winn scoffed and passed the paper back to her. “You and your darn baseball. National City didn’t even win.”

Kara glanced back down at the page. She had been reading over the news article that had covered last weekend’s game – Bombshells vs Howlers. The game she had attended with Lena.

But that hadn’t been all she was thinking about.

She’d been remembering the way Lena, who hadn’t even known much of the rules at first, and ended up yelling ‘foul’ and ‘that was clearly a ball!’ in chorus with the rest of the stadium by the third inning; how their hands had gently brushed against each other as they both reached into the bag of popcorn at the same time; how after the game, Lena had let Kara rant about game plays and unfair calls on the entire walk to the resteraunt where they had had burgers and milkshakes…

Kara blinked out out of her daze, suddenly feeling extremely exposed, despite the fact that they were, as usual, the only ones in the shop.

But Winn, thankfully, was too engrossed in his gutted radio to notice anything out of the ordinary. Kara stared at him for the longest time, a million thoughts running through her head.

“We’re friends, right?’ she asked.

He looked up at this. “Last I heard. Why? Did I do something wrong? Oh no… is this one of them gentle let downs? Are you about to tell me you’ve outgrown me?”

Kara reached over the bench, and slapped him up the side of his head.

Winn sighed in relief. “I'll take that as a no, then.”

“If you still think I can replace you that easily, you’re the one with the problems, not me.”

“Oh, I don’t know…’ Winn sang, going back to his radio, ‘… seems like all your free time is spent with Lena Luthor lately. And hey, I don’t blame you… I’m still ready to marry her should she ever ask me…”

Kara laughed, probably too loudly. “I don’t think Sally would be too pleased to hear that.”

At the mention of Sally, Winn’s cheeks flushed. “I asked her to go steady.”

“And?”

A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

“She said yes.”

Delight enveloped Kara. She leaned over the bench, and patted Winn firmly on the back.

“Of course she did. She’s a lucky girl, having a gentleman like you on her arm!”

Winn’s smile broke through even more, despite him pretending he was focused on his task.

“She doesn’t mind my leg,’ he said quickly, as if afraid he’d lose his nerve. ‘Says it shows how strong I am, that I don’t let it stop me living my life. She says “you don’t need to be a solider to be brave’”

Despite barely knowing the woman, Kara felt her affection for Sally blossom.

“Oh,’ Kara said airily, ‘you mean she mentioned that thing I’ve been telling you for years?”

Winn threw a dusty rag at her. Kara laughed, ducking his aim.

“She has to go back to Idaho soon,’ he added, ‘to help out with her family’s farm. But she said she’d be back… for me. That’s a good thing, right?”

Kara smiled at him, hoping he could see her pure happiness for him beaming through.

Winn sighed, and squirmed a little. “I miss her already, she’s only been gone two days. How you’ve handled Mike being away for almost a year I have no idea.”

The bubble of joy Kara had been feeling suddenly burst by the pin of guilt.

She watched Winn as he carried on with his work, the ghost of a smile still on his face.

Kara did miss Mike, and she had been this entire time he’d been overseas.

But she hadn’t missed him like that, like Winn missed Sally, and that was the thought that bothered her long after she’d left Winn later that afternoon.

 

-------

 

Three weeks later, on a peaceful Saturday afternoon, Kara Danvers turned another year older.

And if The Danvers could do anything right, it was celebrate a milestone.

Kara had been hesitant to have the party. Work had become very hectic, with Kara pulling more and more shifts to cover the influx of soldiers.

And then there was the fact that it just didn’t seem right to celebrate anything, let alone something as trivial as growing a year older, when Jeramiah and Mike weren’t there, and people all around the world were being tortured and imprisoned and killed.

“I know how you feel,’ Eliza had said one morning, after Kara had finally admitted to her why she wasn’t more excited about the party. ‘But it’s only a small affair, and your life is worth celebrating. Jeramiah and Mike would want this for you. I want this for you. You’ve been working so hard lately, let’s celebrate something. Let me celebrate the birth of my daughter.”

It was surprisingly emotional, hearing these words from Eliza. So, after some eyelash batting and more pleading, Kara relented.

A week later, her party was being held in a large park, just outside of town. Alex and Maggie had gotten there early, to reserve the best picnic tables they could find, and had decorated a small area with a few blue streamers and balloons – blue was Kara’s favorite colour.

Per Kara’s request, in order to keep things simple and easy, everyone had contributed some food; Winn and his mother had brought sandwiches, Alex had been up all-night baking cookies with rations she’d been saving up for weeks, Maggie had brought a very large apple and cinnamon pie, as well as a large crate filled with bottles of Coca Cola. James had brought along a dip his mother had made, complete with chips, and Eliza had baked a modest sponge cake for them all to share.

The punch bowl sat in the middle of all the different dishes, and despite Kara’s initial concern of the dynamics (Alex being so concerned about how she should present herself around everyone with Maggie in attendance, or the opinions some people might have of James being there) conversation flowed freely.

Winn had brought along a radio, placing it at the corner of the picnic table, providing music to drown out the sounds of children playing nearby.

There were no gifts. Kara had insisted. She didn’t need material objects, and she had asked that the money they would have spent be donated to whatever war effort her friends preferred. Kara felt joy at the thought that a few extra dollars would buy soldiers – men like her father and her boyfriend – an extra can of food, or put more bullets in their guns, and that was enough of a gift for her.

Standing in the park, leaning against the picnic table laden with foods her friends and family had put together just for her, the sun baring delightfully down on them, Kara felt a sense of peace she hadn’t felt in a while.

Despite Mrs. Schott’s questioning.

“Now, Winslow won’t tell me anything,’ Mrs. Schott chuckled, taking a sip of her punch, ‘but you will, won’t you dear? What’s this Sally like?”

It was then that the Bentley pulled up.

Lena almost fell out of the car in her haste to get out, not even waiting for Henry to open the door for her as he usually would.

Everyone observed, dumbfounded. Kara just laughed as she watched Lena detangle herself, straighten up, and try to regain her composure as she powerwalked over.

Taking pity on her, with a quick excuse, Kara stepped away from Mrs. Schott and met her half way.

“You’re late,’ Kara teased.

Lena sighed, heavy and remorseful. She was in a dress that looked like it would have belonged in Kara’s wardrobe, not that of an elite socialite.

‘I know, I’m so sorry,’ Lena breathed.

She was trying to smooth out her hair, fix the knot at the nape of her neck, make herself what Kara knew was what she considered to be presentable for such a social occasion.

It was adorable.

‘I was working on the line upstairs, they’re under staffed – there’s a dreadful cough going around – and I lost track of time.”

“You haven’t missed anything. We haven’t even had cake yet.”

This seemed to sate Lena’s panic, just a little.

“I apologise for my attire,’ Lena smoothed out her dark blue dress, her nose crinkled in frustration. ‘I didn’t have time to go home and change.” 

“Lena, we’re in a park. There’s a kid over there eating sand. This isn’t exactly a cocktail party at The Ritz.’ Kara chuckled. ‘You could have worn your factory overalls for all I care.”

Lena’s shoulders relaxed then, and when she looked up, that’s when Kara noticed the long smudge of grease along her jaw.

Kara laughed.

“What?’ Lena demanded.

“It’s nothing,’ Kara stepped in a bit closer, ‘you’ve just got a bit of… stand still, I’ll get it…”

Kara reached out, and stroked her thumb against Lena’s cheek. Lena froze, rigid, her eyes locked on Kara. The intensity of her gaze sent a shiver up Kara’s spine. She was suddenly keenly aware of how soft Lena’s skin was, the firmness of her jaw, how much closer they could be if only Kara or Lena took another short step forward…

“Miss Luthor…”

Kara pulled her hand back quickly, as if she’d been burnt. Lena blinked rapidly, and focused on Eliza, who had suddenly appeared at Kara’s shoulder with a glass of punch in one hand, and half a sandwich in the other.

Like a wet blanket, the flame was extinguished.

“Glad you could make it,’ Eliza commented. ‘And just in time. We were about to do speeches.’

Lena’s entire demeanor shifted. As usual, whenever she was around anyone but Kara, her posture stiffened, her jaw tightened, her chin lifted.

“Mrs. Danvers,’ she smiled. ‘Please accept my contribution, and hopefully an excuse my tardiness…”

Lena gestured behind her, and then Henry appeared, carrying a large grate akin to the type Maggie had brought. But instead of behind filled with Coca Cola, it contained four bottles of champagne.

“… I didn’t have time to make anything, I hope this will suffice.”

Eliza reached in, and pulled out a bottle. Her eyes widened.

“This is… very generous,’ Eliza breathed.

“I do hope four bottles is enough.”

Kara rolled her eyes, and patted Lena on the back. “Come on, come say hello to everyone.”

Lena shook hands with Winn and James, and introduced herself to Mrs. Schott, exchanging a little small talk, before getting to Alex.

Alex smiled at Lena, her cheeks flushing. The last time she’d seen Lena, she’d been sitting across the kitchen table from her, almost catatonic. But Lena made no mention of this, just returned the smile and the handshake.

Maggie stepped in then, and held her hand out.

“Lena,’ she said curtly.

Kara’s eyebrows rose, her expression of surprise at Maggie’s white flag mirroring Lena’s.

After a moment, Lena accepted Maggie’s hand, and shook it firmly.

“Nice to see you again, Officer Sawyer.”

Maggie handed Lena a glass of punch, the corner of her mouth twitching ever so slightly.

“Kara,’ Eliza moved to a position where everyone could see her, and beckoned Kara with a wave of her hand, ‘come over here please. I want to embarrass you with lots of sentimental words.”

Kara groaned. She felt Alex’s hands on her shoulders, pushing her forward, her laughter trailing along with them as she frog-marched Kara to their mother’s side.

Everyone gathered in a little, glasses now filled to the brim with golden champagne instead of punch. Kara squirmed a little under their gaze. She was not keen on being the centre of attention like this, but it was tradition.

“So, in the Danvers family,’ Eliza began, ‘its custom for the head of the house to say a few things about the guest of honour. Now, normally this would be Jeramiah’s job… and he’s much better at it, let me tell you… but I’ll do my best in his stead.

“Kara,’ Eliza’s arm went around her shoulders, pulling her in a little closer, ‘this has been a hard year for all of us, but I feel like this is even more true especially for you. First Jeramiah shipping overseas, and then Michael enlisting, and you’re always stuck between your sister and I and our… varying disagreements…’

Kara snorted. Beside her, she could almost hear Alex’s eyes rolling. Around them, everyone laughed.

“But you never let any of that dampen your spirit,’ Eliza continued. ‘These are such dark and uncertain times we’re living in, and we’ve all lost so much and stand to maybe lose so much more… but you carry on, like a beacon, showing us all the way. You represent the best of what’s in each of us, remind us how we want to be, how we want the world to be – full of strength, tolerance, love, and light.”

Kara blinked away the tears welling in her eyes, blurring her vision. She took her glasses off, to wipe them away.

"I'm so proud of you, sweetheart. And I'm so happy to have you in our lives.' Eliza choked out a laugh, her own tears flowing freely. “I’m sorry. This is why Jeramiah is better at this sort of thing, he doesn’t cry until after the speech. Alex, do you want to add anything?”

Alex’s hand was in Kara’s then, her grip tight. When she spoke, she turned to face their guests.

“I don’t need to stand up here and tell you how wonderful my little sister is. You all know her, she’s all affected your lives the same way she has mine. Recently, I think we’ve become even closer… something I didn’t think was possible. Kara’s seen parts of me that I didn’t even want to acknowlegde, let alone expose to someone else. But I did. I shared very personal things with her, and she didn’t turn away in shame… she didn’t dismiss me, or cast me aside like I feared she might… she took my hands in hers, and simply said, you’re my sister, and I love you.”

Alex turned to Kara then.

“Kara, I’m so glad you’re my sister. And like everyone else here, like everyone who you will ever meet… I love you.”

And that, Kara decided, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The next second, her arms were around Alex, and Eliza’s arms were around them both in a suffocating, but not unpleasant embrace, and Kara felt a warmth spread throughout her body at the feeling and the reassurance that no matter how confusing things may get in life, she would always have these two extraordinary women to ground her.

When they finally pulled away, the others were applauding, and James’s deep voice sounded with a “To Kara!” that everyone echoed.

Through the blur of tears, through the bodies that were now muddling about now speeches were done, Kara spotted Lena.

She hadn’t moved. Her eyes were still on Kara, eyelids heavy and brow slightly pulled together in an expression that Kara could only describe as defeat. But then James came over, a plate baring a slice of cake held out to her, and the moment passed.

Kara received more hugs from everyone – mostly Winn – and helped herself to as much pie as she thought would be appropriate in public. Eating was a good way to move through feelings, she thought.

That’s when Lena, who had finally stepped away from a chatty Winn, sidled up to her.

“Come with me,’ she smiled.

Intrigued, Kara followed.

Hands still occupied with a paper plate and half a pie, Kara trailed Lena’s footsteps all the way back out to the street, where her Bentley was parked.

“I got you something,’ Lena said over her shoulder.

And there it was, tied to the back of the car with ropes wrapped around the spare tire – a shiny, light-blue bicycle, complete with a basked on the handlebars.

Kara sighed, trying so very hard to suppress her excitement.

“Lena,’ she said, exasperated, ‘I said no gifts. I wanted people to donate the money.”

“I did donate the money. Quite a considerable amount,’ Lena muttered. ‘But then I saw this this and… I couldn’t help it.”

Kara shot her look, before stepping up to the bike. It gleamed in the afternoon sun, polished and new.

“And now,’ Lena added eagerly, ‘you don’t have to rely on anyone else to get to work, or into town… or to my place…”

Kara turned to look at her. Lena’s lip was caught between her teeth.

“Thank you,’ Kara said finally. And she meant it.

Lena clasped her hands behind her back, in an attempt - Kara strongly suspected - not to reach out and pull Kara into a hug. 

 

-------

 

On a rare night in, just the two of them, Kara glanced across at her sister.

Alex was lounging back in Jeramiah’s armchair, sunken so deep into the cushions it threatened to permanently absorb her. She had her own high school chemistry book proped open in her lap, and her gaze upon it was intense.

Kara hated to interrupt her when she was so deep in thought.

But in the past few weeks, she’d decided that the only safe way she was going to get any answers to her multitude of questions, any semblance of clarity through her haze of uncertainty and confusion, was to just talk to someone about it all.

“Alex,’ Kara began with trepidation, ‘how did you know?”

It took a moment for Alex to respond.

“Hmm? Know what?”

“That you had feelings for Maggie?”

It never been addressed before; never so bluntly, at least. Discussions about Alex’s disposition were often hushed, shared whispers in the dead of night when the entire world seemed to be enveloped in darkness. And even then, out of a sense of courtesy, Kara had skated around one of the biggest questions she’d had for her sister since she had revealed the truth.

But she couldn’t take it anymore.

Closing it around her finger, Alex slowly looked up from her book. She stared at Kara, her expressions shifting and changing, the evidence of the internal battle going on inside of her.

She’d never actually admitted her feelings before.

Finally, Alex’s expression hardened, and she opened her book once again.

Under the pretense of reading, Alex murmured, “I expect the same way you knew you had feelings for Mike.”

Kara sighed. She’d been afraid that this would be Alex’s answer.

But Alex wasn’t finished.

Underneath her breath, eyes not lifting from her book, she added, ‘You do still have feelings for him, yes?”

“Of course I do,’ Kara insisted, quickly and automatically.

Alex’s eyebrows rose.

Kara squirmed, regretting bringing this up already, until she realised that this was Alex’s old deflection routine – changing the subject away from herself – and Kara’s determination came flooding back.

“But it’s different,’ Kara continued. ‘Liking women is… not the norm. It’s not how we were raised. How did you know?

Alex closed her book properly this time. She sat up a little, and ran a hand through her hair.

“She makes my heart race,’ Alex said simply, her shoulders slumping in defeat. ‘She’s all I can think about, every day. The colour of her hair, the way she smiles, the smell of her perfume mixed with grease and oil… its always in the back of my mind. She makes me so nervous, like I get this knot in my guts when I’m with her, but then when I’m not with her it gets even tighter.”

This all sounded very familiar.

“That’s not necessarily love, though,’ Kara reasoned.

“Yes, I know,' Alex smirked, 'that’s how you feel about ice cream.”

Kara took of her glasses, and rubbed her eyes.

“With Maggie,’ Alex continued, ‘it burns more intensely, right here in my chest. It's different from the way I feel about you, or Mom. I want to protect her from all the harm in this world. I want her to be happy. And I want to be the reason she’s happy… but that’s selfish, and I know that. And, even though she hasn’t made any indication that she feels the same way about me,’ Alex added, glaring down at her feet, ‘it doesn’t matter. I don’t do the things to do for her, and say the things I say to her because I want her to say it back. I say it because…’

Alex trailed off, biting her lip.

Kara nodded. “Because you have feelings for her.”

Yes,’ Alex said, clearly and firmly.

Kara smiled at her, and kicked her leg out gently, knocking the tip of her slipper against Alex’s thigh.

Alex fixed Kara with a stare. “And this is how you feel about Mike?”

“It is.”

Alex retrieved her book again, and made a show of finding her page. “And Lena?”

“It... shouldn’t be.”

“It does make things complicated… you know… if it is…”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I think you’ll just have to make a decision. No point sitting on the fence about it. Trust me, you’ll go nuts otherwise.”

Kara frowned at her sister. As the silence stretched on, Alex seemed to feel Kara’s gaze on her, and she looked up.

“What?’ she laughed.

“It’s just… you don’t seem to be very surprised about this,’ Kara said. ‘I’ve never shown any inclination towards women like this before.”

Alex gave her a skeptical look. “Kara, come on. You remember your first job, at the factory? And your line manager… what was her name?”

Kara felt her cheeks burn. “Miss Grant?”

Cat Grant’s face popped into Kara’s head then, a woman she hadn’t really thought about in a while. So much had changed in her life since she was seventeen, working the production line at the old chocolate factory in Bonnerville, packing boxes for minimum wage to help save for nursing school. Cat Grant had been her boss then, a commanding woman despite her short stature, who didn’t seem to care that being a woman automatically presented her with so many barriers in her life. She’d worked her way right up from Kara’s position, to be the manager, and she was adamant that everyone in that factory was going to damn well respect her. She demanded everyone put in one hundred and ten percent, not to please the men above her or fill quotas, but because she knew they were all capable of it. She knew when to push, and how. She was quick to the point, not one to beat around the bush. And she’d taught Kara so much about how to stand up for yourself and others, how it was crucial given the world today. Kara felt a flutter in her chest at the thought of her, that old feeling of respect and esteem she used to feel whenever Miss Grant paid her a rare and fleeting compliment as she passed by Kara’s stool on the line, or was even in the room at all.

“Yeah, that's her! Don’t you remember? You used to talk about her all the time. And she was the bossiest woman in the entire world, but you adored her.”

“She was ahead of her time,’ Kara insisted.

Alex gave her a look. “Kara… after everything these past few weeks, can you really look back at that and think it was just simple respect?”

Kara sighed. “No. I suppose not. Maybe I really have always been like this.”

“Just wait,’ Alex said, deadpan, ‘soon you’ll start over-analyzing every interaction you’ve ever had. That’s when the real fun begins.”

Another pang of guilt and sympathy flashed through Kara then, as she looked at her sister long after she’d gone back to her own book. As confusion as this all was, at least Kara had Alex to air it all to. Poor Alex had had no-one for so long.

Her head spinning, Kara got to her feet. She needed to be alone, to think.

"Are you okay?' Alex asked. 

"I'm fine." 

Alex let out another sceptical h'mmm. 'Well I'm here... whenever you're ready to talk about it properly." 

She stopped short of heading to her room, hovering in the doorway, and turned back to her sister.

“You know,’ she began tentatively, ‘you didn’t see the way Maggie was with you in National City. The way she is always is with you. I might be speaking out of turn… but I don’t think this thing you two have is as one-sided as you think.”

Alex’s jaw tightened.

Kara shrugged, giving her a tight-lipped smile, and headed upstairs.

 

-------

 

Three days later, well past sundown, Kara was riding her bike up Lena’s ridiculously long driveway.

It had been raining; the gravel was soaked, and made little noise against the tyres as she rode. The air still carried the scent of fresh rainfall, the breeze cool against Kara’s sweat brow.

By the time she had pulled up at the front door, her legs were shaking, and her heart was racing, in a way that didn’t entirely have anything to do with riding the six miles from her own house in Midvale, out to the Luthor Mansion.

Kara rested her bike on its kickstand, and knocked on the door.

It was late. She was being rude, calling so late. But her skin was prickling with determination and she knew it was now or never.

Geoffrey answered the door, as expected.

He blinked rapidly. “Miss Danvers. We are not accustomed to visitors at such an hour.”

“I know, I’m sorry.’

It suddenly occurred to her that Lena might not even be home. It wasn’t unusual for her to be working late at the factory. Kara supposed she should have called first, but ensure her ride to her house wouldn’t have been for nothing.

But her fears were alleviated almost at once, as Geoffrey said:

“Miss Luthor is not expecting you.”

“I know,’ Kara repeated, feeling her resolve crumble a little. ‘This was… as last-minute decision.”

Geoffrey eyed her down his nose, his grey eyebrow raised.

“Miss Luthor is in the gymnasium,’ he said finally, ‘I shall show you through.”

Kara was hot on his heels the entire way through the house. She didn’t have the sense to tell him she already knew where the gym was – Lena had shown her during her house tour weeks ago – her mind too busy with everything else.

Geoffery paused in the doorway of the sunroom, where Lena had set up her own personal gym, and pushed the door inward with a soft knock against the glass pane.

“Miss Luthor?”

Kara, over Geoffery’s shoulder, could just see into the room.

Lena was boxing.

Her back was to the door. Her hands sporting big, red, leather boxing gloves, she had been laying into the bag than hung from a frame with uninhibited swings of her arms. Because of the white tank she wore, and the fact that her hair hung down her back in a plait that was coming lose from all the exertion, Kara was afforeded a quick glance of the muscles in her back, that flexed every time she took a swing, heard her breath coming out in short hisses with every swing, before Geoffery’s voice boomed out over the sound of her gloves hitting the bag. 

“Miss Luthor?”

Lena stopped then, and turned. Her chest was heaving, her face and skin slick with sweat.

“Miss Danvers here to see you.”

Kara stepped into the room then. Lena’s eyes widened slightly.

“Thank you, Geoffrey. That will be all."

Geoffrey bower himself out, shutting the door as he left.

Gloves still on, chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath, Lena shot Kara the unique mixture of a smile and a frown.

“Kara,’ she breathed. ‘What are you doing here? Not that I’m not pleased to see you, but its almost ten. Don't you have an early start tomorrow?”

Kara took a few steps forward.

“I’m sorry for just showing up out of the blue,’ she stated, ‘but I had to see you.”

Lena’s frown was serious this time.

“Is everything okay?”

Move forward, her body screamed. Now or never.

Unable to resist any longer, unable to find any sort of argument to this demand, Kara closed the distance between them.

Kara felt Lena stiffen as she took her gently by the upper arms. Kara was sure that, had she been in any sort of sensible frame of mind, she would have been able to count the beads of sweat upon Lena’s brow.

It was asking permission without words. Kara’s hands slowly slid upward to Lena’s shoulders, giving her enough time to push Kara away. When Lena did nothing, her hands then moved up her neck, to finally cup her face.

Lena didn’t move away at all.

And when her tongue darted out to lick her lips, Kara lost all sense of propriety.

Kissing Lena was unlike anything Kara had ever experienced before.

The first thing Kara noticed was that Lena’s mouth was soft, and no subtle scratched at Kara chin.

It seemed like a long time, too long… but then Lena’s nose grazed against Kara’s, and she began to kiss her back, hesitantly at first, and then her lips parted and Lena’s gloved hands came to rest on Kara’s hips, pulling her in even more.

Kara’s heart slammed against her chest. Lena groaned ever so slightly into Kara’s mouth, and Kara’s entire body erupted in goosebumps; quivers of excitement flushed every nerve ending in her body as she felt Lena pressed up against her. It was like that night at the fundraiser, when they’d hid under the stairs, only so much better

Then it was over.

Lena had pulled back enough to look at Kara, but not enough that they had completely separated. Their bellies were still pressed together, Kara’s hands still clutching onto Lena’s shoulders for dear life, Lena’s hands still at Kara’s waist.

Lena was flushed, and still breathing hard with pupils blown wide.

“I’m sorry,’ Kara whispered. ‘I’m making this all so confusing, and I know we promised to just be friends… but I just had to know. I couldn’t take one more night of not knowing.”

“Knowing what?”

“What it would feel like to kiss you,’ Kara admitted bashfully. ‘What you felt like. How it would feel to be like this with you.”

Lena sighed, looking completely and utterly defeated, but not entirely displeased about it.

“And?’ she asked. ‘What’s the verdict?”

Kara leant in again, inhaling Lena’s scent of perfume and sweat as she kissed her.

Sometimes words just weren’t enough.

And consequences could wait until tomorrow. 


 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

A shrill ring woke Kara the next morning.

Consciousness was unwelcome. She came unwillingly back to reality, slowly at first and then all at once. Sunlight hit her eyes with a sharp jab. Kara rolled over with a groan.

And that’s when she laid eyes on and already awake Lena Luthor, face half-hidden in plush pillows, and her irritation at being woken up instantly vanished.

The events of last night suddenly came flooding back, as Kara remembered where she was and why she was there. She couldn’t help the smile that broke out, pulling at her cheeks.

Lena smiled back at her.

“Good morning,’ she murmured.

Kara’s heart started beating double time. She was suddenly keenly aware of the soft mattress she was lying upon, the comforting weight of the blanket draped over her, the softness of the pillow underneath her head, as the events of last night dancing around her head…

Kara yawned. “G’morn’ng.”

“I set the alarm,’ she explained once Kara had recovered. ‘You start at eight, right?”

Kara sat up in in sudden panic, remembering with a cold dread that she had a shift to be at. She glanced at the alarm clock, on the bedside table behind Lena – the time read just after six am.

“Relax,’ Lena chuckled; she reached out and put a soft hand on Kara’s shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t let you be late. Henry will take you whenever you’re ready.”

Kara slumped back into the covers.

Now that the concern of being late for work had passed, Kara was left with nothing but the vision of the woman lying beside her; the fact that her face was half hidden in her own pillow doing nothing to diminish her radiance.

