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pour me a drink

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Lena starts from scratch.

There’s not really another option for where else to begin, all things considered.

This whole adventure opens with a Google search of open apartments in National City, and after a dizzying stream of results, she taps the search bar and amends it to two bedrooms . She considers single bedroom — it is just her, after all — but something sticky pricks at the back of her throat at the idea, and she decides that it would feel like conceding to her mother’s doubts if she were to live alone in a one bedroom apartment, like giving up. 

So, two it is. She could use a home office anyway, she reasons.

Renthop.com has a grossly dysfunctional mainframe set up, and there’s something distrustworthy about apartments.com , so naturally she ends up on rent.com because she supposes that’s where everyone on the west coast goes at some point or another. She taps through these sites as she lays crookedly across the king-sized cloud of a five-star hotel, naked except for the plush, dark red bathrobe tied around her waist. 

She starts putting out a few requests to tour the apartments once she breaks into the minibar’s champagne, and they range from sleek, modern fish tanks with crisp edges and cold floor plans, much like the apartment she left back in Metropolis, to practical urban cabins floating 30 storeys high in the middle of a major urban center, walls lined with cherry-wood pillars, Brazilian floorboards and even a chandelier hand-carved from deer antlers. The latter, she really only drops an offer on so she can actually see it in person, but in the end, she settles for somewhere in the middle. 

It’s two days later and only 68 hours after drafting a letter that she leaves on her mother’s desk that Lena Luthor checks out of the hotel and hails a cab uptown in order to stroke her signature on a few lines of a freshly-printed lease. The apartment she’s chosen is on the northeastern side of National City, close enough to the water that she can see it from her high balcony, only a modest protrusion from her bedroom window. She could fit a compact lounging chair and perhaps a low table for a rocks glass to sit on, but not much else. The apartment itself is fairly new, has all the new wiring and appropriate finishings, but the building and the company running it are old and discreet — exactly the kind of people she’s looking for. The floors are finished with some kind of white oak stain, which does well to maintain relative coolness in the residual summer heat, along with the off-white bare walls and white granite countertops. Everything is just so pale and white and so beautifully unlike the grim darkness of her last apartment, with little room for shadows or wallowing, and everything is so clean that Lena knows there is no room for hiding here.

It occurs to her exactly thirty-five seconds after the realtor has closed the door behind herself, leaving Lena alone in her new apartment, that she hasn’t taken even a moment to consider furniture. 

She barely takes a moment to think about the potential issues that might arise should she actually stroll through the aisles of a Bed, Bath & Beyond, the risks it poses. She chews over the small voice in her head that cautions her against it for about another seventeen seconds before she’s scooping one of the two loose keys off the countertop, slipping it into a zipper in her wallet, and breezing out the door entirely.

xx

Of course, she really should have considered it for much longer. Maybe even a minute of foresight would have saved her plethora of anxiety, the crisp sharp kind, the nail-biting and skin-scratching type where she both desperately has to cry and also couldn’t if she tried.

It starts rather harmlessly. 

Lena’s already been to a Royal Pedic outlet for a king-sized tempurpedic mattress and bedframe that would be delivered and assembled in her bedroom by the time she’s finished shopping, along with a hunter-green Dakota sofa from Havertys for her living room. The rest, she’d reasoned twenty minutes ago, could easily be checked off a shopping list at BB&B. She’s since dismissed the store representative that had taken to following her like a timid shadow throughout the store as Lena worked her way throughout the store with a tablet in hand, checking and adding things to a figurative cart. Honestly, she’s trying to be less plush about her whole financial situation, unlike the last eight years of her life since she graduated from MIT, but surely she can’t be expected to actually lug a cart around for everything she needs. No, she tried that at a Target for groceries already, and she nearly started hyperventilating in the condiments aisle. 

Alright, maybe she placed an order for a vanity from Gucca Italy, but their product just smells so fresh for years after the purchase. 

But the rest of her things — she can totally get from here.

This is precisely her downfall.

Lena is stroking a hand over red Egyptian cotton bath towels, wondering if putting an order in for her favorite Turkish cotton towels would be too gaudy of her, when she hears a sharp intake of breath from somewhere beside her.

She only half-registers the sound at first, deep in thought, but is promptly pulled out when:

“Oh, my God, dude, is that Lena Luthor? Dude are you looking?”

