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please don't ever become a stranger

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Lena knows.

Lena knows, because Lex told her before Kara got the chance to do it herself.

Kara knows that Lena knows because she tried to tell her, afterwards. They had an awful crying, shouting fight about it in Lena's office, the kind of fight that sticks under Kara's skin and keeps her awake at night.

(Kara accidentally crunched a handprint into Lena's desk. Lena threw Kara's phone off of her office balcony.

She doesn't want to talk about it.)

(Except that it feels like all she's doing is talking about it.)

There's a hole at game night. That's - fair. Probably. It's fair that Lena wants space and she has every right to set the boundaries that she needs to make her heart feel safe. It makes sense that after being lied to, she'd feel angry. There's a word Kelly uses a lot - valid. Lena's feelings are valid.

Kara knows it, agrees with it, but it doesn't make it any easier to play Settlers of Catan without her best friend.

(Her best friend Lena who is astonishingly, unsettlingly good at that game. She treats the whole thing like it's a board meeting and can calculate probabilities in her head after a full bottle of wine and usually ends up with a trade monopoly on sheep or bricks.)

(Lena who always looks so delighted to win that it almost balances out her competitiveness.)

(Kara remembers Lena telling her, once, that Lex always made sure he won when they played games together. It puts Lena's little grin of victory into context.)

There's a hole at game night, and it's shaped like Lena Luthor. Kara wedges herself onto the couch in J'onn's office with J'onn on her left side and Alex on her right, and tries not to think about it. They're playing Pandemic, cooperatively with a weird mix of pairs and single players because they're seven people and it's really only supposed to be for four.

"I'm so excited about this game, you guys." Nia's the type who starts to get flushed after a half-glass of red wine and she's red-cheeked and dreamy-eyed as she leans into Brainy. "Usually when I play with my roommate, we end up with the virus apocalypse in like, ten turns."

"I don't want to brag," Alex says, definitely bragging. "But Kara and I win most of the time."

Kelly rolls her eyes, leans closer to Alex's side and kisses her shoulder. "I feel like with you playing this game it's kind of cheating, though." Alex inhales, about to get huffy, when Kelly squeezes her bicep. "Because you're a brilliant field medic, dear."

It's sweet, the way Kelly and Alex look at each other. It should make Kara feel good. Alex is finally happy again, and Kelly is so good for her, and Kara's so, so glad that her sister has found someone. It does make her feel good, knowing that her sister is happier, these days. But there's something that deflates that goodness for Kara and makes it feel a little sad around the edges.

She doesn't think about Lena, but she doesn't not think about her, either. It's different, of course. She and Lena never dated, their friendship was never like that, but there's something about the easy intimacy of Alex with Kelly that hits Kara right behind her heart.

The spell of melancholy is broken when James starts making kissing noises, gently teasing his sister. Kara pokes Alex in the side, joining in, and Kelly throws a pillow at James. It feels like it makes it a bit easier for Kara to breathe, somehow.

When the giggles and protests have settled, Kara gets up. It's a calculated risk. Kelly and Alex are probably going to snuggle even closer and take up her space on the sofa, but her drink needs a refill and she's feeling criminally under-snacked right now and she knows her priorities. James takes a break at the same time, and they meet at the table near the front door.
Kara takes her time selecting a second soda, while James pours himself another glass of wine. "Hey," he says, bumping Kara's side with his hip.

"Hey," Kara says. She's so glad they have this, now. She's so glad that he's alright.

"I miss her, too," he says.

His words hit Kara like a physical force. She feels her breath catch, is suddenly acutely aware of the hole in her heart that matches the hole at game night. It's painful, and she probably deserves it, but she wishes it didn't have to hurt quite this much.

Kara puts her hand over James' and squeezes. "Thanks," she whispers. "It helps, that someone else misses her."

James rests his hand on her shoulder and pulls her sideways. Kara lets herself be pulled, leans into the half-hug and lets herself nestle into his side for a moment. "You'll work it out," he says. "She's still your best friend."

The phrase makes Kara's stomach twist. She still can't quite hear it without remembering the way Lena said it when they last spoke; the way she spat it out like an accusation. It comes with a perfect sense memory of the sound of Lena choking back a sob as Kara walked away, the desire to turn back and hug her almost palpable. Don't talk to me, Lena had said. I need some time.

"Hey Kara," Nia calls out. "Are we gonna be the medic or the scientist?"

Kara looks back at the game table. They've all rearranged themselves so that there's an empty space for Kara between Nia and J'onn, a free chair in the middle for James, and Brainy wedged in between Kelly and Alex. "I thought you were on Brainy's team."

Alex is looking at Kara a little pointedly, like maybe Kara wasn't as good at hiding her feelings as she thought she was. "We decided no couples teams for tonight," she says. "If that's alright."

Just hearing it makes Kara feel lighter. It washes away the guilt that had started to rise up, the idea that her moping about her best friend was making her friends feel like they couldn't enjoy their partners. She takes a deep breath, and finds the part of her heart that's excited for family time. "Well that's your loss," Kara says. "Because Field Medic Kara and Field Medic Nia are going to crush you."

