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"Lena, there's no time to explain but your answer to this next question could very well determine the fate of the universe: Can I have a smooch?"

The whole universe narrows down into a few burning points of awareness in that moment. The delicate pressure of four of Kara's fingertips against her arm, the pinkie too light to feel at all; that direct, earnest, somewhat wild eye contact that feels precarious but utterly unbreakable; the slightly elevated breath between them, escaping from barely parted lips, cooled by the distance and setting fire to Lena's nerves—it's as if time freezes just then, Lena's life flashing before her eyes like in a cheap TV drama, teetering right on that treacherous margin between fantasy and reality. Truly the most ridiculous, farfetched, over the top manifestation of blatant wish fulfillment.

Of course Lena says, "Yes." Of course her voice breaks on that single most monosyllabic of words.

And Kara's face lights up. Like it does when presented with enough dinner to feed an army. Like it does when a family she's rescued is reunited, unsteady and shivering but strong and whole. Like it does after a very good, wholehearted, unselfconscious sort of hug. "Thank you, I—I'm sorry we—Thank you, Lena."

She brushes her fingers over Lena's cheek, grazing over her lips; a brisk, confident motion, almost impersonal. Lena's whole body throbs. Kara tips Lena's head back with that same efficiency, knuckle and thumb trapping a triangle of warmth between them against the skin of Lena's chin.

Lena's lips part as her eyelids slide closed, involuntary, helpless with anticipation. Kara lets out a breath, and Lena hears it, crisp and ragged against the pulse in her ears, but she feels it more than that: against her lips; slipping warm and ghostly past.

Kara is close enough to kiss. Not by accident, not by some goofy happenstance. Kara Danvers is close enough to kiss because that's what she's going to do.

The first touch isn't much of anything at all; an experimental, simple press of lips, that same workmanlike approach. It sends a thrill from Lena's scalp right down to her toes. She closes her lips against Kara's, a hint of a taste she knows could burn her down. Kara withdraws.

Lena tries to tilt her head, thoughtlessly chasing after that thrilling contact, but Kara's grip is light, gentle, and unyielding as ever. Lena moans.

Kara doesn't mind, though, maybe. She mustn't, because then she's back, head angled and another implacable hand cupping Lena's jaw and that hot, controlled, impossible mouth.

Lena closes her eyes, and allows herself to be engulfed.

When Kara pulls back, dragging Lena's breath along with her, she almost looks like she's blushing. But then—no, she isn't blushing, she's glowing, emitting very literal light and warmth to match the way she's lit up Lena's body.

She flares hot and blazing for a moment, yellow, almost red, like fire, and she grins at Lena even brighter than the sun, and then she's gone.

.

.

It wasn't really a kiss. It was the best kiss of Lena's life, the best thing in it, likely, but it wasn't real. Once the sparkly pink haze settles down and Lena's nerve endings stop sparking like livewires, she realizes it right quick.

Kara didn't kiss her because she wanted to kiss her. She kissed her because, for whatever cruel but likely karmically justified reason, she needed to. She even said so, right from the outset.

This wasn't a real kiss. Real kisses don't have a purpose, serve no function other than pleasure, the expression of affection and desire. This was a kiss to save the world.

Cold. Calculated. Utilitarian. Perfect for a Luthor.

.

.

It's an alien virus, Kara explains. She'd contracted it three weeks ago, and ever since then her powers hadn't worked right. Until last night.

Lena refuses to beat around the bush. "Why a kiss? Why me?"

"Well, um, the only source we've found for this thing is in an ancient text in a language that's no longer in use," Kara struggles to explain, gesturing stiltedly. "We've consulted this planet's, I mean, the leading alien linguists worldwide, but we could only really translate some rudimentary instructions for a treatment. Luckily, there were also illustrations, and they were a bit more, um. Explicit."

"Explicit… kissing?"

"Uh. Yeah." Kara laughs nervously. "I can show you. If you want."

"I'd appreciate it. And any information you can spare on this virus."

"Oh, yeah! I bet you can help. Don't worry, it isn't transmittable to humans. I would never expose you to something like that, Lena," Kara says intently.

Lena softens. She knows, of course she knows by now that she and her wellbeing matter to Kara, but the reminder never fails to warm her. "I know," she reassures. "But, to my second question…"

Kara grimaces, avoiding eye contact. "I'm sorry. That was asking a lot, wasn't it? I probably shouldn't have done that."

She had been braced for something like this, certainly, but Lena still finds herself struggling to conceal bruised feelings and crumpled hopes. "You shouldn't have?" she asks carefully.