“Bro, quit it, you’re so fucking— wait, what? Where?”

“Dude, right in front of you, oh my God, it so is.”

Grinding her jaw to offset the sudden cold sweat at the nape of her neck, to keep her grounded, Lena nonchalantly untucks her hair from behind her ear so that it falls into her face more, and starts to turn in the opposite direction of the two college-aged boys whispering. She makes it a few good steps away, face tucked down into the tablet to hide her face, but the boy’s voice had already carried and continued to drift in the factory-like open floor plan of the shopping store, and Lena can practically feel people’s gazes start to lift as they notice her.

Lena makes it three aisles away when a middle-aged woman with short, blonde hair and tight skin pulling her thin lips into quivering frown stops her, stepping into Lena’s path.

“Excuse me,” Lena begins, going to side step the woman, but she quickly rushes to stay in front of Lena.

“My boy, he was twelve, you know.”

Lena comes to a hasty stop in the store, a small horde of bystanders already forming around them. She knows, fuck does Lena already know, she always knows how it goes, and so she mentally sucker punches herself for even asking but, “I’m sorry?” 

The woman’s mouth shakes harder, and what had first been a trembling melancholy in her eyes now quickly sharpens to something much darker, something meaner, and Lena always knows how this goes.

“My son ,” she spits out like her words are her weapon. “He was twelve and he wanted to be a scientist, he wanted to help people.” The woman tilts her head, eyes flickering over Lena’s face as if searching for something. “He wanted to change the world, and instead you took him from it.”

Lena doesn’t flinch, but her heart hammers all the same as she looks down, her skin taut over her jaw, hands clammy and shaking around the edges of the tablet as she forces her voice to stay level when she says, “Ma’am, I-I didn’t, it wasn’t—”

Lena doesn’t even realize what’s happened, not until the woman is sneering and storming off down the store walkway and something wet and sticky slips down her cheek and Lena hastily wipes it away with her scarf, that it sinks in that the woman just spit on her.

From a practical standpoint, it’s not the worst outcome of these situations, and Lena deflates. There was the father two weeks ago in Metropolis who had to be escorted out of the lobby of LuthorCorp kicking and screaming after he’d lunged at Lena with biting threats and swears to hell. There was the woman 12 days ago in the locker room of her spin class that slapped her across the face and snarled that Lena was pathetic for standing behind a murderer, that she might as well have been one herself, as though she hadn’t very publicly cooperated with the police and denounced her brother in a nationally broadcasted courtroom. And then there was the protester last week who snuck past security where Lena was visiting Siobhan filming her latest movie, where a complete and total stranger pepper-sprayed Lena and, consequently, everyone else within a ten foot radius. This all led to a two-hour-long argument in Siobhan’s trailer and ended with a bitter, exhausted, “ Shit, I just can’t do this anymore, Lena.

So, as far as these things go, it hasn’t been the worst one yet, but Lena had figured this was something she’d leave behind in Metropolis, and she still doesn’t know how to deal with them, much less the aftermath. The assembly of people around her all have relatively the same varying expressions on their faces, ranging from sour pity to second-hand humiliation, and a hell of a lot of grimaces.

With hands shaking so bad they feel volatile, Lena manages to hand the tablet back to an employee with an apology, and that she’ll order her things online, before she leaves.

xx

So yeah, she wishes she’d just gotten what she needed online in the first place, because now she was sitting at a rather mediocre bar downtown with a glass of whiskey dangling from her fingertips, feeling completely and miserably sorry for herself.

The bar’s alright, as far as they go, even if Jameson is the nicest whiskey they have and the pool table wedged at the back corner costs three dollars in quarters, and the long length of the narrow bar is rather tight with not much space for lingering about if you don’t have a seat at the bar. But, conveniently for Lena, it’s dark, and it’s loud, and not the kind of place where people look you in the eye too much.

She’s thanking the bartender for her refill when a woman with short, cropped hair hops onto the stool beside her, leaning towards Lena.

Instinctually, she wants to turn away, make it clear she’s not interested even minimally in just a conversation with a stranger, but her chest stutters for a second and she thinks about how she actually met Siobhan in a bar not that different from this one, all those years ago in Boston. Which is how Lena ends up instead turning ever so slightly towards the woman who’s just sat beside her, even goes so far as to offer up a small, languid smile.