Nia rolls her eyes. "It's a co-op game."

"Collaboratively," Kara amends. "We're going to crush them with how good we are at cooperating."

It helps. All of it. Nia rolling her eyes and putting her arm around Kara's shoulder while they draw cards, the last few tense turns before they win the game, Alex offering to walk Kara home. All of it helps keep the clouds of Kara's sadness away, for a while.

But when Kara gets home, the sadness creeps back in. She falls asleep with her arms wrapped around a pillow, thinking about Lena.

+

Kara manages. She goes to work, she does research, she turns in well-written, thoroughly-researched articles, she goes home. But in the back of her thoughts, Lena's always there.

She does interviews and thinks of Lena. She goes home at the end of the day and eats pizza and thinks about Lena. Supergirl saves someone from a burning building and she thinks about all the times she's rescued Lena this way; what she'd say to her if she could do it all over again.

At night, when she's home in her pyjamas, she watches musicals. She tries to pick the ones that don't remind her of Lena.

(As if that's possible. All musicals, somehow, remind her of Lena.)

+

They don't talk for a month.

It's the longest Kara's ever gone without speaking to Lena since they met. (Before this, their record was four and a half days and for at least two of those, Kara was in space.)

She doesn't even know how to articulate the way it feels, not having her.

With Mon-El, it was - well, obviously it was different. He was her boyfriend, her first romantic-and-sexual love affair and losing him was sudden and unfair and she felt it like a wound. She remembers how broken she'd felt back then, the edges of her heart raw and gaping. It was so painful that at the time, she thought she might die from it.

Losing Lena feels different, but it makes her think of that hurt. It's softer, the ache behind her ribs, and not as harsh. It's a wound she saw coming, and the impact of it is less, but not by much. She still feels like she can't breathe if she thinks about it too hard, the fact that she used to have a best friend and now she's just got - nothing. An ex-best friend. A phone full of selfies that feel like they're from someone else's life and a chat thread full of messages that Lena hasn't bothered to read.

When Kara's hurting like this, the first person she reaches out to, after Alex, is Lena. All she wants is to talk to Lena about what's going on with her.

Lena's her best friend. She'd know what to do.

Kara doesn't reach out.

Instead, she does all the stuff she's supposed to do. She gives Lena her space. She spends time with James and Nia and Brainy and Alex. She pretends not to notice when they slip up and mention Lena's name, or when she asks about the past week and someone mentions doing something with a friend who couldn't be anyone but Lena. She digs her nails into her forearm and looks down at her lap and uses every ounce of her self-control to not ask about it.

(She thinks it, though. Sometimes she thinks it so hard that she's surprised her friends can't hear it. How is she? Is she alright? And, most importantly: does she ask about me?)

+

Eventually, it gets easier.

It's still not easy, having a life where Lena used to be her best friend. There's still a hole there, Lena-shaped, and Kara's not sure anything is ever going to really fill it. But she learns how to work around it. She puts the musicals away, and it's only partly because Alex insists.

She goes to game night and it doesn't feel quite so jarring when all of them are there and Lena hasn't arrived yet.

She dreams about Lena - about going for sushi and talking about her day - and she still wakes up with an ache in her chest and a bone-deep sadness in her heart. But it's easier to get out of bed on those mornings now, to keep going despite the sadness of it.

Sometimes, Kara even feels like it might be possible to be friends with Lena again someday.

She thinks about what it would be like. How maybe they'd run into each other someplace, or Lena might finally reply to one of Kara's months-old texts. She's had more than one dream that ended with Lena calling her; just the dream-thought makes Kara so happy that she wakes herself up to find a quiet phone and no missed calls. Sometimes she fantasizes about rescuing Lena. There's an emergency, and Lena's in trouble and Supergirl gets to be there for her and maybe if that happened - not that she'd ever want it to happen, or wish for Lena to be in trouble - maybe Lena would just be so grateful that she'd forgive her.

In her mind, Kara's rehearsed it. She has a whole apology speech prepared, and if she can just convince Lena to be in a room with her and let her get through it she knows - she knows that they'd be alright.

In the end, the reality of it isn't at all like Kara's fantasies. It's actually kind of silly.

Kara's coming back from an interview. She was up late writing the night before and she's tired, so she ducks in to pick up a coffee on her way back to CatCo. It's not her usual; it's an independent shop with polished concrete floors and fancy pour-over coffee and Kara's not really interested in any of that. But she is interested in the fact that they make coffee at all, and the fact that the croissants she can see in the front display case are approximately the size of her face.

(If she were paying more attention, she'd have realized that this shop is only a few blocks away from L Corp's tower. She might even have remembered the name, or the fact that Lena brought her coffee from this shop once before.

She doesn't.)

She orders her coffee - iced americano with extra room and sugar syrup - and her croissant. Then she stands by the bar, and waits for her drink. It looks incredible. She can practically taste it, the bitter-sweet mixing together with the richness of the cream she's going to add and gosh does she ever need that today.

