Hanahaki Disease: (believed) unrequited love leads to flower petals growing in the lungs, it clears up when the love is returned or when the growth is surgically removed but this ultimately results in the romantic feelings being lost forever, as well as memories of the beloved.
It starts on a Tuesday like any other. A mundane Tuesday one might say, at least, mundane in the life of Lena Luthor. She wakes up before her shrill alarm even dares to rouse her, opens her laptop to peruse the endless emails that piled up in the four hours she actually let herself sleep.
She fields a couple of international calls she doesn’t want to take before actually taking the time to reply to Sam’s queries. Eats a single banana and downs a cup of coffee that literally scolds her mouth with every delicious sip before having her driver take her to CatCo where James inevitably questions something about almost every decision she makes.
Then she sees Kara.
Kara who rushes away from Snapper with a smile on her face like she somehow miraculously got her way and didn’t want to push her luck any further. Kara whose grin widens when she sees Lena before she follows it up with an over exaggerated wave and a gentle nod to her notebook in a silent apology for not being able to say hi. Kara, who does absolutely nothing out of the ordinary as she bumps up her glasses, throws one last parting look to Lena and then accidentally walks into the already closed elevator doors.
It’s a completely normal Tuesday as Lena chuckles under her breath at Kara’s uncoordinated behaviour, utterly uneventful, that is, until Lena’s chuckle turns into a cough and the tickle in her throat leads to the oddest thing filling her mouth.
Inevitably she ignores it, assumes she was having some sort of fever dream, plays it off as a lack of sleep and an overactive imagination (not that she was usually anything other than pragmatic).
Lena thinks of a thousand excuses for the flower petals she stuffed in a random bin and she makes herself believe about half of them before she skips ahead and goes straight to denying that any of it ever really happened. Denial she was definitely good at. Or she thought she was but apparently there was a limit to the handful of times she could convince herself a handful of flowers wasn’t something to be at least slightly worried about.
Not that Lena doesn’t try to forget it.
It just seemed that the more she tried to forget, the more her body tried to make her remember.
“So I have this new theory on kale,” is Kara’s opening line as she falls into step beside Lena, easily following through the swarming reporters in the bullpen like she was known for being nimble on her feet instead of a general mess - it’s moments like these where Lena wonders how more people hadn’t clocked on that Kara wore a cape in her free time (it’s also these easy moments where Lena’s heart swells in remembrance that Kara trusted her enough to indulge her in that truth).
“Kara, kale isn’t infused with kryptonite,” she whispers back, knowing her quip will be heard by the intended recipient. She lets a subtle grin pass over her lips as she catches sight of the shock on Kara’s face that Lena had guessed exactly what she was going to say. It’s kind of adorable actually - the way Kara blushes at being caught at the same time that she beams ridiculously at the notion that Lena really knew her that well, that her seemingly tireless crusade of friendship hadn’t been for nought in the end.
“How did you know I was gonna-“ That’s when the coughing kicks in. In that moment as Kara’s eyes never dull their usual light but her forehead gets that one particular crinkle. In those few seconds when Lena can see the wheels turning in Kara’s head like she’s trying to decide if there’s any possibility of Lena having temporary telepathic powers. The exact instant that Lena takes a breath to think that Kara looks really pretty today, that she looked beautiful every day.
Misshapen petals drift into her hand as she coughs hard enough that she fleetingly debates whether she’s about to spurt up a lung. She vaguely notes the unfamiliarity of the flower before she crushes them into her fist in the hopes that Kara would at least miss the specks of blood that accompanied the petals this time. She had a particular tendency to overreact, like Lena expects her to this time, but the panic doesn’t come like she waits for it too, instead she hears a gasp followed by what could only be described as a delighted chuckle.
“Are you learning magic? That’s so cool! Can you pull a penny from behind my ear?” Lena laughs thankfully as she slips the petals into her pocket and proceeds to use the same hand to produce a quarter from ‘behind’ Kara’s ear (and yes, she knew a few sleight of hand tricks, which definitely had nothing to do with the crush she had on some girl who was obsessed with magic in eighth grade).