“Alright, I gotta know,” the woman opens with, propping her elbow onto the bar and eyeing Lena with the kind of cocky smirk one adopts after a few too many drinks.

She takes the bait. “Know what?”

“How in the hell am I the only person dying to talk to you right now?”

Lena chuckles, runs her tongue along her teeth as she raises an eyebrow. “What makes you think you’re the first?”

The woman laughs, her grin widening, and she leans in closer like she knows this is going well for her, like she knows Lena is lonely enough to keep this up and might even do something recklessly juvenile tonight if she plays her cards right, when something flickers across her eyebrows.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, can’t she just have something?

The woman cocks her head first for a second, like she’s trying to remember something, her eyes dropping over Lena’s features, scanning. But Lena is already reaching into her purse for her wallet, already plucking a twenty-dollar bill and dropping it on the counter, already downing her drink by the time the woman says it:

“Shit, you know you look a lot like that Luthor chick.”

To which, Lena swiftly salutes her fingers, sliding from the barstool. “Have a great rest of your night.”

Jesus, she can’t even stew in a self-deprecating, drunken stupor at a lonely city bar properly. Is it her? Should she be making different moves to disguise herself somehow? Okay, yes, changing her hair color or chopping it off wouldn’t quite as theatrical of a reaction to a breakup as moving across the country, but still — it feels dramatic and tacky, and she’d rather avoid that route if she can.

It’s still not as pathetic, though, as bursting out into the harsh, cold air of the evening with a sob lodged in her throat as she ducks into the nearest alley so she can keel over and really cry . Like, the ugly snot-bubbling-from-her-nose kind of cry, with hiccups and gasps, all over piles of trash that smell like old Kung Pao chicken and shoe polish.

She doesn’t stay there for long, (read: sobbing like a fragile child) and soon she picks herself back up together. Lena rubs her nose on the tail-end of her scarf and — wow, this scarf has really had better days — and trudges on home with her head down. The only sign of her relative breakdown are red-trimmed eyes and the occasional sniffle.

At this point, even the notion of hailing a cab or calling a Lyft is enough to send a shiver down Lena’s spine. So she bundles down, winding her black peacoat tightly around her with her nose tucked into her filthy scarf, and walks home.

It’s not until she’s riding the elevator up to the thirty-sixth floor, listening to a watered-down tune of poorly synchronized violins, that she remembers she has nothing but a bed and a couch to come home to. No sheets, no towels, pillows, groceries, nothing.

With her eyes sticky at the corners from crusted-over tears and pale, pink fingertips from the cold, Lena is far too exhausted to do much more than kick off her heels and clamber onto the bare couch set against the far wall. She tugs her coat more securely around herself, stuffs an elbow under her head for support. Her last thought before slipping into an unrestful slumber is that she really should have bought a damn sectional and not this tiny, overpriced sofa.

xx

The next morning, she gets up, because, well. What else is there to do?

Also, she has the most foul, rancid taste in her mouth from the whiskey and not brushing her teeth, and she may not be hungover but she scrambles for the bathroom to rinse out the cotton-mouth nonetheless.

Lena indulges herself with another bout of self-pity as she sinks to the bathroom floor, rubbing the sleep from her face and pushing her hair back over her scalp. 

There’s a bitter humiliation stirring in her stomach as she thinks over the previous night. How fucking stupid is she? To think that she can actually go back to the nights where she’d get picked up at bars by unnamed, painfully beautiful women who want nothing more to do with her than to get their hands on her ass? She’s not naive enough to think that her relationship with Siobhan might’ve lasted, not after everything, not with the gory target slathered across her back. A relationship for her is out of the question, not with anyone who knows who she is, alright, she gets that. But does she really have to lose the right to nice and dirty, regrettable one night stands? What is she supposed to do now, start an assorted vibrator collection, download porn, and fantasize away?

Lena groans, dropping her head back into her palms.

The pity-party doesn’t last too long, and eventually Lena scoops herself off the bathroom floor. At first, it’s like twisting her own ear to force herself back onto her couch and pull her laptop out from her suitcase, to refrain from checking emails or sleeping the rest of her day away, but Lena’s itching for a hot shower and she can’t do so until she actually buys things for this damn place.

So. She spends the next few hours placing various different orders in different intervals, taps out a Postmates order for breakfast and phones the doorman downstairs to double-check every deliverer’s identification before allowing any up. Throughout the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, entourages of delivery personnel are in and out of her apartment, dropping off packages, groceries, furniture. Some stick around and assemble things for her, deep chocolate bookshelves, a maple-wood dining table, and that Gucca Italy vanity finally arrives as well.