When her drink is ready, she moves to the little table with the cream and the stir sticks. She finishes dressing it, is in the middle of searching for a straw when she hears a familiar voice and freezes. "No, I will absolutely not let this go. We have to set clear boundaries between L-Corp and any ties to Amertek, full-stop."

Kara takes a deep breath. This happens all the time. She sees a flash of dark hair or hears a voice with just the right timbre and her heart leaps into her throat. This is probably more of the same. But then she looks up and Lena is there, talking on her cell phone while she waits in line to order her coffee.

She's not ready. She's not ready to see Lena yet, she hasn't prepared, she doesn't know what to do. None of her daydreams accounted for the way her emotions would rise up, the feeling she'd get from seeing Lena in front of her. Anxiety hits Kara full-force, starting at the top of her head and trickling down her spine, settling in the tips of her fingers and toes. Her tongue feels tingly. She doesn't know what to do.

She tries to pick up her coffee and leave, but her hands are clumsy with nerves and her croissant is in the same hand and she fumbles, barely recovers to keep from dropping her coffee. The movement causes a loud clatter of ice against the side of her cup and a very ungraceful windmilling of her free hand. It's enough of a scene that Lena looks up from her call. She makes eye contact, and Kara hears the way her voice goes dead as she tells the person on the other end of the call, "I'll have to call you back."

Lena breaks her gaze away, and turns to focus on the barista at the counter. She orders her drink and Kara's too off-balance to hear what it is. She used to know Lena's coffee orders by heart: she has different ones for different moods, calculates caffeine doses for maximum efficacy if she needs to work late. Kara wonders if they've changed, since they last spoke.

She's still standing, stunned, when Lena finishes paying for her coffee and moves to wait for it to be made. She stands next to Kara.

Lena stands next to Kara and for a moment Kara's stomach drops with delight. Her heart flutters and squeezes, this sudden rush of Lena feelings coursing through her and making her even shakier. It feels like relief. It feels like everything she's been aching for, Lena finally here and real and she still smells the same, still looks like Kara's best friend in the whole world.

Kara realizes, too late, that her free hand is halfway up, raised as if to touch Lena's arm. It's automatic, an instinctive desire to check that Lena's real. That this is happening. Lena looks at her hand, pointedly, and takes a half-step to the side.

Kara shoves her hand into her pocket. "Lena," she says. "Hi."

"Kara," Lena says. She's not looking at her. She's looking straight ahead, her eyes watching the back of the espresso machine, waiting for her drink to be done. It feels like they're in an elevator.

Kara thinks about her apology speech. She has it, she's practiced it into the bathroom mirror a million times but now that Lena's here, she's not sure she can remember any of it. The words that she can recall feel hollow, insufficient to express the depth of what she's feeling. "It's good to see you," is what she says. Her voice sounds so small, even to her own ears.

"Thank you," Lena says. She doesn't say anything more. In front of them, the barista finishes Lena's coffee - triple americano in a large cup with hazelnut syrup, so she must be working late tonight - and sets it down on the bar. "Anyway. I really should get back to work. If you'll excuse me."

Kara takes a step backward, nearly fumbling her coffee again as she moves to give Lena space to get a lid for her drink. She watches as Lena fits the lid to the cup with efficient, precise movements. "Of course," she says. "Um. I hope you have a good day."

Lena's controlled expression falters for a moment, shifts into a flicker of some unnamed emotion that disappears before Kara can really read it. "Thank you, Kara," she says.

Her name doesn't sound right, when Lena says it like that. There's usually such a softness to it, the way Lena's tongue lingers over the first syllable and rolls into the second. But today her name is clipped, the barest hint of acknowledgement as Lena brushes past her and disappears onto the street.

Kara finds a free table, and sits. She's going to be late getting back to the office, but that doesn't feel like it matters, right now.

She waits in the cafe and breathes, until the ache in her heart eases enough that she can go back to work.

+

They don't speak for another two weeks, after that.

Kara spends four solid days parsing every millisecond of their meeting at the coffee shop in her head; another day processing it with Alex and a day after that processing it with Nia before she feels like she can relax about it. It just feels so - significant. Sure, it was awkward. And kind of terrible. And after work that night, Kara cried into one of her throw pillows like she hadn't in weeks, her heart feeling all of the hurt she felt over hurting Lena over again.

But Lena looked at her. Lena looked at her and said her name, and she hadn't done that in four full weeks so it's - that's progress. That has to be progress.

Kara does her best not to think about it. Let her come to you when she's ready, Alex tells her, and she's probably right but it's also probably the most difficult thing Kara's ever done.

But then there's someone selling advanced earth tech on the black market, stolen secrets and prototypes, and when Brainy suggests that the L-Corp storage facility might be under attack, Kara doesn't hesitate.

Lena won't be there. Kara has to remind herself of that. Lena won't be there because it's a warehouse, it's not her office or her apartment. Just because the building belongs to L-Corp doesn't mean Kara will see her.