Kara almost rolled her eyes. When had she become such a sap?

“Besides,’ Lena added, stretching out, ‘I wouldn’t want Eliza to worry. Honestly, I’m a little surprised she hasn’t brought down my front door by now, looking for you.”

“She won’t, don’t worry. I, er… sort of told her I would be staying over.”

Lena sat up a little. “I beg your pardon?”

Kara grit her teeth, looking guilty. “I just needed a contingency plan. Just in case. It’s easier to explain coming home early, than it is coming home the next morning.”

Lena laughed into her pillow, burying her face, shoulders shaking.

“I’m glad I didn’t know that last night,’ she commented when she came up again for air. ‘Things could have gone… much differently.”

Kara’s stomach rumbled then, very loudly indeed, disrupting any further subtext or euphemisms.

Lena smirked. “Breakfast?”

“I mean, sure,’ Kara shrugged. ‘I could eat… if you’re offering…”

Twenty minutes later, Kara was sitting across from Lena, who was wrapped in a black robe, at a small, round table in the kitchen downstairs.

The room was bigger than Kara’s living room. But she was too used to this house now, it’s almost cavernous rooms, to be surprised by its splendour anymore. A steaming pot of coffee sat between them, as did a plate laden with pieces of freshly-cooked French toast that Kara had already eaten the majority of.

But it wasn’t enjoyed in comfortable silence.

For Kara, at least.

In fact, if felt as if the entire weight of the world were pressing down on her chest.

She kept stealing glances up at Lena every few moments – Lena, who was reading the paper, taking the occasional sip of her coffee and smoking a cigarette, looking nonchalant and care-free – and wishing that she could have had a shred of self-control and they could have just talked the night before.

After their kiss, Lena had pulled away with laughter and a scrunched-up nose, claiming how unfair it must have been for Kara to be subjected to her sweaty bodice a moment longer.

Kara had tried to say she didn’t mind in the slightest, but Lena had said something about a shower, and all thoughts had left her brain.

Lena had led her up to her bedroom – the one room in the house Kara had most definitely not already seen – set her down on the edge of the bed with a quick, chaste kiss, and promised she would be quick in the bathroom. But as soon as Lena had shut the door to her ensuite, Kara had laid back on the mattress

Her second miscalculation for the night.

It had been such a long day; she’d taken part in two surgeries earlier that morning, worked a ten-hour shift, and barely eaten (for her standards) all day. Combining that with the mental exhaustion of debating over whether or not to see Lena, to take that forbidden step with her, for days now, as well as the physical exertion of pedalling eagerly the entire way there, it hadn’t been long before exhaustion had crept in, and Kara had drifted off to sleep.

Clearly Lena hadn’t had the heart to wake her.

Kara’s leg bounced under the table now. In the front of her mind, she thought about the French toast she was eating, and how she was pretty sure she’d never tasted anything so amazing in her entire life.

At the back of her mind, it was a completely different story.

Lena turned the page of her paper, and without looking up, breathed out the softest of sighs.

“Alright,’ she murmured, ‘out with it.”

Kara straightened in her seat, adjusted her glasses. “Out with what?”

The paper crumpled loudly as Lena pulled it back down to the table, and gave Kara that look.

“Everything is fine,’ Kara insisted.

Lena’s eyebrows rose even more. “Oh, really? So, you’re not feeling guilty about last night? And I’m to understand that you’ve completely broken everything off with Mike and that you’re a free agent, and that there’s absolutely nothing suspect about you kissing me last night what-so-ever?”

Kara frowned. “Stop that.”

Lena ruffled the paper in satisfaction, and made a show of supposedly going back to her article. "Didn't think so."

 

“I’m sorry,’ Kara blurted out.

Lena was right; the guilt pressing down on her was almost overwhelming.

“It’s okay,’ Lena said after a long moment. But when Kara said nothing in return, she looked up, and put her paper down again to fix Kara with a sincere look. ‘It’s okay. I understand.”

“You… you do?”

“You’re a curious person by nature... too much in your own head sometimes… and like you said, you just needed to know.”

Kara remembered her words keenly, along with what had come next, and felt her cheeks burn.

“But it’s not fair to you,’ Kara uttered. ‘We set boundaries. I crossed a line, and it’s got to be so confusing to you…”

“Kara,’ Lena cut her off kindly.

Kara’s body tingled as she recalled the night before, how the moment between them seemed to be building, almost as if out of her control… and how Lena had pulled back just at the right time…

“Do you don’t think less of me?’ Kara asked timidly.

Lena shot her a look then, akin to disbelief. But as quickly as it appeared, it dissolved, masked behind that expression of kindness and patience.

“It was an innocent kiss,’ Lena stated, matter-of-factly, and went back to her paper. ‘Quite honestly, nothing I haven’t imagined about a hundred times over the last few months.”

“Really?”

Lena blushed. “To say the least. And I presume your curiosity is sated. Right?”

Kara pursed her lips.

“Right. Yes. Of course. But…”

“But what? I have no false illusions. I know you’re not suddenly going to leave Mike for me. I know nothing has changed. It was only a kiss. We can continue as things were, if you like.”

“We can? You can?”

Lena smirked as she blew smoke from between her lips. “Hurry up and eat, you have work and I have a meeting to get to.”

It seemed too easy. Surely there should be some sort of consequence for this sort of behavior? But Lena didn’t look upset. In fact, as she went back to her paper, taking another puff of her cigarette, she even looked smug.

It did nothing to sate the guilt, rumbling in Kara’s gut, refusing to leave no matter how much she replayed Lena’s words in her mind.

Forty minutes later, Kara was stepping out of the back of Lena’s Bentley onto the curb out the front of her own house. Henry was already detaching her bike from the back of the car.

Lena walked Kara to her door, as was now was apparently tradition.

“Thank you for driving me home.”

“No trouble at all. It’s on the way to my meeting.”

The events of the night before seemed to have become something taboo, albeit not negatively, but in a way that suggested that it would always just be this thing that happened. Kara was immensely glad that her moment of recklessness would not ruin the relationship they had put so much effort into, and that Lena wasn’t mad at her.

But also disappointed – a feeling she tried desperately to ignore.

Kara jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Do you have a second to come up?”

Lena looked slightly perturbed. “Uh…”

“It’ll only take a moment. Please? I have something for you.”

That promise seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Exactly what Kara had been counting on.

Lena sighed, and gestured for Kara to lead the way.

Moments later, Kara was leading Lena up the stairs to the landing. A split second before opening the door to her and Alex’s bedroom, Kara suddenly realized that Lena had never made it this far into her house before, and was about to cross into a very small, and no doubt messy, and personal space.

Kara felt Lena behind her, hovering just at her shoulder, and felt energy thrum through her limbs, and the only way she could relieve it was to reach out and open the door.

As she’d feared, the room was chaos. Per usual, Alex’s freshly laundered clothes were still in a pile on the end of her bed; the rest of her books and assorted random socks and greasy overalls were splayed across her unmade bed. Kara’s half of the room wasn’t much better; her own pile of laundry had tipped over, leaving a trail of clothes across her bed amongst her books.

Kara cleared her throat, feeling her cheeks burn. “Excuse the mess.”

In the corner of her eye, Kara saw Lena, dressed in a long trench coat, hair perfectly kept in a bun at the nape of her neck, make-up impeccably done, jaw set, look around the tiny bedroom with a sort of wonder.

“Not at all,’ was all she said.

Kara rifled through her drawers, trying to focus on the real reason she’d brought Lena up to her room in the first place.

It wasn’t hard to find. Kara grabbed the record, slammed her dresser shut, and whirled around. Lena was still surveying the room, looking almost too big for the space. But that could have also just been Kara’s imagination.

“I found this in the pawn shop,’ Kara began to explain, stroking the soft cover of the record in her hands, ‘and I noticed you didn’t have this in your collection, and… well…”

Kara thrust it into Lena’s hands. Lena turned it over, and smiled as the face of Charlie Barker stared up at her, hugging his saxophone dear and close.

“I know you like jazz,’ Kara started timidly, ‘and he really does have some great songs… most of which are on this album.”

“You didn’t have to get me anything. There’s no occasion.”

Kara shrugged. “Does there need to be an occasion?”

Lena smiled at her then, with that wistful smile that said so much more than Lena’s words could ever express, and Kara felt her chest tighten.

“Thank you,’ Lena said, ‘I’m going to listen to this tonight when I get home.”

She began backing toward Kara’s door.

“I’m sorry.’ Kara blurted.

It burst forth in her panic. She knew she’d already said it a million times. But somehow, standing with Lena in her own room, in her space, the reality of what had happened suddenly seemed much more real.

Lena turned back, a frown forming between her brow.

“Let me be candid here for a moment…’ she started, wringing her hands together, ‘I’ll admit, I had hoped your sudden forwardness last night was a result of circumstances changing. But that clearly isn’t the case.’

“I’m…’

“Sorry,’ Lena cut her off kindly. ‘Yes, I know. But I want you to know that despite my disappointment, I’m also not entirely surprised. After your admission that my feelings weren’t as one-sided as I had originally thought… and after all out ‘outings’ together… I feel like this was inevitable, in a way.”

Kara sighed in relief.

“I agree,’ she admitted.

Lena nodded, almost as if trying to convince herself.

“I accept your apology,’ she said after a long pause.

“You’re sure you’re not mad at me?”

Lena laughed. “How could I be mad, when all I’ve dreamed about for the past few months finally came true?”

Kara blew air out through her lips. That wave of heat passed through her body again, fast and intense.

“But I’m not an idiot, and I meant what I said before,’ Lena continued. ‘And I don’t want to get my expectations up again. So… I propose we just declare this a curiosity that needed to be sated, and that’s it. That’s all this was, I assume?”

“It was.”

“Good. And take that worried look off your face,’ Lena added with a smirk, ‘you’re not the first girl to scratch such an itch with me.”

This didn’t help sooth Kara in the least, but Lena was offering them a lifeline, something she didn’t think she would have a second chance at, and she would be damned if she didn’t take it.

 “This sort of thing happens all the time,’ Kara offered hopefully. ‘The world being as it is the way it is right now… well, people are doing all sort of crazy things…”

“Indeed.”

“We just need to accept it for it was, and move on.”

“I completely agree.”

Kara nodded, once and finally. “Good,’ she stated. ‘I’m glad we got that sorted. No hard feelings.”

Lena smiled. “None at all.”

“Just as long as we don’t let it happen again, everything will be fine.”

“Absolutely.”

Kara nodded resolutely. “Wonderful.”

Not long after, when Kara had walked Lena back downstairs to the front door, Lena turned back just shy of stepping over the threshold, and onto the street where her car was waiting.

“You’re my best friend,’ Lena suddenly admitted. ‘I hope you know that.”

Kara almost squirmed.

Lena bit her lip. “Will you come over this weekend? We can listen to this together.”

Brandishing the record Kara had given her, Lena looked akin to a child holding up a certificate they had earned in school, trying to impress their parents.

It was ridiculously endearing.

Despite knowing, deep down, she was in so much trouble, Kara nodded.

“I’d love to.”

Lena left with a smile, and a quick but firm squeeze of Kara’s hand.

After watching Lena get into her car, and the Bentley pull out from the curb and turn down the corner, Kara finally shut the door and turned to head back upstairs, to change into her nurse’s uniform.

On the way through, her foot on the first step of the staircase, something out of the corner caught her attention.

Alex was sitting in Jeramiah’s chair, looking at Kara with one eyebrow raised.

Kara cleared her throat, adjusted her glasses, and with one quick smile, bolted back upstairs to get changed.

 

-----

 

A week later, on a particularly quiet afternoon, Kara was standing at Lena’s front door.

She knocked as hard as she could, the impact stinging her knuckles. And soon enough, Geoffrey pulled the doors inward.

Kara just smiled at him.

With a twitch at the corner of his mouth, Geoffrey stood aside.

“Miss Luthor is in the observatory. Shall I announce you?”

Kara patted him on the arm as she crossed over the threshold. “I think we’re well past that point, don’t you?”

“Yes. Quite.”

When Kara made her way upstairs to the observatory, she found Lena bent over a work bench scattered with many small, metal parts. She was wearing goggles, soldering frayed strands of wire together, just as Kara had seen Winn to many times before.

But Winn never wore suspenders over a plain, dark shirt. Winn didn’t have long, dark hair, barely held back by a headband.

Kara didn’t like the thought of Winn’s hands on her hips, or his nose nuzzling her neck.

Kara cleared her throat, and Lena looked up. With her mouth open in concentration, her face hidden behind goggles, Kara couldn’t help but laugh.

“You look like a drunk Grasshopper.’

Lena put her tools down, and pulled her goggles down to hang around her neck.

“I could say what I think you look like, but it would be inappropriate.”

Kara felt her cheeks burn.

“What are you doing here so early?’ Lena enquired. ‘I wasn’t expecting you until four.”

“It is four.”

Lena blinked rapidly, glancing at her watch. “Well, so it is. I must have lost track of time.”

“What are you working on?

Kara stepped closer, and saw the large metal cylinder that Lena had been welding. Attached to it were leather straps, as if it were to be worn.

“The French invented it,’ Lena explained, looking suddenly awkward. ‘I’m not plagiarizing, just tinkering. Seeing if I can make improvements on their idea.”

“What is it?”

“They call it the Aqualung. It’s meant to be for divers. Offers complete independence of movement, unlike the old suits. The navy were given an enormous stock of them, but I just thought maybe I could... make some adjustments.”

Kara looked up at her. “Don’t you ever stop? You build planes and bombs all day at the factory, and then you come home and do this.”

Lena shrugged, failing in her attempts not to appear proud.

“I want to help,’ she said simply.

Kara snorted. “You want to get your head checked.”

“Two quips in one afternoon,’ Lena raised an eyebrow, ‘someone’s in a good mood.”

“I’m happy to see you.”

“I’m happy to see you, too.”

And there they were again, standing right at the line, looking at it in the eye as it challenged and tempted and dared them to cross.

Kara was the first one to look away this time.

“You must be hungry,’ she offered. “You promised me afternoon tea?”

Not long after, they were out on the lawn, sprawled on a picnic blanket with a plate, already half empty of sandwiches, and a pitcher of cordial that was almost drained dry.

Lena, not even bothering to change out of her work clothes, was sitting up, cross legged, with a physics book open in her lap. Behind her sunglasses, Kara knew her eyes would be darting back and forth at a dizzying pace as she absorbed words, concepts and theories that Kara barely understood.

Nearby, the little wireless was playing soft tunes. The setting sun was still providing some warmth, and this combined by a full tummy and Lena sitting so close filled Kara with such a feeling of contentment, she feared she might drift off to sleep again.

As was expected, the feeling didn’t last forever.

“Can I ask you a person question?”

Kara looked around, vision unfocused by her skewed glasses. “Sure.”

Lena pursed her lips before continuing. “You and Mike… how did you meet?”

Ignoring the clench in her gut, Kara sat up a little. “Really? Well, we met at the dance. Midvale holds socials every fortnight…”

“There must be dozens of men at those things, though. What was it about him?”

“Well at first he was annoying, honestly,’ Kara chuckled, remembering the first few instances Mike had attempted an introduction. ‘I initially said yes to a date simply to shut him up. But he took me to an arcade in Dunmore, and I’d never seen such a giant handful of pennies! We played skee-ball, and pinball, and he won me a stuffed bear in the shooting gallery…”

With every story, every word, Kara’s anxiety eased; her memories of Mike, for once, didn’t fill her full of guilt. She remembered his smile, this laugh, his cocky nature that she knew had a genuine root of integrity beneath all his male bravado. It filled her with a warmth she’d almost forgotten. He’d been gone for so long.

Kara, while at first thrown by Lena’s sudden curiosity, soon settled into telling stories about Mike; about the time they’d gone out on a rowboat in the middle of the lake, his intentions to woo her with romantic gestures and book readings, but the boat had sunk and they’d had to swim back to shore. About how they had gone to see a film at the drive-in in Bonnerville, only for the screen to catch fire and being evacuated from the site half way through the movie.

Every memory made her smile. Lena listened with curiosity, head tilted, lips pursed.

Kara was almost too swept up in the memories notice the music had stopped, and the sounds of a news report were suddenly breaking through on the wireless.

Almost.

This just in, breaking news…

Kara sat bolt upright as the music cut off, and the stern voice of the radio announcer cut through. Reports of ships being attacked off the coast of Japan flooded through, U.S vessels now lying at the bottom of the ocean. Kara’s entire body prickled, panic flaring in her chest.

Lena’s hand reached out, and gripped Kara’s shoulder.

“Hey,’ she soothed, ‘it’s okay.”

“Jeramiah was just there,’ Kara breathed. Her chest felt like it was crushing in on itself. ‘That could have been him. He only shipped out two weeks ago….”

“But he’s safe. He’s alright.”

“None of them are safe.”

Kara was on her feet now, adrenaline spiking. She felt so stupid, sitting here in the sun, thinking she could relax when there were people now just hearing about this news, eyes tearing away from the door in the dark realisation that their sons would truly never be coming home.

Jeramiah… Mike…

Lena got to her feet also, took Kara by the shoulders, and fixed her with a stare.

“I understand,’ she said.

“No, you don’t. None of your family is over there in the trenches.”

It was rude. Cruel.

But Lena just sighed. ‘No, they’re not. But yours are. The women at the factory, their families are. That’s why I’m working up to my elbows in metal and grease and explosives every day, so that they can have a chance. That’s why I tinker with gas bottles, and design planes, and so many other things that I haven’t had the chance to show you yet, because I want them to have the best chance they can have. You trust me, right?”

Kara nodded.

Lena smiled. “Then you know I’m going to do everything in my power to bring your father and Mike home safe.”

Reaching up, Kara took Lena’s hands in hers – hands that were literally building and creating and trying so hard to make the world a better place. Kara linked their fingers together, knowing full well she should have just let go.

The announcement had concluded. Music was playing again, soft and slow, matching the deceleration of Kara’s previously racing heartbeat.

“I’m sorry,’ she said finally.

“Don’t apologize. I get that tight feeling in my chest when I hear about bombings in London, or ships sighted in the harbor of Metropolis. We all have someone to lose.”

“You won’t lose me.”

Kara felt it was important to say. Maybe it was wrong, maybe it sent the wrong message, but in that moment, she truly didn’t care.

Lena took the initiative.

Dropping her hands, Lena sat back down on the picnic blanket. The sun reflected off her dark hair and sunglasses as she looked back up at Kara.

“Are you going to finish that sandwich?”

Kara dropped down beside her, seeing through Lena’s attempted distraction.

"I just feel so helpless. All I can do is deal with the aftermath. I clean up a mess that I wish I could stop before it even happened."

Lena smiled. "That's my job. You wouldn't wanna put lil' old me out of work, now would you?"

"Stop that. I'm serious.'

"What do you… it’s so important, Kara. And I know to you it feels like you could do more, and one day you will. You'll move into the city, and become head of National City General, and boss other nurses around and save so many lives every single day. And when the war ends, you'll have everything you want."

"If."

"No, when. I'm going to make sure of it."

Kara considered her for a moment. "What will you do after the war?' she asked. 'When there are no more bombs to build."

Lena's eyes brightened then, her energy suddenly pulsing like she'd just run a marathon.

"I'm going to change the world."

Kara had no doubt she would. She'd already changed her own life so significantly, without even trying.

 

--------------

 

Kara was jerked awake in the middle of the night, heart pounding in her chest in fright, as someone leapt onto the end of her bed and hit her firmly all over her body.

“Wake up. Wake up!”

“Whaszit… wha’s happnin’…”

Hands hit her gently on her cheeks. Swatting them away, Kara reached out and turned on her bedside light, illuminating her sister sitting atop of her with an almost manic look in her eye.

“What are you doing?’ Kara demanded. What time is it?”

“I don’t know… three, or something…”

Three?”

“Keep your voice down,’ Alex hissed, and clamped a hand over Kara’s mouth. ‘You’ll wake Mom… and I have to tell you something.”

Kara tried to shove Alex off her, so she could sit up a little. Alex was almost physically buzzing with adrenaline.

“What is it?’ Kara demanded. ‘Is it Jeramiah?”

“No,’ Alex grumbled. ‘Not all news is bad news, you know.”

“You’re right, stupid me, here I was thinking we were in the middle of a world war…”

In the silence, Kara could feel Alex’s enthusiasm evaporating.

She sighed. “Okay, I’m sorry. What’s so important? I thought you were bowling with Maggie tonight.”

“I was.”

Something in the way she said it made Kara sit up straighter. In the dim light of Kara’s bedside lamp, Alex’s smirk was even more prominent.

Kara raised her eyebrows. “And?”

Alex shrugged. “We bowled… drank some beer… maybe kissed in the alleyway…”

Kara gasped so intensely, she coughed. Alex’s smile only intensified as she finally got off her sister, and went to her own bed.

“You must tell me everything immediately,’ Kara demanded, and curled onto her side.

With a sigh, Alex rolled onto her side to face Kara, head propped up in the heel of her hand, and recounted the events; how the night had started off basic enough, with bowling and beers, how Maggie was not only terrible at billiards, but also a sore loser, and idle chatter about their bikes.

“And then she said she’d walk me back to my bike… which was ridiculous, because we were parked next to each other… but we barely got around the side of the building before her hand was suddenly in mine.”

Kara, sitting up completely now, raised her eyebrows.

Alex’s cheeks flushed red. She was looking down at her hand.

“My whole body felt like molten lava,” she smiled.

Kara empathised, but said nothing. Alex was too lost in her own happiness to hear, anyway.

“What happened after?’ Kara asked.

Alex blinked out of her reverie. “What? Oh, well… nothing more, really. It was just a bit of kissing… and touching…”

Kara snorted, and Alex hid her face in her own pillow.

She was like a little school girl, with her first crush. Kara remembered when they were younger; the giggles and glances of her classmates toward boys, writing their initials in the back of notebooks, sending “secret” messages via friends during recess. Alex’s glee was no different from this childlike enthusiasm, and it was ridiculously endearing.

With a deeply-embedded smile, Kara listened as her sister continued to recount the events of the night, re-analyze every situation, describe her interaction with Maggie with more and more detail, each adjective eliciting a deeper shade of red from her cheeks.

It made Kara feel so happy, just to hear Alex speak so freely about her affections, but to know that one of the things she’d been so worried about lately – the true nature of Maggie’s feelings toward her – had all been for nothing.

Kara smothered down the part of her that wanted to share with Alex the same sort of information; the part that wanted to tell her everything that had happened with Lena the last few weeks.

But talking about it would take the focus away from Alex, from what was clearly such a milestone in her life.

It was also make her situation with Lena much too real, and Kara wasn’t entirely convinced she wanted to come back down to reality just yet.

 

 

------------

 

 

“Do you play chess?”

After a long, weary day at the hospital, Kara once again found herself at the Luthor Mansion, and discovered Lena in the library.

The brunette had only looked up from her thick volume before smiling, propping her hand up in the heel of her hand, and asking Kara the question, not looking at all surprised to see her there despite the fact they had made no plans.

Kara actually had played chess before, a very long time ago. Her mother, her birth mother, had been trying to teach her ever since she was old enough to sit up at their ratty, old chessboard they had owned. But it had been such a long time since then, and so much had happened, that it took Kara little while to get back into the swing of it.

Not that it really mattered. Lena was, of course, a prodigy at the game, and even though she tried to let Kara win, Kara still lost.

As Kara watched Lena check her again, she took her glasses off and rubber her eyes. "How does anyone find this fun?"

"You're only sulking because you're losing."

"And you're only smiling because you're winning. Again."

Lena’s smile broadened. She flicked her wrist, and knocked Kara’s knight aside with her black Queen piece.

"My mother would be so disappointed right now,' said Kara. She was only half joking.

Lena shifted across from her, clearly wanting to ask something, but unable to find the nerve. Kara didn't completely understand her hesitation. Both of them lost daughters, surely Lena would know Kara would understand.

She couldn't take the silence any longer.

"Do you ever wonder what your life would be like,' she murmured, 'if your real parents were still alive?"

Lena pursed her lips "I imagine all orphans do.'

Kara considered the board between them, feeling her cheeks burn. It was an abrupt response. She looked up at Lena, to apologise, but stopped short.

Lena was looking back over Kara's shoulder; her eyes were wide, mouth set in a firm, anxious line.

Feeling alarmed, Kara swiveled around quickly to see.

A woman, tall and imposing, dressed immaculately in a smart, deep-red dress with a string of pearls around her neck, was standing in the doorway.

Kara heard Lena stand.

"Mother,' she breathed.

Kara sat, transfixed, like a dear in headlights. She watched as Lena crossed the room, smoothing out her trousers as she walked, only allowing herself a glance back at Kara for one quick moment. It was enough time for Kara to see the alarm in her eyes.

Mrs. Luthor did not welcome Lena with open arms. Instead, she allowed a softer expression to cross her elegant features, as she bent slightly to exchange soft kisses on either cheek with her daughter.

"I wasn't expecting you,' said Lena.

Mrs. Luthor pulled her white gloves off, tugging at each fingertip. Her eyes glanced between the casual trousers and shirt Lena was wearing, and then over to Kara.

"So I see.’

“I wish you would have called. I could have had Geoffrey prepare a lunch…”

“No need to stress, darling. Your father and I decided to stop in on our way down to Washington. He'll be in shortly,' she added as Lena looked around eagerly, 'he's parking the car. Who's your guest?"

Kara stood. She didn’t mean to, but in her nerves, she almost sent the chessboard flying. Kara already knew what Lena’s mother looked like, of course. If not from the large painting in the living room, but from the papers over the years.

But seeing her in person, knowing the more intimate details about her personality that she had learned from Lena, was quite a different experience, and Kara wished she didn’t feel so damn nervous.

The opposition of expressions staring at her then, of Mrs. Luthor’s tight-lipped, squared jaw, and Lena's wide eyes and clenched fists, was quite a lot to deal with, and even harder not to let show on her own face.

"This is Kara Danvers,' Lena said quickly, hot on her mother's heels.

Kara thrust her hand out. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Luthor. Lena has told me so much about you."

Mrs. Luthor looked down at her, accepting the handshake. "I wish I could say the same for you. Lena is very fond of her privacy, and even more so of that of her friends."

"Kara works at St. Josephine’s in town,' Lena's voice didn't shake, but her hands did. She shoved them in her pockets. 'She's an exceptional nurse."