Alright, fine , in a moment of weakness she places an order for those Turkish towels she desperately misses. Fucking sue her.

She’s sure to be as politely reserved as possible, rarely leaving her perch on the couch where she can continue adding item after item to her shopping carts on four different windows and nine different tabs. She only interacts with them to quickly open the door, gesture to a corner, and drop a bill on the counter for them to collect on their way out as a tip. The less chance they have of noticing her face, the better.

And, okay, maybe she’s already being extra enough by hiding behind a pair of black Ray Bans while indoors and staring at a computer screen, but she swears it’s an essential safeguard.

Eventually, somehow, it’s well into the afternoon, the far trim of orange horizon licking into the fading paleness of the darkening sky, and Lena hasn’t eaten since the açai bowl she ordered that morning. While she rummages through her freezer for one of the gourmet, frozen dinners she’d stocked up on, her gut starts to churn when she thinks about how she basically just spent her entire day on her couch overdosing on retail therapy, and suddenly her long, accomplishing day that took a teeth-pulling strength of energy to get through, just doesn’t quite feel so productive anymore.

As she’s chewing over a bite of steaming sweet potato, half-pondering whether what she’s eating is actually any different from a basic Lean Cuisine meal she could buy for four dollars, Lena starts itching for a drink. Like, a stiff one. One that doesn’t have an aftertaste like rubbing alcohol and that doesn’t remind her of the mediocre cast parties Siobhan used to take her to before her career took off and they started cashing in on the more luxurious invitations. If last night — and just the last month of her life in general — are anything to go by, she no longer can just waltz into any bar she pleases, order a drink and mind her own business. Because while, sure, she’s painfully craving physical intimacy to ward off the crippling loneliness of being ostracized by most of society, she’s more desperate to just be left alone .

It’s why she came to National City in the first place — a fresh start, as ridiculously cliché as that is. It’s a major urban center on the opposite side of the country where she can forget the blood on her hands from her own inactions (because she didn’t do anything, no, she didn’t, that’s exactly the fucking point) and maybe learn how to not lead such a frivolous existence. Granted, some desolate cabin on a snow-capped mountain would be a better place to truly be alone , but there’s something fleetingly juicy about being able to simply exist in a room full of people and not have a single person know who you are or care to find out. 

The more crowded a place, the more likely people are too concerned with the ever churning cogs of their own lives to stop and take in every face around them. Well, so she thought.

It’s this train of thought that reminds her — Lena has been to National City before, once, two years ago, when she was fending off flashing cameras and TMZ tails for much different reasons.

It’s not— 

Okay, it isn’t exactly ideal.

But short of staying in her apartment and Postmates-ing a bottle of wine to her door before she inevitably remembers she doesn’t have a corkscrew yet, she’s not left with a whole lot of options.

Because if there’s one place in this damn city where, if she were recognized, she would still be left to her own devices, or even better, she’d be the least famous person in the room and looked over entirely…

It’s Roulette.

xx

The only drawback in her foolproof plan is that, in order to actually get into the club, she does have to use her real name. She has to drop the acidic L-bomb three times to get in — once to the nondescript doorman lounging against the brick wall of the alley in a hoodie and jeans who types away on his phone and only offers Lena a spare glance before waving her into the creaking metal door; the second time is when she steps into a hallway dimly lit with red lights lining the footway that leads to an elevator which two security guards stand on either side of. When she does let  the name off her lips, there’s a brief eyebrow raise and an exchanged glance between the two men, but otherwise they call the lift for her and allow her inside. One of them follows her inside with a curt nod, standing between Lena and the keypad before he presses the second of only two buttons. 

The elevator hisses up to a storey that is definitively not the second floor in a relatively long but swift trajectory. Before the doors even slide open, Lena can already hear the tell-tale pumps of music, the fluctuating, faint hum of overlapping chatter.