"I really wasn't trying to—to take advantage," Kara bumbles, wringing her hands in an absentminded fidget that might well twist steel beams. "I'm not—it's not—sexual." That word in hushed tones, like a primary schooler. Like a straight girl. "I love you, you know? I don't like using you. It's just, the world was kind of literally in danger, and I needed a quick fix…"

Lena remembers fingers at her chin, directing her head about, hot breath on her skin, a frozen moment of searing anticipation. Quick fix. "I see."

"And you—you—" Kara's fingertips turn white from digging into her other hand, a grip that would tear through concrete like paper. "I don't—I can't say why. J'onn—the minute J'onn read the whole thing, he took me aside and, um. He was pretty sure it had to be you. And by pretty sure, I mean very sure. More like dead certain. He had that intense but considerate look, you know?"

Lena is quite convinced she doesn't.

"It doesn't mean I—it doesn't mean anything," Kara says a little pleadingly, offering the words like a comfort. The shitty, jagged, barbed wire sort of comfort that lodges in the heart of hopeful idiots and tugs.

Lena swallows down all the pieces of her heart and falls back on a businesslike demeanor, her most rudimentary façade. "There were extenuating circumstances," she says with a magnanimity she doesn't feel. "I understand."

Kara's face twists again, and then lifts. She finally meets Lena's eyes. "It won't happen again," she vows, quiet and certain and clearly embarrassed.

Lena wants to reassure her, wants to contradict her, wants to grab her stupid beautiful face and kiss her again.

Instead, she nods. And Kara relaxes.

.

.

It happens again.

Lena is fiddling around with a particularly stubborn spreadsheet when Kara crashes into her office, injured and bleeding, wavers for a moment, and crashes into Lena's desk. Her paperwork goes flying.

"Motherfucker!"

"Hi, Lena," Kara gasps, trying valiantly to pick herself up. "I think—I think I need some help."

Lena walks around the remains of her desk to grip Kara by the arms. One of them is painted red from a wound in her side. "You don't say."

"I'm so sorry to ask this of you again," Kara says, ragged and sincere. "Lena. Feel free—feel free to say no."

Lena laboriously wrestles Kara onto her feet, drags her over the couch and shoves a Capri Sun in her hand. "Of course I'm not saying no. You've left a trail of blood all across my office floor."

"Whoa! Did I?" Kara looks around and jumps a little, as if the freely bleeding gash in her side is news to her. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize to me. You scared me." She sees Kara open her mouth and holds up a finger. "Uhp! Don't apologize."

"Thank you, Lena." Kara says it like a sigh, and deflates along. She looks—bad. Gray around the edges. "I'm—I swear, it's not that—it's not that I want to kiss you, I just—"

Lena's breath hisses sharply through her teeth. It's one challenge after another today. "Kara," she says, sweet and dangerous. "Shut up, would you."

"'Kay," Kara says so immediately and in such a small voice that despite everything, Lena can't help smiling.

What can she do, she really is in love with this doofus.

They meet just a little off center, Kara blurry and uncoordinated, her lips grazing Lena's chin with Lena almost getting a mouthful of nose. It feels almost… exploitive, kissing Kara like this, something unseemly in sharing a moment as vulnerable as a kiss with her already so defenseless. Supergirl, dragged down from the sky and into the arms of a Luthor.

But Kara braces her hand around the back of Lena's neck, and she dives into their kiss with the sort of magnetic, energizing fervor that Lena is endlessly mystified by but which seems to come so naturally to Kara, and—as their lips fit together, like seven different kinds of magic, she once again begins to glow.

Kara draws back slowly, and Lena watches with lidded eyes and wavering breath as Kara's skin knits back together, her eyes sharpen, her whole being shimmers; Lena's half expecting a wind, summoned out of nothing, to gently blow away her hair.

I did that, Lena thinks, and maybe glows a little, too.

"You're really good at this," Kara breathes, lips still red and glistening. She sways closer, thumb tracing a careful half circle across Lena's throat, eyes fixed on her mouth. All at once, she drops her hand and leans away. "Not that I like—"

"Yes," Lena cuts her off sharply, irritable at being yanked so unceremoniously back to earth. "I know, thank you." She softens, against her better judgment, sweeps a loose curl of golden hair off Kara's glowing shoulder. "Stay safe."

"I will. Thanks to you." Kara is wearing her dopey, blissful post-kiss smile. Post-power up, Lena corrects herself. As Kara hasn't yet failed to mention, it has nothing to do with the kissing. "My hero."