"Lena, don’t slouch. Tell me, Miss Danvers, were you present for the accident at our factory?"

Kara explained quickly what had happened, how she had treated many of the women, and remembered that it was crucial that she leave out the part about how she and Lena had really met. Mrs. Luthor was not meant to know her daughter worked there as she did, after all.

If Lena was thankful for Kara remembering this detail, she didn't show it - too caught up in her own anxiety, Kara supposed.

She understood the feeling.

Footsteps sounded in the halls then, heavy and steadfast, and then a tall, bald man who could only be one person strode into the library.

“Father!’

Mr. Luthor grunted as Lena rushed around her mother and pulled him into a crushing hug. He laughed, disentangled himself from her grip, and returned her embrace with a kiss atop her head.

For a moment, the tension eased. The contrast between both greetings was plain as day. It couldn’t be plainer which parent Lena had the better relationship with.

To Kara, and by the pinched look on her face, Mrs. Luthor, too.

“How’s my Audi?’ Mr. Luthor enquired once they finally broke apart. 

“Dismal,’ Lena sighed. ‘I can’t get the fuel injection cleared because of the…”

Excuse me,’ Mrs. Luthor cut in loudly, ‘we didn’t drive down all this way to talk about silly engines. Lionel, don’t encourage her.”

"Oh come on, now, who better to fix up a beat-up, thirty year old Audi than this one?' Lionel ruffled Lena's hair. Lena failed at looking pleased with the gesture.

It struck Kara in that moment how young Lena actually was. 

‘Ah,’ Mr. Luthor remarked, suddenly noticing Kara’s presence and stepping forward, ‘and who’s this charming young lady?”

Kara shook hands with Lena’s father, taking extra care to squeeze his hand as firmly as he clutched at hers. Men respected such gestures, Jeremiah had said so in the past, and Kara wanted to make the best first impression she could.

“Miss Danvers was an attending nurse after the incident at the factory,’ Mrs. Luthor explained. ‘No doubt how our Lena has formed such a friendship.”

Her explanation was much more formal than Lena’s had been. But if Mr. Luthor noticed anything strange about his wife’s tone, he didn’t let on in the slightest. Perhaps he was too used to her by now to even hear it.

“Ah, how lucky we were to have someone so delightful look after our hard-working women.”

Mrs. Luthor cleared her throat. She was pacing around the room, eyes surveying for something.

“If she’s friends with Lena,’ Mr. Luthor insisted, ‘she’s got to be something special.”

Kara watched as Lena rolled her eyes at her father, but smiled as well.

“Lena, where are the cigars? Your mother wouldn’t let me smoke in the car and it’s a long drive…”

Mr. Luthor put a hand on Lena’s shoulder, and steered her out of the room. Lena only got to look back over her shoulder for a split second before she was out of sight.  

Leaving Kara alone.

With Mrs. Luthor.

Kara smiled at her, and adjusted her glasses. Mrs. Luthor looked Kara up and down, before reciprocating with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“So,’ she began airily, ‘I didn’t notice another car out front. How did you get here, I wonder? Surely you didn’t walk all the way from town.”

“I rode my bike.”

Kara left out where she had gotten the bike.

“You ride everywhere? That would explain your slim figure.”

Kara chuckled nervously, and ran her hands down her old sun dress. “God given, actually.”

“Unfortunate,’ Mrs. Luthor grimaced, as if feeling sorry for Kara. ‘Have you tried eating more? Young men do prefer a fuller figure.” 

Mrs. Luthor was baiting her, she knew it. She knew better than to rise to the occasion, especially with this woman, who was staring down at her so innocently, as if tyring convey a sincere desire to help, instead of her passive-aggressive malice. 

“My boyfriend doesn’t seem to mind.”

Something flashed in Mrs. Luthor’s eyes then, but Kara held her ground despite her desire to run. She thought she’d known what Mrs. Luthor was thinking of her, where her mind was going, but now…

“Overseas, is he?”

Mr. Luthor was back, lit cigar in his mouth, Lena hot on his heels. She too was holding a cigar, and was looking at Kara with something akin to barely controlled panic in her eyes, as if she wanted to run just as much as Kara did.

Kara glanced at Mrs. Luthor before answering. “Yes, in Europe last I heard.”

“I heard reports from that part of the country just yesterday,’ Mr. Luthor said. He took a long drag from his cigar, urging Lena to light hers, before continuing. ‘Boys are having it rough. But they’re all fighting admirably. And we’re doing our best to help them, aren’t we, sweetheart?”

Lena gave him a tight-lipped smile, and lit her own cigar to avoid having to respond.

"Hence our trip to Washington,' Mrs. Luthor explained. 'We have a meeting with Franklin and his cabinet tomorrow to discuss the future of the war." 

Despite everything - her discomfort standing so close to Mrs. Luthor, her annoyance at being looked at as if she were under a microscope, the stench of two lit cigars - Kara's eyebrows rose in interest. 

"Oh a first name basis with the President,' Kara chuckled. 'Wow."

Lionel sighed happily, looking around the room. “It is good to be home, though. Lillian, we really do travel too much, you know.”

“It’s essential, darling.”

“I know, but still. Good thing we have Lee here to hold down the fort, right kiddo?”

Lena gave him a tight-lipped smile.

“Where the devil is Geoffrey?’ Mr. Luthor was muttering to himself as he strode out of the library again. ‘I need a sandwich, darn it…”

Mrs. Luthor cleared her throat. “You’ll have to forgive my husband, Miss Danvers. His appetite is insatiable at the best of times, especially after long journeys."

“Kara is the same. She almost ate us out of house and home the other morning.”

The instant the words left her mouth, Kara clearly saw the moment – even though she tried to hide it – of regret all over Lena's face.

Mrs. Luthor’s eyebrows rose the tiniest of fractions.

“Here a lot, are you?’ she asked Kara.

Kara adjusted her glasses. “I visit from time to time.”

“At such odd hours, it seems.”

Lena stepped forward. “Kara’s work is shift work. She has unconventional working hours.”

“Indeed.”

All that was missing, in Kara’s opinion, was a cold, metal chair and a lamp shining directly into her eyes.

Mrs. Luthor was tall, imposing, and obviously very comfortable with knowing she was the most powerful in whatever room she stepped into. Even Lena, who was enough of a force of nature unto herself, had shrunken back slightly.

Kara stood up to her full height.

“It’s only seven in the evening,’ she responded. ‘Should I go? I wasn’t aware Lena had a curfew in her own home.”

Mrs. Luthor’s nostrils flared ever so slightly.

“You’re quite right,' Mrs. Luthor said. 'And its unnecessary. Despite it being dinner time, I imagine you have come over to discuss the Gala tomorrow evening?"

Kara didn't even have time to look confused.

"Yes,' Lena said quickly. 'The Gala. I was going to show Kara my dress… last minute opinions and all.”

Mrs. Luthor glanced at Kara, who nodded.

“Outsider opinions…' Mrs. Luthor smirked, 'not something that I thought would ever concern you, Lena.”

“No, Mother, not usually. But you see, Kara is accompanying me, and we didn’t want our attire to clash."

Mrs. Luthor’s eyes narrowed slightly. She glanced at Kara again, who hoped to god her face was impassive as she was forcing it to be.

"Accompanying you? We discussed this when I ask you to go in our stead, Lena. Your plus one… well, I thought young Alistair McMahon..."

"Alistair is already out of town on business... with his fiancé."

"I was unaware that had become official."

"You've been traveling a lot, Mother. I'm sure it's difficult to keep up with current events."

"Indeed." Mrs. Luthor barely bothered to hide her annoyance at being caught so off guard. 'But Lena... and excuse me, Miss Danvers, I of course mean no offence.... but surely there are other young gentleman available to escort you."

Lena's nostrils flared as she sighed. "Well, Mother, not really. This is a small town, and all the eligible young men are off fighting. Although, there is always Mr. Schott. I'm sure in a room of such aristocracy his cane nor his limp will stick out. Or there's always Mr. Olsen. I doubt the editor of the Midvale Voice will mind his top reporter attending such an illustrious event. He would certainly get quite the exclusive, if nothing else. You're familiar with that publication, right, Mother? I believe you've met Hank Henshaw a few times."

Mrs. Luthor’s jaw tightened, her lips pursed, as she considered her daughter for a very long time. But Lena held her gaze, her own jaw just as set as her mothers.

After a long moment, Mrs. Luthor tsk'd. Her gaze lingered on Lena, before it shifted to Kara, losing only a fraction of its venom.

"Well, it seems we have exhausted all other avenues. I hope you have a wonderful time, Miss Danvers,' said Mrs. Luthor. 'Although I recommend you keep your wine glass filled. Lena will no doubt be mulling about the room, performing the business we will not be in attendance to do ourselves, and you might find yourself dreadfully bored."

"I'm sure I'll be fine,' Kara smiled.

Lena moved, ever so slightly, in front of Kara.

"Kara is very charming when she wants to be."

"I bet she is,’ Mrs. Luthor arched an eyebrow at her daughter. “Lovely to meet you, Miss Danvers."

Kara stood rigid, watching as Mrs. Luthor gave them both one last half-hearted smile, before she left the library in long, determined strides.

Only after a moment that felt like an eternity, when the sound of clicking heels had faded from earshot, did Lena visibly relax and turn back to face Kara.

"I'm so sorry,' she murmured. 'I didn't mean to throw you into the deep end like that, but I didn't know what else to say..."

"It's fine."

"... I wasn’t even expecting them to be here, or you for that matter..."

"Lena, relax..."

"... the looks she was giving you..."

Kara took Lena's face gently in her hands, locking eyes.

"We weren't doing anything wrong,' she reasoned. 'We were just playing chess."

Lena laughed, the sound hollow.

"You don't know her like I do. I know what she's going to be thinking. You're the first female friend of mine she's met since... well, since school."

Kara didn't really know how to respond. She'd never seen Lena this unsettled before. Her eyes were still darting back and forth between Kara's own, and the door behind her.

Unable to think of much else to do, Kara pressed her forehead against Lena's and closed her eyes. She felt Lena settle; her breath as she exhaled slowly through her nose.

"We weren't doing anything wrong,' she repeated.

Lena's hands gently wrapped around Kara's wrists, pulling her hands away from her face. She planted a soft kiss on the inner palm of Kara's left hand before pulling it away completely.

"What the heck is this Gala, anyway?" 

Lena sighed. "It's a "Charity Ball", to raise money for the troops. But its really just a pretence for all the rich people to get together and try to seal new business deals. Mother is making me go instead of them. Lunch with Franklin is obviously much more important than some silly little Gala in Bonnerville."

Kara bit her lip. "Do you really want me to come? I can make an excuse... say I got called into work, or I got sick..." 

"No, you don't have to do that. Unless you don't want to come? I understand its very short notice." 

"I've never been to a Gala before,' Kara said, putting on her most posh accent. 'It should be fun."

Lena laughed at her, almost patronisingly so. "Well it will be if you're there. But you'd better go,' she murmured. 'I'll have to entertain them, and I don't want you subjected to the icy glares of my mother, or the endless questions from my father."

"I understand,' Kara smiled. 'I have a dress to find, anyhow."

"I can lend you one of mine?"

Kara snorted, already backing toward the door. "My skinny frame in one of your perfectly tailored dresses? I don't think so.

Only when Kara was on her bike, feet off the pedals as she let gravity take her down the hill, did panic finally start to rise in her chest.

 

-----

 

 

Hindsight was in fine form the next night.

As Kara sat in front of her sister, letting her draw on her mascara because she couldn't sit still enough to do it herself, she thought with a cold dread that she should have taken up Lena's offer to borrow a dress.

None of her few dresses were Gala appropriate. And Alex only had one dress, which was a plaid sort-of pattern than only seemed to look good with her old, brown, lace-up boots.

There next option had been Maggie. She had outright laughed in Kara’s anxiety-pinched face when she and Alex had shown up at her apartment the next morning. But she wasn’t entirely unkind, and after setting them down on her sofa she had brought out her Quinceanera dress. A deep, royal blue gown, it would have been perfect had it not been just that little bit too short. Kara did, however, gladly accept the shoes that went with it.

In the end, it was Eliza who saved the day. From a dusty old trunk in the basement, she had produced the gown she had worn at her own debutante ball. Once white lace, it was now a slightly off colour, but nothing Mrs. Schott couldn’t fix in a bind.

“Perfect,’ Kara had crooned, running her fingers over the intricate detail of the lace.

"Your grandmother insisted I keep it,' Eliza had explained, handing it over as gently as passing a new born infant. 'I had hoped one of you would wear it to your own debutante or wedding someday, but...'

With Eliza shooting a short but meaningful glance at Alex, Kara had quickly thanked her for the dress and dragged her sister up to their room to try it on.

One of the few things Kara had in common with her foster mother, it seemed, was their figures. Eliza had been just as slight growing up, and the dress fit almost perfectly. The sleeves were a little short, but it would not look out of place when Kara put on her best and brightest jewelry, as well as some she borrowed from her sister.

When they had dropped it over at Mrs. Schott’s home for tailoring, she had simply smiled and said, ‘Leave it to me.”

Five hours later, Kara was in her newly tailored dress, hair already done, sitting on the edge of her bed, trying not to squirm.

Hold still,’ Alex insisted. ‘I can’t put this blush on if you keep wriggling around.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop stressing. You look fine.”

Kara looked around. Winn, who had been kind enough to bring the dress over for his mother, was swinging around in his seat, eyes glazed and staring up at the ceiling, limbs limp with boredom.

“You don’t have to stay, you know.” Kara snapped.

“You know where the door is,’ Alex added. ‘My foot can show you the way if you’ve forgotten.”

Winn laughed lazily, only barely managing to lift his head. “And miss all this excitement?”

Kara let it slide, purely because she knew he hadn’t moved from the seat for two reasons: his excitement to see Lena again, and the effort it had taken to climb the stairs. Staircases were not his friend, and were only one round trip maximum.

“How does Sally put up with your nonchalance?’ Kara wondered out loud.

“She’s usually the one telling me I look pretty. Besides, she knows she always looks good. Doesn’t need me to boost her confidence.”

“Well you’re not helping mine.”

“What are you so worried about?’ he asked, his intentions genuine this time instead of facetious.

Kara pursed her lips, and looked up at her sister. Alex just raised her eyebrows, indicating it was her truth or lie to tell.

“I just don’t want to embarrass Lena, is all,’ Kara said finally. ‘There’s going to be a lot of influential people there. The Mayor will be there. The police commissioner. One of the Generals from the fort in Bonnerville. They’re going to be expecting someone just as illustrious and accomplished as them to be Lena’s plus one, but instead it’ll just be… me.”

It wasn’t entirely the truth. It wasn’t entirely a lie, either. Kara had been concerned about this, the knot of anxiety at being so open with Lena in public only growing with every hour that drew nearer to the time Lena had agreed to pick her up. They had become accustomed to being so private in her mansion, or the Bentley, or cozy corners of small cafes. The alternative made Kara feel exposed. Naked.

Winn snorted. “Just you? Like that’s ever a bad thing. What makes them better than us anyway? The fact that they’ve got money? Giant cars and even more enormous estates to keep them in? Big deal. You’re in the muck and the trenches every day, working just as hard, if not more, than they are. You’re every inch the man they are, kid.”

Kara frowned, forcing away the quiver in her bottom lip.

Alex gave Winn a conceding look. “That’s how he still has a girlfriend.”

Winn smirked, nudged Kara gently in the chin with his knuckles, and then sat back with hands linked behind his head, clearly satisfied with another pep talk.

Kara wished this advice had alleviated all her nerves. But as the silence stretched on, broken only by the squeak of the chair as Winn began swinging on it again, and the floor boards creaking as Alex moved about, fetching different types of make-up to apply, the nerves began to churn again in the bottom of her gut.

Ding Dong.

“I’ll get it!’

Kara smothered a laugh (something Alex had no inclination of doing) as Winn literally fell from his chair in his haste to stand up. He landed in a crumpled heap with a very loud, unceremonious grunt.

He thrust a hand out and groaned, “I’m fine! I don’t need help’, despite the fact that neither Kara nor Alex had offered to do so. After a few, clumsy moments, Winn was finally on his feet and staggering down the stairs.

“Just relax,’ Alex urged, putting the final touches of lipstick to Kara’s lips. ‘Drink some champagne, rub shoulders with rich people, and eat all the canapés you can get your hands on.”

Kara rolled her eyes. “Such sage advice. Anything else?”

With a grin, Alex held the tissue out for Kara to blot. “Try not to get too drunk.”

She didn’t even have a chance to properly look at her reflection in the mirror. Kara saw a blur of red lipstick, wavy hair, long eyelashes and a glittering necklace before she shrugged on her trench coat, slipped on Maggie's shoes, and hurried down the stairs.

From the landing, Kara saw three people crammed into the small entry hall. Winn was half in the kitchen, clearly trying to be chivalrous and give the other two women as much room as possible, while still maintaining his presence. Eliza was still in her lab coat, gesturing while talking – always a good sign.

In the middle of them all, in a dark, floor-length fur coat, stood Lena.

Kara was half way down the stairs when the fifth step creaked, as it always did, and Lena looked up.

“Ah, here she is,’ Eliza smiled. ‘Sweetheart, you look lovely.”

From the look on Lena’s face, she agreed.

Kara, however, rolled her eyes. “You can’t even see my dress.”

“So?’ Winn offered. ‘You can’t see Lena’s dress either, and you just know she looks amazing.”

Lena chuckled, and patted Winn on the shoulder. Winn’s cheeks flushed.

Lena did look wonderful, already, even though all Kara could really see of her was her hair and make-up, both done even more immaculately than usual.

“Alex helped me do mine,’ Kara said, feeling stupid the instant the words left her mouth.

“It really was so kind of you to invite Kara to this Gala,’ Eliza continued. ‘And for picking her up. Honestly, Winn was more than happy to drive her.”

“So was Alex,’ Winn smirked. ‘But showing up to a Gala on the back of a triumph probably isn’t going to give you the best first impression.”

Indeed,’ Alex snarled.

Kara sighed loudly. ‘Shall we go? We must be running so late.”

“Actually, we’re a little early…”

“Exactly. Bye everyone! Don’t wait up!”

Lena paused to say, “I’ll have her home by midnight’, and Kara, despite already behind outside and half-way to the curb, was still close enough to hear Winn call, ‘Have a good night, Cinderella!’ before the front door closed.

When they were in the Bentley, Kara greeted Henry, and only when they were well on their way did Kara let out a long, deep sigh.

Lena laughed. “Have I told you how much I enjoy your family?”

“Enjoy? That’s certainly one word for it.”

 

----

 

Pulling up at City Hall was, in Kara’s limited opinion, akin to that of arriving at a film premiere in Hollywood.

It was the cameras, mostly. Lights were flashing about everywhere; reporters and photographers were held back behind partitions on the street. Kara could see them all in their trench coats and hats, note-pads flung open and pens held ready just in case any of the people they were shouting at stopped and gave them a comment.

“This is nuts,’ Kara breathed. The window was cold as she pressed her forehead against it, trying to get a better look.

“You should have seen the Gala that Newcomb threw for its new Mayor two years ago,’ Lena commented. ‘People still talk about it.”

The Bentley joined a slow-moving line of other large, shiny cars, all pulling to a stop at the base of the grand, stone steps that led up to the towering hall. The steps, usually covered with scattered puddled, occasional cigarette butts, and various animal droppings, was tonight cloaked in a long, red carpet that led from the curb, all the way up to the giant, oak doors of the building, and right into the grand foyer.

“All this for a glorified business meeting,’ Lena chuckled. ‘Such a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

As a taxpayer, Kara agreed.

“How can they afford things so grand? We’re in the middle of a war. And this is meant to be for charity? Surely all the money that went to this should be going towards the military? Families?”

Lena sniffed, amused. “You be sure to tell people that when we get inside. I’d love to see the looks on their faces.”

Kara turned to comment about this, but didn’t get the chance. The car had stopped; instantly, Henry was at the door, and when it opened for Lena the noise was almost deafening.

“What do I do?’ Kara hissed as Lena began to get out. ‘Do I wave? Do I talk to people?”

Lena smirked over her shoulder. “Just keep you head up, and follow me.”

Kara heard a cacophony of voices call out as Lena stepped out onto the curb. It was like a bellowing echo in the mouth of a cave, Miss Luthor… over here, Miss Luthor… Miss Luthor… over and over again. There was no way Lena didn’t hear it. But she didn’t flinch, didn’t shy her eyes away or hurry inside to hide. Instead, Kara watched, still in the back seat of the car, as Lena ruffled her coat back into place, smoothed out its edges, and took a few more steps out into the open. She squared her jaw, and looked out at the photographers with a smile. She afforded them a small wave, but made no move to go over to them, paid no mind to the questions they shouted at her, or the request to pose this way or that.

Lena then looked back at the car, smiled at Kara, and jerked her head.

Taking a deep breath, Kara followed her example. Henry extended a hand to help her out, which she took gratefully. She probably gripped him far too tightly, but he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, after she was on the curb and upstanding, in the split second before he released her hand, he gave her fingers a short but firm squeeze in return.

People shouted at her, also. Not that they knew her name, but they called for her attention, clearly curious about the woman who had accompanied the heiress to the richest family in the country.

Despite her nerves, Kara simply gave them a short wave, and turned her back on them.

Lena’s eyes flashed with pride, and then led them up the stairs.

There were a fair few people mulling about. Some talking to reporters who had exclusive access to the guests, others chatting to one another, shaking hands and smoking cigarettes. Lena nodded respectfully to a few as they passed.

Once in the foyer, Kara was almost blinded by gleaming, white, marble floors. Giant, crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceilings, illuminating every inch of the room. Butlers were nearby, one on each side of the doorway that led through to the hallway that would take them through to the grand ballroom: one with arms already outstretched to take coats and hats, the other baring a tray of bubbling champagne glasses.

Lena slid her fur coat off her shoulders, and handed it to the first butler, and Kara was afforded a glimpse of her bare back before she turned, giving Kara her first opportunity to take in the rest of her. It was a dark, royal blue dress. No straps crossed her shoulders; instead it hung around her neck by thick ribbon. The bodice was silver, engraved with lace and pearls that made it glimmer and shine as Lena twisted and turned. Around her neck hung a glimmering, silver necklace that trailed over her collarbones, down her chest ever so slightly.

Kara was aware she was staring, suddenly, and blinked.

“Champagne, madam?’ The second butler had appeared beside her, silver tray offered toward her.

“Pardon? Oh, er, yes… thank you,’ Kara gratefully took a glass.

Lena crossed over to her, smirk twitching at the corner of her mouth, threatening to come out. She swiped a glass of champagne from the butler with a nod, and took a sip, her eyes never leaving Kara’s.

“I hope you’re not planning on wearing that coat all night?’ Lena teased.

Kara handed Lena her glass to hold, and went and gave her coat to the other butler. She took a moment to smooth out and ruffle of her hair that had been slightly crumpled in the drive. She adjusted her dress, still reveling in wonderful job Mrs. Schott had been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. The old lace sleeves were gone, leaving her toned arms bare. The hem had been taken up the slightest of fractions. Mrs. Schott had even been able to die the fabric to a pale, sage green, which complimented the silver shoes she had borrowed from Maggie much better than the off-white colour the dress had originally been.

When Kara turned back to Lena, she found Lena staring as well.

Unlike Kara, when she realized she had been busted, her expression was quick to shift back to neutral.

“Very nice,’ Lena complimented.

Kara shrugged. ‘It’s all other people.”

“No, it’s all you,’ She handed Kara back her glass, and gestured toward the hallway. ‘Shall we?”

Lena led the way, following too the steady stream of people heading through to the ballroom; the sound of music playing, the smell of pastries and other foods wafted tantalizingly downwind toward them.

To calm herself, Kara took a sip of her champagne… and then another eager sip quickly after.

“Oh, my goodness,’ she moaned. ‘This is delicious.”

Lena laughed.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“It’s Dom Perignon.”

“So?”

Lena shook her head, still laughing.

Kara’s questions about this left her mind as she stepped out of the hallway, and into the ballroom.

If she had thought the entry hall was elaborately decorated, it was nothing compared to this. At the back of the ballroom was the stage, where a band consisting of fourteen men were all playing their varying, shiny instruments – trumpets, bass, piano, drums, saxophones – and at the forefront was a blonde woman, belting into the silver microphone. The stage was decorated with American flags and bunting, matching the red, white and blue colours that hung from the rafters above. The dance floor was littered with scattered balloons, which were being kicked around by the dancing couples. Between the doorway where they stood and the dance floor were many round tables, each adorned with a floor-length, white tablecloth, and polished silverware and crockery that glinted in the light of the chandeliers above them.

Wonderstruck, Kara turned to Lena to share in the excitement of such grandeur. But Lena was looking out at the room with an expression that conveyed she felt quite the opposite, like she was steeling herself for a trial by jury.

And it suddenly struck Kara that this was how Lena had lived for most of her life. These sorts of events were common place, trivial, a chore. The wonder was long gone for her.

The thought made Kara sad.

No wonder Lena found such delight in simple things, Kara mused, like lying on the grass and reading a book, or joining in a garden party for a birthday. They were simple, and real, and didn’t blind with a shallow pretense that ended at a price tag and the ability to boast about it.

Lena looked at Kara, and the tightness in her jaw relaxed.

“Come on,’ she smiled, putting a hand at the small of Kara’s back. ‘Those canapés won’t last forever.”

Mouth suddenly watering, Kara led the way.

 

-----

 

Nearly three hours later, Kara was leaning against the bar, a full belly and a half-empty glass of champagne between her fingers. 

And she couldn’t stop staring at Lena’s neckline.

It was her fifth glass... perhaps her sixth? She'd stopped counting, and the fuzzy feeling that filled her body and mind forbade her from attempting to now. Alex would have been so proud.

Beside her, a man was talking. He’d been talking for almost ten minutes straight now. Mr. Lithgow, a senator from Minnesota, had made the trip down for a chance to network. Or, so he had explained, in great detail.

“No better networking portal than the Luthors!” he’d chortled, his laugh instantly breaking up with a chesty cough.

“You should have that seen to,’ Kara pointed at his chest.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, darlin’,” he laughed, and coughed, again. ‘My daddy enjoyed his cigars until the ripe old age of sixty-five, healthy as a horse. Got strong blood in my family.”