And then they’re opening, parting like curtains, and the dark hallway she walks down quickly opens up to a more open, dark room; to her right, a glass wall and door lead out onto a balcony where Lena can make out the silhouettes of a few people languidly smoking in front of a blurry cityscape skyline. To her left are set of doorways she remembers to be the bathrooms, and in front of her stands a woman in a blood-red, skin-tight gown, her luscious, blonde-streaked hair curling around her neck and over the front of her shoulder, the other painted with intricate ink, standing behind a simple hostess stand with nothing before her but a dark cell phone. Behind her is a glass wall draped with dark curtains only faintly parted to reveal a clear, metal-paned doorway with a thick red carpet rope crossing in front.

“Oh, Lena Luthor, it’s been too long.”

So, the third time, she doesn’t have to drop the name herself, it’s done for her.

Lips tight and arms still at her sides, Lena steps slowly up to the small podium. “Veronica.”

Veronica’s red lips twist at the corners into a smirk. “Come on, I know you’re at least a little bit excited to see me.”

Lena sighs through her nostrils, resists the urge to roll her eyes. “It’s nice to see you,” she relents.

Veronica laughs. “That’s better. But really, it has been a while. What brings the innocent Luthor all the way over to my end of the neighborhood?”

Lena’s already regretting this, already considering turning right back around and dipping into a liquor store for her preferred poison, can feel the thumps in her chest growing louder, and yet — 

She must be pretty pathetically lonely if having the driest small talk in the universe with Veronica Sinclair, of all people, is actually scratching at the unreachable, unspeakable itch in her heart.

“I’m checking out some new job opportunities,” Lena tells her, clearing her throat. It’s not completely a lie.

“Oh?” 

“Careful, V, your interest is showing.”

Veronica scoffs playfully, leaning forward on her elbows just so. “Please. The whole world is interested, at this point.”

“I’ll remember that if I’m struck with the sudden urge to be interviewed. May I head in?” Lena gestures to the door behind Veronica, who tilts her head in response.

“What, no Siobhan this time?”

It’s bait, it’s such fucking bait, because — okay, Siobhan’s not like, famous famous, she doesn’t have Taylor Swift’s phone number or anything (no matter how often she’ll insist in public that she does), and Lena herself is only well known if you fall into either Siobhan’s fanbase, follow the careers of her family members’, or you just so happened to be really into The Killers when that one music video she starred in came out in 2013.

But the point is — there’s been a lot of air around her lately, and it didn’t take very long after someone sniffed up the trail left behind when Lena fled the city for them to trace it to a breakup. And everyone in the industry knows: the quieter, more anticlimactic the breakup, the more scandalous it must be in the tabloids the next day. 

Someone in Veronica’s position, working a job that requires her to know the intricate details behind every person’s career, with a tightly secured lid of discretion — there was no way in hell she doesn’t know.

“Not tonight.”

“What a shame.” Veronica grins, bites her bottom lip. “If you change your mind about that… interview, well. You know where I’ll be.”

Veronica steps back from the podium to unhook the red rope hanging over the door, holding it aside as she waves Lena in. “Enjoy your night, babe.”

Lena doesn’t have the greatest memory of the place; the shape of the long room with low tables and dark leather couches tucked all along the right side against floor-length windows, the left with evenly-spaced high top tables, all under a thrumming pale-red glow, occasionally sliced by the rotating dance floor lights at the opposite end — it’s all vaguely familiar, but like a dream. She hadn’t exactly been sober when she came here two years ago, had likely been a few tequila shots into her night. 

Lena’s skin now prickles with the staggering awareness of how stone-cold sober she is. Which, in a club, is never a good feeling, and so she makes a straight shot down the room for the bar at the end.

It’s too dark to make out who anyone is as she passes through the crowded club, too loud to pick up on familiar voices, but she’s not too concerned. Yet, anyway.

Once at the end, the room once again splits open into two areas; on the right, the floor steps down a few levels into a wide ocean of a dance floor thrumming with bodies, smoke and strobing lights, until the walls round out and narrow down to a DJ spinning in a glass booth. To her left, up a very short, curved flight of stairs, the bar looks over the whole floor, safely elevated from any speakers pointing in the opposite direction. This is where Lena heads up next, pulling down self-consciously at the hem of her short, black lace cocktail dress.

It’s surprisingly uncrowded up here away from the floor, there being a scattered few of empty seats at the bar and only a couple groups of bystanders lingering around the edges, making use of the quieter space to engage in actual conversation. Because, thankfully, the acoustics were thought out by whatever architect Veronica hired to design the place, for the mind-crunching music really doesn’t penetrate the area of the bar all too much. Lena lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding when she drops onto an empty barstool in the middle, dropping her clutch unceremoniously onto the bar top and shuts her eyes. It’s like stepping entirely into a different room, and she basks momentarily in being able to hear her own thoughts again.

