“That’s the last of it, Miss Luthor.”
The leader of the sweaty men who have been hauling half her belongings into her new place closes up the moving truck, gesturing for his coworkers to climb into the cab, and Lena relaxes incrementally.
She’ll be alone soon. Thank god.
“Thank you,” She says, politely ignoring the sweaty hand he holds out to shake. “I appreciate all your hard work.”
“It’s no problem, really.”
Lena really wishes this conversation was over. She’s paid them, the job is done, and now he’s trying to make small talk when all Lena wants is to go inside, lock the door, and not interact with another human for as long as possible.
With an awkward nod the man finally climbs into the truck and trundles down her long driveway, and for the first time in what feels like years, Lena starts to decompress.
The May air around her is warm without being too hot, there are birds chirping, and she can hear the soft sounds of the water moving in the breeze behind the house. She takes a deep lungful of clean air, and opens her door to start unpacking.
Lena knows exactly why she’s chosen this as her summer home.
The house is beautiful, to be sure – sprawling and modern, glass walls facing a sparkling lake lined by dozens of types of trees, a private dock and a boathouse (not that she has a boating license, but it came with the place). But she’s seen dozens of similar million-dollar houses on the outskirts of rural areas, and for some reason, this is the one that stuck. The wilderness around the property reminds her of the only good memories of her childhood – camping with her birth mother, before she was adopted.
But it isn’t the house that sells her. There are a hundred like it built on every pretty lake in the province. The reason she decides to settle on Midvale, is because of the town.
It’s completely, totally unremarkable. Nestled at the intersection of a slow-moving river and the lake it empties into, the population is small, and it looks like it never quite left 1998. There’s a single strip of tiny shops – a hairdresser, an off-brand pizza place, a restaurant, a grocery store of a chain she’s never heard of - and still there are buildings with “FOR LEASE” signs in the windows. There’s only one school that goes to 8th grade, and the kids have to bus 45 minutes south for high school.
It’s a town that’s clearly seen its hayday a while ago, one that used to see the tourism of campers and vacationers coming through and now serves only locals thanks to the diversion of a new highway. Everyone has a slight accent, the kind that you usually only hear exaggerated for laughs on American TV, and she’d place a sizeable bet that most of the people here have never even heard of L-Corp.
It’s small, and anonymous, and perfect.
For two weeks after she moves in, Lena hardly has to leave her house. She builds a nest for herself there, tinkering with new tech she hasn’t had time to work on in the last few years. She brought in enough groceries to last her a while when she got here, and she settles in more easily than she thought for her months of leisure time. With weekly updates from Sam and Jack, her need to know what’s happening with her company are soothed, and she’s more grateful than she’s ever been for her two best friends. If it weren’t for their loyalty, she’d never have been able to turn the company around.
In fact, the two of them are the only reason she took this extended vacation in the first place.
It feels distinctly like an ambush, the way Sam and Jack are standing on either side of her desk like freakishly tall sentinels, and all of a sudden, Lena suspects that the work meeting they requested is going to have more of a personal slant.
“Lena, you’re working yourself to death.”
There it is.
Jack has his worry face on, where his thick brows almost knit together, and the affection she feels for an expression that’s as familiar to her as her own reflection is tempered only by her annoyance at the subject matter.
“I’m fine,” She says, continuing to type the email she’s been editing for the last 3 minutes while the two of them waited.
“I know for a fact that you slept at the office last night,” Sam fires back, and Lena is startled enough that she stops typing.
“How did you –“
“Pete is worried about you.”
Lena makes an internal note to remove Sam’s number from her driver’s phone in the morning, and she turns back to her computer, rolling her eyes.
“She’s right, Lena,” Jack says, leaning against her white desk and crossing his ankles together. “You have no social life –“
“I don’t need a social life,” Lena says, almost instinctually. Jack and Sam both roll their eyes, and Lena studiously ignores it.
“You barely sleep, I never see you eat. You’re going to make yourself sick,” Sam finishes Jack’s sentence, as she’s wont to do, and Lena finally gives up on the email she hasn’t been concentrating on since they entered.
“What am I supposed to do?” She asks, frustrated. “I’ve put everything into turning this company around. Everything. This is my life now.”
“So take a break.”
Lena blinks, the sentence not fully processing for a few seconds. When it does, the idea seems completely ludicrous.
“A break? I can’t just leave.”
“Leave us in charge,” Jack says, winking.
“What?” Lena repeats, more to give herself time to think than because she needs it repeated, but Sam goes into more detail anyways.
“You know we can handle it. Leave us in charge and disappear somewhere for a few months. Take a vacation. We can spin whatever story you need us to – just go take care of yourself for a change. Please.”
It’s the most earnest she’s seen her best friend in a long time. Even Jack, the perennial jokester, is looking at Lena with an uncharacteristically serious expression.
It makes her pause.
“What kind of vacation?”
It took a lot of convincing, but after she almost burst into tears because she dropped her coffee all over her office floor after 36 hours of no sleep, she had to admit that they were right. With their help she got everything in order, spun a story about doing environmental research in the far north, and reluctantly started house-hunting for a hideaway spot. Midvale was a fluke, a decently-priced property she decided to view on a whim, and before she knew it she was moving in.
And after two weeks, once she got used to the idea, once she saw for herself how capable Sam and Jack are of running her company, the truth started to sink in.
Lena hates her job.
She always knew she was never going to love being CEO. But now, as she spends her days working on projects that matter to her, it’s alarmingly clear.
Becoming CEO of L-Corp was the right thing to do. The company had been tailspinning in a bad direction after her brother’s xenophobic breakdown and subsequent arrest, and if she hadn’t taken over, god knows what damage her mother might have done with a billion-dollar tech company and her brother’s legacy. She had to step in. It was an obligation, one she didn’t want – but it isn’t what she wants to do. What she loves.