Kara smiles grandly as she announces she won’t spend it all in one place and Lena smirks as she pulls another ‘out of thin air’ for good measure - a little because it makes Kara’s smile widen and a little because she needs something to distract her from the reality of her morning.
What the hell was going on?
She googles it that night. Truthfully she doesn’t expect to actually get any results, she half expects her laptop to start laughing at her and then wake up in her bed confused but thankful. She does not. What does happen is she ends up with pages upon pages of the exact same answer - an answer that sounds ridiculous to her.
It is ridiculous.
She actually comes to the conclusion that it’s all just some elaborate internet hoax until she gets a message from Kara and quickly finds herself hunched over her toilet coughing up an unhealthy amount of blood and petals of a flower that she’s sure she’d think were beautiful in any other circumstance (instead she’s coming to loathe them, almost as much as she was coming to loathe the traitor carelessly beating in her chest that put her in this position).
So she was in love with Kara. Hopelessly so. And now there were completely non-metaphorical roots and vines growing inside her chest, slowly killing her because Kara didn’t love her back and there was ultimately no good way for this situation to end.
Just a regular old Wednesday in National City.
Sam realises that something’s wrong first, which is probably a lot to do with the fact that Lena had been avoiding Kara far too much for her to do any real noticing of anything about Lena. Lena thought avoiding her might slow down the plant growth, at least limit the amount she coughed them up but instead every time her phone chimes with a text her lungs burn at the sight of Kara’s name. She blocks the toilet in her apartment three times.
Sam notices she’s ill at lunch after the third time she gags at the sight of potstickers and has to ask Sam to repeat whatever it is she’s saying. She’s gentle as she questions Lena, says everything in a soft kind of tone like she’s afraid Lena will spook and run away if she dares be any louder. She’s probably right of course. She watches Lena with careful eyes as she asks what’s wrong, her patient smile shifting to a grimace when Lena produces a handful of bloody petals.
Lena doesn’t question how Sam knows exactly what that means, lets the painful glint in Sam’s eyes go unquestioned as she takes the petals from Lena’s hand and tucks them wordlessly under the napkin by her side so that neither of them have to look at them anymore.
“Who?” She asks when Lena finally gathers the courage to look her in the eye, when Lena finally feels ready to answer the question she knew would inevitably come from the moment she unscrewed her fist. Still, Lena hesitates before answering, attempts a deep breath that’s halted by the vines tugging at her lungs as she contemplates how frank to be with her response.
“Kara,” Lena admits in a restaurant filled by the lunch rush where no one even bats an eye at the tears filling her eyes, threatening to throw themselves off the ledge and cause a scene.
“Oh, Lena.” Sam’s words are soft, though not as soft as the way she slips her hand over Lena’s and squeezes like she doesn’t know what else she can possibly say in this situation. Lena thinks she’s probably said all that can be said anyway. In the end it’s the pitying look in her eyes that Lena thinks sums up the whole situation pretty well. Oh Lena seemed about right.
Mike or Mon-El or Man-Boy or whatever comes back and every part of Lena that was sure Kara had finally moved on from him over the past few months suddenly comes back doubtful as ever. She doesn’t pick up Kara’s calls for the first time in forever, her chest tightening with every ring that goes unanswered.
She vomits when she listens to the voicemail Kara leaves. She doesn’t mention him once in the whole time she rambles, not once until the point where her allotted time runs out and she gets cut off. ‘Are you okay? I hope you’re okay’ is a phrase she says four times (Lena listens three times so that she can count). ‘Please call me back’ she says six. Lena’s heart grinds to a halt.
She pulls leaves from her throat after she calls Kara and is chastised for making her worry, told off for letting Kara’s mind wander to the darkest corners. She coughs up petals into an overflowing bowl when Kara whispers for her to be safe.