His eyes barely met hers, too busy roaming everywhere else south of her face; he stood too close, no doubt accustomed to pretty young girls putting up with his lack of respect for personal space, the smell of brandy on his breath, and the intimidating sight of buttons stretched to breaking point as they did their best to hold a shirt together over his portly frame.

Kara had been, and still was, eager to leave his presence.

“You a Luthor?’ he asked, eyes raking over her shoulders.

“No, I just came with one.”

“So I saw. Lovely little Lena. She’s grown into a fine young woman.’

His eyes slid away from Kara, across the room, to focus on Lena.

Kara followed his line-of-sight. She was surrounded by a group of men; all dressed in tuxedos with a cigar in one hand, and a whiskey in the other, each of them at least double Lena’s age. But Lena didn't seem to be having the same ‘pretend to be polite’ issue that Kara was having now, and had indeed been having all night. Kara watched; as she spoke, every male mouth was closed, their expressions sated as they listened intently to whatever it was she was saying.

The chords in her neck were stark, and inviting, and Kara had to look away.

“I was hoping to talk to her daddy,’ Mr. Lithgow continued. He coughed again; the buttons of his shirt almost popping. ‘But I hear is down in Washington with the President. And with young Lex overseas, well, I guess Lena will do.”

Kara’s attention snapped back to him. As his attention was on the trail of brandy he’d just spilled down himself, trying to wipe it away with a pudgy hand, he didn’t notice the daggers Kara was glaring at him.

“Lena is a phenomenal businesswoman,’ Kara insisted. ‘And I think I see her calling me now, if you’ll excuse me…”

Kara was surprised her glass didn’t shatter in her hand, she was gripping it so tightly.

She’d had quite enough of the Gala, if she were honest with herself. What she had imagined would be a night of glamour and excitement, had faded with the grim reality of what this night actually was – a gathering of rich people, just trying to make themselves richer. Just as Lena had said.

 

Mr. Lithgow hadn’t been the only older, balding man with odious breath who had spoken to her during the night. In fact, despite doing nothing to attract attention to herself whatsoever (there were many other, far more glamorous women about) she had been approached several times, and every time stolen away from one conversation by another gentleman, just as self-involved and convinced of their importance as the last one.

Kara had, of course, been polite. Not wanting to embarrass Lena, or give any reason for these men to retract their business transactions they’d been talking about bringing to Midvale all night, Kara had smiled and nodded at their spiels, laughed politely at their jokes, offered “absolutely” and “I agree” whenever she felt she needed to. She wondered if they even noticed the minimal amount of effort she was putting into the conversation.

Kara had been hoping to talk to as many people as possible about her work at the hospital, the changes that could have been mad not just at St. Josephines, but in the entire town of Midvale and beyond. But no-one had seemed to want to listen; too preoccupied with talking about their own business, plugging their ventures to Kara as if she had any power to do anything about them.

It had taken a while for Kara to realise that they already knew this about her; they just hoped she would put in a good word for them with Lena. 

She’d visited the ladies room more times than she could count, simply to escape, not wanting to disturb Lena.

Unfortunately, it was exactly as Mrs. Luthor had forewarned. Lena had been so busy chatting with senators and businessmen and the mayor, that she’d barely sat down at all, let alone had time to talk with Kara properly.

But on the odd occasion, she’d managed to glance away. Her eyes had always found Kara no matter where she was in the room, offering an apology while ensuring Kara was alright. Kara always gave her a supportive smile back, feeling comfort in Lena’s own smile of relief.

On the few times this had happened, Kara had been approached by someone soon after.

Kara was not going to let that happen again. Even if she had to hide in the ladies for the rest of the night, she didn’t care.

But she was going to talk to Lena first.

“… quarterly projections show potential for great growth,’ one of the men was explaining to Lena as Kara approached. ‘And the steel mills are ready to go, whenever Luthor Munitions is ready for the metal. Top grade, I can assure you.”

Another man beside this one, pointed at him and nodded. ‘I use his fixtures in all my vehicles. He’ll do your family a great deal, Miss Luthor.”

“I’ll pass your contracts on to my parents for further consideration. Oh, Kara,’ Lena’ who had been solemn and businesslike, suddenly beamed a smile as she noticed Kara beside her. ‘Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to Kara Danvers.”

Kara shook hands with each of the men, forgetting their names as quickly as Lena introduced them. The champagne was well and truly buzzing about her head now.

“Nice to meet you,’ Kara smiled.

“Kara works at the hospital in Midvale,’ Lena continued, putting an arm around Kara’s shoulders.

Kara shivered at the feel of Lena’s warm hand around her cool, upper arm. Warmth spread out from her fingers, all the way down to the tips of Kara’s own.

“Ah,’ one of the men said – Kara vaguely recalled his name to be Harrison, or something. ‘You’ll be getting good use out of my pharmaceuticals, then, I suppose. Saved a lot of lives with them, I imagine?”

Henderson, that was it. Kara remembered now, on the side of the boxes she’d spent hours packing into storage, the name across the side – Henderson Pharmaceuticals.

Kara controlled her lip, which wanted to curl so keenly in distaste. Mr. Henderson hadn’t even waited for her to reply, too busy smirking at the men around him, as they clapped him on the back and congratulating him for “making an impact”.

“Yes, they’re all stacked in our store cupboards,’ Kara replied, ‘back-ups for when we run out of our supplies from Kayfax.”

Mr. Henderson’s smile vanished. An awkward silence hung in the air, suddenly.

“You also use Kayfax?’ his voice was low.

Kara smiled sweetly. “Just for consistency, you understand. Their penicillin is used readily overseas, and when the soldiers come back we like to maintain their prescriptions, and Kayfax have donated free medical supplies to the war effort for quite some time.”

Mr. Henderson said nothing. The men around him, eyes adverted, all seemed suddenly quite thirsty.

Lena cleared her throat, and gave Kara’s shoulder another squeeze. “Gentleman, thank you so much for your business propositions. I will pass them on to my father in the morning. If you’ll excuse us…”

Only when they were a good way across the ballroom did Lena finally allow herself to laugh.

The evening was getting on, now. The champagne had slowed down, already eagerly consumed, and people were choosing to sit down at the tables to talk, or slow dancing on the dancefloor, or had disappeared for other more illicit entertainment. The band was still playing. The soundtrack was a slow, jazz number. The saxophone crooned away, matching the woman singing. The bass was low, rumbling through the wooden floorboards all the way to Kara, up her legs and into her belly.

It had matched her heartbeat, until she’d began examining the chords of Lena’s neck as she turned her chin this way and that. Now the beat could not keep up.

It was the champagne. She knew this. Her head was buzzing, she felt floaty – the feeling she recognized from that night at Carmilla’s.

The rest of what she was feeling, she also recognised.

As they approached the bar once again, Kara leant against it in relief. Her feet were starting to hurt.

“Are you alright?’ Lena’s voice was low in Kara’s ear as she leant in, both putting a hand on Kara’s arm and, at the same time, reaching across the bar and grabbing a bottle of whiskey while they bartenders back was turned.

Kara tried not to flinch at Lena’s touch; or the sound of her husky voice, scratchy from talking so much, in her ear; or the scent of her perfume, now mixed with alcohol and perspiration.

“I’m fine.”

Lena laughed, clearly not believing her.

How was it possible for someone to still look so good, after hours of standing around on those heels? Had she even eaten? Kara had piled her plate up with as many things she could get her hands on when they’d arrived, and done the same for Lena. But Lena had quickly been whisked away by the Mayor’s wife, plate still in her hand and a look of apology flung over her shoulder. The few times Kara had managed to see her in the crowd she’d always had a short glass in her hand, filled with amber liquid. Now that they were alone, and Lena didn’t have to stand on ceremony, Kara noticed the sheen of sweat along her skin, the dilation of her pupils.

Lena was drunk. Much more so than she was letting on.

So are you, Kara mused. She even giggled out loud for a moment.

“I’m so sorry, this must have been dreadful for you. I saw you got stuck with Jackson Lithgow before?”

Kara shrugged, keeping her eyes on the floor. In her peripheral vision she watched as Lena poured them both very liberal amounts of whiskey into tall glasses.

“He smells like pork. Looks like it, too,’ Lena chuckled. ‘Did he stare at your breasts the entire time?”

Kara laughed a little too loudly, looking down at herself despite the burn in her cheeks. “There’s not a whole lot to look at.”

Lena cleared her throat, and handed Kara one of the glasses, even though she was still holding her half-empty champagne.

“Well… men are cads, is all I’m saying,' Lena shrugged, and then added with a smirk, 'not that I’m biased.”

The sweat along her neck glistened, as did the necklace that trailed down ward. Kara shifted her weight, one leg to the other, uncrossing and crossing her legs at the ankle.

It didn’t help.

You should look away, her mind offered.

Kara agreed. 

In an attempt to get a hold of herself, she turned to look back at the stage. The band were still playing, just back from a short break. The song was a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

That was all it took.

A weight settled in Kara’s chest then, as she remembered seeing The Wizard of Oz at the picture theatre with Mike just before he’d shipped out for basic training.

Kara looked back at Lena. Her stomach clenched at the way Lena was glancing around the room, watching for anyone who might approach and catch her freely helping herself to more alcohol.

That’s enough, Kara suddenly decided. Come on… that’s enough, now…

Kara cleared her throat, and stood up properly. She downed the rest of her champagne in one long gulp, ignoring the way the bubbles fizzed in her nose. She adjusted her glasses, and smoothed out her dress.

This is not how friends behave, she told herself. You’re not being fair to Mike, and you’re not being fair to her.

Part of her – a part that had once been small, but had grown significantly over the past few weeks – didn’t care.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Kara said finally.

Lena leant in again, and whispered in Kara’s ear, ‘Can you handle that whiskey? Want to get some air?”

It was a bad idea.

“Sure,’ Kara croaked.

She had no idea where Lena was suddenly leading them. It could have been the renewed buzz from the sips of whiskey she’d had before dashing from the ballroom, hot on Lena’s heels; it could have been that she was too distracted by the feel of Lena’s hand in her hers, tugging her along, that she could have been leading her onto the front lines with bombs and bullets flying she still wouldn’t have noticed anything but the sensation of their linked fingers.

Had City Hall always been so gargantuan?

Finally, after a few tried and failed attempts at other doors (one presenting them with the very awkward vision of the Senator with a woman who was certainly not his wife), Lena led them into a dark room.

It was cold, and dark. When Kara’s eyes adjusted, she saw that it was a meeting room. The long, oak table that ran up the middle of the room, surrounded by leather chairs, took up most of the room. The curtains were drawn across the windows, letting in only ribbons of light from outside.

Lena locked the door behind them, and exhaled loudly. She kicked off her heels and let her head fall back with a very long and uninhibited sigh. As she walked, she passed through a strand of light, and the silver at her neck glinted.

“God, I hate these things,’ she groaned. She took a long drink from her glass, taking in a quarter of it in one gulp. ‘If I have to listen to one more business proposal, or story about the Great War, and how they all barely made it out alive…”

“They fought in the last war?’

Lena scoffed, and took another sip of her drink. Now that they were alone, and Lena could drop her facade, Kara could see the state Lena was in.

“Those pompous cake eaters have seen about as much battle as I have,’ Lena sneered. ‘They talk themselves up to win votes, and snare financial backers, that’s all.”

Kara sat down on the edge of the table. “You’re good at entertaining them.”

“Lex is much better at it than I am. But then, Lex is a man. He doesn’t have to smile and bat his eyelashes just to amuse them. He just has to be in the room.”

Kara said nothing for a long while, just let Lena pace back and forth. Lena’s shoulders had slumped, her exhaustion was quite plain. It was all coming out of her, like exhaling after holding breath for such a long time. A lifetime of responsibility and duty ebbing away for just the briefest of moments.

“I played my role,’ Lena said finally, with a tone that suggested she was trying to convince herself more than Kara. ‘I did my time. Hopefully it was enough.”

“I saw you,’ Kara admitted. ‘Every time I looked over you had everyone’s ear, everyone’s attention. You did wonderful - more than enough.”

Lena offered Kara a soft smile.

“I’m sorry,’ Kara added, ‘for being rude just now. I hope I didn’t mess anything up with your business with Mr. Henderson.”

“Oh, please. He needs us way more than we need him. Besides,’ Lena added with a chuckle, ‘did you see his face? My goodness, that’s the first thing I’ve really laughed at all night.”

Kara tried not to feel too pleased with herself as she listened to Lena laugh again now; she was quite sure it was one of her favourite sounds in the world.

“You really have no fear, do you?’ Lena stopped her pacing, and considered Kara with a look that made Kara fidget. ‘You don’t care who you’re up against. My mother looked at you like she was going to step on you and you didn't flinch. One of the richest men in the country says something you don't like, and you cut his ego back down to size with one single sentence. I bet you’d be having tea with Roosevelt himself, and you’d just look him in the eye and tell him everything he’s doing wrong.”

Kara snorted. “Me? What about you? There’s no way I could command a room like you do, have every eye on me and still stand with a straight back and say exactly what I needed to say, make everyone hear what I wanted them to hear. You have so much more bravery than me.”

Lena stepped forward, and took Kara’s hands in hers. She held them up, linked their fingers together, considered them with a soft frown.

“That’s my job. That’s duty. I’m a Luthor. People are always going to listen to me even if I don’t want them to. What you do… now that’s bravery.”

Kara’s response was lost; she was too interested in the way Lena’s thumb was gently stroking the back of her hand.

“Thank you so much for coming tonight,’ Lena sighed. ‘I know it’s probably been so awful for you…”

“Absolutely,’ Kara nodded. ‘Such a chore, drinking expensive champagne and eating… what were those things again?”

“Crab cakes.”

“Made from real crab? From the actual ocean? But there aren’t any oceans around here.”

Lena laughed again, and let Kara go. She scooped up her glass, and downed the rest of her drink, shuddering and wincing as it burned its way down her throat. Even in the dim light, Kara could see her eyelids were drooping; from fatigue or intoxication, or both, Kara wasn’t entirely sure.

“You’re my favourite person,’ Lena murmured then, into the dark. ‘Did you know that? My absolute favourite.”

She must have been drunk, to admit such a thing.

Without warning, Lena crashed into Kara; her arms wrapped around her, their temples knocked together in the clumsy embrace. Tired, tipsy, Kara’s nose automatically when to the crook of Lena’s neck.

“I like your perfume,’ Kara said stupidly.

She couldn’t help herself.

She kissed Lena gently at the base of her neck.

Lena shuddered.

“Thank you. It’s Coco Chanel from… oh, to hell with it…”

In a swift movement that Kara had no impulse to fight against, Lena’s hands were cupping Kara’s face, and then her lips were against Kara’s in a desperate kiss.

Kara drew her in without hesitation. Her body was on fire; an inferno that only intensified through every inch of her body as Lena pressed herself between Kara’s knees, settling perfectly against her. Lena sighed into Kara’s mouth as the kiss deepened, the feel of her tongue on Kara’s lips making her open them. She tasted of whiskey and garlic, she smelt delicious, the fabric of her dress was soft as silk as Kara ran her hands up Lena’s back. Every thought but Lena left her mind. She needed to be closer, her hands needed to touch more.

Kara’s hands snaked up Lena’s neck, and her hips jutted forward of their own accord, and Lena moaned into Kara’s mouth and it was all too much.  

As if sensing this, Lena pulled back. Her chest heaving, lips swollen, eyes wide, she didn’t move from her position between Kara’s knees.

“I’m…’ she cleared her throat, took a moment, and then tried again, ‘I didn’t plan that.”

Kara snorted. “I didn’t think you lured me in here, Lena.”

“I know, I just… I didn’t plan any of this.”

“I know how you feel.”

Lena sighed, and pressed her forehead against Kara’s. She was almost lying on top of her, her upper thigh pressing against an area most definitely out of bounds for friends.

Who were they kidding?

They weren’t friends.

“I wish it could be different,’ Kara murmured.

Lena looked at her, then, with an expression that confused Kara.

“It could be,’ she replied just as softly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Let’s go,’ Lena stepped away; Kara slammed her legs shut. “Let’s go somewhere… anywhere…We can be anybody we want to be. We can get a cabin up in the mountains, rent a château in Italy… oh, Kara, Italy is beautiful this time of year, have you been?”

Kara laughed. “Italy is in the middle of a war, Lena.”

Lena nodded. “Right. Of course. Somewhere off the grid. New Zealand? Switzerland!”

“Lena,’ Kara reached out, trying to put a stop to Lena’s pacing, ‘you’re just drunk.”

“No, I’m not. I mean, yes, I am, but... Kara, listen... ’ Lena did stop then. She took Kara by the hands, looking her directly in the eye. ‘It’s never been clearer. Why do we have to stay? Why can’t we live our own lives? Do what we want, love who we want, be who we want to be…”

Lena put a hand to her forehead, and sat down suddenly and heavily.

Kara knelt in front of her, checking her vitals, her pupils. It was hard to see in such dim light.

Lena smirked as Kara put her fingers to the pulse point in her neck. “Say you’ll go with me.”

“You’re drunk.”

“So?’ Lena took Kara’s wrists, fixing her with an intense look. ‘Tell me you don’t want to leave this town just as much as I do.”

Kara put Lena’s shoes back on for her, and pulled Lena to her feet. In her own, intoxicated state, it would be hard to subtly get Lena out of the building. But they couldn’t stay here any longer. She just hoped to God that all the reporters and photographers had left. 

“Let’s talk about it in the morning.”

Kara slid Lena’s arm around her shoulders. Lena’s nose nuzzled her ear.

“My hero,’ she whispered.

Kara ignored the flash of arousal that shot through her body, and walked Lena out into the hallway.

“Come on, Miss Luthor. Let’s get you home.”

 

Chapter Text

Waking up the next morning, did not have the same glow as the last time she woken up at the Luthor Mansion.

Something, Kara mused as she made she way downstairs, she never in her lifetime thought would be a problem.

The house was silent, still early in the morning, not to mention it was a Sunday.

Kara had elected to stay in the spare room, in the end, despite Lena’s protests. It was a sense of propriety that had finally gotten her out of Lena’s room after helping her into bed, and the fact that she knew if she had laid down in bed with Lena, like Lena had been so insistent on her doing, she would not have gotten out again.

Kara stepped into the kitchen, wincing as her bare feet stepped onto the cold tiles, and went straight to the cupboard. She knew her way around his room just as much as half of the others by now.

This probably would have been a job for Geoffrey. But it was a Sunday morning, and he deserved a sleep in.

So, Kara busied about for a few moments, collecting what she needed, and then began the trek back up the grand staircase in the direction of Lena’s room.

It wasn’t the biggest in the house – Lena had once let Kara stick he head in the master bedroom, and it had been enormous – but Lena’s was still just as impressive. Facing the gardens, it would have afforded a grand view of the setting sun every night. And, blissfully, avoided any early wake up calls from a rising sun.

Something that, on this particular morning, would surely have been most unwelcome.

Kara glanced at the time as she pushed the bedroom door inward with her shoulder – just gone nine thirty-five. Kara was not quiet as she entered the room, items on the tray rattling as she stepped over the discarded shoes, purse and gown from last night. But the sleeping mass that was Lena did not stir.

Kara shook her head with a smile. She put the tray down on the window seat and put the large glass of water on the bed-side table.

Her own head was pounding, and in the few quiet moments in between then and her next move, she took a long mouthful of Lena’s water. She longed to be home, take an aspirin, sleep for the rest of the day. Her night had not been restful.

“Lena,’ she murmured.

Nothing.

Lena,’ Kara thrust her knee into the side of the mattress as well, for good measure.

Lena did stir then; a groan emanated from beneath the covers, and then a hand appeared.

“G’way,’ Lena moaned, waving her hand dismissively.

Kara pulled the covers back. Lena shrunk back, face screwed up in distaste. Her hair was a mess, mascara now blurred around her eyes, and there was a soft streak of make-up along her eyes and temple.

“I am,’ Kara chuckled, ‘I just wanted to make sure you were alright first.”

It took a long moment for these words to fully digest; moments which Kara used to tuck Lena back in a little and adjust the curtains to let in a little more sunlight.

“Kara,’ Lena’s voice was hoarse as sat up a little. “You’re leaving? But you just got here.”

Kara laughed again. “You don’t remember?”

“What? Didn’t I drive you home after… oh, jeez, what is that smell?”

“I… think it’s your breath.”

Lena cupped a hand around her mouth and nose, exhaled, and then winced.

“I think you’re right,’ she grunted.

Kara pursed her lips. “No, you didn’t drive me home. I brought you home.”

Lena frowned, staring into space. As the memories began to flood back, her expressions shifted and changed.

“Oh,’ she said finally. Her green eyes looked up, suddenly sheepish. ‘I… Oh, Kara, I’m…

“Don’t,’ Kara put a hand up. ‘Just don’t. I know the next line, I know how the scene plays out. And I’m just as guilty as you are.”

Lena shifted, sitting up a little more. She stared into space with a frown for the longest time.

“What are we going to do?” she whispered.

Kara pursed her lips, wishing she knew the answer; trying not to feel disappointed that Lena, for all her intelligence, was just as clueless as she was.

“I have to go home,’ Kara said finally. “Would you like to talk about this later?”

Lena ran a hand through her hair. She looked completely and utterly defeated, but that could have just been the hangover.

When she finally looked up at Kara, she managed a small smile.

“I’d like that,’ she murmured. ‘Very much.”

Kara resisted the urge to move forward and kiss her good-bye. Instead, she gestured at the tray, reminded Lena to drink water, and left the room.

 

------------------

 

It was a long walk home.

The bike Lena had given her had become such a useful tool to get around; the memory of how far things actually were from each other had become hazy – but it was quickly coming back.

Her feet hurt. Her head was throbbing, her mouth parched from her hangover. She should have asked Henry for a ride home.

Bed had never sounded so good.

When she stepped through her front door, the wireless was playing music instead of the news, and Kara knew instantly that Alex was in. And when she shuffled into the living room, she saw her sister in her usual overalls, legs hanging over the arm of Jeramiah’s chair as she read the newspaper.

Kara cleared her throat. Alex looked up.

"Good lord... you look like crap. How much did you drink?"

Kara rolled her eyes and sank into the couch. The walk back from Luthor Mansion was longer than she remembered - the sun had been harsh, bright and unrelenting, and she'd kicked up so much dust taking the back, dirt roads, trying to take a short cut, that her eyes felt like they were filled with dust. She'd grown so accustomed to biking everywhere.

"A little."

Alex snorted, and ruffled her newspaper with a snooty upward tilt of her chin.

"And I'm just a little bit queer."

Despite her fatigue, Kara sat up a little. "Alex..."

"Relax,' she smiled. "Mom went down to the bakery. So, how was it? Tell me everything. You look like you got home at three in the morning."

"Feels like it."

"Go upstairs and take a bath. Maybe run one for the dress, too. Did you take all the back roads? Where did all that dust come from?"

"Lena kissed me."

Alex went silent then. Kara continued to stare into the floor, watching the dust in the morning sunbeams dance around. She wondered if she was meant to feel anything, saying all this aloud. All she felt was relief.

The only sound that came from Alex's direction, was the crinkle of the newspaper as she slowly folded it closed.

"She did, huh?"

"She was drunk. Very drunk. Heck, so was I."

"Uh huh. And what did you do?"

"Kissed her back."

The springs in Jeramiah's chair groaned as Alex shifted forward.

"You like her,' Alex affirmed knowingly, 'don't you, kid?"

Kara sniffed, feeling her cheeks burn. "I think you already knew that."

Alex shrugged. "I knew she had a thing for you. I wasn't entirely sure if it was reciprocated."

Kara let her head fall back, clenched her eyes shut and groaned at the ceiling.

“I can’t like her,’ Kara groaned. ‘It’s not fair.”

“To who?”

“To everyone. There’s no version of this where someone doesn’t get hurt.”

Her head was still pounding. When she spoke again, it was barely a murmur. 

"I don't know what to do.”

“What do you want to do?’ Alex asked.

Kara didn't have a moment to think of how she could even begin to respond to this.

The phone rang then, shrill and loud, and both girls jumped to attention.

Not burdened with fatigue, Alex was out of her seat and in the hall instantly. Kara heard fragments of the tiny phone call.

"Uh huh.... yep... sure I can tell her." And when she came back into the room, her expression was solemn. "That was the hospital. They need you to come in."

"Now?"

"Immediately, was the word they said. Something about a bus accident."

Kara got to her feet with a groan. At least they would have aspirin at work.

"Need me to drive you?" Alex asked.

"Thanks."

"Wanna change first?"

"There's gowns at work."

 

-----

 

There were gowns at work. And aspirin. But the second Kara had walked in, she knew there wasn't going to be a spare second to change into them.

"Danvers! Ward two, now!"

Matron barked orders at her above the cries and groans of patients all around her; of the metallic rattle of stretchers and beds being wheeled around to get patients here, to make space in wards over there.

Kara only spared a second to put her things in the nurses’ station and stop to swipe an apron from the nearest closet, before hopping into action.

It was complete and utter chaos, like the night of the Luthor Munitions incident. Kara bounced around from one ward to the next, bringing bandages and wiping grime and blood and other bodily fluids from person after person.

She got the details in fragments. A bus had collided with a drunk driver. The bus was full of passengers, en route through to Bonnerville from Metropolis. The drunk driver had been arguing with her girlfriend, lost control on the slippery back roads, managed to plough through two fields before flipping, rolling onto the road and in turn flipping the bus right over as well. The drunk driver had lived, currently moaning and groaning in a bed at the back of ward four. The bus driver and his girlfriend had not.

Childred had shards of glass protruding from their tiny little arms, open gashes in their delicate heads, tears rolling down their splotchy faces in pain and panic. Parents were hysterical, trying to get to their children while being held down by nurses who were trying to treat their own wounds - Kara included. The wards reeked of mud, bleach and oil. Kara soon forgot that she was still wearing her dress from the night before.

She dashed from one ward to the next, back and forth, trying to respond to all the cries of “I need help in here!” and “Nurse now!”. The throb in her feet was starting to become more intense but she ignored it, as while cutting up more bandages in ward three, a call came from ward one.

“Can we get another nurse in here?”

Kara glanced at Marjory, who was syphoning morphine from the tiny little vial with a syringe, and knew morphine took precedence.

She dashed out of the room, almost tripping on her heels again, and found the origin of the distress call.