She loves creating. Looking at a math problem and solving it, and then applying it to something that can help people. Before L-Corp, she’d been trying to cure cancer in a garage with her best friends, and now all three of them are in varying positions of corporate hell.
The fact that she considers her day-to-day job to be “corporate hell” should probably have been a red flag, but Lena has never claimed to be in touch with her own emotions.
So, she creates. She’s never really known how to have a vacation, anyways, so working feels natural. Besides, what else would she do? It feels good to have a routine – wake up in a bed that feels too empty, make coffee, have breakfast on the porch overlooking the sunrise on the lake, work on new projects until her body protests, drink herself into submission and fall asleep watching the Food Network.
But as much as Lena enjoys her little hideaway, it’s only so long before she has to venture outside of it, however unwillingly. Dressed in her least flashy clothes – slacks and a soft cardigan, and one of her more understated shades of lipstick – she steels herself as much as she can and steps out into the world.
Her plan is to go to the grocery store, maybe grab some more wine, hit a hardware store for some basic materials she’s run out of, and then stay inside until she runs out again.
So, naturally, her car breaks down.
“Great,” She sighs, as she turns the key in the ignition repeatedly only to hear a weak sputtering. The roads out here are complete shit, bumpy and sometimes not even paved, and apparently she hit a pothole with such force that she dislodged something in her very expensive car.
Thankful for the complete lack of other cars on this back road, Lena slams the door behind her and gets to work.
“Stupid piece of overpriced junk –“ She mutters, kicking the front tire with her Jimmy Choo as she walks by to prop the hood up and do a cursory glance at the engine. Nothing seems out of place, which means that its outside her area of expertise. She has multiple degrees, several in engineering, and she never thought to learn the intricacies of cars. It seemed easy, and boring. Why should she need to learn? But now, looking at a sea of oil-caked and smoking parts, she admits that she probably needs help.
Begrudgingly, she googles the nearest mechanic, which turns out to be the only one in town. It’s about 15 minutes from her house, a fact that she knows because the tow truck shows up exactly 15 minutes after she places her call, and her Porsche is hooked onto the truck bed by a friendly man with a nametag that reads “James” who makes inane conversation with her on the drive back to the shop.
“So, you new around here?” He asks, turning the radio down a few notches as Lena settles gingerly onto the stained truck seat. It’s blaring some country song, and Lena resists the urge to sigh.
She hates country music.
“Yes,” She says, hoping her terse answer will deter further inquiry.
Unfortunately, it seems that small-town people are tenacious in their quest for small talk.
“Where you from?” He continues, his truck seeming to take the rough roads infinitely better than Lena’s poor car. “We don’t see a lot of visitors here anymore.”
“Big city, eh?” James says, sounding interested. She doubts he’s ever been to the big city himself.
God, people actually say eh here?
“Yes. Quite big,” Lena replies, and James keeps going almost before she’s finished her sentence.
“So, you here on a vacation? Got a cottage up the road?”
Lena drums her fingers on the seat beside her. “Something like that.”
She appreciates that he’s trying, but she has little interest in befriending the locals. She’s going to get her car fixed, get the things she needs, and consider hiring a delivery service to bring things to her house from now on.
The building they pull up to is pretty much exactly what Lena was expecting. It’s on the main strip in town, but Lena hadn’t noticed it when she drove through a few months ago – the building is old, exposed bricks painted with peeling white paint and several garage doors open to reveal the mess of cars and parts piled inside. Above the chaos, a faded baby-blue sign reads “Danvers Auto Shop”.
All Lena can do is sincerely hope that someone here knows what they’re doing.
“Alex isn’t here today, but you can talk to the other owner,” James says once he’s guided her inside, and Lena peers past the car suspended nearby to follow his gesturing arm. Her first impression of the mechanic James points out is surprise, as much as she’s ashamed of herself for it – the mechanic is a woman.
It’s not that Lena is surprised that female mechanics exist, but she’s never seen one, and she especially didn’t expect something so out of the norm in a small, remote town like this. She can’t see much of her beyond the blonde ponytail that’s visible between her shoulderblades, but she seems capable as she finishes putting a new tire on another car in the shop.
When the woman turns around, Lena has to work hard to smother her immediate reaction, as shocking as it is.
The mechanic is hot.
Not in the way Lena is used to, exactly. Lena’s type has always been strictly defined, both by her upbringing and by her status as a public figure. Clean-cut, presentable, Ivy League, and slightly distant. Preferably in some kind of business position at least comparable to her position as CEO of L-Corp, if not equal. Photographs well. Her partners have always had to be either discreet hookups to sate her physical needs, or acceptable arm-candy to boost her public image. And once she finally decided to do one small thing for herself and start dating women openly, that didn’t change, although it seriously narrowed her dating pool.
This woman is so far the opposite as to be almost comical.
She’s wearing a jumpsuit, for starters. An army green mechanic’s jumpsuit, horribly stained and unbuttoned so that it hangs around her hips, with a similarly dirty white tank top and a scuffed blue ballcap. Lena idly wonders why one would even bother wearing white in an auto shop, considering it’s almost not recognisably white anymore, but before long she’s distracted by what’s underneath the shirt.
She’s muscular. And sweaty. And broad. Her shoulders are wider than they look at first glance, offset by the slight swell of her hips, and as she reaches up to remove her hat and wipe at her brow with her forearm, Lena can see her bicep flex.
She tries very hard not to be affected by that, or by the adorable red line the cap leaves on the woman’s forehead.
“Hi! I’m Kara. James said your Porsche gave out?”
Kara reaches a grimy hand out to shake, and Lena hesitates only for a moment before taking it gingerly in her own. She expects it to be sweaty, or at least greasy – but, despite the blackness staining her hands, they’re actually dry and warm and a tiny bit calloused.