Lena misses her first ever day of work to hide under her covers and will the world away.
It doesn’t take long for Kara to come check on her. It doesn’t take long for her to get so overwhelmed by the reappearance of her ex-boyfriend that she needs to rant to someone - that someone seemingly being Lena, a fact that warms her heart for a moment before it really dawns on her what she’s going to have to listen to.
Except the ranting doesn’t come like Lena expects.
It actually doesn’t come at all.
In actuality, Mon-El isn’t mentioned once in Kara’s opening ramble when Lena opens her door to the smell of Noonan’s and a sympathetic smile. His name doesn’t come up at all as Kara talks through her day and asks Lena how she’s feeling, handing over some files she got from James like Lena had missed a day of high school and Kara was letting her copy her notes.
Really Lena should leave it be. Really she should continue to have her apartment a Mon-El free zone, whether that be conversation or the real thing. But Lena is apparently nothing if not self destructive and masochistic so after Kara finishes some long winded story about some stupid thing or another that Winn did, Lena takes the time to strike.
“How are you feeling?” She asks and is met with a furrowed brow and a hand pressed to her forehead like she was delirious enough that Kara was worried about a fever. A hand that she quickly bats away with an exaggerated eye roll and a thankful smile. “Mon-El is back, is he not?”
“Oh, yeah. He time travels now apparently.”
“Time travels?” Lena inquires incredulously.
“Yeah, he came back from the future for some unknown reason, then we woke him from a stasis pod and tried to attack me before he realised who I was,” Kara rehashes succinctly, spewing off facts like it was a story from years back and not less than a day ago. Although, it was so very like her to skip over the fact that she was attacked with such flippancy.
“Did he hurt you?”
“Hurt me? Please. I taught him everything he knows,” Kara quips, flexing her arms until Lena gives in and joins in on her laughter, if only for a moment, before she remembers why she started this avenue of conversation in the first place, before she remembers what Kara is attempting to deflect.
“But how do you feel about him being back? I mean, you didn’t time travel, it’s only been around six months for you.”
“He’s married now. She’s really very pretty and, I don’t know, he seems happy now I guess. Less like the weight of a lost world is on his shoulders. I suppose that’s what happens when you find the one.” Kara sighs and Lena can’t identify the look that passes over her face as she catches eyes with Lena. It’s a little sad. Wistful almost. Lena presumes it’s a fleeting thought of what if, a thousand snapshots of how things might be different if the invasion never happened and he had stayed.
The look doesn’t remain long but it’s enough to have Lena running to her bathroom once again and retching into the bowl. She produces a whole flower as Kara holds her hair for her and soothingly rubs her back, blowing freezing cold air onto her heated skin.
They sit there all evening and every time Lena catches the worried look in Kara’s eyes, feels her fingertips brush through her ever-tangled hair, she feels the bile rise. Kara doesn’t take her eyes off of Lena the entire night, flushes the toilet periodically without her gaze straying from Lena’s for a second. It’s comforting to some degree. Scary to another as Lena realises she can’t ignore the truth of the matter anymore.
“It wasn’t a magic trick, was it?” Kara asks quietly after she’s finally convinced Lena out of the bathroom and back into the comfort of her own bed, tucking Lena under her chin and into her warmth.
”No,” Lena admits, thankful that Kara doesn’t push for any more even though it’s obvious how badly she wants to. Lena falls asleep whilst choking back flowers and wondering how she ever came to meet someone who was so inherently good.
She never deserved someone so good.
“Tell her.” The words are repetitive by now. A little grating actually. Sam hasn’t said anything else to Lena in the past hour since she arrived at her apartment (she’d been texting Lena the words since that morning but somehow hearing them verbally only served to make them even more annoying).
Lena never should have let her in. She should’ve known this was how it would end up. Sam could be utterly relentless when she needed to be, it’s why Lena liked her, why she trusted her with L-Corp, why she’d trusted her with this secret (despite that last one blowing up in her face).
“Stop this, Sam,” she bites.