The matron herself was trying to help one of the doctors. A young man, bandages already wrapped around his hands and forearms, was wriggling around beneath them. But Matron was not used to this; she had not done more than administer pills and fill out paperwork in quite some time, and Kara could see the strain in her brow as she tried to hold the young man still.

Kara stepped forward to take over. Like she had that very first night she’d met Lena, she placed firm but kind hands on the man’s shoulders to hold his torso in place. Matron offered her a quick, rare smile of thanks, and called for another nurse.

“Abdominal lacerations and contusions, could be internal bleeding,’ the Doctor was muttering, examining the man’s belly, ‘and opened stiches from previous wounds. He needs to be taken into surgery. Nurse Nicholson, Nurse Danvers, I’d like you to assist.”

“Wow…’ came the softest voice then, ‘… it’s been a while since I saw an angel…”

Kara looked down. The man and spoken, his voice gravely and hoarse.

She felt her stomach drop.

Mike,’ she breathed.

His grey eyes were dull, without the sparkle she remembered. There was a large, swollen gash town the side of his face. Dirt and grime were all over his skin and hair. His shirt was covered in blood. He looked like he’d just crawled directly out of some trench in Europe.

What was he doing here?

Mike’s grin broadened, and he stopped struggling. “Kara… wow… baby you look amazing…” His words were slurred, thick as the morphine began to kick in; his smile was lopsided, eyelids heavy with exhaustion.

Kara felt sick. Her ears were ringing. It took a long moment before she realized her fingers were digging into his shoulders. And that someone was saying her name.

“Nurse Danvers? Nurse Danvers!”

She blinked, dragging her eyes away from Mike. Matron, the Doctor and the accompanying nurse were all staring at her.

“Do you know this man?’ the Doctor asked.

“I…’ Kara blinked, looked down at Mike again.

“Nurse!”

Yes. Yes, I know him. He’s…”

“She’s m’girl,’ Mike chuckled. He reached up for her hand. Kara didn’t think to deny him. His palm was mangled, skin callused and sweaty.

The Doctor huffed impatiently. “Nurse Danvers, find a replacement…”

“No, I can…”

“You can not assist in this procedure if you know this patient. You know hospital policy.”

“But I can…”

“Nurse!” The Matron was already yelling, headed for the doorway. ‘We need a nurse in here!”

Kara felt her vision tilt on its axis slowly as her control slipped away. A nurse was already rushing into the room, the gurney Mike was lying on began to roll away out of her grip.

“Wait…’ Kara gasped.

The gurney did not stop. She followed it out into the hallway, followed Mike. He was muttering and giggling to himself quietly; Kara couldn’t understand what he was saying through his morphine-induced slurred vowels and the sounds of the hospital around them.

An arm suddenly thrust out in front of her. It was Kathleen’s freckly arm, the nurse who had been called to replace her.

“We’ll take care of him,’ she insisted kindly. ‘They’ll need you in ward four. I was cleaning a wound.”

Kara stared after the gurney as it was wheeled down the hall. She got a quick glimpse again of Mike’s face as it turned the corner, and then he was gone.

“Kara…”

Okay,’ Kara nodded, adjusted her glasses, took a step backward. ‘Okay.”

Kathleen’s gaze lingered, as if she were expecting Kara to shove past her, run after Mike. After a long moment she seemed convinced, and then hurried off in the direction of the operating theatre.

“Nurse! We need a nurse in here!”

It was like she was hearing it underwater. Kara turned, mind buzzing and limbs going numb with shock, as she made her way back through to ward four.

 

----

 

Kara wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, but the dim light of the cafeteria indicated the sun had well and truly gone down.

It had taken her a while to notice that, too. It seemed one second, she’d sat herself down in a vacant, wooden chair by the back wall after Matron had insisted she clock off her shift, and the room had been bathed in a golden glow of the afternoon sun. Next moment it was almost complete darkness. The only line of light came streaming in from the hallway, sending a beam of light along the green linoleum floor and up to the steel counter where dinner would have been served.

She’d watched the shadows dance across the table she was sitting at as people had come in and out. Every time a figure had entered her peripheral vision her head had snapped up, hope rising in her chest. But it was never the Matron, or the Doctor, or Kathleen, and after a while the hope felt more like bile in her throat.

It was probably best if he went home, but how could she? As if she could sleep. As if she could do anything but do exactly what she was doing right now – waiting for some news, any news.

The same questions kept going around in her head. What was he doing here? How? The last she’d heard, he was in Europe still, about to march through to Vienna. Kara had heard about men getting sent home early, but it was for only under the most important of circumstances. Men who had had their limbs blown off, men who were shell-shocked and could not even aim a gun anymore, men who had abandoned their post.

Mike had still had all his limbs. Was it shell shock? She dreaded to think he’d gone AWOL. Surely he wouldn’t…

“Kara?”

Her head snapped up her neck cracked. The Matron’s silhouette was in the doorway, leaning against the frame. She was tired. It had been a big day for them all.

Kara was on her feet instantly. “Is he alright?”

“I thought I told you to go home.”

Is he alright?’ Kara had never raised her voice to the Matron before. “Ma’am,’ she added.

It was a testament to how exhausted she must have been, that the Matron didn’t reprimand her. Instead, she jerked her head.

“Follow me.”

Kara was on her heels the whole way through to the nurses station. The Doctor who had treated Mike was leaning heavily against the desk, accepting a steaming cup from Betty.

He looked up when Kara and the Matron walked in. His mouth set in a firm line, and Kara felt dread settle in her stomach. She’d seen this look before.

“Is he…?’ she couldn’t finish, the words died in her throat.

The doctor took a sip of his coffee and ran a hand through his hair. “He’s alive, Nurse Danvers.”

Kara wrapped her arms around herself. Her relief was short lived at this information. Is tone suggested something more that fatigue.

“But…?” she urged.

The Doctor took another long sip of coffee. “But… well, he has some extensive injuries. Not only from the bus crash, but battle wounds. No doubt the reason he was sent back home in the first place. Here…”

He handed Kara a clipboard. She accepted it eagerly, adjusted her glasses, and read.

Internal bleeding, bumps and bruises, a torn ligament and cracked rib sustained in the crash. Underneath this form was another form that looked as if it had also been in the crash. It was ripped down the middle, held together by a strip of masking tape. On the form it indicated that Mike had sustained injuries to his hands, making it impossible for him to hold a weapon of any kind, and therefore excused from duty.

He’d been coming home, only for all this to happen to him just a mile or two out of town.

Kara read both forms over once more before handing it back. “May I see him?”

Matron nodded. “Five minutes. Then you’re going home. He needs rest and so do you.”

Kara found him in recovery. He was already asleep, propped up on pillows and tucked in nice and snug. Now that the grime had been wiped away, she could see the scratches on his face. The long one along the side of his face had been stitched in places. His mouth was open slightly, and soft snores were emitting from him.

Despite the sight of him, she couldn’t help but smile. She’d forgotten he could never sleep with his mouth closed. So many times he’d fallen asleep next to her in the movie theatre, or while lying under a tree…

She reached out and gently touched the bandages along his arms and hands, freshly changed. How had this happened? When? Why hadn’t he told her?

Kara stroked his face, feeling the stubble scratch the side of her finger. He was really here.

Knowing she wasn’t going to get any answers out of him tonight, Kara gave him a soft kiss on the forehead, and headed for the nurses station to collect her things. 

 

----

 

It was three days later when she finally got to talk to him.

Kara had come back the previous afternoon, but he had still been asleep. The two brief times his eyes had fluttered open, he’d only been able to allow a soft smile and a gurgle of hello, before the morphine had dragged him back to sleep.

The second day, she had been on shift and unable to get in to see him until late, and by then he was once again sleeping.

The third day, it was her day off. And she walked through the doors at eight o’clock exactly – breakfast time.

He’d been moved from recovery, back into a ward. Sitting in the first bed of ward two, Kara hovered in the doorway and looked at him.

He was sitting upright, looking eagerly at the bowl of cereal being placed in front of him. Kara felt herself smirk as he barely managed a thank you before shoveling clumsy spoonfulls into his mouth. His bandaged fingers could barely hold the spoon.

Why do I keep seeing the ones I care about in one of these hospital beds?

Kara stepped into the ward. He looked up as she approached. In his haste he smiled, forgetting his mouth was full of cereal, and a long white line of milk dribbled down his chin.

“Ugh,’ he gurgled, swallowed and wiped his mouth. ‘Kara! You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Kara pulled the visitors stool over and sat down. He leaned over, as if to try and give her a kiss, but winced and grabbed his side.

“Sit still,’ Kara insisted, her Nurse Voice coming out automatically. She stood up slightly to give him a kiss; she was aiming for his forehead, but he tilted his head up expectantly.

Ignoring the awkward feeling in her gut, Kara offered him a soft kiss on his lips.

He was smiling dopily when she sat back down.

“You smell amazing,’ he murmured.

“I suppose anything would smell amazing after all the trenches you’ve been through.”

She was trying to be flip, to get a laugh out of him. But the smile he’d had from her kiss evaporated almost instantly, and his gaze focused on nothing.

Kara cleared her throat. “I’m happy to see you.”

He blinked a few times, focused on her, and then the smile was back, albeit slightly.

“I am too. This wasn’t really how I’d planned on it though.”

What are you doing here? How are you here? Why didn’t you tell me what happened to you? That you were coming home?’ It all came out in a big rush. She’d waited days for this information.

Mike ruffled the back of his hair awkwardly – another quirk of his she’d forgotten. It felt like he’d been gone forever.

Kara ignored the clench in her stomach. She’d been ignoring it for days now.

“I got hurt,’ he held up his hands, a downward turn to his mouth.

“How?’

Mike stared at his cereal bowl for a long time. When he looked up and smiled at her, a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, she knew better than to press him.

“It’s not that exciting,’ he said.

Kara highly doubted it.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”

“Kinda hard to write anything,’ he chortled, branching his bangaged hands. ‘Besides, I wanted to surprise you. I had flowers and everything. Pretty ones, too – orchids.”

Kara sighed. “My favourite.”

Mike smirked. “Unfortunately I didn’t get here the way I had intended, and they god crushed under the tires of a bus. I’ll make it up to you.”

“All you need to do is get better.”

“I’m working on it.’

Kara knew he was deflecting, avoiding the subject. But she realized that despite the fact that she was desperate to know what he’d been through, that she needed answers, he clearly wasn’t in any state yet – physically or mentally – to give them.

Mike allowed himself another mouthful of cereal. “Anyway, enough about me, how about you? Tell me what’s been going on around here! Alex found a husband yet?”

Kara chocked out a laugh.

 

-----

 

Two hours later, Kara walked in her front door.

Alex was already half way down the stairs. She stopped as Kara walked in.

“Did you talk to him?”

Kara looked up at her over the top of her glasses. It was enough of an answer for Alex.

Alex descended the rest of the stairs, and pointed at the phone. “Lena called.”

The heavy, lead feeling was back in her chest.

Lena.

She had barely thought of her in the days that had passed. But so much had happened.

Also what kind of person would she be if she were thinking about Lena, while her boyfriend were lying in a hospital bed, only just recovering from serious injuries?

The same kind of person who would kiss another woman while her boyfriend was overseas, apparently.

“What did she want?’ Kara asked. It came out harsher than she intended, but Alex didn’t seem to notice.

“She just wanted to make sure you were alright,’ Alex relayed. ‘And she said to tell you she’s had to go out of town for the weekend.”

It was probably unreasonable to feel relief at this news. But Kara couldn’t help herself. It meant she could spend time with Mike and not feel guilty. But why should she feel guilty? Because she wanted to spend time with her boyfriend? Because she was glad that Lena being away meant she could spend a few more days not having to worry about how she was going to break the news to her, or the news to him?

Kara knew she must have had the ‘crinkle’ back in her brow, by the look that Alex gave her.

“C’mon,’ she urged, ‘I was just headed to the garage to meet Maggie. Come have a beer with us.”

Kara didn’t even think to argue.

 

----

 

Lena was back two days later.

And Kara, who had been reluctant to call the mansion, only knew she was back because she saw the Bentley go roaring up the street as she was just about to step into Mr. Nelsons Repairs and Replacements.

She felt dread settle in her stomach as she watched the Bentley drive off up the hill, kicking up dust in its wake. No way Henry was driving, Kara was sure of it. Henry never went over the speed limit; he didn’t want to endanger his precious cargo.

Kara stuck her head in the door of the shop; the bell above her head tinkled.

Winn looked up and smiled. “Ready for lunch?”

“Can we make it tomorrow? I just remembered I have somewhere to be.”

“But I got us bagels!”

Kara flashed him a quick, apologetic look before letting the door jingle closed again and heading back to her bike.

The hill to the Luthor Mansion was always murder, but even more so today. Kara’s heart was already pounding before she’d started the ascent. When she was finally slipping past the iron gates and coming to a halt at the giant white pillars, gravel crunching under her tires as she pulled up beside Lena’s car, she was gasping for breath.

For once she was glad of the enormity of this house. By the time she had walked around to the side entrance, the door that leads through from the kitchen to the parlour, Kara had had an opportunity to take a few long, deep breaths, and straighten out her windswept hair.

Her shoes seem to click extraordinarily loud on the tiles as she made her way through to the observatory, hoping perhaps Lena had gone in there. She was usually in there, tinkering away with some sort of gadget Kara had no ideas about. When Kara found the observatory full of tools and such but empty of Lena, she considered perhaps the library.

It was a testament to how often Kara had been in this house, that the idea of wandering around aimlessly didn’t feel odd… until she remembered why she was there in the first place, and she suddenly felt very exposed indeed.

Kara only had one foot on the bottom of the staircase, when Lena appeared on the landing. She hadn’t seen Kara yet; she was taking out her earrings, her blouse gone leaving her in her under shirt and trousers.

She was half way down the staircase when she finally noticed she wasn’t alone, and froze.

Kara shifted her weight from one foot to the other, feeling her cheeks burn.

“Kara,’ Lena looked around the house, as if looking for Geoffrey. ‘I didn’t hear the doorbell.”

“No, sorry. I came in through the kitchen.”

Lena smirked as she completed her journey to the ground floor. Now she was standing so close, Kara felt her breath hitch. Surely it wasn’t right for someone to always look so striking.

“I’m happy to see you,’ Lena moved in a little.

“I’m happy to see you, too,’ Kara shifted again, Lena’s perfume was in full swing this afternoon.

“You have great timing, I just got back from the factory. But I wish you had called, I have nothing prepared. Let me call up Geoffrey…”

“No, please…’ Kara put a hand on Lena’s arm, felt her muscles tense, and then snatched her hand away. “I won’t be here long. I just… we need to talk.”

Just trying to get the words out was like swallowing molasses. Lena’s face fell, not in sadness but in relief, like a great weight were suddenly taken from her shoulders. She gestured toward the sitting room.

Kara at least unbuttoned her coat and put her purse down beside her, and made sure she sat down on the opposite couch to Lena. She knew the gesture had not been missed.

“When did you get back from your business trip?” Kara asked. She felt immensely stupid. Small talk? Really?

Lena crossed one leg over the other, looking utterly relaxed and ready to play along.

“It was only overnight. A boring trip out to National City. I was back two days ago.”

It wasn’t entirely accusing, but Lena’s eyebrow was quirked in question. Why haven’t you called me back?

When Kara could think of nothing else to say, Lena chuckled.

“This dead air between us was becoming quite suffocating.”

“I know, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to suddenly go AWOL on you.”

“It’s alright,’ Lena reached for a cigarette, and lit it before continuing. “I heard about the bus accident. Although, truth be told… I was under the impression that you just needed some space. After everything.”

Kara felt the guilt churn in her gut. “I did. But not in the way that you think.”

Lena nodded slowly and inhaled deeply on her cigarette. Sometimes she blew circles with the smoke to entertain Kara. This was not one of those times. The tension was almost unbearable.

“I was worried,’ Lena began softly, ‘that I may have stepped over a line for good this time. You know, with all that talk of running away together. I thought maybe you needed time away from me.”

“Oh,’ Kara adjusted her glasses, ‘no, it’s not about that. And I’m surprised you even remember that. You didn’t remember much else the next morning.”

“It’s come back in bits and pieces,’ Lena smirked. ‘Sorry you had to see me in such bad form, by the way.”

Kara smiled. “I’m a nurse, I’ve seen far worse than tangled hair and smudged mascara.”

The word nurse echoed back to Kara then, and she sobered up, feeling that clench in her gut again that had only just begun to subside.

“Okay, good,’ Lena sighed in relief, ‘because that was just the ramblings of a drunken idiot. I didn’t mean it.”

Kara pursed her lips. “Yes, you did.”

Lena’s gaze didn’t waver as she blew more out more smoke from her cigarette.

“I should find it unnerving that you can see right through me,’ Lena said softly, ‘like x-ray vision. But I don’t.”

“That’s how best friends are supposed to be.”

Lena’s smile twisted a little, and Kara suddenly thought her a little sadder.

“So it didn’t upset you then?”

“Of course not.”

“So… if I really wasn’t joking,’ she started tentatively, ‘what would you think about it?”

Kara had thought a lot about it, actually. Her head hurt from all the thoughts and feelings that had been running around it lately. It would be good to finally get them out, even though she knew they would hurt.

“Listen, Lena… I have something to tell you.”

Ahem.”

Lena’s eyes averted to something over Kara’s shoulder, and her expression suddenly went blank. Kara whirled around and felt a whole new sense of dread.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,’ said Mrs. Luthor. She was already taking her white gloves off, jacket slung over her arm.

Kara felt Lena get to her feet, so she followed suit.

“Mother,’ Lena’s voice was low, ‘I didn’t know you would be stopping by.”

“Neither did I,’ Mrs. Luthor handed her coat and gloves over her shoulder to Geoffrey and entered the room properly. ‘Sorry to break up your little social gathering, but I have urgent matters to discuss with you, and I didn’t want to give you the option of hanging up the phone.”

She didn’t look sorry in the least. She was angry. Her usual, cool demeanor was barely holding together as she stared at both Kara and Lena in turn.

“Well I’m sorry, mother, but as you see I have company.”

“Yes, Miss Danvers.”

Kara felt shivers run up her spine at the way she said her name.

“I’m sure you understand that I have important business with my daughter…”

“Yes, of course. I was just leaving anyway.”

It was the cowards way out, Kara knew this. She saw the look in Lena’s eye as she pushed past; ignored the down-the-nose considering look Mrs. Luthor gave her.

“Kara…’ Lena tried.

“It’s okay,’ Kara turned long enough to flash her a soft smile. It was long enough to see the look of disappointment on Lena’s face. As Kara headed toward the front door, she hoped and prayed the disappointment wasn’t in her fleeing like the guilty party she was.

Kara stopped at the large, white front doors. She was meant to open them, she knew this. She should leave, come back tomorrow, explain everything to Lena then.

But what if she lost her nerve? What if she went another week stuck in self-imposed limbo, too scared of losing Lena to move?

Kara was half way through convincing herself she could sneak upstairs, and hide in Lena’s bedroom until Mrs. Luthor left, when she realized she had forgotten her purse.

With an eye-roll, Kara began back to the parlor. She would be quick… she’d excuse herself, snatch the purse, and leave in haste…

Voices rose up as Kara approached the parlor.

Mrs. Luthor was talking, and her tone was hard and fast.

“… any idea the fires I’ve had to put out because of this? You gave me your word, Lena.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

You’re a liar.”

“So is that snake Archer!”

Kara poked her head around the doorway ever-so-slightly. Lena was standing by the window, arms folded over her chest, her entire body tense as she watched her mother stalk back and forth in front of her at a furious pace.

“Yes,’ Mrs. Luthor snarled, ‘he is. He’s also always very frighteningly accurate.”

“I supposed he’s the one who came and told you this?’ Lena demanded.

“As a matter of fact, he was. And I’ll save you the trouble of telling you how much he asked for this time. Let’s just say it was almost as much as your car.”

Lena looked at the carpet, her jaws clenched. “Did you pay him?”

Mrs. Luthor scoffed. “Don’t waste my time with ridiculous questions.”

“Well I don’t know why you had to come all the way down here and get on your high horse in front of me,’ Lena snarled. ‘If you’re stupid enough to let him walk all over you…”

What else am I meant to do, Lena?’ Mrs. Luthor cried. ‘He has contacts at the Washington Post, for heavens sake, and enough dirt on the editors at other publications to get them to print whatever he wants.”

Lena looked ready to spit chips. Kara had never seen her look so angry. She got the feeling this was an argument these two women had had many times before.

“I told you,’ Mrs. Luthor snapped. ‘I told you not to take that girl.”

“Nobody saw anything!”

Mrs. Luthor scoffed again, her laugh bitter and the wave of her hand dismissive as she began to pace again.

“People only need to see you with a woman, that’s all it takes! These ridiculous rumors over the years are enough for people to put two and two together! You promised me it would be different here. You gave me your word.”

“It is different.”

“Oh, please. You think I haven’t seen the way you look at her? The way you were just looking at her?”

“You don’t get to tell me how to live my life, mother.”

“As long as you have the last name Luthor,’ Mrs. Luthor’s voice was like venom, ‘you will do and behave as I see fit. And I will not let you continue to behave like this.”

Kara didn’t hear anymore. To hell with her purse.

Like before, her heart was pounding before she even got on her bike to head home.

 

-----

 

The next day, Kara was back at the hospital again.

It was her lunch break, and she was sitting at Mike’s bedside, half-listening to his stories about London, trying not to think about what Lena was doing and if she was alright.

Should she have called the night before? Kara hadn’t wanted Mrs. Luthor to answer the phone, or know she was trying to talk to Lena. She didn’t want to make things worse than she clearly already had.

 “… that the drive on the other side of the road? Madness!’ he chuckled, throwing his bandaged hands up in disbelief. ‘Took me forever to get used to the cars, I always kept trying to get in on the left hand side. I sat on two privates laps! Good thing they were such good sports about it.”

“Yes,’ Kara nodded, ‘very lucky.”

Had that leech Archer been at the Gala? There had been quite a lot of reporters, she could have missed him in the crowd. None of the press had been allowed inside the building, but it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d broken in somewhere to get a scoop.

Had he seen them disappear into that board room? Had he been lurking around, waiting for them to come out? Considering the way Lena had hung off Kara, trying to stroke her face, smiling up at her through a drunk haze, it wouldn’t have been hard to make assumptions. Especially considering rumors that had hung around Lena for years.

“The beer was fantastic though,’ Mike continued. ‘Not that I got to drink a lot of it, but what I did try was better than the stuff they serve at the dance. One of the only good things about being over there.”

Kara offered a weak laugh.

Mike angled his head, to try and catch her eye. “You alright?”

“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine. Just… just tired.”

He didn’t respond. And when she looked up properly, he saw her watching her with raised, awaiting eyebrows.

“I’m just worried,’ Kara sighed.

“About what, babe?” Mike reached out, took her hand clumsily in his. ‘I’m going to be alright. The doc said my hands won’t ever be the same, so I guess my career in watch-making is over…”

Kara snorted. “Like you’d have the patience for watch-making.”

Mike grinned and shrugged, and then winced.

“Sit still,’ Kara urged.

“Come on, Nurse Danvers,’ Mike teased, ‘what’s on that pretty little mind of yours?”

What could she say? I don’t know how to be around you anymore? I still have feelings for you, but I also have feelings for my best friend? She asked me to run away with her and I almost said yes?

Kara took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes.

“I’m worried about my friend Lena,’ she finally said. It wasn’t a total lie.

Mike looked thoughtful for a moment. “Your new friend?”

Kara nodded.

“She’s a billionaire,’ Mike chuckled, ‘what troubles could she possibly have with that much money?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Mike shifted in bed, looking skeptical. “Can you help her?”

Kara’s laugh was hollow. She looked down at her hands again.

“It’s complicated,’ she admitted.

“You’re a good friend, Kara,’ Mike said softly. ‘And smart, and full of empathy… if anyone can figure it out, its you.”

Mike reached out then and gently stroked the side of her face. His bandages were warm and scratchy, but she didn’t mind. When she took his hand in hers, Kara put her glasses on, so she could see his smile properly. The entire ward came back into sharper focus.

And so did the figure in her peripheral vision.

Kara sat up straighter, feeling the urge to run.

Lena was smiling down at her, trench coat covering up her overalls. She was on her way to work.

“Sorry to interrupt,’ Lena smiled. ‘I hope you don’t mind, sir, I was just on my way to work and wanted to drop this off to your nurse.”

Lena held out Kara’s purse – the one she had left the day before.

Mike laughed. “Wow, lucky you found that.”

“Kara left my house yesterday in quite the rush,’ Lena’s tone was her Luthor-tone: calm, business-like. Kara would later realize that this is how Lena always spoke to men.

“Yes,’ Kara took her purse, and placed it on the side of Mike’s bed, her heart pounding. ‘Sorry about that. But it seemed like you needed some privacy.”

Lena let out a short “hmm”, her lip curling slightly.

“Nice to know people can still do nice things,’ Mike remarked.

“I understand soldiers in your position would find it hard to see the good in anything anymore,’ Lena remarked. She was looking at him with sympathy. ‘Where were you serving?”

Kara couldn’t believe this. It was like something from an alternate universe. Lena and Mike talking. To each other. Mike told her about Vienna and London and all the other places he’d been, and Lena responded with stories about her brother in London, and Kara felt like she were having some sort of out of body experience.

‘You work at Luthor Munitions?”

Lena’s attention snapped to him. “What makes you say that?”

Mike pointed at her feet. “Lot of the girls wear those boots. So I’ve been told, anyway. Few of the guys in my unit had pictures of their girls who work there.”

Lena relaxed a little. “Very observant, Mr…?”

“Oh, Mathews. Mike Mathews.”

Kara watched Lena’s face go blank, for a second longer than Lena would have normally let people see. A sick, burning feeling was rising up in her chest as she watched Lena look from Mike, to the bed, then to Kara herself.

Lena swallowed, pursed her lips, and smiled down at Mike. “Nice to meet you. I’m Lena.”

Mike’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh, you’re Kara’s friend! I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you, too. Thank you for your service. I’m sorry, it was lovely to meet you, but I’ll be late for work. If you’ll excuse me…”

It was a role reversal of the day before. Without looking at Kara, Lena turned on her heel and left.