True to Kara's expectations, Lena's not there.

But her tech is, and four thieves in drug-store gorilla masks and it's a shame that Lena's not there, because Kara's pun game is out of control amazing. And after the dust settles, Kara walks out of the building and there are the usual lights and sirens, and Lena Luthor.

She's standing next to her car, still dressed for work. Her hair is pulled back against her nape and she's wearing a coat and heels and it's just so familiar that it tugs at Kara's heart. Kara knows that pair of heels. Kara remembers Lena trying to decide if she should buy that coat or a similar one in a different color.

Kara gets that feeling again, her whole body going numb for just a moment at the sight of Lena.

Tonight she's Supergirl, though. Supergirl isn't fighting with her best friend. Supergirl doesn't fumble her iced coffee and then try not to cry in a coffee shop bathroom because she misses Lena so much that it hurts.

Lena's walking over to her. Kara takes a breath, and forces her best Supergirl voice. "Miss Luthor," she says.

"Supergirl," Lena replies. There's still a bit of a bite to the way she says it, but it's softer than it used to be. "I suppose I should be thanking you."

"Oh, it was no trouble," Supergirl says. "I'm just happy that I could help."

"I assure you, my security team would have been perfectly capable of handling the situation," Lena says.

"Oh," Supergirl says. Her voice falters; Kara Danvers is starting to shine through, nervous and hurting. "Well, I - if you'd like, I can leave things to your team in the future."

Something in Lena's expression softens. It's still not the same as it used to be. She's not showing any warmth, but there's a note of - it seems like it bothers her, that Kara might be feeling hurt.

They're a few feet away from the rest of the crowd, and with the sound of chatter and the roar of idling car engines around them, it's unlikely that anyone else will overhear them. Kara notices this, because she notices the way that Lena surveys the area to check. "I do appreciate it," she says. "Kara."

Lena says her name properly, this time. She says it softly, with caring and warmth and she meets Kara's eyes when she says it. The weight of that one word feels like enough to fill Kara's entire body with warmth. It makes her feel like she does when she sits under the sun lamps, bright and full of so much energy that she feels like she could fly all the way to the moon.

"Well then," Kara says. She's using her own voice now, not Supergirl's, and she's so happy that she can't help but risk a smile. "You're welcome."

Supergirl flies away.

Kara Danvers waits until she's gone a good distance, high enough that the air starts to turn to frost at the ends of her hair and far enough that she's at least on the other end of National City. There, she lets herself feel all of it.

Lena Luthor said her name. Lena Luthor didn't flinch when Kara smiled at her. It's progress. It's definite, for sure progress, and Kara laughs out loud into the night sky. She flies with her eyes closed, breathing in the harsh cold of the night air as her chest fills with a quiet sense of relief.

+

Lena is the one to break the radio silence. It takes another two weeks.

By the time Lena texts Kara back, Kara's sent her at least a hundred unanswered messages. (In Kara's defense, most of those were in the first week after they fought.) It's been eight weeks and three days and they've talked a total of twice in that whole time.

In the end, Lena doesn't respond to any of Kara's messages. Not the ones that Kara wrote with teardrops on her phone screen (Please talk to me??? I miss you.) and not the ones that Kara wrote in anger and not the long ones that Kara thought through on paper and transcribed into her phone.

In the end, the first text that Lena sends Kara is: Good news. I saw a dog today.

It's so - familiar. It's something Lena would have sent her six months ago. Kara remembers the week when she discovered that Twitter account that rated dogs, and sent Lena a different dog photo every few hours. She remembers Lena retaliating by taking a photo of a dog she met at a coffee shop, a selfie with a fluffy little Bichon and then the message: 11/10 would pat again.

Kara checks the timestamp on the message three times, just in case. It shouldn't make her emotional. It shouldn't, but her heart is racing a mile a minute and her breath is catching in her throat as she writes back: Tell me everything.
Lena does. Lena sends her a photo, a jolly-looking grey terrier with scruffy fur, making interested eye contact with the photographer. He's wearing a little dog-sized tweed suit jacket, and the whole effect is so cute that Kara has to bite back a little happy squeal in the middle of the CatCo newsroom. This is my new neighbor; his name is Jonathan.

It feels like Kara can breathe again. There's something that loosens in her chest; a grip that's been holding since she and Lena first fell apart. It's been there for so long, she'd stopped noticing, but once it eases she realizes how light everything feels. Lena has a new neighbour named Jonathan and he's the cutest dog in the world. Lena told her that.

It's definitely something.

Tell him he's the cutest dog in the whole universe, and I like his jacket.

From you or from Supergirl? Lena asks.

It makes Kara hesitate. It's the first time since their big fight that Lena's actually acknowledged the duality of her; the way that Kara wears her identities. Whoever? she says, hits the send button before she can think about it too hard.

But then she thinks of a joke. And if Lena's texting her, and Lena's talking about dogs, maybe - maybe it's okay. Actually, no. Tell him it's from Supergirl. she writes. I haven't seen a lot of space dogs but he's still cuter than all of them.