It makes Lena shiver.
“Lena,” She manages to say, deliberately holding back her last name. “And, yes.”
She pulls her hand back just a tiny bit sooner than is usually considered polite, and clenching it at her side. “Can you fix it?”
“I can fix anything,” Kara says with a wink, and Lena swallows hard. Her eyes are a startling blue, her smile bright and earnest, and there’s a smudge of something black streaking across her brow and down to her temple. Her hair is coming loose from her ponytail and sticking to the side of her neck, and when she puts her hat back on, Lena can see that the bill of it is frayed and dusty.
She’s not Lena’s type in the slightest.
I’m not attracted to her. I’m not attracted to her. I did not buy a house in the middle of nowhere to fuck the town mechanic.
“She’s not lying,” James says, startling Lena out of her thoughts. “I’ve never seen her find anything she can’t put back together with her bare hands.”
Lena gives him a tight smile, her eyes following Kara as she ducks under a row of hanging tools and heads to where James backed the Porsche into the garage.
She absolutely does not need to know what Kara can do with her bare hands.
Kara lets out a low whistle as she approaches the car, tapping a gentle finger on the hood. “Nice ride. Not often that I get to treat something this expensive.”
“It gets me from A to B,” Lena says vaguely, and Kara grins a bit incredulously.
“Is A ‘absurdly rich’ and B ‘wherever you want, very quickly’?”
“Something like that.”
Kara laughs, and she reaches inside the open window to pop the hood, her shoulders practically rippling. “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?”
Lena’s hand clenches hard around her keys.
The diagnosis goes quickly, thankfully. Lena can actually understand most of what Kara says, and she explains it in a way that lacks the condescension she’s used to from most mechanics. Lena even finds herself tolerating small talk, when it comes from the blonde.
“Pretty rare that we see a machine this nice come through Midvale,” Kara says, as she slides out from underneath Lena’s car on what looks like a wide skateboard. Lena hands her keys over and tries not to wince as James climbs onto her leather seats and backs the car into the hydraulic lift.
“It seems like it’s mostly trucks and tractors out here,” Lena quips, and she’s oddly gratified when it makes Kara laugh, her white teeth seeming bright against her smudged skin.
“Mostly! It’s nice to handle something so fancy for a change.”
Lena knows that Kara is referring to the car, but she says it without breaking eye contact, and she feels an answering throb between her legs at the thought of Kara handling her.
Stop it. This is a summer of rest and relaxation in isolation.
No matter how much she tells herself that, she can’t stop looking at Kara’s hands and imagining their practical application.
In the end Kara fixes the problem in less than an hour, chatting away to Lena the whole way about what she’s doing. By the time she’s handing over her credit card, she’s pretty sure she could fix the car herself next time. But, looking down at the receipt, Lena frowns. It’s a few hundred dollars short of what she expected.
“This…doesn’t seem like very much for all the work you did,” She says slowly, hesitating before signing her name.
“Oh, I just charged you for the parts,” Kara says, shrugging nonchalantly. It draws Lena’s attention to her shoulders, and she has to exert serious willpower to get back to the topic on hand.
“First time customers get a discount,” Kara replies with a wink, and hands Lena’s card back.
“You don’t have to do that,” Lena insists, but Kara just grins in a way that’s altogether too charming.
“I know. See you around,” Kara squints at the receipt, reading Lena’s name from the line at the bottom. “Lena Luthor.”
Lena leaves the shop with a car that runs better than ever, and a feeling in her stomach like she’s missed a step on the stairs.
She keeps thinking about Kara in idle moments over the next few days. More than she should.
Lena thinks about that friendly grin, the surprisingly clear voice that came out of her mouth. Almost everyone around here has a slight northern accent, but Kara doesn’t. If she hadn’t been dressed in a jumpsuit and covered in engine grease, Lena might have thought she came from the city, too.
Lena thinks about the light sheen of sweat that covered Kara’s arms and chest under her thin tank top, about those hands that looked strong and just a little bit calloused under layers of oil and engine grime. She thinks about those wide shoulders, the strength in Kara’s arms as she hefted heavy car parts effortlessly.
She thinks about full lips, a bit chapped but still soft, and exactly what they could do to her body.
It’s because she’s going stir-crazy, she assures herself. It’s been months since her last sexual partner – almost a year, in fact – and now she’s cooped up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s perfectly natural for her to casually fantasize about the only attractive woman she’s seen in this town.
But even a week later, when she’s met several other attractive women – Lucy, for example, the spitfire brunette who runs the local restaurant, and the stern auburn-haired woman she saw at the grocery store who looks to also work at the auto shop if the state of her black-stained hands is any indication – she still only thinks about Kara.
Maybe she should re-think this ‘no attachments’ rule.
“So, you met a hot female mechanic and you didn’t get her number?”
Jack’s voice through her phone is tinny through the shaky wifi, but the familiarity of his scolding warms Lena all the same. She takes a sip of her wine, pulling the blanket up higher over her legs to ward against the chilly evening air.
“Also, why are you using FaceTime voice? We miss your face,” Sam chimes in, and Lena sighs, rubbing her face.
“I look like shit.”
“Even when you look like shit, you still look better than me.”
Lena highly doubts that, since Sam consistently looks like she just won America’s Next Top Model, but she appreciates the sentiment.
“Shut up. The service is bad out here, I don’t even know if video will work,” Lena says instead. She’s pretty sure it would work, but she really doesn’t feel like holding her phone up like a weirdo right now. She’s three glasses of wine in and in her pyjamas to watch the sunset from her deck, and a long video conference is the last thing she wants, even with her best friends.
“Can we get back to the hot mechanic, please?” Jack asks, and Lena shifts uncomfortably as Sam latches onto the topic again.