Lena watches her shoot up into the sky, a blurry, shimmering dot, the imprint of her thumb still burning against Lena's throat, and tries very hard not to let those parting words sink all the way down to where they want to go.

.

.

Kara sends her scans of the alien texts. Scans of the alien illustrations, too.

Explicit is indeed an apt word for them.

None of the beings depicted have anything particularly analogous to human genitalia, but the intent is quite clear. Unambiguous, but tasteful, in a way. There's a certain tenderness to them. It seems obvious that this is an embrace between two (or more, it's reasonably hard to tell) individuals who care for each other. Certainly on the… classier end of deeply outlandish erotica.

It also seems apparent why the DEO had deemed kissing to be the less risky option.

Cold comfort, however, when Lena feels at risk of losing herself entirely.

.

.

It becomes a sort of deranged, destabilizing, electrifying routine.

The feeling of rightness when their lips fit together, Kara's tongue in Lena's mouth, her hand warm and rigid in Lena's hair. The indescribable rush of witnessing firsthand the magical transformation of Kara recharging, as she shines with power and energy and delight, and knowing Lena was its catalyst. Going home alone, slipping into her neatly made bed with a vibrator and headphones and trying her very hardest to imagine any fucking thing else as she comes.

Lunch the next day, with Kara no longer trying to convince either of them that this won't happen again, with the tension of the mutual knowledge that it will, that it has to, that neither of them feels about it the way that they should.

 The unspoken, unavoidable new closeness between them, awkward and strange and exciting, reshaping their relationship in ways Lena can't yet articulate, and absolutely wouldn't, if she could.

It goes on, and Lena adjusts. She's quite good at adjusting. This is just another type of longing.

They stop waiting for Kara's powers to fade completely; Lena would rather not see Kara bleed if she can help it. They might share a kiss every four or five days, now: in between meetings, at the end of lunch, early in the morning through Lena's apartment window. If this arrangement begins to resemble something Lena knows very well the name of, if she has started relying on it like she does on her weekly therapy sessions, if she needs to change batteries much more frequently nowadays—well. She tries not to dwell.

.

.

It's been two weeks since their last kiss, a rather unusually long while. Kara is starting to look a little pallid, but she doesn't mention it, and Lena doesn't push. It isn't that kind of relationship.

Not the kind of relationship where people communicate, Lena thinks darkly.

But then Kara tells her a bad a pun, and laughs at her own joke, lighting up all on her own—

Whatever kind of relationship this is, Lena will take it, and thank the stars for being gifted the opportunity.

.

.

Lena receives Alex's alert during her post-all nighter power nap. She rides the DEO car in an unpleasant combination of grogginess and sharp alarm, and arrives at the military proving grounds just in time to see a gray shape pick up a red and blue figure and throw her right out of the sky.

Kara slams straight into an old concrete wall, sliding down in a shower of debris.

The green dot that's likely J'onn rushes one of the assailants up above, the black dot that must be Sam bodily dragging two others through the air. Lena wrestles out of her heels, chucks them aside and heads for Kara in a dead sprint, only pausing to cower away from a rain of shattered glass.

She doesn't spare a glance upward, not when Kara is small and immobile and so unnervingly earthbound. As unnatural as a falcon laid out on its side in the middle of the road.

Lena struggles to her knees beside her in her stupid tight fucking skirt, palms Kara's dusty, bloodied face. If only they'd recharged before this, none of this would have happened. "Shit," Lena mutters, tasting bile in her throat. "Kara. Come on. Come on, darling. Look at me."

She smoothes away Kara's hair, rubs vigorously over her shoulders, her chest. Kara's eyelids flutter, head lifting by painstaking degrees. "Mrrm," she mumbles, like a big, injured, caped cat. "Oh… Hey, beautiful."

Lena lets out a wet gasp of a laugh. "Thanks, charmer. I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"

Lena bends forward, eyes already slipping shut when she's halted by a palm to the face.

"Nooo," Kara moans, feebly rolling her head side to side. "No no no. Nuh uh. No way."

Lena bats the hand away, annoyance and anxiety clashing. "Kara, what the fuck? You almost died up there. Please."

"It's not fair to me," Kara mumbles.

"It's not fair to you?" Lena repeats incredulously.

"It's trizvialising my feelings," Kara explains, equally earnest and absurd.

"Wh-what?"

"'S Alex says." Kara shakes her head again. "'S not healthy."

"Well, I don't think getting beaten to a pulp is very healthy for you either!"