There's silence from Lena's end of the conversation. Kara's heart sinks. The joke was probably a mistake. It was too much, too soon.

She stares at her phone for a full five minutes, waiting for a message that doesn't come, before she shoves her phone under a stack of papers on her desk and goes back to work.

Ten minutes later, she hears her phone vibrate against the desk. She picks it up so quickly that she knocks the papers and a separate stack of file folders onto the floor; it's disruptive enough that Nia looks up from her monitor to laugh at her. There's a message from Lena on her home screen: a photo and a text.

She unlocks her phone with shaky fingers. Lena's sent another photo of Jonathan. In this one he's sitting, head tilted with one ear cocked. Jonathan sends Supergirl his regards.

It's so much. It's everything Kara's been wanting for eight weeks and three days and she feels like she's going to cry right here in the office. Nia rolls her chair around the corner next to their desks to stage-whisper, "Everything okay?"

Kara doesn't know how to reply, for a moment. Everything's okay but it's also not okay but it's also perfect. Lena talked to her. Lena sent her a dog photo, and they talked about space dogs.

There's a part of Kara that feels a little sad. That she didn't do this sooner. That she wasn't more honest from the start. She could have been texting Lena about space dogs this whole time; what a wasted opportunity. There's another part of Kara that feels so happy and light that she can hardly process it all. She's texting Lena about space dogs now, and Lena texted her first, and that means there's a chance that they could actually mend this. "Lena texted me," she whispers.

"What did she say?" Nia asks. Her voice is pointed and a little dark; she's ready to leap to Kara's defense, she realizes.

"No, no, I - she texted me something nice," Kara says. She's trying to keep her voice even, but she can hear it starting to wobble despite her best efforts. "I think she wants to be friends again."

Nia grabs Kara by the wrist, half-dragging her out of the chair. "Bathroom," she says. "Bathroom now, tell me everything, then I'm buying you an iced coffee."

It's kind; enough that Kara feels herself start to cry as Nia whisks her down the hall and into the single-stall bathroom that used to be Cat's private one. Everything's going to be okay, she thinks to herself, for the first time in months. They're going to be okay.

+

Things get a little better.

Lena's still not at game night. She still doesn't text about the big stuff, like when they can see each other again or how Kara can make amends for lying or how she feels about everything that's happened.

Lena sends her another update on her new dog-neighbour a few days after her first text. Kara replies with a recommendation for a new hipster-run donut-and-coffee shop that she's been wanting to share for weeks.

It's not everything. It's not back to the way that it was, not by a long shot. But the little stuff still feels so much better than nothing at all.

+

The next time they see each other face to face, it's for work.

Lena's stepped back from running CatCo almost entirely; Kara doesn't think she's seen Lena at the CatCo offices once since the day they fell apart. But there's a new tech product Lena's releasing, and James wants an interview.

When Kara raises her hand and offers to take the story, he gives her a long, hard look. He lets her take the assignment, though.

(Kara does her best not to overthink it. She knows that James and Lena are still friendly, and a part of her can't help but wonder if this means that he knows something she doesn't about how Lena feels.)

She feels fine until she gets to the lobby of the L Corp tower.

The security guard recognizes her. Of course he does; she visited Lena at work all the time, before. "Miss Danvers!" he says. His name is - Marco, she thinks that's it, and a quick glance at his ID badge confirms it. "It's good to see you again. It's been a while."

Kara forces a smile. "Oh, you know," she says.

Oh, you know, I'm a jerk and I've been lying to your CEO for years and she found out and hates me forever.

Oh, you know, I've been scared to show my face here because Lena threw my phone down thirty stories and called me a lying jackass.

Marco doesn't see any of that. It's comforting, in a strange way. She's not used to interacting with people who live in a world that isn't overshadowed by the weight of this big, broken thing between herself and Lena.

"They keep you too busy at Catco," he says with a shrug, as he gives Kara her visitor pass and signs her in. "I liked your article, though. The one about Mr. Luthor."

"Thanks," Kara says.

"You should write another one about all the good work we're doing," he says. He pushes a button at his desk, and unlocks the elevator to take Kara to Lena's floor.

"I'll try."

Then she enters the elevator, and she's alone with her nerves. She steps out at Lena's floor, and tries not to think about the last time she was up here.

(She tries her best not to remember the way things ended; taking the elevator the long way down alone in the middle of the night, teary-eyed, because she didn't feel comfortable flying in front of Lena.)

She nods to Lena's assistant - a new one, Kara's maybe met her once - and introduces herself. "Of course," the assistant says. "I see your appointment right here. I'll let Miss Luthor know."

Lena's new assistant gestures to a sofa across from her desk, a sort of waiting room outside Lena's office door. "You can wait right here until she's ready for you."

Kara sits. She perches herself as close to the edge as possible, ready to stand again as soon as Lena gives the go-ahead. She feels like she can taste acid in the back of her throat, she's so nervous. As if to punctuate it, her stomach does a flip.