“Yeah, what’s with that? You’re there ‘till August, why not have a little fun?”
“I didn’t come here to find a relationship,” Lena protests, and she sighs in annoyance as the last of the light fades over the treeline and the army of mosquitoes starts to descend.
Time to go back inside.
“I’m not saying you should have a relationship,” Sam is saying, as Lena gathers her blanket and empty wineglass and escapes the great outdoors. “Not all of us are serial monogamists.”
“Yes, some of us are quite happy in our non-monogamy,” Jack chimes, and Lena can hear the wink he would have thrown if he were here.
“Well, you don’t have to be Jack,” Sam admits, and she can hear the smack as Jack hits her on the arm. “Ow – what? Lena doesn’t have it in her to be a joyful gay tramp like you.”
“At least she called you ‘joyful’,” Lena adds, and she can hear Jack huff dramatically.
“Look, all I’m saying is that a summer fling might do you good,” Sam says, much more rationally. “Relax, hang out, make some friends, get yourself laid for once in your life, and unclench.”
Slamming the sliding glass door shut behind her, Lena drapes the blanket over the back of her couch and sits down on the soft cushion. “I don’t even know how to go about doing that. I mean, do I just…ask her to be my summer fling?”
Before it’s even left her mouth, Lena knows she’s said the wrong thing.
“Lena, oh my god,” Jack groans, and Sam dissolves into peals of laughter.
“No, you don’t – you just sleep with her, Lena!” She says, her voice squeaky with contained mirth. “God, it’s like you’ve never hooked up before.”
“That’s not – you know I have, Sam!” Lena groans, flopping back onto the throw pillows. It’s not like she’s inexperienced, by any far stretch. She’s had her fair share of hookups, both public and covert. But this is different. “I don’t want to lead anyone on. And – ugh, I’m not doing it anyways. I’m going to keep to myself, like I said I would.”
“Suit yourself, Mother Theresa,” Jack scoffs, and Lena finally sighs in annoyance.
“If you guys called just to make fun of me, I’m hanging up.”
“No, no, I’m sorry,” Sam says, her tone soothing. “We just miss you.”
“You’re the one who told me to go on vacation! You said I needed rest and relaxation, and I’m getting some.”
“Doesn’t sound like you’re getting some,” Jack mutters, and Lena rolls her eyes. Before Sam can protest, she’s already disconnected the call.
As much as Sam and Jack’s impromptu roast irritated her, Lena has to admit that it makes her think.
She doesn’t like to admit it, but she is lonely here. She’s acclimated herself to isolation, but all isolation has ever done for her is make her work more. Maybe it’s time to stop those habits. Right?
Slowly but surely, Lena starts to venture into town more often than usual. She makes up more and more far-fetched excuses to herself – she forgot something from her grocery list, she needs a specific type of copper wire, the coffee she brewed wasn’t good enough and she absolutely needs to get one from the little coffee shop in town – but despite her hopes to see Kara again, it never seems to line up. She seems to work constantly, and Lena only gets glimpses of her through the open garage doors when she drives by.
It’s over a week after her car broke down before she gets desperate enough to drag herself to the shabby local bar.
She’s driven by it before, but until now she’s never even considered stopping. Drinking in public has never been her favourite thing, and drinking with the owners of the dozen pickup trucks in the parking lot is the last thing she wants to do – but it might be worth it.
So, with her nerves steeled by the glass of wine she had before leaving her house, she heads towards the half-illuminated neon sign that says The Livewire.
The bar is inexplicably attached to the town’s pizzeria, and when she walks in the door, the smell-combination of beer and decades-old cigarette smoke that’s never gone away hits her nose at the same time as the scent of baking bread and cheese.
It’s strange, but not completely unpleasant.
What is jarring, though, is the décor. The bar is partially carpeted, which she actually didn’t think was possible after 1995, and the tables and chairs are all mismatched and strictly functional. One table even has a plastic lawn chair for seating, and she can see even from far away that the tabletops have years worth of names carved into them.
The only part of the place that seems new is the bartop itself, with about 15 wooden stools lined up against it and a young woman with white-blonde hair who scowls at the opening of the door. Lena sweeps her eyes over the row of hunched backs, most of them watching what looks like a game of curling on the small televisions hung above the shelves of liquor, but none of them have Kara’s blonde ponytail.
None of the tables seem to house the woman she’s looking for either, and Lena is about to give up and go home when the door to the women’s room at the back of the bar swings open, and out walks the person that’s been haunting her waking (and sleeping) thoughts all week.
“All right, Schott, now that I don’t have to pee so bad that I can’t think straight, let’s play,” Kara says, picking up a pool cue and heading towards the faded pool table in the back corner.
“Again?” A short man with fluffy brown hair sitting with a group nearby groans, hanging his head. “How many times do you have to beat me until you get tired of it?”
“I’ll get tired when I finally lose,” Kara says, with a wink that goes right to Lena’s toes even though it isn’t directed at her. She’s wearing that same ballcap from the day they met, still just as faded, but this time with overalls and a white t-shirt. The denim has more than a few frayed holes, and again, it hangs unfastened around her hips.
The look absolutely should not be working for Lena, but somehow, her whole body heats up as Kara leans back against the pool table.
“Come on, Kara, leave him alone,” A deeper voice says, and Lena recognizes James when he slings an arm over the smaller man’s shoulders. “Let the man get plastered in peace.”
Kara sighs dramatically, putting the cue down. “Fine. One of these days, I’m going to find someone here who puts up a challenge.”
“Considering your skill and the reputation you have garnered regarding pool, I find that doubtful,” Says another man at the table, this one with longer hair that curls behind his ears. His voice interestingly stilted, completely void of the accent Lena has gotten so used to hearing here but unique in its own way. In a way it reminds her of her head of R&D, back at L-Corp. He was a genius, but he always had trouble relating to people.