Kara keeps stubbornly shaking her head, then lets it droop down against her chest. Anxiety rises thick and suffocating in Lena's throat, but when Kara lifts her head back up, there's a new clarity in her eyes.

Kara wipes her nose on her forearm, smearing a bright streak of blood across the right side of her face. "I can't kiss you anymore," she says plainly. "Because, I figured it out. Why it's you. Of course it's you. Lena. I'm hopelessly in love with you, you know."

Confession done, Kara sags again, a superhero shaped balloon leaking air. Lena can see her own fingers bunched in Kara's uniform, white-knuckled and pushing hard to keep Kara propped against the wall, but she can't feel them at all. A bright, impatient, staticky feeling has overtaken her body.

Her voice bubbles up out of nowhere. "Kara, you fucking idiot."

Kara blinks at her sluggishly. "Wuh?"

"You shitty… fucking… jerk!"

"Nooo, I'm nice!"

"You are not nice! You have been kissing me stupid for weeks and telling me it meant nothing to you!"

"Well, I—I was lying!" Kara proclaims.

Lena ignores her entirely. "And I went along with it, again, and again, and again, like a self-destructive piece of shit, soaking up every little scrap of misplaced affection, because I don't think there was ever a time when I wasn't pathetically, desperately in love with you." She lets go of Kara to muffle a sob in her hands, and Kara slides down a couple of incongruously comical inches before catching herself on her elbows. "God."

Kara laboriously pushes herself back up, reaches for Lena with clumsy hands. "Shh. Shhh. C'mere." Kara pulls her closer, makes uncoordinated attempts at wiping the tears off her face, settling her hair. Lena can feel it get messier. She leans into the touch. "Lena. Lena. Don't cry. I am a stupid idiot jerk, you're right."

A sniffly sound of outrage escapes Lena. "No, I'm not! You are the most incredible, courageous, brilliant woman in this universe! Don't you ever say that to my face again!"

"Uhhh…" Kara's stupid wonderful face makes a stupid wonderful little O. "Okay."

"I love you so much," Lena sobs.

Kara is nodding vigorously now. "Mine too. Me, me too. Allll so much." She grimaces, stops nodding. "Lena, I think, I'm a bit cun—concussed? Maybe?"

Lena laughs a little hysterically. "A bit! Yes." She wipes roughly at her eyes, grips Kara by the shoulders, takes in a noisy breath through her nose. She's going to have to do this again. "Shit. All right."

"Sorry," Kara tells her, for the millionth infuriating time these past months.

Lena fixes her with her sternest look, Lillian flavored. "I'm doing this because I love you, got it?" She would give her a shake for good measure, except Kara is a solid slab of granite and also terrifyingly hurt.

Kara's grin blooms wide and goofy and bloodstained: perfect. "Really? Cool," she says, and Lena kisses her.

She tastes like dust and blood and the salt from Lena's tears. Tastes like fear and pain and heartache—but triumph, too, and determination, and love. Love. Kara loves her. Kara loves her, and this kiss—this fake fucking kiss that has a function, that isn't real, this will be their last. The next one, the next one is going to have no purpose at all. The next one will be decadence, self indulgence, hedonism epitomized.

Vow made, Lena opens her eyes to the now familiar glow of a well-kissed Kara. Kara, whose reinvigorated arms around her are currently the only thing keeping Lena from dropping fifty feet onto the asphalt below.

Seems even a fake kiss is enough to cause a bit of spontaneous, unconscious flight. Quite gratifying, really.

Lena licks her thumb, rubs at the drying blood on Kara's face and wipes it off on her shirt sleeve. "Go get 'em," she says.

Kara giggles. "Yeah." She glances down. "Um. I'll just, put you down first."

She tightens her hold around Lena's waist, gently floats them down. Kara's hair settles around her like a halo. She lets go of Lena with a last lingering touch and steps away.

"Actually, you know what?" Kara turns sharply, snakes an arm back around Lena's body and cups the back of her head in the other. "Not yet."

She kicks off and they soar once again, spinning once, twice in the air as Kara nudges her nose against Lena's and laughs, short, exuberant, and captures her lip in a kiss.

Their previous kisses had been characterized primarily by either control or disorientation. This—this is nothing like that. Light, and honest, and focused; this kiss is pure exploration. Lena gives into it, like a solution blending with another, molecules fitting into each other's spaces, unpredictably increasing density.

Kara draws back and laughs again, a warm explosion that can't be contained. "Did I get that right?" she asks.

Lena can do nothing but nod.

How Kara can misunderstand her so completely for months and then read her mind in an instant is beyond her. But she loves her. And finally, she can show her.

So she does.