She didn't have to wait for Lena to buzz her in, before.

Kara waits for five minutes, then ten. At minute eleven she starts to scroll through social media, mindlessly not-reading post after post, trying her best to ignore the worries running through her head. What if she's changed her mind. What if she hates me forever. I shouldn't have come.

At minute thirteen, the phone at Lena's assistant's desk rings. She listens for a moment, then says, "Of course, Miss Luthor."

She hangs up, and the pit of Kara's stomach clenches. She feels like she might actually be sick. Lena's assistant smiles. "You can go on in, Miss Danvers."

Kara breathes. She can go in. That's something.

Lena's office looks almost the same as it did before. There's one major element that's changed: the white desk in the center of the room has been replaced with a black one, metal and wood but no less modern. Its swooping lines are dramatic, more businesslike than the other. Lena's sitting in front of it, her tablet balanced against a stack of file-folders as she taps at it with the end of a stylus. "Miss Danvers," she says. "I was just finishing up."

Miss Danvers stings. The formality of it feels pointed; Lena setting clear boundaries on what Kara is here for. That this is a work meeting, nothing more.

"Of course," Kara says. Her voice sounds small; her nerves keep her from being more sure.

Lena keeps her waiting for minutes, as she finishes reviewing whatever document she's looking through. When she's done, she flips the cover over the screen and steeples her hands together, making eye contact. She doesn't speak.

Kara doesn't want to just get down to business. She tries to make small talk, but the only thing she can think to say is, "You got a new desk. I like it."

Lena shrugs. Her expression is emotionless and unreadable. "Turns out the old one couldn't be repaired, after - it was damaged."

(After Kara gripped the edge of it, said Lena, stop and closed her hands until she felt the plastic crack against her palms.)

"Oh," Kara says. "Right."

"Shall we get down to business?" Lena asks.

"Yes, um. Yeah. That sounds fine."

Kara tries to redirect her attention to her own breathing. She spends an extra moment noticing the way her chest expands on the inhale, the way everything relaxes a little as she exhales. They don't have to be best friends again, not yet. Kara just needs to get through this. She needs the interview.

There's a chair across from Lena's desk. It's different than the one that used to be there, before. Lena gestures, a flick of her wrist that somehow manages to tell Kara to sit down, rather than inviting her. Kara perches as close to the edge of the chair as she can, ready to stand at a moment's notice.

(She can stand the whole time. She doesn't have to sit. Standing is respectful, and she wants Lena to know that she respects her, that's important.)

"So," Lena says. "You're here about the new product launch."

"Yes," Kara says. "The, um. The smart watch?" If she's being honest, she'd almost forgotten. She got so caught up in all of this - the ways that being here feels familiar-but-different and how much all of that hurts - despite herself.

The product is the L Watch, the press materials have been very particular on that, but Lena doesn't correct her. She nods, opening a document on her tablet to begin rattling off technical details and product features. Most of it is lifted straight from the press release, but she gives Kara a few hints at new information as well; just enough to make Kara's article a little more comprehensive than the ones written straight from the press package.

Kara asks for some sound bites; Lena gives them.

Then they sit quietly.

Kara doesn't have any more questions to ask about the product launch. Normally, at this point in an "interview," Lena would laugh and push Kara's notebook aside. She'd tell Kara she had to get back to work, and Kara would suggest having something to eat - donuts, maybe, or that new noodle place across the street.

Lena would relent and this would turn into a little mini-date, the two of them eating and laughing and catching up about work, off the record.

Today, Lena doesn't look like she's in the mood to laugh or eat noodles or anything like that. She's impassive, her expression precisely as warm as is work-appropriate and not a bit more. Lena's gaze flicks down to her tablet, then to the clock on her desk. Kara feels emotion bubble up inside her, that specific Lena blend of worry and heartache and caring. She cares about Lena so much and she just wants Lena to know that, even if they never get to be friends again.

The moment feels like an opportunity. Kara seizes it.

"I missed you," she says. Her words hang in the air, too vulnerable and too emotional to really fit the conversation they've been having but they're honest, at least. Kara hopes that counts for something.

Lena pauses, her hand halfway through a gesture that Kara knows, the beginning of an automatic thank-you-for-your-time-but-really-you-must-be-going. She lowers her hand to her lap.

"I know you're not ready to forgive me yet," Kara says. "And that's okay. It's hard, because I miss you and I wish that everything could just be okay again, but I understand why it can't be. I just wanted you to know that it's been nice, talking to you again."

Kara's words come out in a rush. Her heart is racing by the time she's finished, a mix of adrenaline and relief at finally being able to say all the things she's been rehearsing - or part of it, anyway - to Lena directly. At least she's pretty sure that this time, she didn't cry.

Lena's quiet for a long while. She's not looking at Kara. She's looking at her hands in her lap, then at the screen of her tablet, then at the ceiling with eyes suddenly bright and a little watery. "I know," Lena says. Her voice comes out in a whisper, the tone something Kara can't quite read. There's sadness there, and something else that Kara can't decipher. It makes Kara's heart ache for her. For them. For what she did. "I missed you, too."