This man doesn’t seem to have that problem, though – Kara laughs at his comment, clapping him on the shoulder as he smiles.
Kara spins one of the rickety wooden chairs around and plops down in it backwards, resting her forearms on the back, and calls out to the bartender.
“Hey Willis, can we please get another pitcher, and a water for me?”
“Go fuck yourself, Danvers,” The bartender calls back, but Lena can see that she’s already grabbing Kara’s order.
“Thanks, Leslie,” Kara sing-songs, and half of the bar laugh at her antics.
And that moment, as Lena is staring like an idiot at Kara and her friends, is when Kara notices her. Her eyes brighten, and she sticks a hand in the air and waves.
“Hey, Lena! I didn’t expect to see you again!”
The whole table turns to look at her, and Lena feels her face heat up immediately. She briefly considers running for it, but Kara is already gesturing her over, so she takes a deep breath of pizza-scented air and tries to be brave.
“Kara, hi. I was just…stopping by for a drink.”
Lena hates how breathy her voice sounds, but Kara’s smile is bright enough that she actually relaxes incrementally, even as she realizes she now has a whole new group of people to socialize with.
“Come meet everyone!” Kara insists, and Lena waves awkwardly as she’s introduced. “You know James already, but this is Winn –“
The fluffy-haired man waves jovially, and James flashes her a warm grin.
“And this is Brainy, he runs the horse ranch just outside of town.”
“Brainy?” Lena blurts, as he nods his head in her direction.
“Oh, it’s just a nickname,” Kara elaborates, and intense relief courses through Lena at knowing she hasn’t just deeply offended one of Kara’s close friends. “His real name is Barney, but he’s always been our resident genius.”
“I have learned to accept it. Just as I accept that Kara will never lose at pool,” Brainy says, and Kara shrugs good-naturedly.
“What can I say, I’m unbeatable.”
Lena has no idea what possesses her to say it. Maybe it’s the hot, stuffy air of the bar making her lose her sanity, or the way Kara is smiling at her in that cocksure but somehow kind way that makes her knees a little weak, but before she can stop herself, she’s opening her mouth.
“I doubt that.”
A chorus of ooooh rings around the table, and James slaps the wooden surface gleefully and points at Kara.
“Oh, shit! That sounded like a challenge, Danvers!”
“It sure did,” Kara says, and the impressed look on her face is worth Lena’s apparent temporary mania. “Wanna play?”
Five minutes later she’s standing across the table from Kara with a stick in her hand, about to start a game she’s never played before.
It can’t be that hard, Lena reasons. She knows the rules, after a covert and frantic google search while Kara set the balls up, and it’s not like it’s a very physical activity. It’s just basic physics.
She can do physics.
“So, you’re new in town, huh?” Kara asks, as she breaks the triangle of balls and sends them scattering across the felt. Two solid colours sink into the holes, and Lena rolls her eyes at Kara’s cocky wink.
“Yes. The amount of times I’ve been asked that this week -” Lena says, and thankfully Kara nods in understanding.
“It’s a pretty small place. When someone new comes along, you can tell. And besides, most people here don’t drive Porsches,” Kara reasons, sinking yet another shot. Her third misses, though, and Kara concedes the turn to Lena gracefully.
Lena laughs despite herself as she surveys the table. “I guess I sort of stand out.”
“In more ways than one,” Kara says, and Lena can’t stop the nervous laugh that erupts at the unexpected compliment. She knows she’s blushing, and Kara grins in a way that assures Lena that she’s definitely noticed.
“When you brought your car in, I figured you were just passing through,” Kara continues, blessedly changing the subject as Lena lines up her first shot. “We don’t get a lot of long-term visitors.”
“Well, just for the summer. I bought a place by the lake.” Lena snaps the pool cue, and with devastating precision two striped balls fall into place down the pots.
Kara’s eyebrows raise, and Lena glows with secret pride at the approval she sees in bright blue eyes.
“By the lake?” Kara says, whistling. “Pricey. Although, I’m saying this to the woman with the nicest car in town, so I shouldn’t be surprised.” Kara doesn’t look intimidated, though, or even jealous. She just looks impressed.
She looks even more impressed when Lena sinks 3 more balls easily, her confidence growing all the way.
“I didn’t realize I was playing a pro,” She laughs, lining up a simple shot and sinking it easily. Lena can’t take her eyes away from the arch of her back as she leans over, the way she chews on her lip as she concentrates. The skin comes away red and a little wet, and Lena has a sudden and overwhelming urge to bite at it.
“Would you believe me if I told you I’ve never played before?” Lena replies, trying desperately to distract herself by staring resolutely at the balls on the table.
“No,” Kara says, pausing to look at Lena incredulously. She leans on her pool cue, shaking her head. “Is this seriously your first time?”
“I actually prefer chess.”
Kara laughs, lining up and sinking another shot. “Well, your talents are wasted there. You could clean up at a pool tournament.”
She takes her shot as she says it, and then winces when the ball bounces off at the wrong angle.
“Shoot. Looks like you’re up, Lena.”
A few minutes later, Kara is taking her hat off in respect as Lena sinks the final ball with a flourish. The ponytail underneath is messy and entirely too endearing. She looks like she’s about to congratulate Lena on the win, but she’s interrupted.
“Damn, she whupped your ass, son!” James crows clapping loudly and startling Lena out of the little Kara-bubble she’s been in for the whole game. Quite honestly, she’d completely forgotten there were other people in the bar until just now.
“Well. That was unexpected,” Brainy says loudly from behind them, and Lena actually jumps slightly as a hand alights on her shoulder.