Mike nudged Kara’s purse playfully. “She seems nice.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Kara ignored Mike’s grunt of confusion. She wove her way expertly through the hallway and caught up to her in the foyer.

“Lena… Lena, wait…”

Lena stopped, hand on the door handle. She half-turned, looking indecisive, as if she couldn’t figure out whether or not she really did want to hear what Kara had to say.

After a long moment where Lena did not continue her path out the door, Kara took tentative steps forward.

This is where you’ve been the last week,’ Lena said. ‘Why you came to see me yesterday.”

“Lena…’ Kara threw her hands up in the air, and looked around for a solution. Lena still wasn’t looking at her. ‘I’m sorry.

A smirk curled into being in the corner of her mouth then, almost like a twitch – seen and then gone just as quickly. Kara knows it’s a weak thing to say. Lena’s dark amusement is understandable.

“He seems nice,’ Lena said, unknowingly echoing Mike’s exact words.

“He is,’ Kara said lamely.

Lena nodded. “Of course. Kara Danvers would never date a cad.”

It shouldn’t have hurt, she had no right to it, but it did all the same. Kara steeled herself, waiting for more venomous words, or a glare as sharp as a knife.

Instead, Lena pulled the door open.

“I have to go to work,’ she murmured. ‘Excuse me.”

And just like that, she was gone.

Kara wrenched the door open, but stopped half-way across the threshold. She tasted bile in her mouth, panic settled in her stomach.

Lena had it all wrong… Kara had to explain…

This churning in Kara’s gut had settled so deeply now, she wondered if she would ever remember what it felt like before all this had happened.

She wanted to chase after her again. She wanted to try and defuse the situation. She wanted to explain properly.

But Kara had to work, and Mike was waiting for her, and Lena was no doubt half way to the factory by now, insisting Henry drive a little faster than normal. It was going to have to wait.

When Kara sat back down beside Mike, she took her purse gingerly and placed it in her lap. Mike smiled at her; a smile that shifted into something more serious when he saw what must have been quite the stunned expression on Kara’s face.

“You okay?”

“Yes,’ she lied.

“So that’s your friend, Lena, huh?’ he blew air out through his lips. ‘She’s very pretty. Er, not that you’re not pretty… you’re beautiful…”

Kara swatted his leg. “Shut up.”

Mike laughed and did so, giving her a wink.

She could feel the tears brimming up in her eyes, her chest tightening. She got to her feet and stepped out of Mike’s line of sight; she reached out and ran her hands through his hair.

“I have to get back to work.”

“I’ll be here.”

It was a long afternoon, changing bed bans and administering medication and fluffing pillows and filling out paperwork, and Kara was glad that no-one was home yet when she trudged over her own threshold.

She passed by the phone on her way to the stairs, and considered long and hard whether she should dial Lena’s number.

She was so tired.

Kara didn’t even have the energy to cry when she flopped down on her bed. She just closed her eyes, and blissfully went to sleep.

 

-----

 

Kara had decided to give Lena a day to get her feelings in order, and had decided to give herself a day, so she could get her thoughts in order and figure out what the hell she was going to say.

“Do you need me to come with you?” Alex was sitting on her bed, reading over her formulas from work.

Kara shook her head. “This is my mess, I can clean it up.”

“Never said you couldn’t, just thought you might like a wing woman.”

Kara glanced at her sister. She looked so comfortable, so at ease with herself and everything around her. More comfortable than Kara could remember seeing her in a long time. Was that all because of Maggie? Did Kara have a look about her because of Lena?

The comparison brought Kara back to reality; the stark reality of what she was about to do, and how badly it could backfire. How awful the situation already way, because she’d lost her nerve already once before.

She shrugged her coat on and slipped into her shoes. She paused to kneel on the edge of Alex’s bed, lean over and plant a firm kiss atop her head.

“I’ll be back soon.”

“I’ll be waiting. With whiskey.”

Kara dismissed her and headed down the stairs. On the short decent, she went over everything she was going to say one more time. Her plan involved getting on her bike, riding up to the mansion, checking for any expensive cars other than the Bentley, and sitting Lena down to explain everything. And if Lena wasn’t home, she would go to the factory. And if she was home but wouldn’t let her in, she would stand at the door and shout through the letter box, because she had to get this out, and Lena had to know.

She gathered up her scarf at the door, and pulled the door open.

Lena stood there, arm poised to knock.

Kara blinked a few times in disbelief, before remembering she should probably say something.

“Oh. Hello.”

Pathetic.

Dressed impeccably, she looked ready for a business meeting. Kara suddenly wondered how she could juggle so many different lives and roles so effortlessly.

“Hello,’ Lena said, looking just as surprised to see Kara.

“I was just on my way to come see you,’ Kara explained. ‘You’ve saved me peddling up that hill, at least.”

Lena didn’t laugh at the joke. Now that she was over her surprise, her jaw was squared.

“Well, come in,’ Kara stepped aside, and gestured. ‘Alex is upstairs working so we’ll have the living room to oursel-…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t stay,’ Lena’s firm tone cut over Kara. ‘I have to be at the airport in an hour.”

Kara sincerely hoped this wasn’t one of those times where her lack of poker face betrayed her.

“Oh, you’re going away again? When will you be back?’ Kara leaned against the door, studying Lena’s face. ‘We need to talk.”

Lena inhaled and exhaled slowly, steeling herself.

“I’m flying to London.”

“London? From here?”

“It’s a private plane.”

“I see. To be with your brother?”

Lena pursed her lips. She looked impatient with the small talk, and like she very much wanted to say the opposite of what she was about to say.

Kara didn’t like the look on her face at all.

“As you know, my family is very well contacted in the White House. In fact, that’s where they are right now. Father has direct contact with Roosevelt himself. And the consensus is that the war may very well be ending soon.”

A sudden hope burst in Kara’s chest, filling her with the warmest feeling of excitement and anticipation. She had not felt this feeling in such a long time. Nobody had.

But it was short lived, when she saw that Lena did not look happy at all.

“Well,’ Kara urged, trying to share the feeling, ‘that’s wonderful news!”

“My brother will be working closely with Churchill, as a result. And it’s come to light that because of this new role, he will be unable to handle everything in regards to Luthor Munitions by himself. So I’m flying over there to take over.”

It was clinical. Business-like. She was closed off, barely even looking Kara in the eye.

Kara straightened up. “Well that’s… very admirable. All your idea, I bet.”

It was a low blow, but if got the desired effect – Lena’s attention. Her green eyes locked with Kara’s, only for a short and intense moment, before they were gazing everywhere else again.

“It was decided what was best for the company.”

Kara clenched her jaw for a moment, before repeating, “When will you be back?”

Lena cleared her throat. “I’ll be in London until the business is concluded, then I’ll be meeting up with my parents in Washington to discuss the future of Luthor Munitions.”

Her meaning was clear.

She wasn’t coming back.

Kara gripped the door harder. “You don’t have to do this.”

It came out more desperate than she had intended. Her voice cracked on the last syllable, and with the sound of it, Lena flinched.

“I have expectations…”

Slam.

Kara had stepped out onto the porch; Lena had taken a step back, keeping the distance between them. Her Luthor resolve quivered at the sound of the door slamming closed behind Kara.

“You’re running away,’ Kara snapped.

Lena sighed, and her façade cracked. “It’s not like that.”

“Oh really? What is it like then?”

“Mike is back!’ Lena hissed, eyes darting around again, making sure they weren’t overhead.

“I tried to tell you… I didn’t mean for you to find out like that… “

“It doesn’t matter how I found out, Kara. The reality is Mike is back, and I’m doing the right thing. I haven’t done anything right since the night I damn well met you... but I can do this. I can get out of the way. What else can I do?”

“Stay.”

“I can’t.”

Kara frowned at her. “What did your mother say to you?”

“Excuse me?”

“She said something to you, the other day. This isn’t your decision. She’s forcing you.”

Lena’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t know me as well as you think you do if you think anyone can force me to do anything.”

“I do know you,’ Kara snarled. ‘And you’re lying to me.”

Something akin to victory crossed Lena’s features then, for only a brief moment.

“The truth is your department, remember? I imagine Mike would be very interested to hear why you come around so much when he gets out of hospital.”

Kara’s jaw clenched, her whole body tensed. Lena was baiting her. But she wasn’t going to make it that easy.

“I want you to stay.”

“I know,’ Lena’s hardness was back.

“Don’t you want to stay?”

“This isn’t about what I want,’ Lena breathed. She suddenly looked very, very tired. ‘But this is what’s best.”

“Best for who? Your mother? Everyone else in the whole damn world?”

“I’m trying to do the right -….”

“You don’t get to decide what’s best for me!”

“No, but you know that me staying isn’t what’s best for either of us.”

Kara felt angry, frustrated and enraged that this was slowly slipping completely out of her control. But then again, she hadn’t had control for a very long time. She knew why this was happening, but she didn’t like it. She didn’t have to like it. She didn’t have to accept it

“So that’s it?’ Kara demanded. ‘You’re just going to fly off to London now and I’ll never see you again?”

Lena squared her jaw. She was blinking quickly.

Kara didn’t have the same inclination to hide her tears. She was exhausted. She took her glasses off and wiped her eyes.

It was unfair. So unfair that she should get back someone so important to her, and yet have to lose another. Kara wanted to run to the Bentley parked on the street behind Lena, engine still running, and take the keys from the ignition, even if she had to fight Henry to do it. She wanted to go to Washington and hit Mrs. Luthor in her stupid, perfect face for whatever nonsense she’d filled Lena’s head with. She wanted to convince Lena that there was room in her life for both Lena and Mike. She wanted to convince herself.

“You’re my best friend,’ Kara choked through tears. ‘And I… Lena, I think I…”

“Don’t,’ Lena put a had up. ‘Kara please. Please don’t say it.”

Then, without warning, Lena stepped forward. Kara returned the embrace, and all too soon Lena was holding her just as tightly. Kara cried into the crook of her neck silently. Lena’s hands pulled her in just that little bit more.

And then she was gone, pulling back, and letting go completely.

“Good-bye, Kara.”

Kara wanted to say something. Anything. Good luck in London? Don’t forget to write to me? Please don’t go at all?

Nothing was good enough, the words stuck in her throat, and it was over too quickly. Lena gave Kara one last look, then went to her car. She got in the back seat without one glance back. Kara wondered if it was too hard for her to look back; wondered if the thought she wouldn’t be able to leave if she did.

And then the car grumbled into life, and it pulled away slowly from the curb, and then it was up the road and then around the corner.

And then she was gone.

Kara stood on the porch, looking after the car for a long time. Maybe it was just a cruel prank. Maybe Lena was just messing with her. Maybe this was just a nightmare that she would wake up from at any moment.

She conceded defeat when she noticed someone passing by on the sidewalk, looking at her strangely.

In a daydream, Kara took her coat off, dumped it on the floor, and headed back upstairs. When she entered her bedroom, Alex looked up with a frown.

“Jeez, that was fast. You’re not even sweaty from all the pedaling.”

Kara barely heard her, and said nothing in response. She just sat down on the edge of her own bed, listening to the loud squeak of the springs protest under the weight.

“Didn’t go so well,’ Alex observed.

“Where’s the whiskey?”

Alex sat up straighter then, paperwork completely forgotten.

“Its downstairs. I’ll go get it, then tell me everything.”

 

-----

 

(One Week Later)

 

“So she just left? Just like that?”

Kara nodded. She dug her fingernail into the wood grain just that little bit harder.

Winn let out a low whistle. “You alright?”

“Of course,’ she murmured.

“Of course. You don’t look put out at all.’

After days of feeling numb and disjointed, not being able to explain to Eliza why she wouldn’t eat, not able to bear listening to Alex trying to cheer her up anymore, not wanting to hear Maggie tell her how she’d “been here” and “done that”, she had come to Winn.

She had told him the edited version, hoping he would make her feel more like her usual self. Winn was one of the few people who could always placate her, no matter her mood. As obnoxious as he could be sometimes, he could always tell when she wasn’t quite right, and usually knew what to say

“Must be hard for her.”

Kara’s defenses went up automatically. She bit back her retort and simply said, “Oh?”

“Yeah,’ he nodded, not looking up from the radio he was repairing. ‘She had a pretty good life here, and now she has to just up and leave because her family tells her to? It’s not really fair.”

Kara didn’t bring up the part about Lena trying to convince her they could run away together; that, like Lena said, if she were so determined to do something, no-one could tell her to do anything.

How had everything gone so wrong so quickly? It was hard to believe just two weeks ago, Kara was having the night of her life with Lena... fantasising about being together forever... kissing her and feeling her against her and it feeling so darn right.... 

And now... 

“I’ll miss her,’ Winn sighed.

Kara blinked out of her reverie, and laughed. “I’ll bet you will. She was the only one who ever knew what the hell you were talking about.”

Winn looked wistfully out the window. “Indeed. The life of a genius is a lonely one. Probably why Lena is still single Still, there’s one consolation I suppose. She’s leaving for a noble cause.”

“Noble. Right.”

“You can still write her, yeah? And she might come back, one day, after the war. They still have a factory here, after all. Not to mention a very large house!”

Kara didn’t have the heart to say the words aloud, to relive the experience once again; how Lena had been so sure and defeated, that she very much doubted she’d ever seen that Bentley driving through the streets again.

“Yeah,’ Kara said dully. ‘Absolutely.”

 

-----

 

(Four Weeks Later)

 

Mike squinted at his cards. “I’ll have three, I think.”

He slammed his cards down dramatically, causing the table to rattle. Kara took his discards, and handed him three more from the deck. Upon looking at his new cards, a smirk crossed his features.

“Feeling confident?’ she asked.

“Oh, I reckon so… with three of a kind!”

He brandished his cards on the table before her. Three sevens stared up at her.

Kara frowned. “That is good.’ She laid her cards down too, displaying a Flush. ‘But not good enough.”

Mike cried out in outrage. “Again? How are you doing this?”

“Easy,’ Kara smirked, ‘I’m just better than you.”

“Clearly,’ Mike chuckled. ‘Here, let me…”

Kara pushed the deck of cards across the table to him. He began to shuffle them, slowly and delicately. His bandages had been off for a week now, and the Doctors had recommended he try and make use of his hands, to get the muscles that had been damaged working again to the best of his ability. He would never regain full use of them, his left thumb and the last two fingers on his right hand had limited feeling and often tingled or cramped, but he was doing his best.

Every day he could do a little bit more. Kara had got him trying needlepoint. Anything that requires fine motor skills. His aunt, who he was now living with, was relishing the chance to finally teach someone how to crochet. Kara visited him twice a week, and every time she did he showed her the scarf he was making her, all the while beaming with pride.

Shuffling and dealing cards was also good practice, even though he dropped them a lot. Kara only won because he accidentally revealed his cards so much, but she wasn’t going to tell him that.

When he began dealing out the cards, slow at easy, Kara considered the scars along his hands. She wondered when he would try touching her again like he used to; back rubs, and hair ruffles, and hand holding. He hadn’t tried since being back, apart from the occasional cheek graze.

Kara knew he was self conscious about them; he didn’t like his hands looking so war-torn, and didn’t want to frighten her with them. She tried not to think about how she didn’t mind him being hands off at all, and wouldn’t mind if it continued until all his scars had properly healed.

Instead, she thought about how she found it amusing that he was concerned that, after everything she’d seen working at St. Josephine’s, would be the one thing that pushed her over the line.

“Hey,’ he said then, tilting his head to consider her, ‘there’s that smile.”

Kara’s grin broadened slightly, her cheeks flushing. “Stop that.”

“No, I haven’t seen it around in a while. You’ve been… distant. Head up in the clouds.”

It hasn’t been in the clouds. It had been in London, in factories, at Gala’s; it had been remembering the scent of oily machines, leather interior, sweet perfumes. It had been remembering the taste of cucumber sandwiches, fine champagne, sweaty soft skin and lipstick…

Kara gut twisted with guilt. She shifted in her seat.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,’ said Mike. ‘I get it. We both need… some time.”

Her gut twisted again, but her heart also swelled. He was staring off into the distance, his cards held clumsily in his hands in front of him. He was trying so hard, going through his own trauma, horrors he still had barely begun to share with her, and trying to be supportive for her as well.

Kara reached out, and put a hand gently on his. It was still sore, and he flinched under her touch. She half expected him to take his hand away, but he didn’t. He was steadfast.

He smiled at her. “We’ll be alright, you and me.”

Kara suddenly felt like she could see her entire future stretched out in front of her, like she’d used to see it before the war. Before Luthor Munitions had almost exploded.

It was her, and Mike, and that was just the way it was going to be.

She offered him a small smile in return. “You and me.”

Chapter Text


 

Epilogue.

 

National City – 1971

 

Kara sighed impatiently as she rummaged through her make-up bag.

She could have sworn that mascara had been in there that morning. She’d put it on before work, after all. The packaging wasn’t entirely subtle, either. Amongst the black and silver compacts, lipsticks, blushes and eye shadows, the purple stick usually stood out quite harshly.

Kara put her glasses back on – glasses she had removed so she could apply the mascara – and continued to rummage. They were going to be late at this rate.

After removing every single item from the bag, laying it out on her vanity, and still seeing no purple stick, Kara sighed irritably once again.

“Bridget!”

It took a few seconds, proceeded by a clunk and then thundering down the hall, before a young face framed with dark hair, poked into the room.

“Yes?”

Kara swivelled her chair to face her daughter. “You’ve been in my make-up bag again.”

“What? How dare you suggest… I would never…”

Kara’s eyebrows rose, and Bridget’s stuttering attempts to lie died in her throat.

She sighed. “Okay, yes, but I ran out and I don’t have enough money to buy any until next week… and this is a big deal…”

“Just…’ Kara put a hand up to silence her, ‘…bring me my mascara. Now.”

With a haughty sigh and an eye-roll, Bridget disappeared; her heavy footfalls sounding her direction back to her room down the hall.

Kara turned her attentions back to her hair – the one thing she could still work on. Soft streaks of grey ran from her temples, as if an extension of the lines around her eyes. The texture of her hair had changed in the past few years, menopause doing its handy work in giving what used to be luscious and soft golden locks, a more course quality. For not the first time, Kara felt the irrational urge to cut it all off.

Don’t be ridiculous, the voice in her head echoed.

It was Mike’s voice. More than once he’d told her she was being absurd; that he loved her scarecrow hair. And her crows feet.

Kara smiled at the memory; how these compliments and attempts to reassure came from a biased memory. She was sure no matter what, he'd still see her as that young girl in her twenties he’d come home to after a long and ghastly war. 

And here they were, in the midst of another one.

Bridget had been vocal enough about it for the both of them; her aversion matching not only half the population of the rest of the country, but her fathers as well.

Kara tried not to think about it. She had enough on her plate as it was.

Stop fussing, Jacqueline had said. All you have to do is go up there and smile, she’d said, giving her own sparkly grin.

The whole thing was ridiculous.

Earlier that afternoon, Kara had been minding her own business, filing paperwork in the nurses station while orderlies and doctors bustled past the big, glass windows that looked out onto the wards. That’s when she’d received the phone call.

It started with a chesty cough. “K-Kara, it’s me…”

Kara grimaced. “God, you sound terrible. Still no better?”

Down the line, Jacqueline had spluttered again. Despite clearing her throat, when she spoke again, her voice was still hoarse.

“Oh, no, absolutely. This is just the cigars.”

“Stop fooling around. You need to rest! Bronchitis is no joke, and I told you, I’d handle everything here.”

Jacqueline half-laughed, half coughed. “You do remember I’m your superior, yes?”

“Only just… but yes, I vaguely recall.”

“Good. And as your superior… I’m designating you a task.”

The slow, meaningful way she’d said this, had Kara put down her pen and sit up a little straighter. She’d been working under this woman for the past five years – she knew that tone.

“What is it?’ Kara had asked with great trepidation.

Jacqueline, Head of Nursing at Griffith Hospital, cleared her throat again. “I need you to go for me tonight.”

Dread settled in Kara’s stomach at these words; an anxiety that had been simmering since Jacqueline had called in sick, suddenly reached boiling point.

Kara had sighed, taken her glasses off, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Jacqueline…”

“No, Kara, you cant fight me on this one. It’s too important.”

“You know Antonia is a better public speaker than me. Or what about Karen? I’m sure she could get someone to babysit…”

Another coughing fit down the line had silenced Kara’s protests. And when her superior had finally caught her breath, her tone was that of finality.

“My darlin’, the speech is only a few lines and its all written out. The cards are in my top desk drawer. All you gotta do is go up there, read the cards, smile and that’s it. Easy as pie.”

Kara snorted.

“Believe me, if I could talk for long enough and stand without the world spinning I’d go…’ as if to prove her point, more coughing flew down the line, ‘… but as you can hear, I’m not in the best shape.”

After a long, exaggerated sigh, Kara conceded with a, “Fine. I’ll do it. But you owe me.”

Jacqueline had laughed again, a coarse bark. “Owe you? Sweetheart you’re gonna have a six-course dinner, all drinks and a night at The Hilton on the house. I don’t owe you diddly squat. Just remember to enjoy yourself, alright?”

Five hours later, including a bustling train ride home and a nap, Kara was still not at all convinced this was a good idea.

She was fine being second in command in the safety and familiarity of the wards. Griffith Hospital had been her home for almost fifteen years now. She knew the white halls, green laminate flooring, bright fluorescent lighting like her own apartment. She could sense the shifts in mood in her patients, her staff, the families who visited, the very wards themselves. She was a good second-in-charge. She’d worked hard for it. She liked having the superiority, but not all the responsibility.

Responsibilities such as these, for a start.

Griffith Hospital was still, after all these years, despite newer and fancier hospitals being developed, the biggest hospital in the state. It was celebrating its centennial this year, the ward Kara worked on being one of the original wings of the old building. So it was natural, of course, that the person to accept the plaque presented by the Mayor, his fellow senators, and the esteemed members of the National City high society, would be the Matron of the ward – Jacqueline, who had been working at the hospital for over forty years.

Who, unfortunately, was not immune to chest infections.

So of course, the Deputy, the First Mate of the ship, would have to step up and take charge.

Kara was almost too deep in her brooding to realize her twenty-year-old daughter was back in the room. She whirled around; lean as her mother had been when she was her age, Bridget was now dressed in her Sunday best. Impeccably done make-up delicately coated features so like her father, apart from the blue eyes she had inherited from Kara. Her dark hair flowed in long, dark waves down her shoulders.

“Here,’ she said, holding the mascara and, to Kara’s frustration, a compact mirror, some eye shadow and a lipstick.

Kara snatched them back. “Go get your shoes on, we’ll be late.”

“Can I borrow this? Thanks!” Without waiting for any kind of response, Bridget snatched up Kara’s best perfume and darted from the room. Kara was half-up out of her seat before her voice echoed down the hall, ‘I’ll bring it right back! I promise!”

“Have kids, they said,’ Kara muttered to herself. She stood up from the vanity and went to find her shoes. ‘It’ll be fun, they said.”

 

-----

 

The party was lavish, and Kara felt extremely under dressed.

The Hilton of course knew nothing of modesty. Its grand ballroom was gleaming with plush furniture, garnishes that glinted and gleamed in the soft glow of the gold chandeliers that hung from above. The light that shone from the crystals was slightly muted by the cloud of smoke that hovered above them; all around the room, men were puffing on cigars and pipes; women were balancing cigarettes between their fingers. The health professional inside Kara had blanched at their disregard for fresh air more than once.

But this wasn’t the first time she’d been to something like this.

The memory didn’t even have time to form. Even if she had the time, she wouldn’t have let it. Bridget was suddenly beside her, back from her search for a waiter who still bore some canapes, her left hand holding a wine glass, and her right clutching a bulging portion of Vol-au-vents.

Kara sighed as she took the glass from her daughter. “Can you at least try to look like you’ve been out in public before?”

“Ruwd,’ Bridget mumbled around a canape. She swallowed and continued, ‘You always said I shouldn’t care what people thought of me.”

“Yes, and I stand by that. But we’re not representing us tonight, we’re representing the hospital.”

“And your boss.”

Kara fixed Bridget’s smirk with a stare. “Don’t eat too many of those.”

“Why? It’ll ruin my figure?”

“No,’ Kara nodded at the door at the heavy, oak doors on the other side of the massive room, ‘your dinner. We still have a six-course meal to go.”

Bridget looked her mother dead in the eye, her expression conveying how little she cared, as she slowly pressed another vol-au-vent into her mouth.

Kara shook her head, unable to stop herself smiling at the ridiculousness of what she had created with her own body. She took a drink of the champagne she had sent Bridget to fetch for her; her smile broadening when she felt Bridget’s hand slide into her own. It was a sign of solidarity, as if to say, Don’t worry, Mom. All these fancy rich people make me just as nervous as they do you.

But it wasn’t that that has Kara on edge. It wasn’t her dress that aroused in her the sense of anxiety. It was an older dress, sure. And it didn’t fit her the way it had seven years ago – thanks to age, time and a strong refusal to spend money on a new dress when this one was just fine, despite the fact it didn’t necessarily cling to the right places anymore. Standing next to her lean, perfectly proportioned daughter still wouldn’t have caused her concern. She had enough confidence in herself to know she still looked fine for a woman just into her fifties. Mulling about in this crowd was easy. She could stand off to the sidelines, wine in her hand, and pull of the disinterested look that worked so well for the people around her.

But soon she would have to get up in front of every single one of these people and read her speech.

Kara was appalling at public speaking. She’d managed to avoid it over the years, the responsibility of talking to directors and management of the hospital always coming down to Jacqueline. She was the Matron. It was her job.

It wasn’t helping that everyone in this room was so influential.

Kara had had her fair share of being around well to-do people in her life. It had been a while, but she remembered their tight smiles, their sharp wits, the way they always seemed to look down their nose at you, even if they thought you had something they needed to get just that little bit further ahead. Years passed, new heirs to railroads and businesses stepped up for their mothers and fathers, but it was all still the same.

They hadn’t all been like that, though.

Memories of a similar sort of evening, held in a town hall, began to dance across her vision, mingling with the spectacle happening right before her in that moment.

Kara sighed, impatient. “What time is it?”

Bridget downed her last Vol-au-vent. “Twenty minutes since Shiny Shoes glanced over here.”