Lena says it like they're a tragedy. Like missing Kara is the worst thing to ever happen to her. Something in Lena's expression twists, that sadness growing more clear. Kara blinks, and suddenly her cheeks are wet. Correction: she didn't cry that much.

Kara wants to stay. She wants to leap across Lena's desk and scoop her up and hug her and hold her until Lena stops hurting. She wants to fix this so badly that she feels it like a physical pain, the ache of not being Lena's friend anymore so strong that she's not sure if she can stand it. "Do you want me to, um. Should I stay?"

Lena's quiet for a long while. Finally, she says, "I think you'd better go."

Kara nods. She can do this. She can go and respect Lena's boundaries and even if that means she's probably going to have to fly a few laps around the city to cool down. "Of course," she says. "Of course, I can - thank you, Miss Luthor."

Lena tries to smile; she manages a grimace. "Thank you, Miss Danvers."

Kara leaves. She tries to wipe her cheeks as casually as she can, as if it's normal to just casually leave a business meeting tear-stained with an aching heart.

If Lena's assistant notices, she keeps it to herself.

Kara stands alone at the elevator bay, listens through the wall for the low whir of the cars moving up and down, waiting for her ride.

+

As it turns out, the following week, she has to go back.

Kara's article is out and other outlets are reacting to it and James wants someone to write a follow-up, to include Lena's reaction to their reaction.

It's not entirely true, that Kara has to be the one to follow up. Kara doesn't have to go personally. She could have sent Nia, or Nia with that girl from the new batch of interns that Nia thinks is going places. But Kara volunteers to do it herself, looks James in the eyes and pretends that she doesn't notice the pointed angle of his eyebrows when she tells him calmly that it's her story, so she can be the one to follow up.

She goes after work. She's already confirmed with Lena's new assistant - Andrea, they're on a first name basis now - that Lena will be in until late tonight, makes an appointment for 6:00.

She stops by the cafe, the one where she and Lena saw each other for the first time, weeks ago. Kara picks up a couple of muffins, and orders a sandwich - turkey on whole wheat, extra lettuce, extra pickles - just in case.

L Corp is quiet. Marco's gone home for the night, his colleague is someone Kara doesn't recognize. He doesn't make small talk. He calls her Miss Danvers in a factual, detached tone, and buzzes her into the elevator. She eats her muffin in a single bite on the elevator ride.

It's quiet on Lena's floor, as well.

Andrea's there, and this time she greets Kara with a soft half-smile, calls her Miss Danvers with a bit more warmth than before. Kara offers Andrea her extra muffin - chocolate chip with chai spice - and Andrea's smile grows, the barest amount. "My favourite," she says. "How did you know?"

Kara pauses for a moment. The real answer is that she's seen Andrea around. That she's gone back to that coffee shop for her break almost every day, and she's noticed Andrea picking up a coffee order she recognizes as one of her ex-best-friend's usuals. That she's spent weeks trying not to be hurt, and definitely trying not to wonder whether Lena's asked Andrea to pick up her coffee to avoid Kara. That she's noticed Andrea lingering over the pastry case whenever they make the chocolate-chai muffins, and she's got a good memory for those sorts of details.

Kara shrugs, uses her most disarming Kara Danvers smile and says, "I'm a good guesser."

Andrea giggles back. "Well, I appreciate it." This time, Andrea doesn't bother to call. She motions to Lena's office door, says, "Miss Luthor is ready for you."

Kara tries not to think about what that means.

Lena's office is lit more softly, after hours. It's a strategy. She told Kara about it once, over late-night burgers and fries. She doesn't like to work too late, so she dims the lights, tries to wind herself down so that she'll be able to let work go and leave the office.

It feels like it did the night of their fight. Kara's trying not to think about that, either.

"Miss Luthor," she says, her toes barely over the threshold.

Lena looks up from her desk. Her hair is pulled back, her usual bun loosened just enough that it sits soft against her neck. She must have a headache.

It's strange, this space they're in. Like a sweater that doesn't fit quite right. Lena smiles and nods to acknowledge her like they're almost strangers. Kara sits on the corner of the chair across from Lena's desk politely, on her best behaviour. But they're also not any of that. Because Kara knows all of Lena's little tells: the set of her jaw, the way her shoulders start to lift when she's tense, the loose set of her hair that tells Kara she's worked her way into a tension headache. Lena knows all of Kara's tells, she's sure: the nervous tap of her palm against her thigh, the way she can't stop holding the bag with Lena's sandwich in it a little awkwardly, like it might be radioactive.

Kara hates it. It's better than no Lena at all, but this in-between space, where they're not-quite-friends, it prickles and itches at the limits of Kara's patience.

This probably would have been more efficient over the phone.

"I brought you, um." Kara holds up the sandwich bag, waves it back and forth before she sets it down on the little side table across from the sofa. "I know you're hungry sometimes, when you work late."

"Thank you," Lena says.