“I don’t know who you are, Lena, but if you can keep beating Kara’s winning streak I hope you come back and get sauced with us every night,” Winn says, and Lena’s usual urge to shrug off physical contact is strangely absent in the company of Kara’s friends.
“Come back and get what?”
He doesn’t answer, but Lena can guess at the word’s meaning. Winn is clearly a few steps past intoxicated, but the invitation is flattering all the same.
The rest of the night passes surprisingly pleasantly. She stays for a drink or two, contributing to conversation as often as seems polite, but most of her time is spent looking at Kara. How her smile makes her eyes crinkle at the corners, the softness of her lips, the way she always manages to catch Lena’s eye and wink whenever she’s starting to feel a little lost.
Kara leaves around 10, citing having to work in the morning, and Lena ducks out with her despite the protests of the table that the night isn’t over. When Kara opens the door for her Lena glances back to see Brainy being hoisted up onto James’ shoulders, and she’s more than a little bit glad that she’s not still involved.
They both take a simultaneous deep breath of fresh air as they step out, and Kara catches her eye and chuckles, rubbing the back of her neck. She almost looks nervous, which seems completely implausible to Lena.
“I’ve always loved the way the air smells out here,” Kara says quietly, leaning against a nearby truck that Lena assumes is hers. She can’t see any distinguishing features in the dark, but it looks older than most of the others.
“I’m learning to like it,” Lena admits, fiddling with her keys. “I didn’t realize how suffocating the city air is until I came here.”
“Yeah. City air blows.”
Lena snorts, covering her mouth not quite quickly enough to hide it, but Kara seems delighted at making her laugh.
A moment of silence grows between them, and Lena knows what she wants to say. She wants to ask to see Kara again, ask for her number, ask anything.
But she doesn’t.
“Well, I had a really great time,” Kara says, opening her truck door and hopping up into the seat. “I hope I’ll see you around?”
“Right, yes,” Lena says, backing up and preparing to bolt to her car and scream her frustration out in private. “Of course.”
Kara’s tires crunch on the gravel as she pulls onto the street, and for hours after, Lena curses her own cowardice. She curses it as she drives home, as she washes off the bar-smell in the shower, and she curses it as she eases herself into bed and slips a hand into her underwear.
She shouldn’t do it. She hardly knows Kara, has spoken to her for barely more than a few hours in total, but this has been building for a week now and she needs relief. She needs her own shaky hands on her clit, a poor substitute for the ones she wants but enough nonetheless.
With Kara’s name on her lips Lena comes faster and harder than she has in a long time, all the while thinking about rough hands, blue eyes, and the smell of engine oil.
In most situations, Lena has no fear. She can face down boardrooms full of Armani-suited sexist men, argue even the most powerful CEOs into submission. She sat on the witness stand at her own brother’s murder trial, and put him in jail, when she was 22.
But when it comes to asking for a girl’s number, Lena Luthor is a coward.
She’s seen Kara no less than three times this week – once at the gas station as she paid for her fill-up and Kara bought what amounted to $40 worth of twinkies and honey buns, and twice at the coffee shop where Kara picks up the morning order for her whole staff (not that Lena has memorized when Kara usually gets to the shop and drags herself out of bed to get there in time. Absolutely not). But all three times, they shared a friendly conversation and then Kara had to go, and Lena, again, didn’t ask for her number.
She wants to see more of Kara, as much as she knows she shouldn’t. But some harmless flirting can’t hurt, right? Besides, Sam encouraged her to make friends during her vacation. Even if said friends are too attractive for words.
So finally, frustrated and full of self-loathing, Lena pops her own tire with a corkscrew and calls for a tow from Danvers Auto Shop.
When Kara rolls up in the tow truck 20 minutes later, looking as dirty and annoyingly attractive as ever, Lena finds she’s far less ashamed than she should be.
“I hear you need my services again?” Kara grins, and Lena suppresses a shiver.
When Kara kneels down to look at the tire, though, the anxiety starts to ebb in.
“Huh. That’s weird,” Kara says, frowning, and Lena swallows hard.
“Well, you said you didn’t notice it being flat yesterday, right?”
Lena vaguely remembers saying something of the sort on the phone, but in her defense, she was very distracted at the time.
“Yes,” She says slowly, trying to push down the anxiety in her gut.
“This is a pretty big hole. It’s just a little strange,” Kara says, running her fingers over the tire tread. “What do you think did it?”
“I could have run over something in my driveway. Right?”
“That’s true. These secluded driveways tend to build up all sorts of crud, since the township doesn’t take care of them,” Kara says brightly, tapping on the rubber. “You should hire someone to clean it up every once in a while! There’s tons of kids looking for jobs in town.”
Lena, distracted by the movement of Kara’s hands, nods mutely.
Thankfully, Kara hooks Lena’s car onto the truck with no further comments. Lena has made her laugh exactly three times by the time they pull into the garage, and she feels such a sense of accomplishment that she’s pretty sure she can write the rest of the day off.
As she gets out of the truck, Kara waves suddenly at someone across the shop, who turns out to be the auburn-haired woman that Lena saw at the grocery store not long ago. Her stern look clearly melts at the sight of Kara, and Lena’s stomach sinks slightly at the obvious affection.
“Alex!” Kara calls, gesturing her over. “Come meet Lena!”
“I’m late for my doctor’s appointment,” Alex calls back, still moving towards the door. “Nice to meet you, Lena!” She’s gone a few seconds later, the door swinging shut behind her and leaving them alone.
Kara shakes her head, smiling exasperatedly. “That’s my sister, Alex. We co-own the shop together, and I think she’s started going for much more regular check-ups since James’ sister moved to town and joined Dr. J’onzz’s practice.”
The relief Lena feels at learning the pretty woman is Kara’s sister is so palpable that Lena is genuinely worried that Kara will notice. Instead she puts the focus on Alex, asking the first question that pops into her head.