“Why can’t you just be honest with yourself?” She pushes and Lena scoffs.
“Like you’re so honest about Alex?” Pot meet kettle.
“I’m not the one dying.” And just like that Lena can feel the flowers weaving around her lungs once more. Sometimes, when she’s laying in her bed, mind clear, thoughts discarded into some dark corner of the room, she can forget the weight in her chest, can forget that her every breath has an expiration date, can forget that Kara doesn’t love her.
“Exactly because yours isn’t unrequited.”
“Yours isn’t either but you won’t open your eyes to see that, which you totally could if you just took your head out of your ass and stopped being so afraid!” Sam barks and Lena can see the way she practically begs her to rise to the anger, to snap a little, to do something other than sit on her couch waiting for the inevitable. She doesn’t.
“It’s no use.”
“God, Lena. You’re killing yourself. Can you not see that? You’re not even trying; you gave up the moment you realised what this was. If you won’t tell her, you need to get it removed. At some point you have to choose yourself, Lena. You have to choose life.”
Lena had thought about it. Of course she’d thought about it. She’d looked up doctors and the odds of the surgery and the benefits versus the costs. But, in the end, that’s what it really came down to - the costs. The cost of forgetting the way she felt when Kara sent a smile her way, that one triumphantly smug smile when Lena proved someone’s assumptions about her wrong. The cost of losing the way Kara’s laughter trickled down her spine. The cost of forgetting what it was like to really, truly feel something for someone that came without strings or deals.
The cost of forgetting Kara and the way she made Lena feel invincible.
“I can’t lose her.”
“I can’t lose her.”
“So we’re just supposed to lose you?” Sam pleads in what Lena knows is a last ditch attempt. She blinks back her tears when Lena remains silent, picks up her bag wordlessly and walks to the door in silence. She throws one last lingering look over her shoulder before she disappears and Lena can see the way she mentally catalogues everything about her like she might never see her again.
Lena starts to sob when she realises she might just be right.
“I looked it up,” Kara says in way of greeting the moment her knock is answered, sweeping her way into Lena’s apartment without doing her usual nervous shuffle on the doorstep like she’s still trying to respect Lena’s boundaries even after she bulldozed her way through all her walls.
“Please do come in,” Lena jokes, shutting the door softly and wandering towards the kitchen.
“Why haven’t you had it removed?” So apparently Kara was just going straight for the jugular. She really did make a good reporter.
“Would you like a drink?” Lena tries for normalcy again because she can’t remember the last conversation she had that wasn’t sullied by the stupid flowers making their way up her throat. Even her board meeting the other day had been derailed by flower petals and sympathetic looks from old men that she didn’t even realise were capable of genuine emotion.
“They can’t be worth this. They can’t be worth dying for,” Kara pushes and Lena finally relents.
“They’re worth everything and more.”
“Sam already tried this.”
“Lena-“ Kara begs and Lena almost gives in. She almost caves to glistening tears and trembling lips because she’s never said no to Kara before, barely even debated denying Kara of something she wanted. She was happy to help. Wanted to help if it meant Kara was happy.
She almost gives in to the soft hand that takes hers, the gentle fingers that slip between her own, the shake of Kara’s palm that Lena had come to realise stemmed from trying to hold back her strength. Kara had spent months when she first came to earth building up the courage to pet a stray cat. Kara had spent months after meeting Lena building up their friendship just so she could hug her, because that’s who she was - the kind of person who cared about things that other people had thrown away.
Lena didn’t want to forget that.
“Kara, stop! I won’t erase y- Them.”
“I can’t watch you die.”
“So we’ll watch Grease instead. You love Grease.” Lena tugs her hand away, stumbles backwards from Kara and gasps for air before coughing petals into her kitchen sink and washing them away in the next second with practised ease.
“I’ll make popcorn. Make yourself at home.”