Amusement replaced some of Kara’s anxiety. She looked at her daughters disappointed expression and followed her line of vision to the cluster of people gathered just by the hors d’oeuvres table. Standing beside an older woman garnished with glittering jewellery, and listening to a man in a sharp, black suit with balding grey hair, stood a young man with a stiff posture and bright eyes. His black hair was combed back, one little strand escaping to hang almost in his left eye. He had been casting glances across the room at Bridget for some time now, seemingly not having the time or the courage to close the distance and say hello.

“You know you can go say hello to him,’ Kara teased. ‘Isn’t that what all your rallies are about? Equal opportunity?”

“Doesn’t mean chivalry has to be dead.”

“One could argue he is being chivalrous. He’s leaving you be to enjoy a night out with your mother instead of subjecting you to the boring conversations of men and their “opinions”.”

Eyes still on the young man, Bridget snorted. “Anyone who looks that good in a suit can bore me any day. Look, he’s drinking wine. Not beer like the Neanderthals at school. He obviously has good taste.”

“Well if he does come over to talk to you, we’ll know that’s true.”

Bridget gave Kara a warm smile.

“Excuse me… pardon me… coming though… oh, excuse me Senator!... Mrs. Mathews?”

Kara turned her attention to the man who had just squeezed his way out of the crowd. He looked extremely harassed; his tie was considerably loosened, sweat glistening on his brow. Had there not been a bushy moustache across his lip, worming all the way around the sides of his mouth, Kara knew it would have been shiny with sweat there too.

He took a moment to compose himself, adjusting his vest and clearing his throat. “Do excuse my tardiness, Mrs. Mathews, but I was expecting Matron Kilkenny. I was only just informed of her absence.”

“Yes, she’s gravely unwell,’ Kara explained. Her heart was racing already. ‘I’ll be… delivering her speech and accepting the plaque.” The words tasted like vomit.

The man let out a long sigh, shoulders heaving. “Yes, very well. I will inform Mayor Cooper and have his cards changed accordingly. Please wait here until I return, we need to discuss the timetable for this evening.”

He was back much quicker than Kara had anticipated. As asked, she had not left her position by the grandfather clock; she had sent Bridget around the room for drinks and canapes. The man reappeared while Bridget was on the hunt for Devilled Eggs.

“Right,’ he pulled from his breast pocket a deck of cue cards, ‘so if you’ll just follow me, I’ll introduce you to the members of the board and the beneficiaries who you’ll be greeting on stage. Once everyone, including yourself, is seated in the ballroom, there will be opening speeches, followed by…”

The man continued to speak rapidly as he led her across the room, hand tentatively at the small of her back. He told her how the evening had been laid out, how the presentation would go, which side of the stage she would walk on and walk off. Kara had to lean in, eyes on the floor to watch where she was treading as she tried to both keep pace with him and memorise his instructions. She still wasn’t sure exactly who this man was, why and how he knew all this, or even his name. But she could tell that from his monotone explanations and confident stride through such an elite attendance that, despite his obvious stress, this was a job he had carried out many times in the past.

Once the explanation was over (Kara was very impressed with how he had managed to fit everything into the very short moments it had taken to walk from one end of the room to the other), he let out a long sigh, took a moment to compose himself once again, and then straightened up as they approached a small group more very well-dressed people. The man at her side reached out and tapped a man in a grey suit on the shoulder.

“Pardon me, sir, this is Mrs. Mathews. She’s accepting the award this evening.”

The Mayor of National City turned, and fixed her with a beaming, vote-winning smile she’s seen all over the place on flyers and billboards six months ago.

“Ah yes, welcome! So glad you could make it.’ He took Kara’s hand, shaking it warmly. His soft, southern accent was a delight to listen to. No wonder he’d won in a landslide victory last year. ‘So sorry to hear the news of your Matron. But I’m glad she could find someone on such short notice to receive the plaque in her stead.”

Kara bit back the retort ‘Well you couldn’t very well mail it to us’, and instead returned the smile and said, ‘Thank you so much, Mister Cooper. Mayor Cooper. Oh, goodness…”

The Mayor chuckled. “Now, don’t you worry about a thing. Mister Cooper is just fine. Thank you, Mikey, outstanding work as always. Now, let me introduce you to the rest of the gang you’ll be shaking hands with tonight…”

Mikey, Kara’s balding friend, beamed as the Mayor slipped him a twenty-dollar bill before bustling away. And with another polite hand at the small of her back, Kara felt herself being directed once again.

“Now, Mrs. Mathews, may I introduce two member of my council, this is Howard Nichols and Lyle Patterson,’ Kara shook both gentleman’s hands in turn, ‘this is publicist Nathaniel and his assistant Marjorie,’ Kara shook more hands, ‘Hank O’Brien, the manager of this fine hotel… Michael Davies, Dean of the School of Nursing… Kelsie Brown, my personal assistant… oh, and this is Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, of Annex Incorporated – they’re big beneficiaries of this evening and its cause.”

Kara had shaken so many hands so quickly, glanced at so many faces and tried to remember so many names, that she barely noticed the handsome features of Mr. Edwards, or the delicate handshake of Mrs. Edwards.

A handshake that lingered.

Kara blinked, taking in green eyes that were oh so familiar, realising who’s hand she had in hers.

“Lena,’

It almost happened in slow motion, like she was in a dream. Hand still in Kara’s, Lena Luthor’s expression was unreadable.

Like a film on fast forward, dozens of memories flashed through Kara’s mind in the few seconds it took for Lena to be able to form any kind of response. Her throat bobbed as she took a moment, then a polite smile crossed her face.

“Kara Danvers. It’s certainly been a long time.”

It was so official. Nothing like the soft way Lena used to speak to her, but then also nothing like the stiff and cold way she’d said that final good-bye.

If Lena was thinking the same thing, Kara couldn’t tell. Instead, she gave Lena’s hand another shake.

“Mathews now, actually.”

It came out harsher than she meant. Or maybe she did mean it. Lena’s lips only pursed into a tighter smile, and she finally let Kara’s hand go.

“Oh, you two already know each other?’ The Mayor beamed. ‘Excellent. Don’t suppose you’d mind taking care of Mrs. Mathews for a minute while I head on in? Still need to put in a few last-minute tweaks into my speech! See you in there, kids.”

In the back of her mind, Kara mused for a moment that it was quite ridiculous that they should be called “kids” when they were all clearly older than him.

In the front of her mind, Kara felt the rest of the world go dim as she looked at the woman in front of her.

She had barely changed at all. The stunning beauty she’d been when they’d been younger, with long dark hair and mesmerising eyes and a presence that could turn every head in the room, it seemed the years had only added to the force that was Lena Luthor. The confidence and self-assuredness of age had settled well with her, making her seem like an even more commanding force than ever – a woman who would take no shit from anyone anymore. 

Kara knew she looked ridiculous, standing there blinking like an idiot. And until the arm wrapped around Lena’s waist, Kara had completely forgotten they weren’t the only two people in the room.

“How do you two know each other, then?’ Mr. Edwards chuckled, looking very interested as he glanced back and forth between the two of them.

“Robert, darling, meet Kara Mathews. And old acquaintance of mine.”

Kara felt her teeth grind at the word but gave Robert Edwards, handsome and dazzling as the chandelier above them, a polite smile as he shook her hand as well.

“We met during the war,’ Lena explained. ‘The last one.’ Her eyes hadn’t left Kara once. They were analysing; no doubt she was taking in the changes twenty years had caused to her as well.

God, so many years.

Robert’s eyebrows rose. “Ah, I see. In London?”

“No,’ Lena flinched. ‘When I was… at my parents’ factory. You remember me telling you, dear?”

Dear. This man was her husband. Kara had heard the news, of course. There had been a small headline years ago, pronouncing the joining of two billionaire heirs joining in matrimonial bliss. Kara had tried to put it out of her mind, privately giving it only a year or so before it all ended in divorce.

Judging from his presence here and now, and the way he smirked at the word dear and ran his hand up Lena’s side, Kara had been very mistaken.

He was a handsome man. Blonde hair slicked back, startling blue eyes, a charming, white-toothed smile that could put any celebrity or politician to shame. His broad shoulders framed a posture that implied that despite not officially being the most powerful man in the room, he knew where he stood and took great pride in defending it to anyone who would question it.

A perfect match for someone like Lena Luthor.

Her husband scoffed into his whiskey glass – neat, like Lena’s, Kara observed. Some things never changed. “You’ve told me so many war stories, who could keep up?”

Kara expected Lena to straighten, brush the snide reply off. Instead, she eyed her husband up and down in a derisive manner.

“You’re right. How can stories about a world war compete with tales of old, white men holding conferences in Monte Carlo and Vienna held in five-star hotels?”

Robert laughed, loud and honest, and leaned in to press a soft kiss to Lena’s neck. Kara looked away, but not before noticing the way Lena glanced at her.

“Lena passed through the hospital once,’ Kara announced, ‘visiting the women who had been injured after the factory accident.”

Robert straightened up, the sly look evaporating from his face. “Oh, yes, I remember now. Almost took out half of your business.”

“Lena is that kind of person,’ Kara continued, looking pointedly at the man in front of her, ‘considerate to everyone.”

“Probably why she married me,’ Robert chuckled. ‘Took pity on me.”

Lena laughed awkwardly, taking a long sip of her drink. “Yes, that’s why.”

An expression passed over Roberts face for a split second, so fast Kara almost passed it off as a trick of the light flickering overhead. A look that looked vaguely like sadness.

“Mom, I need you to hold these for me…”

Kara blinked, coming back to reality in time to hold the cocktail glass full of shrimp that was shoved into her hand. She glanced at her daughter beside her, an identical glass in her own hand.

Bridget was mid-sip of her own drink, when her eyes boggled. She swallowed hastily and gasped, “Oh my god, you’re… Lena Luthor.”

Lena hid her surprise behind a smirk as Bridget passed Kara her other glass, and held a shaky hand out to shake, looking in awe at the woman in front of her.

“Sweetheart,’ Kara chuckled, trying to ease the awkwardness in her chest, ‘how do you know Lena?”

“Are you kidding? Mrs. Luthor is the poster women for the women’s rights movement, and for the National Organisation for Women, not to mention being one of the most successful women in America history, not to mention…”

Lena laughed, a genuine flutter of joy, and put a hand on Bridget’s arm. “You don’t need to mention anymore. Please. The gentlemen… it unsettles them, you understand.”

Bridget looked around with disdain. “If the male ego can’t handle strong women, it shouldn’t be pretending its capable of running the world.”

Lena’s eyebrows rose as she took in Bridget. Kara remembered that look being directed at her, many years ago, after she slapped a jerk outside of a factory.

The look Lena directed at Kara now, tearing her eyes away from her daughter, made Kara shift uncomfortably.

“Sweetheart, don’t badger Mrs. Luthor. Sorry, Mrs. Edwards. We should go find out seats. Lena, it was lovely to see you again. Nice to meet you, Robert.” 

“But, Mom…”

Kara didn’t give Bridget a chance to argue. Putting a hand on her hip, she shoved her daughter toward the now open doors that lead to the enormous conference hall. People began to follow their lead, pouring in behind them, chatter rising up loudly around them as they realised what was happening.

“Mom,’ Bridget breathed in her ear, neck craning around to look behind her, ‘how did…”

“Just find out table, sweetheart.”

“But, Mom… Lena Luthor…”

Kara offered some very stern tsk’s, an eyebrows raise, and the subject was thankfully dropped – for now. Kara made a pretence of sending Bridget off to look for their place setting; of trying to find which table they were to be on. A reason to keep her head down, to resist temptation of looking over her own shoulders to see where a certain brunette went to. Hopefully not their table.

Her prayers were answered when they found their place, a table to the far side of the room.

Bridget sat down, admiring her name written on the little card in front of the large bowl of bread roll, as she loaded two said bread rolls onto her plate. Kara made small talk and shook hands with the people who joined them at the round table. Bridget took advantage of introducing herself to the wealthy investors and business owners sat with them, head no doubt thinking about job prospects for the summer break and after college and the subject of how Kara knew Lena was thankfully dropped… for now.

Kara hoped her irritation was to be mistaken for nerves.

What the hell was the universe playing at? Why of all the places in the world, here? Why her?

She wanted to leave. It was irrational, and childish, but she wanted nothing more in that moment to get up, take her daughter by the hand, and get the hell out of there.

But she couldn’t. She wanted to go smack Lena in her perfect face, and drink until she could see straight, but she couldn’t. She wanted to crawl under the table, but she couldn’t. She wanted to look away and not look back.

But she couldn’t.

Kara’s fresh glass of wine was almost emptied in the first few moments after being poured for her. She barely tasted it as she watched the table on the other side of the room. Robert Edwards paused from laughing with an older gentleman seated already in order to pull a chair out for Lena. She gave him a soft, warm smile, and put a hand on his shoulder before sitting herself down. Robert pushed the chair in behind her, smoothed out his tie and sat down beside her to resume his apparently hilarious conversation.

Lena ran her finger around the edge of her glass, ready and waiting for whiskey to be poured. She looked around, seemingly to establish her place at the table amongst her peers. But then her head turned, and her field of gaze widened, and Kara was glad when her entrée was suddenly placed in front of her, giving her something else to look at. 

 

----

 

Three hours later, Kara’s headache ebbed as she pressed her thumb into the spot just above her right eye.

Glasses discarded on the bar, she felt the jolt of pain surge through to the back of her skull, let it linger for a long moment, and sighed with relief as she released the pressure.

The headache had begun just as she was about to step up on stage. Kara had a feeling it wouldn’t be going away any time soon. She half wondered if she should go back to the room; the haze of smoke that hung low above her in the hotel bar would do nothing for this throb in her head.

Kara rubbed her eyes, and drank the rest of her wine. Maybe one more wouldn’t hurt. She hadn’t had that much at dinner; her stomach had been in enough knots with the prospect of speeches, and people looking up at her.

Some people in particular.

“Have another one?”

Kara looked at bartender across the bar. Though her vision was blurred without her glasses, she could see he was already waiting with an open bottle of champagne.

‘Why not?’ she sighed. ‘Although alcohol probably isn’t the best thing to make this headache go away.”

“You part of that fancy soiree that was in tonight?’ he asked, eyeing her outfit. She nodded, and he chuckled, topping up her glass. ‘Looked like a lot of fun. If you like that sort of thing.”

“That sort of thing?”

“Yeah, y’know… parading around, trying to show everyone how important you are. Seems exhausting to me.”

It took a second to wade through the fog of the dull throb in her forehead, and the tingling feeling of the wine, to realize that he wasn’t being rude, or calling her a snob. He was seeing her across from him, looking miserable and exhausted from the whole affair she’d just escaped from, and could see a kindred spirit – one that had to put on a show sometimes, but at least got to go home at the end of the night and wipe the pretense away.

It made that ache in her chest ease a little.

Kara offered him a tired smile. “It is, trust me. I’m glad I only have to do this for one night.”

He smirked and began wiping the bar top. “Well, if you feel the urge to get back in amongst it, we’ve got an opening here behind the bar. You’ll get to hang out with rich people all night long. Know how to make any good at cocktails?”

“If memory serves,’ a new voice crooned, ‘she can make one hell of a Gin and Tonic.”

Kara slid her glasses back on, turned to her right, and watched Lena perch onto the stool next to her. Her dress hiked up slightly, the slit running down the side of her thigh showing off her stockings. 

As Lena put her purse on the table and began rummaging around, Kara turned back to the bartender, who was watching Lena with something akin to barely concealed awe. Kara had seen men look at Lena this way many times; clearly her age did nothing to diminish her effect on the opposite sex.

Or, she reminded herself, probably the same sex either.

“Er,’ Kara tore her eyes away, ‘put it on room two zero five.”

Click.

Lena lit her cigarette with her tiny little lighter, blew out a long puff of smoke, and nodded at the man across from them. “Makers Mark please, and put them both on sixteen sixty five.”

“You don’t have to…’ Kara started, but the words died at the quirked eyebrow on Lena’s face. ‘Thank you,’ she finished with a small smile. ‘I probably shouldn’t have any more than this, anyway.”

“Had a few at dinner, did you?’ Lena smirked.

“One or two,’ Kara admitted. ‘Dutch courage.” The wine provided had been too sweet to have any more than that. Kara liked her wine dry.

Lena’s eyes lingered as her glass of straight whiskey, two knuckles, was placed in front of her. Kara took the lingering moment to take a mouthful of her own champagne – bubbly and buttery, all at the same time.

Lena chuckled.

“What?’ Kara asked.

“Nothing,’ Lena took another drag of her smoke. ‘You did well. Your speech.”

Kara herself laughed this time, without much humour. “Did you leave your fan club just to come and make fun of me?” Truly, the group of men Kara had last seen Lena standing during would surely me mortified of her absence, even all these hours later.

“They can write to my fan mail. But I’m not making fun of you,’ Kara looked at Lena again, saw the sincerity there. ‘It was beautifully written. I didn’t know you could write like that.”

“I can’t,’ she admitted. ‘I didn’t write it. I wasn’t supposed to be here.”

“No,’ Lena mused, ‘indeed not. And yet, here you are…’ she smirked. ‘Of all the gin joints…”

Kara watched Lena take a long sip of her drink. She always savoured these things; her cigarettes, drinks, meals, taking her time to let the flavour and sensation mull about. Kara looked away before she could watch the bob of Lena’s throat as she swallowed.

“Why are you here?’ It came out faster, ruder, than Kara had intended.

Lena looked shocked only for a moment at her tone. Then she seemed to realise something and relaxed.

“Robert’s family received the invite. His father is in Greece and couldn’t make it, so we flew in from New York this morning.”

It wasn’t what she meant.

“I thought you lived in Metropolis.”

Lena turned slightly in her seat, toward Kara. “Been keeping tabs on me, have you?”

For some reason, despite knowing she was joking, the insinuation infuriated her.

Kara lifted her chin. “You’re always in the papers, hard not to know.”

“Indeed. If you must know, we were at a conference all day yesterday. Robert has been trying to close a business deal for the last six months, yesterday was his final offer.”

Robert, Robert, Robert… the name set her teeth on edge.

“So you were at this meeting all day, and then flew across the country last night? You must be exhausted.”

“Concerned about me?”

Kara gave her a look over the top of her glasses.

Lena shrugged, taking another drink. “The Concorde saves time.”

Kara resisted rolling her eyes. Lena noticed.

“You think I sound pretentious,’ said Lena.

“Not at all. If I had the money to take a super fast and fancy means of transportation, I certainly would.”

Lena’s eyes narrowed playfully. “You’ve gotten sneakier at insulting people, did you know that?”

Kara did roll her eyes then. “Twenty six years years of trying to get stubborn patients to take their medication will do that to a person.”

“You look good,’ Lena mentioned.

“Please. Your bracelet cost more than this dress.”

“That’s not what I meant. You’ve barely changed at all.”

“I use a good moisturizer.”

Lena laughed, turning completely now toward Kara, resting her elbow on the bar. “See, there it is again! Where did that sarcasm come from?”

“It’s been almost three decades since we lived in Midvale, Lena - people change.”

“My god. Has it really been so long?”

Kara turned back to her drink. “You know it has, Lena.”

Lena was being much friendlier than earlier, walls of propriety down, and it was throwing Kara off. A sturdy, walled-off Lena she could handle. It was her last memory of her, after all. But this

A long silence followed; Kara felt the weight of Lena’s attention on her, almost smothering. Kara refused to give into that old habit of shifting uncomfortably under her gaze. That was the awkwardness of a young woman. She was no longer anything of the sort. If Bridget could face her, barely twenty and straight backed, then so could she.  

“So it has,’ Lena finally said.

Kara had so much she wanted to say then, all of it stuck on the end of the tongue; about many quite nights of staring up at the ceiling she wanted to scream at Lena, tell her about all the thoughts she’d had and tears she’d shed.

But she said nothing.

With a soft smile, Lena lifted her glass. “To… unexpected reunions.”

Kara sighed, offered a smile, and tapped her glass against the edge of Lena’s with a soft, resounding clink.

Lena looked around. “Where’s your daughter?”

The way she said the word daughter, with a hint of disbelief, was enough to have Kara turn back toward the bar.

“Out with friends,’ she explained. ‘Bridget attends university here in the city, she mentioned something about a party in one of the dorms.”

“NCU?”

“That’s the one.”

Lena ran her fingernail around the edge of her glass. “With a mind like that I’m sure she could have attended any college she wanted to in the country.”

“Not on my paycheck.’ Kara almost laughed, at how easily Lena still seemed to forget how the real world worked. ‘I’m sorry if she embarrassed you earlier.”

‘No, not at all. It was lovely to meet her. She seems quite… tenacious.”

“Takes after her aunt on that one, trust me.”

“Oh, I don’t know,’ Lena shuffled into the couch a little, getting comfortable, ‘I don’t remember Alex punching any men in the face out the front of a munitions factory.”

“I didn’t punch him.”

“You should have,’ Lena murmured.

“Yes,’ Kara agreed, remembering how vile that Archer man had been, ‘perhaps I should have.”

Lena smiled at her for a moment. “How is Alex?”

“She’s good. She’s living in San Francisco right now, with her partner.”

“Maggie?”

“Er, no. That didn’t last much longer after you left, unfortunately.”

Lena looked regretful; empathetic. “Your mother found out?”

“Yes, she did. But that’s not what broke them up. Alex told them both, in the end, after Jeramiah came home when the war ended. Jeramiah wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea, but Eliza was surprisingly very much on Alex’s side. She starting talking to Jeramiah about how there were proven studies of homosexuality in all types of animal species aside from their own, and… well look, it all got very science-y, and he came around in the end.

‘But Alex was always going to be too big for Midvale. Once the war was over, after her and Maggie unfortunately parted ways and she saved enough money, she got on her bike and headed straight for California. She’s been working at the California Academy of Sciences ever since. It’s where she met Kelly.”

“A scientist too?”

“Of course,’ Kara chuckled.

Lena laughed. “Well, good for her. San Francisco was a good move. The community there is much more… tolerant, I hear.”

“It’s why she chose it. Anything to make life a little easier. Being a scientist and a woman is hard enough, let alone a homosexual one.”

A shadow passed across Lena’s face, her expression shifting as she stared off into space, taking a sip of her wine. Kara supposed Lena was the last person who needed such concepts explained to her.  

“And everyone else?”

For long, vindictive moment, Kara pursed her lips and very strongly considered telling Lena that if she was so interested in the affairs of her family and friends, she could have responded to some of the letters Kara had sent her over the years. Just one.

Instead she told her about how Winn got married to Sally, how they moved to Washington and have their first grandchild arriving soon. About how after this mother passed, James sold the family home and moved to Chicago. How they’d grown up together, celebrated weddings and mourned deaths and repaired one another after the effects of the war rippled back from Europe. How the world had turned and life had, somehow, gone on for all of them.

Lena listened with bright eyes that did not match the amount of alcohol she had imbibed. No doubt her tolerance had improved over the years. Countless board room meetings and cocktail parties and business trips would do that to a person.

“And… Mike couldn’t make it this evening?”

And there it was, the elephant sitting at the bar with them. The same elephant that had lingered the entire evening.

“No,’ was all Kara said.

She could feel Lena’s eyes boring into her. When she chanced a look, Lena’s gaze flicked away, lips still pursed.

“Where’s Robert?” Kara asked, desperate to change the subject.

Lena, thankfully, allowed the change. “Taken out on the town with someone of the younger, rowdier crowd of entrepreneurs.”

“Really? Without you? I didn’t think you’d stand for being left out like that.”

“Please,’ Lena waved a hand, ‘I can think of much better ways to spend my evening than hanging out with a bunch of entitled rich boys who drink too much to replace the feeling of the silver spoon in their mouths.”

Kara blinked.

“What?’ Lena frowned.

“Nothing, just…’

“Just what?”

Kara raised an eyebrow.

“Ah,’ Lena nodded, ‘you’re sensing some irony in that statement, coming from a woman wearing heels worth almost as much as that chandelier.” Lena pointed to the sparkling fixture above them.

Kara shook her head.

“What?’ Lena huffed.

“I just… remember you wearing twenty dollar steel-capped shoes and still being able to walk fine.”

“Yes, well I don’t think those boots and coveralls would go down well in this crowd.”

“You own this crowd,’ Kara pointed out. ‘You always have. And yet you still adjust yourself to placate them and their ridiculous ideals.”

Lena leaned against the bar, looking down her nose at Kara. It was the sort of look she would expect assorted businessmen and women would be on the other end of when they presented to her a proposal she thought to be less than ideal.

Kara felt the tension thicken, not helped by the amount of wine she’d had in the time they’d been sitting there. Like someone had increased the air conditioning in the bar.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in my time,’ Lena said cooly. ‘Been made to feel this big, and too big, and like nothing at all. You think you’re the first one to call me entitled? To think I don’t see the world how it really is? I was in that factory for ten hours a day, four days a week, slaving away in the grime, with the smell of chemicals burning my nostrils and tainting my mouth until only six shots of straight vodka could burn away. I’ve had grazes, and burns, and cuts up and down my arms that still leave a mark today. And you still think I’m a snob.”

“Every other woman working there did the same thing,’ Kara retorted. ‘Still has those same marks that can’t be covered up by expensive glittering jewels or fine make-up. They didn’t get the luxury of deciding to leave for an easier life – they’re still there. Left behind.”

“Like you were?’

Kara’s eyes narrowed.

Lena cleared her throat and turned back to the bar to gather up her purse. “I’m sorry you still feel that way.’

And I’m sorry you seem to have memory loss, Kara was dying to respond.

‘I thought perhaps we could have caught up, enjoyed each others company after all this time… but it appears I was wrong. I’m sorry to have interrupted your solace, I’ll leave alone.”

“You’re good at that.”

Lena’s jaw tightened as she got to her feet. “Good-bye, Kara.”

Kara watched her walk away, feeling her cheeks burning – with anger and frustration. Lena’s heels clicked loudly on the marble floor as she strode out of the bar. Kara turned away when Lena had pressed the button to summon the elevator.

She’d had enough of watching Lena walking away from her.

“Another?”

Kara looked up. The bar tender was back, bottle ready in his hands, looking wary. She had to give him credit – he knew how to read the room.

She looked at her half-finished flute, bubbles settling now. The sense of déjà vu hit her hard.

She had had enough of watching Lena walking away from her.

Kara waved a dismissive hand toward the bottle, downed the rest of her drink, and gathered her things.

Sixteen oh five? No, sixteen three five?

Kara tried to remember the number, even as the elevator rose upward. When the doors dinged open on the sixteenth floor, she knew her choices had been narrowed down significantly. Of course a floor full of penthouses would only have a few doors to choose from.