“Your sister has a crush on her doctor?”
Kara laughs, shaking her head while she works on getting Lena’s car detached from the truck. “No, her doctor is J’onn. She just likes to sit in the waiting room and hope that Kelly walks by so she can awkwardly flirt.”
Lena, painfully aware of how close to Alex’s situation she is at this very moment, says nothing.
The repair takes longer than last time – not because it’s more work, but because this time, Kara seems determined to teach Lena how to change her own tire.
“I really don’t need to know this, Kara. I’m perfectly happy just calling you when I get a flat.”
“But everyone should know how to change a tire!” Kara protests, prying the hubcap off and handing it to Lena, who tries to touch as little of the dirty metal as possible. It dangles from two of her fingers, but Kara doesn’t seem to notice – she’s too busy loosening the bolts and jacking the car up.
“Shouldn’t you be putting the car on those lifts?” Lena asks, setting the hubcap gingerly on the workbench beside her.
“Usually I would, but you won’t have one if you’re the one changing the tire,” Kara reasons, to Lena’s dismay. She nestles the jack under the car and starts to crank it, while Lena tries not to ogle too obviously.
“So, you have to make sure the tire is off the ground,” Kara is saying, and Lena blinks rapidly, trying to clear the dirty cobwebs from her mind. “And then you have to unscrew the lug nuts.”
“I could just Google this, you know,” Lena says, looking for whatever escape she can get. It’s getting hotter and hotter in the shop, and Kara seems to not notice at all.
“What if you have no service?” Kara challenges, dusting off her hands and grabbing the wrench. “Service up here is patchy.”
Lena purses her lips, and finally sighs.
Lena has experienced desire before. She’s felt her heartbeat speed up looking at a woman in a tight dress or a tailored suit, felt the longing to run her fingers through someone’s hair or her lips over their neck. But never in her life has she felt the unadulterated craving that she feels when she watches Kara Danvers singlehandedly remove the bolts on a tire with a wrench.
She’s known from the minute they met that Kara was strong. She has defined arms, wide shoulders. The kind that let Lena know she could absolutely lift her up and pin her against a wall. But the way they flex and shift as Kara pulls the tire off and lifts the new one into place makes Lena genuinely, pathetically light-headed.
“Okay, now it’s your turn!”
That gets Lena’s attention.
Kara is looking at her expectantly, holding the wrench out as if Lena is supposed to know what to do with it, as if she hasn’t spent the last 15 minutes thinking about what Kara’s sweat tastes like instead of paying attention.
It’s fine. She can do this. She runs a goddamn tech company, she had her first PhD by 21, she can figure out how to change a tire –
Just as Lena is bracing to take the tool, Kara’s earnest expression breaks into a grin, and then a full-blown giggle.
“Oh my god, your face –“
Realization dawns, and Lena smacks Kara on the arm.
“God, you really - you’re an asshole, you know that?” She huffs, but she can’t keep the half-smile off her face when she says it.
“Ah, yeah, but it’s worth it,” Kara chuckles, wiping a tear from her eye. She moves behind the counter, punching a few numbers into the decades-old cash register. When the numbers come up on the tiny screen, Lena sighs in exasperation.
“Kara, you undercharged me again.”
“It’s just the price of the tire. I took all that extra time teaching you, I’m not gonna charge you for labour,” Kara tries to wave off Lena’s protests, but Lena stands firm this time.
“I’m not going to let you fix my car for free again.”
Kara shakes her head. “Look, it was barely 10 minutes work –“
“I’m paying you, Kara, even if I have to punch the numbers into the terminal myself,” Lena says, wallet in hand. Kara seems to sense she’s outgunned, because she smiles, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Well, how about you just buy me coffee?”
Midvale only has one coffee shop – it’s attached to one of the two gas stations in town, positioned across the road from each other and constantly fighting over prices. Kara leads her there, Lena following behind Kara’s truck (which turns out to be some kind of classic model that she’s fixed up until the cherry red paint shines like it’s new), and lets her pay for the dark roast and five donuts she orders, leading Lena to a secluded table in the corner.
“There, now we’re even.”
“Because I paid for your $7 order? That doesn’t seem fair,” Lena says, scooping the bag out of her herbal tea and setting it on a napkin.
“Well, you’re also paying me with the pleasure of your company,” Kara says, and it’s entirely too earnest and sweet to be flirty, but Lena blushes anyways, taking a sip of her too-hot tea and burning her tongue to keep herself from giggling like an idiot.
“So, what do you think of Midvale so far?” Kara asks, taking a bite of her first donut. It leaves a little bit of powdered sugar on her chin, but Kara swipes it away as if she does this every day. Which, Lena thinks, she probably does.
How Kara keeps the body she has on her diet, Lena has no idea.
“It’s…different,” Lena edges, and Kara laughs.
“If you don’t like it, you can say so. Small towns aren’t for everyone.”
“I don’t dislike it!” Lena hurries to correct, and Kara raises an eyebrow. “It’s just so far from what I’m used to. Since I was adopted I haven’t lived anywhere but in a city.”
“You’re adopted?” Kara says, sounding strangely excited. “I am, too!”
It seems like too much of a coincidence. But Alex and Kara do look just a bit too different to be related, and Kara doesn’t seem like the type to lie.
“Really?” Lena asks, and Kara nods a little more solemnly.
“The Danvers took me in when I was 10. My parents died in a car crash, when we were driving into the city.”
Lena’s heart seizes for Kara. She can remember how scared she was as a 6 year old, losing her mother and being taken to a strange house full of cold, distant people, and she can only imagine how much harder it was to lose a family at age 10. Judging by her positive relationship with Alex, Kara had a much more positive adoptive family experience than Lena did, but still.