Kara moves to sit in the office chair across from Lena's desk, when Lena shakes her head. She freezes, squatting awkwardly midway. It takes her a moment to acknowledge that Lena probably doesn't want her to spend the interview like that, recover, and stand up. "I think it might be good for me to take a break from sitting behind my desk," Lena says. "If you don't mind?"

Hope flares in Kara's chest. Of course she doesn't mind. Of course she'd love to sit on the couch in Lena's office with her, to feel like they're something closer to friends again. "Yeah," she says. "That, um. Sounds good."

Lena's wearing a pencil skirt and a silk blouse and Kara still hasn't figured out how Lena manages to look like she's comfortable in clothing that fitted, but she does. She looks effortless, as she perches with her ankles crossed on the edge of the sofa, rolls her shoulders backward as though she's ordering them to relax.

Kara sits across from her. She's wearing trousers and a button-down shirt and she's trying to match Lena's posture, to sit like she's a controlled, professional reporter. But she doesn't want to. She wants to tuck her ankle underneath her thigh, wants to curl onto the couch and then pull Lena into cuddling with her. She wants to feel the weight of Lena's head on her shoulder, wants to breathe in the smell of Lena's shampoo, rich and overwhelming. She wants them to just be better again, that's all.

Kara takes a deep breath, and opens her notebook. "So, I'm sure your assistant let you know, I wanted to follow-up on the latest conversation people are having over the L Watch launch."

Lena meets Kara's eyes. She takes a breath, her face schooled into her usual calm professionalism, but as soon as she starts to speak, she falters. "I, um." Lena frowns, and suddenly she looks so sad.

Kara's first instinct is to backpedal. "Should I not - was the sandwich bad? I should go, I can just go, I'm sorry I didn't mean to -"

"Stop."

Kara freezes.

Lena inhales. It's shaky, and Kara doesn't miss the way it hitches in her throat. There are tears in her eyes, glimmering and threatening to fall. "Just stop - stop it."

"Oh. Alright, I can -" she closes her notebook, starts to get up. Lena's hand is around her forearm lightning-quick, urging her still.

"No, just. Stop leaving. Stop holding back, stop giving me space. Just stop."

Kara feels dread in the pit of her stomach, icy-cold enough to give her goosebumps all over. "What am I supposed to do?"

Lena rolls her eyes. It spills the tears pooling against her eyelashes and she swipes them away with her free hand, sighing. "I miss you, alright? I'm still angry but I miss you so much I don't care I just - I need my Kara."

That dread in Kara's belly bubbles into something hopeful, rises to the top of her throat and comes out in a big, loud, undignified sob. Kara's hands fly to her cheeks. She's already crying. "You do?" she whispers.

"Of course I do, you big idiot," Lena whispers. She's got both hands around Kara's forearm now, and there are tears dripping off the edge of her jaw and landing on her shirt, leaving perfect dark water marks. "You're my best friend."

Kara sobs again. "You're my best friend," she says. She can hardly speak from crying, and Lena's the one who ends up pulling Kara close. She wraps her arm around Kara's shoulders, then the back of her neck, pulling her close until Kara's resting her forehead against soft, expensive green silk and watching her tears drip into the fabric.

Lena's forehead fits so perfectly into the curve of Kara's shoulder. Kara's missed it there so much. Lena's shoulders shake and she lets out one perfect, shuddering sob and nuzzles herself against Kara's shirt.

Kara doesn't think she's ever felt happier.

She wraps her arms around Lena's back and it's such a relief. To be here, to know that Lena needs her, and that their friendship is worth fighting for. It's a relief to have the smell of Lena's hair all around her, to feel Lena's tears warm-wet as they soak through her shirt, to feel the warmth of Lena's body heat against her palms.

"Oh," Lena whispers after a while. Her voice is watery and a little congested; neither of them are crying delicately. "Oh, your shirt."

She pulls back, and Kara looks. There's a wet spot on her shirt, and two mascara stains running down it. Below it there's a smear of lipstick, the deep plum a perfect compliment to the blue of Kara's shirt. "Oh," Kara whispers. "It's fine. I have more shirts."

Lena's the first one to laugh.

It starts as a chuckle, but bubbles up into something longer and altogether joyful. She keeps laughing, and before long Kara joins in. It's the first time they've laughed together in months. "Let me get it cleaned," Lena says. "It's my fault."

Kara shakes her head. "But if I hadn't been a jerk, you wouldn't have cried in the first place. This is my fault, my drycleaning bill."

Lena shakes her head. "If you insist."

"I do," Kara says. There's a lightness to her, now. She feels better, in a way that she hasn't since they first fought. It's the first time she really believes what everyone's been telling her: that they'll get through to the other side of this.

"I'm still angry," Lena cautions. "I still want to talk about it."

"Maybe over dinner?" Kara asks, not trying to hide the hope in her voice.

Lena's smile is familiar; the indulgent one she saves for Kara. "Maybe," she says. "I'll have Andrea check my calendar."

"Your calendar," Kara echoes. "I'd like that."