Flashbacks of a night similar to this hit her all at once; of dragging a drunken sister down the hallway, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes wafting along behind them…

Kara marched right up to sixteen sixty-five and knocked firmly before her resolve left and took her back to her room right along with it.

For a long moment, there was silence. Kara clenched her fist, half-deciding whether to knock again.

Then there was a soft rattle of metal, the lock being unhitched, and the door opened to reveal Lena. Her hair was down now, jewellery gone. Later, Kara would muse on how significant that small detail was – Lena would have looked through the peephole to see who was knocking, and how after so many years, she didn’t even flinch at the idea of letting Kara see her unmade and undone.

But now, Kara sighed. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be here. And I’m not here to apologize.”

“You… just did –“

“But I wanted to come up here to tell you that I’ve well and truly had enough of your shit.”

Lena’s eyebrows rose. “Oh?”

“Yes. You’re a brat, Lena, and you’ve had your whole life getting away with your shit without anyone telling you otherwise, and I’m sick of it. I let you walk away from me the last time because I was young, and naive, but I refuse to do that again, because I have too much to say to you. So, can you let me in so we can talk? Or can you come back down to the bar, please? Because if I don’t get this out, if I don’t take advantage of this moment, I’ll regret even worse than I’ve regretted it all these years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have this chance again after tonight, and…”

Kara couldn’t say anymore. Lena’s hands held her firm as she pressed her lips to Kara’s. Lena smelled and tasted and felt so familiar that it didn’t even occur to Kara to push her away. She’d done enough of that for one lifetime.

So when Lena pulled her into the room, and shut the door behind them – when Lena had her pressed again the wall, knee between her legs and hands everywhere – Kara did what she’d wanted to do for decades.

She surrendered.

 

----

 

It was some time later that Kara was running her fingernails along Lena’s naked back, smoothing her long hair out.

“I like the grey,’ she remarked. ‘You shouldn’t dye it.”

Lena looked up. Her head had been in Kara’s lap, her slow, even breath fluttering the sheets pooled around Kara’s mid-section. “I don’t want to do it for vanity. I’m doing it because its all they seem to be putting in the papers recently.”

“Y’know, now that I mention it, I do recall reading one quick article. Something about an “ageing tyrant”?”

“It was tycoon, get your prescription checked.” Lena reached up at tapped Kara on the nose, where her glasses should have been. Kara laughed and swatted her hand away.

She started running her hands through Lena’s hair again. “I cant believe we did this.”

“Which time? First or second?”

Lena,”

“Who knew you had such stamina, and at your age…”

“You’re not that much younger than me, you know.”

“But I am younger, and that’s what counts.”

Kara shook her head. “I forgot how competitive you are.”

Lena turned a little, to get a better look. A ghost of a smile crossed her features, softening her face. “And I forgot how beautiful you are.”

“Stop that.”

“No, really. You were always stunning but now…”

“Now I have these…’ Kara scrunched her face up, and pointed to the lines around her eyes, ‘and these grey hairs here… and my neck…”

“But now,’ Lena continued, ‘its like you’ve settled into yourself. Your features have sharpened, and your expressions are… different. Bolder. You’re more confident. And I know that, not just because of that thing you did earlier.”

Kara felt her blush work itself all the way up through her face. She tsk’d and pushed a chuckling Lena away.

Lena sobered from her laughter, sat up, and shifted closer to run her hand along Kara’s cheek. Kara leaned into it. It had been so long since she’d been touched with such tenderness.

“You look sad,’ Lena observed. ‘Do you… have regrets?”

“No,’ Kara took her hand, looked her right in the eye. ‘No. Although I have to wonder… will Robert be back soon? I imagine he’d find this situation less than ideal.”

To Kara’s surprise, Lena smirked.

“Don’t you worry,’ she murmured. ‘He’s no doubt off having the same sort of fun tonight.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You said you’ve been following our lives these past few years?

“I didn’t say that exactly. I read papers…”

“Have you not wondered why we have no children?”

It was a frank question, and took Kara off guard.

“Well… I mean…”

“You presumed it was because of me. And you’d be half right. Robert is… of the same disposition as I am.”

Kara as only surprised for a moment. She understood. “This is a marriage of convenience?”

“I found out about him when we were engaged. I thought he was having an affair – and he was. Just not in the way I expected. We had a long chat that night, after I found him in a penthouse suite with an old friend of his from college. I told him about how the old rumors about me were true. That we were the same.”

Rumors that had been quiet for so long. Kara remembered reading article after article about the men Lena Luthor had been going through over the years, some going so far as to call her awful things like Ice Maiden and Ball Breaker because she couldn’t “hold down a man”. Seemed such a waste of energy to hide who you were, for the benefit of the press, when all they were going to do was tear you down so viciously anyway.

“Robert and I had been introduced by both our parents, we were of a certain age and unwed and the heirs of who conglomerates – it was too good an opportunity for them to pass up. I still wonder if his parents knew of his preferences and had conspired with my mother, hoping we could literally straighten each other out.”

Kara wouldn’t have put it past Lillian Luthor to do such a thing.

“When we were finally honest with each other, that’s when things started to get much better. He’d been so sad for months, and now I knew why, and when I didn’t reject him or call off the engagement his entire being lit up. He’s such a beautiful man, Kara, you have no idea. And if I could love any man, I know it would be him. I do love him, just not the way a wife should. We have a long standing arrangement – he can go live his life the way he wishes, and I can do the same, just as long as we stick together.”

“That sounds… amicable.”

Lena smiled. “He’s my best friend.”

It hurt to hear that. Kara knew it was irrational, but there it was. And clearly her lack of poker face deceived her again, because Lena stroked Kara’s bare knee comfortingly.

“Is it… just men? Or does he prefer both?”

“Just men. I did check.”

Kara bit her lip. “I told Mike I am interested in both.”

Lena sat up a little straighter at that. Kara felt it only fair to explain.

“A few years after Bridget was born. I thought maybe it had just been a one off, that you’d been an effect of some sort of temporary bout of madness. But then Annette started working in our ward, and I found myself flustered whenever she’d walk into the room. Something about the way she smiled at me. And then there was a receptionist at our family doctor’s clinic, and a woman at the postal office, and I knew it wasn’t just you. I liked women too. And it took me a long time to build up the courage to tell Mike. He’s traditional, and he’d never had a bad word to say about Alex. I didn’t know how he would react, but we always tried to be honest with each other.”

“So what was his reaction?”

Kara sighed. “He took a few days to take it in, but in the end came around. He told me a story about one of his comrades in the war, how he never talked about a sweetheart back home, but had a photo of his best friend in his wallet that he would take out at night and look at when he thought no-one else was awake. He said that made him feel even more sad, that in such a dark time, something so precious as love had to be hidden.”

Lena pursed her lips. “Did you tell him about us?”

“No,’ Kara admitted. ‘It was too hard.”

“I see. I thought maybe that would explain his… absence.”

Kara shifted along the bed, tucked Lena’s hair behind her ear. Small wrinkles that were usually concealed from the papers were at the corners of her mouth and eyes.

“He died a few years ago.”

Lena’s expression fell. She sat up a bit straighter. “I’m so sorry,’ she murmured.

Kara had heard this a million times before, and knew the difference between when it was sincere, and when it was something someone said because that’s what you said when you heard news like this.

Lena was sincere.

Kara exhaled. “Thank you. It was a hard for years, before and after. Cancer.”

She wondered if Lena would have asked why didn’t you call me, or offered promises to get him the best medical treatment in the country had she just known…

When Kara looked up, Lena was looking at her as if all these words and more were just hovering on the tip of her tongue. But the moment passed, and Lena’s expression settled on resignation.

“I’m sorry,’ she repeated. ‘How long now?”

“Five years.”

“Poor Bridget, to lose her father so young.”

“It was very hard on her. Mike and her had such a unique connection…”

Kara got lost again in memories she had treasured over and over so many times. Her grief had been considerable when he’d passed, despite them knowing it was coming. It had seemed unfair for him to go through actual hell and come out the other end, but to find himself beat because of some ridiculous growth in his lungs. It had taken a long time for that dust cloud of resentment to settle long enough to be able to see straight.

Lena squeezing her hand brought Kara back to the present. She leaned in and kissed Kara gently, almost unsure of if it was alright. It was more than alright.

“I’m glad you had each other,’ Lena murmured. ‘I’m glad… that it worked out all right in the end.”

Kara gave her a look. “You didn’t leave me with much choice, you know.”

Lena sighed and sat up properly this time, resting her back against the headboard. Kara turned around fully. She wanted to look her in the eye for this conversation.

“I truly am sorry for the way things ended. For the way I ended them. I was upset, and scared, and I didn’t know what to do. Mother accosted me at home, do you remember that day?”

Kara nodded. “What did she say to you?’ She had been curious ever since that day she’d overheard them.

“She spent all night berating me. You remember that vile reporter who kept following me around?” Kara nodded again, and Lena went on. ‘He had pictures. Of you and I, after that benefit we attended at the Town Hall. He’d taken them to my mother and tried to bribe her. And of course she paid him, she couldn’t risk it, and he’d brought her enough pictures of me in the past that it was just routine for them now. But tensions were high, the war and all, and she’d finally had enough.”

Kara pursed her lips. “She didn’t seem like the most reasonable woman in the world.”

“Indeed, she wasn’t. After that happened, she threatened to cut me off. Said she couldn’t stand the shame any longer. We’d had fights like that so many times, but on that day… the look in her eyes…” Lena took a moment to compose herself. ‘I knew she wasn’t kidding this time. It was the last straw. I had so many things I wanted to do with my life, people I wanted to help, and I knew I couldn’t do any of those things if I wasn’t a Luthor.

‘So, I got scared – her ridiculous threats doing their job well. And then when I found out that Mike had returned… well, it suddenly just seemed pointless to keep fighting the inevitable. The war was almost ended, Father had plans to develop more in Europe after it was all over and… We were never going to be together. Mother wouldn’t allow it, neither would society. So, I left. It just seemed like – “

“… the right thing to do,’ Kara finished for her.

“I’m so sorry. Please… Kara, I never wanted to leave you. You need to know that. Even if it is twenty or so years too late.”

But she’d had to. Lena really had gone on to do such great things. She’d been the pioneer for so many technological and scientific advancements over the years – something she never would have been able to do in a million years, stuck working a conveyer belt in Midvale.

Kara sighed, feeling a weight from her shoulders. “I know.”

Lena blinked. “You… you know?”

“I’d figured about as much a long time after you’d left – once I’d had a chance to cool off.”

“Then what was the banging on my door and calling me a brat about?’

Kara smirked. “Just because I understand doesn’t mean I’m not still mad at you. You couldn’t reply to any of my letters over the years?”

Lena frowned. “You sent letters?”

“Yes.”

“I never got any letters.”

The penny dropped at the same time, for both of them.

Lena almost snarled. “Mother. If she was still alive, I’d ring her neck. I never wrote to you because I thought it would just confuse things. But if I knew you’d been writing to me…”

“You, what? Would have sent me love letters in response?”

Lena pursed her lips. “I would have liked to have had the chance to decide what I would have done.’ She shook her head, a frown creating a deep line between her eyebrows.

Kara smiled; she put her knuckle beneath Lena’s chin to tilt her face upward.

“We were kids, Lena. Kids in the middle of a war. Everyone had to make tough choices. I just wish it could have been different.”

“Me too.”

Kara kissed her gently. “I forgive you. That’s what I really wanted to say to you tonight. Underneath the shock of seeing you, and the ear bend I just gave you, I wanted you to know.”

“Thank you,’ Lena sighed. Her shoulders slumped with relief.

“And I am so happy to see you.”

Lena smirked. “I saw a lot more of you than I expected.”

“So you did.”

“Maybe we should get one last look… you know, for old times’ sake…”

Kara rolled her eyes as Lena’s lips started kissing their way up her neck.

 

-----

 

The next morning, Kara looked up from signing the bill in front of her to her moaning girl beside her.

“I’ll pay you back, I promise,’ Bridget moaned. She was rubbing her temples. ‘Although some would say this hangover is punishment enough.”

“If only hangovers paid for seventy five dollars’ worth of room service and three o’clock in the morning. No, my girl, you are going to pay me back every dollar of that, plus interest.”

Interest?’

“Don’t push it.”

“I’m sorry,’ Bridget’s whine was reminiscent of the consequences of exploits in her younger years, ever since Alex bought her that chemistry set. ‘I didn’t think I’d be out so late. Anyway, what did it matter? It’s not like I came in and woke you up. You got back to the room just after me!”

“That’s not the point.”

“No but it’s the only defense I have,’ Bridget’s eyes narrowed. ‘Where were you, anyway?”

“I was… out.”

“Wow, thanks for clearing that up.”

Kara huffed, feeling her cheeks burn as she handed her credit card to the concierge. “I don’t need to explain myself you to.”

“I’m twenty, I don’t need to explain myself to you either.”

Kara turned and look at her daughter, raising her eyebrows. Bridget swallowed.

“Go get our bags from the bell boy,’ Kara growled.

Bridget rolled her eyes and went to do as she was told. That was one thing Kara loved about her – as much as she could put up a fight, she also knew when she’d crossed a line.

“Good morning,’

A familiar voice behind her had Kara turn. Lena was standing there, looking less put together than at the benefit the night before, but still just as glamorous in her white shirt, mustard high-waisted pants and red ascot.

Kara smiled. “And to you. Did you sleep well?”

“I did,’ Lena chuckled, ‘until my husband came barrelling in at four thirty in the morning.”

“Hmm,’ Kara glanced over at her daughter, who was searching her pockets for cash for the bellboy, ‘seemed to be the night for it.”

“Seemed to be the night for a lot of things.”

Kara adjusted her glasses. “Is everything alright? With you two?”

“Oh, yes.’

“Did you… tell him? About us?”

“Not everything. Just that we had a nice, long chat into the small hours of the night.”

Hmm, Kara mused. Chat.

“Thank you.”

“I can be subtle. Besides, he was too drunk to remember anyway. All he did was talk my ear off all about his adventures while his head was in the toilet. He owes me bigtime.”

“More than seventy-five dollars?”

Lena followed Kara’s line of sight over to Bridget. “Everyone had a fun night, it would appear.”

“But not such a fun morning. Serves her right. I hope her head explodes.”

Lena tilted her head. “Did you have a good night?”

Kara opened her mouth to respond, when bags were suddenly dumped at her feet, cutting her off.

“Why did you pack so much for one night?” Bridget grumbled.

Kara smirked at her. “That’s your bag.”

“Oh. So it is. Mrs. Luthor! Oh my gosh, good morning.”

Lena smiled as Bridget shook her hand with great enthusiasm, hangover seemingly forgotten. “Good morning. Your mother was just telling me about how good a night you had last night.”

Bridget blushed; Kara smothered her feeling of triumph. Good, serves her right.

“A frat party,’ Bridget shrugged. ‘You understand.”

“Oh, I do. I was never part of a sorority myself, but I did hear the stories. Hard to be involved when you attend college at the age of fifteen.”

Kara rolled her eyes. Bridget swooned.

“I hope you wont mind,’ Lena continued, ‘I kept your mother out well past her bedtime last night.”

“You two were together?”

“Making up for lost time,’ Kara said. ‘Lena and I go way back.”

“Did she ever tell you about the time her and her sister snuck out at night and went to an underground bar right here in National City?”

Kara sighed as Bridget’s eyebrows rose. ‘We did not sneak out, we were old enough to be out on our own.”

“You think Mrs. Danvers would have approved of this sort of club?”

“Your best friend owned it, you tell me.”

Lena pursed her lips to hide a smirk.

Bridget laughed. “I certainly do not know this story! You know Aunt Alex too?”

Kara glanced at her. “Sweetheart, why don’t you go hail a cab while I say good-bye to Mrs. Luthor?”

“But…”

“I’ll tell you the rest of the story in the car.”

Bridget sighed. “Fine, but only because I need a nap so very badly. Mrs. Luthor… I was wondering, if I could be so bold – and lets be honest when will I ever get an opportunity like this – do you think interning with your company over the summer might be a possibility?”

“Bridget!’ Kara scoffed. ‘Lena, you will forgive my daughters audacity…”

“No, not at all…’ Lena reached into her purse, pulled out a small card and held it out. ‘This is the number for my office. Call anytime, tell my secretary who you are and you’ll be put straight through.”

Bridget reached for the card as if it were made of porcelain.

Kara snatched it a split second before she could take it and patted her daughter on the back, completely ignoring the look of outrage. “How about you go get us that cab? You can have this back when I feel you’re ready for it.”

After a few seconds of her mouth opening and closing like a fish, Bridget snapped her jaw shut and turned back to Lena. “It was an honour to meet you, ma’am.”

With that, Bridget picked up her bags, leaving Kara’s, and headed toward the large, glass double doors.

When Kara turned back to Lena, the brunette was smiling.  

“She really is something else.”

“Don’t feel like you have to placate her. Disappointment is part of how we grow…”

“Don’t be silly, I’m sure I can give her something to do for the summer. With a handsome paycheck.”

Kara shook her head. “Its unnecessary. We don’t need nepotism.”

“Its nothing of the sort. She’s outspoken and driven and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants – even from people who intimidate the hell out of her. With the right avenues in life, she could really go places. Is it wrong of me to give her that opportunity?”

Kara stared at her.

Lena shifted under her gaze as the silence stretched on. “What?”

“You’re never going to stop changing my life, are you?”

“Well, you have my number now…’ Lena leaned in a little.

Despite herself, Kara allowed a ghost of a smile. “Lena…”

Lena closed the gap between them, pressing a soft kiss to Kara’s cheek – a kiss that lingered. Kara suppressed the shiver that ran up her spine.

‘You let me know if you ever need anything else,’ Lena murmured. ‘I know I don’t have the best track record, but I promise I won’t abandon you again. I… cant just walk away from you like that again. I would love to keep in touch.”

“That would be nice,’ Kara almost sighed with relief.

“And if you’re ever in Metropolis and want to ‘catch up’ on old times, give me a call.”

Kara pulled away enough to be able to look into blue-green eyes, framed by lines and grey wisps, but still sparkling with life and energy like they had been when Kara had first looked into them over two decades ago. The suggestion of her words, her tone, was obvious.

“Next time you’re in town,’ Kara offered, ‘come over for dinner? You and Robert.”

Lena smiled. It almost took Kara’s breath away.

“I would like that. Truly.”

“I’d better go. Bridget is in a mood, she’s likely to leave in the taxi without me.”

Before she lost her nerve, she leaned in to give Lena a curt and polite hug.

She was not prepared for Lena to wrap her arms back around, pull her in tighter, and hold her there.

The feel of her, the smell of her, it brought up so many memories, feelings and thoughts it made Kara’s head spin. It wasn’t just Chanel Number five she could smell, it was grease caked on her factory overalls. It was cigarette smoke from the bars, cafes and restaurants they’d sat in. It wasn’t just the soft texture of her shirt she could feel, it was the leather seats of an old Chevrolet as they drove around Midvale together. It was hands gripping her as they shared intimate moments in a town hall office, in a hotel bed the night before…

After they pulled apart, Kara took a moment longer to squeeze Lena’s hand before truly letting go.

“I should go,’ she murmured. ‘Have a safe trip back to Metropolis.”

“Safe travels, Kara.”

Kara chanced one more look over her shoulder as she approached the glass doors. Lena was still watching her, and offered a soft wave.

With an even softer smile in return, Kara pushed her way outside to the line of taxi’s parked on the curb.

It took the entire taxi ride home, an hour to unpack, a quiet lunch with her daughter, and finally an afternoon in front of the television for her to finally feel like her heart had stopped pounding.

 

----

 

Two nights later, Kara shouldered her way through the ajar front door to her apartment. Her hands taken up with the task of holding containers of take-out, she grunted as she finally entered the hallway, then kicked the door shut behind her. She spat the house keys in her mouth out onto the little bowl by the door, and sighed.

“Bridget! I’m home!”

Not waiting for a response, Kara kicked off her shoes (usually adequate in keeping her feet from feeling like she’d been walking on glass all day, but today had been a particularly busy shift), sighed again at the relief and made her way through to the kitchen to dump the food on the kitchen table.

“I got extra potstickers, so we don’t have to share this time!’ she called again. ‘If you can really call the last time sharing,’ she added under her breath, ‘I only saw two of those ten potstickers last time…”

Somewhere in the house, a record was playing. Kara recognized the steady beat of Fleetwood Mac drifting down from Bridget’s room. She wondered if her daughter had fallen asleep, but as she reached into the kitchen draw for the forks, she heard a muttered voice.

Kara frowned, and followed the sound to the living room. Bridget was sat on the edge of one of the armchairs, facing out the window, phone pressed to her ear. She was twisting her finger through the spiral cord, knee bouncing.

“Yes… Of course, I can absolutely do that…” she was saying. She sounded breathless.

Kara crossed to her, and gently squeezed Bridget’s shoulder. Bridget started, and looked over her shoulder in surprise. It quickly faded, and she smiled and pointed at the receiver, mouthing, ‘I’m on the phone’.

“I can see that,’ Kara chuckled softly.

Bridget held up her finger, then resumed staring off into space. Kara ran her hands through Bridget’s long, dark hair as she continued her conversation.

“The only trouble would be accommodation… oh, oh no I couldn’t possibly… well yes, I suppose…’

Kara rolled her wrist in a ‘hurry up motion, and pointed to the kitchen whispering, “I will eat all those potstickers without you…”

“Don’t you dare…’ Bridget snapped suddenly, then laughed awkwardly. ‘Oh no, not you Mrs. Luthor, my Mom just got home with some dinner…”

Kara felt her cheeks warm.

“I wont be long,’ Bridget whispered.

“Yes, fine. Come get some food when you’re done.”

Kara tried not to look like she was rushing toward the kitchen. She leaned against the bench top, hands gripping the edge so tightly her knuckles were white. She could hear Bridget’s indistinct voice still from the living room; Kara tried not to eavesdrop, instead focusing on the pounding in her ears.

A few deep breaths later, Bridget walked into the kitchen. She frowned. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,’ Kara answered quickly. ‘Just hungry. Sit down and I’ll serve.”

Bridget jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Mrs. Luthor wants to talk to you.”

Kara watched her daughter as she sat down at the table and began opening boxes of take out. “Me?”

“Well she said, ‘can I speak to your mother’, and as far as I know you’re my only mother, so…”

“Right. Okay. I’ll just… go talk to her then. Don’t even think about opening that without me.”

Bridget, who’s hand was just hovering over the first serve of potstickers, smirked.

The receiver for the phone was left on its side, just next to the base. Kara picked it up, started it for a second, then put it to her ear.

“Hello?

“Mrs. Mathews,’

It should have been weird, being called such a thing by Lena of all people. But Kara’s mouth curled upward.

“Mrs. Luthor, care to explain why you’re talking to my daughter so close to dinner time? How did you get our number?”

Lena chuckled. “First of all, its still afternoon here. And before you start accusing me of uncouth behaviour, I’ll have you know your daughter is the one who called me.”

Kara rubbed her forehead. “I assure you she wasn’t raised in a barn…”

“Don’t be silly, I’m glad she called. I wondered if she’d have the guts.”

“She’s got the guts alright, it’s the tact she lacks.”

Lena laughed again. Kara envisioned her in her high-rise office in Metropolis, leaning back in her chair to watch the sunset, one leg crossing over the other.

“We were just discussing her interning here over the summer. I’m making room in my secretaries office as we speak.”

“Lena, that’s very generous… but you’re four states away. And I haven’t been able to afford to buy her a car yet…”

“It’ll all taken care of,’ Lena cut in. ‘I’ll book her a room at the Stanford, just down the block from here. All expenses paid. She’ll receive an impressive wage – far better than the average intern, I promise you. And I’ll pay for the flights to get here, she’ll earn enough to save for one home.”

Kara sighed. “Lena…”

“I look after my employees. And when you both come to Metropolis to sign the contracts, that’s exactly what she’ll be.”

“Both?”

There was a short pause down the line. “I thought perhaps you’d like to supervise such an important transaction. Surely a young girl would want her mother present for such a significant moment in her life.”

“If I didn’t know you’d better, I’d think you’d set all this up deliberately just to see me again.”

“Good thing you do know me better,’ Lena replied.

Kara pursed her lips. “I’ll have to check with my Matron of course, so ensure it’s alright to take the time off work.”

“Of course.”

“And I’ll need time to prepare my affairs – get someone to water the plants, collect the mail…”

“I understand.”

“And I’ll have to teach my daughter some tact between now and this job interview…”

“Speaking to her at the award ceremony last month, seeing how she stood tall in that crowd was the interview. This phone call was just confirmation.”

Kara smiled, twirling the telephone cord around the tip of her index finger. She felt like she was in her twenties again, back home in Midvale, leaning against the wall after a long shift while she talked to her best friend who lived in a mansion on the other side of town…

“Say you’ll come,’ Lena finally said. All jokes were aside, all pretence gone. Her tone was soft, vulnerable. ‘Please.”

It had been a long time since she’d felt this feeling. Kara had quite thought she’d never feel it again. And yet here they were, on the edge of something so familiar it made Kara’s head spin.

Kara gripped the telephone cord tightly. “Only if you promise not to tell anymore stories of me slapping people or going on rogue adventures.”

Lena laughed. “Surely a girl should know what kind of a woman her mother really is.”

“You know, that’s enough.’ Kara only stopped herself from saying You’re enough by biting her lip.

“Fine,’ Lena’s smirk was audible. ‘I’ll behave myself. Around her, anyway. Can’t make the same promises about her mother.”

“Not too much I hope.”

In the same paused for Lena’s stunned silence, Kara marvelled at her own idiocy. What was she doing, really? What future did any of this flirting or making plans really have?

“However much you want of me,’ Lena finally said, ‘or however little, you just say the word.”

What future had they ever had anyway? When had that ever stopped them before? Kara had been fooling herself. All those years of trying to cleanse Lena out of her system, trying to forget about the way she made Kara feel, ruined after one night together.

And Kara – older and wiser – couldn’t care less.

“How about we just start with dinner?’ Kara suggested. ‘I’ve heard about a restaurant in Metropolis, unlimited Japanese food, as much as you can eat.”

“Sounds like a good start.”

With a smile, and a look out the window to the skyline of National City, Kara agreed.