“Oh, Kara. I’m so sorry,” She says quietly, and Kara nods with a muted smile.
“It’s okay. I miss them, but I’m okay. They would have been okay if it wasn’t for a shoddy part in their car, so I grew up trying to fix cars to be better. You know? Keep people safer.”
The soft explanation reminds Lena of a prototype she’d been working on, until she put it aside for something else. A car that would revolutionize fuel usage and safety. But she doesn’t care enough about cars to do it herself, and her R&D team is back in Toronto.
Maybe she should look at it again.
“That’s really noble of you,” Lena says, taking a more moderate sip to tea, and Kara shrugs, stuffing the rest of her donut into her mouth and moving on to the next one.
“So, what do you do?” Kara asks, and Lena feels a shot of anxiety. “I’m realizing I don’t know much about you, besides that you moved here.”
Laughing nervously, Lena explains as best she can without completely revealing who she is. She wants a low profile here, and telling Kara that she’s Lena Luthor, billionaire CEO of the most influential tech company on the eastern seaboard, is inadvisable.
“I…work for a tech company in Toronto. Corporate,” She says instead, and thankfully Kara takes another huge bite of her sprinkle donut and doesn’t seem to question it.
“That explains the look,“ Kara says, gesturing vaguely at Lena’s clothes with sugary hands.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Lena asks, suddenly self-conscious.
“Nothing! They look amazing on you. You just definitely look like you’re ready for the boardroom.”
Lena looks down at herself. She’s wearing a pencil skirt and blouse, sure, and lipstick, and 6-inch heels –
“Okay, you have a point,” She admits, smoothing her skirt down.
“I’m just saying, if you’re going to live here, we dress for comfort!”
Maybe she does need new clothes. She hadn’t really considered how other people see her, but now that Lena thinks about it, it’s true – this seems to be a jeans and flannel kind of town, with few exceptions. Practical.
“I just came here for the summer, to unwind. My friends seem to think I work too much,” Lena grumbles, and Kara folds her arms appraisingly.
“You really bought a house by the lake just for a few months?”
Lena shrugs. “It seemed like a good investment.”
Kara shakes her head incredulously, starting on her third donut – a chocolate glazed, which she takes to with great enthusiasm.
“So, what do you do when you’re not calling me to fix your car?” Kara asks, her mouth only a little bit full. Lena should find it repulsive, but somehow on Kara it’s just cute.
“Well, I…I work, I suppose,” Lena admits, and Kara is immediately disbelieving.
“I like my work!”
She isn’t sure why she feels the need to defend herself to Kara. This is her vacation, and she can do what she wants to with it, even if that includes working. But Kara seems so aghast.
“Well sure, I like my work too, but I don’t do it on vacation!” Kara says, still seeming blown away by Lena’s work ethic.
“What else am I supposed to do?” Lena asks defensively, and immediately regrets it, because Kara seems to have a list of activities.
“There’s lots to do here! There’s a bowling alley, and a drive-in movie theatre 20 minutes down the highway –“
“A drive-in?” Lena interrupts, sceptical. “Like, from Grease? What year is it here?”
“And we have a big summer festival on the long weekend in July!” Kara continues determinedly. “Plus, there’s hiking in the woods around here –“
“Do I look like I hike?” Lena scoffs, and Kara laughs.
“You look like you need to learn how to have fun.”
Lena sighs, acknowledging the truth of the statement. She does need to learn how to relax. Sam and Jack encouraged her to leave the city to rest, and all she’s been doing is locking herself up and working on new projects. She enjoys it, definitely, but going out and doing things can’t be the worst thing in the world.
“Fine. What else do you suggest?”
They keep talking, Kara eating more pastries than Lena thought humanly possible and Lena daydreaming about what it would be like to kiss her sugary lips, until the exasperated cashier finally asks them to leave so the store can close.
When they step outside and the poor woman finally flips the sign over in the window, shutting out the lights, Kara laughs abashedly.
“I think I’m gonna have to give Imra a free oil change to make up for that,” She admits, and it makes Lena feel warm to know that Kara lost track of time, too.
“This was really fun,” Lena says hopefully, and Kara opens her mouth to respond, but she’s drowned out by the sudden cacophonous noise of two very loud trucks racing down the road.
One has a lightning decal on the side and hood and the other has tires that are clearly too big for the frame, and both have engines that are clearly unnecessarily powerful. Loud country music is blaring from the open windows, and whoever is driving the truck with the huge wheels waves at Kara, who notably doesn’t wave back. The person in the lightning truck, who looks to be a woman, gives her the finger.
They roar past the shop, ignoring the nearby stop sign and screeching around the corner until their noise finally fades.
“Sorry about them,” Kara mutters, unlocking her own truck and seemingly dropping what she was about to say before the interruption. “It’s just Mike and Leslie, they rip through here all the time. I keep telling them they’re gonna kill someone, but –“
“Leslie didn’t sound like the type to take advice,” Lena says, and Kara nods.
“She really isn’t. Never has been. And Mike’s a greasy skid, he doesn’t listen to anyone.”
Lena can sense a history there, but it doesn’t seem like the time to pry. So instead, Lena asks the other question that’s on her mind.
“Mike’s a what?”
Kara laughs. “A skid. You know, a duster.”
“Kara, I have no idea what those words mean.”
Kara laughs harder, to Lena’s irritation, but finally she uses a word Lena can understand. “It means he’s an idiot.”
“Why don’t you just say that?” Lena asks, exasperated, but Kara is already getting into her truck and turning the ignition.
“You’ll figure it out eventually. I gotta go, though, Alex needs me to open the shop up early tomorrow. Thanks for a really great night, Lena.”
For the second time, Lena watches Kara drive away – and, Lena realizes as the truck revs, she still didn’t ask Kara for her number.