Kara doesn’t say anything about it for the rest of the night. Not with her words anyway. She spends the entire time she’s round Lena’s apartment blatantly staring at her. She doesn’t even bother with the pretence of watching the movie and Lena can’t focus under the scrutiny, can’t focus under the weight of Kara’s gaze. Somehow it cripples Lena far more when she realises Kara is doing the exact same thing Sam did because she never wanted to hurt her. She thought this would save her.
When Kara leaves with an apology and an embrace that feels like a goodbye, Lena goes back to hugging the toilet and wonders for a split second whether this was all really worth it.
She thinks that it is.
To say Lena is startled when Kara pulls her door from its hinges and walks into her apartment in the middle of the night would be the understatement of the year. She’s actually kind of terrified for a moment as she sits at her kitchen counter putting her L-Corp affairs in order and attempts her fifth rewrite of her apology to Sam until she realises who it is.
“You know you’ll have to fix that,” Lena comments offhandedly as Kara haphazardly jams it into place with an apologetic look on her face before adopting a look that Lena thinks is supposed to be stern, especially with the arms on hips superhero power pose she’s pairing it with, but that really just comes off as adorably charming.
“I booked you in for surgery and we’re going. I’m not taking no for an answer - I don’t care if I have to tie you up and carry you there myself.”
“Kara, I’m not-“ Lena tries before the coughing kicks in again. It’s worse than before. Worse than it’s ever been and in the back of Lena’s mind she thinks this is probably it as she expels whole flowers from her lungs and watches them gather with blood by her feet.
Kara, on her part, doesn’t immediately offer a tissue like she usually does (she’d started keeping some handy in every outfit) nor does she soothingly rub Lena’s back through the pain. Instead she stands, stock still, looking down at Lena’s feet and back up to her face, down and back up again, in a repetitive cycle until she finally moves to crouch beside Lena, gently picking up the fallen petals.
“Lena this- this is from Krypton. It’s from Krypton.” She says it more to herself than Lena, whispered like a prayer under her breath as Lena visibly watches the revelation dawn on her. Kara catches her eye for a split second and Lena doesn’t have the chance to decipher the look on her face before everything goes black. The last thing she hears is Kara calling her name.
Lena wakes up in a room that can only be described as sterile. The walls are white and the floor is white and there’s a really bright white light shining on her face that makes her feel like she’s waking up the morning after way too much tequila.
She knows it’s the DEO before her ears even pick up on the sounds of agents barking orders at one another, can recognise the decor from the sheer amount of stories Kara had told her about it despite the NDAs she was yet to sign, and the fact that half the people here thought she shouldn’t be trusted considering the blood running through her veins and the name she paraded around.
Lena wakes up in a room she probably shouldn’t be in with a warm weight in her hand that was coming to be familiar with; a loose weight that turns into a solid grip the moment Lena moves her body the slightest inch in the name of comfort. Lena turns to catch Kara’s eye, opens her mouth to say something, or gag, or anything really when Kara’s free hand slaps over her mouth and she starts spewing words at an above average rate (also known as Kara’s normal speed).
“I love you! Before you try to continue on with this self-destructive charade and lose anymore blood, you should know that I love you. I’m in love with you. I didn’t notice it for the longest time and then suddenly it hit me, crashed into me really, like a tonne of kryptonite bricks and I don’t know how I missed it because you’ve had my heart in a vice since the day we met. Which, thinking about it, probably isn’t the best analogy considering you’ve had actual vines wrapping around your internal organs and squeezing but you get the picture.”
“You’re in love with me?”
“Stupidly so.” And just like that Lena can breathe.
“Is now the time to ask about the tying up you were talking about earlier?” She quips, tugging Kara closer and revelling in the feel of air passing easily through her lungs almost as much as the feeling of Kara’s arms coming to wrap solidly around her frame.
“Take me to dinner first.”
“Almost dying wasn’t enough of a romantic gesture for you?”
“Idiotic is what it was.” Lena would contest it but Kara’s already kissing her and she doesn’t really foresee wanting to cut that short any time soon. Or ever.