“There’s a spot out back that’s better for naps, if you want.”

Lena blinks open her eyes, taking in the bartender in front of her who tucks a dark rag into the back pocket of her black jeans with a cheeky smile. She’s actually rather cute, Lena realizes, with long blonde hair tucked back into a tight ponytail, curly tendrils sneaking out on both sides to frame her face. God, Lena takes so much as a walk in the park with her hair tied back like that and every strand of hair suddenly wants to burst out in a frizzy mess, she can’t imagine what it would take to look that composed while working .

It takes a second to register what on Earth the bartender is talking about, but when it does, Lena laughs, though it comes out more a disbelieving huff of air, and she becomes suddenly uneasy about how unfamiliar it feels to pull her mouth into a smile, like there’s a way to do it wrong.

“Thank you, but I think I’ve done enough mindless lying around today.”

“Oh don’t tell me that, jealousy is not a cute color on me.”

Lena can’t really imagine any color that wouldn’t look good on this woman, she notes as she takes in the broad, shoulders and sculpted arms wrapped in a tight black t-shirt that hugs down deliciously narrow hips where it tucks into the low-hanging skinny jeans. 

She’s awfully too sober to be mentally stripping someone like this.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lena assures. “I’ll have whatever you don’t like, in that case.”

The woman laughs, this childish, gleeful giggle that’s infectious enough it almost makes Lena laugh again as well, but she keeps it to a tight-lipped smile hidden behind her fingers as she rests her chin in her palm.

“Alright,” the woman says, already stretching to reach a shelf behind her. If her shirt rides up a bit above her ass and Lena’s gaze drops, well, she’s only human. “But I’m not gonna take it back if you don’t like it.”

“Deal.”

The woman pouts, suddenly, hesitating before pouring two different liquors into a shaker. “No, gosh, I’m kidding, if you don’t like it, I promise I wouldn’t—”

“It’s fine, I’ve got a wide palate.” Lena waves her on.

The woman ends up making her some kind of whiskey cocktail with a pale, amber hue to it served up in a martini glass, in it floating a twisted orange rind, the entire thing glowing under the red lights.

When Lena brings the rim of the chilled glass to her lips and tastes the sharp drink, the bartender’s eyes eagerly flitting over her face for a reaction, Lena’s first thought is that… well, it’s certainly got whiskey, and it’s essentially a Manhattan with an extra something else that she can’t put her tongue to, but it’s good . Like, dangerously good — a sophisticatedly subtle bite of ginger combined with the natural smoky edge that a good whiskey has, it’s heavenly .

“Oh fuck, that’s amazing.”

The bar itself is rather long, since it winds in a large U and doubles around on itself for double the seats, and before the bartender can respond, another one is poking around the bend at the apex with an exasperated look on her face.

“For Christ’s sake, Kara, 13’s been waving at me for five minutes, can you take care of that?”

“One sec,” the bartender — Kara — promises with an adorable smile before the other bartender has even finished their sentence, already making her way down the bar to another patron.

Left alone to her own thoughts, Lena slumps into her seat and pulls her phone from her bra.

She’s not one for social media, at least not lately. She hasn’t been particularly interested in making tentative interactions online or throwing out tidbits of herself that could be easily misconstrued or held against her much later, not after everything that happened with Lex. But she does still have multiple platforms set up to notify her if her name comes up in any news outlets or tabloids.

It’s never been the healthiest channel to pop culture, but it became even more addictive this last month, notifications pinging across her home screen comically fast that first week in the aftermath of the news.

It’s not quieting down yet, per se, but the media is definitely losing steam when it comes to her. The last thing that surfaced was a wave of articles speculating her hasty departure from Metropolis, most correctly connecting it to her abrupt breakup mixed with an overwhelming pressure of being related to him coming together in a volatile instability that sent her fleeing. A couple weighed in that she was even still conspiring with her brother, and that her escape was moreso a mission to spread the suffering elsewhere, to expand his terrain of suffering, which is ludicrous because how would she even do that — but, well.

The only one suffering out here is Lena, anyway.

But the cocktail does a little something to quell the disgusting loneliness in her chest.

Thankfully, there’s no one reporting on spotting her near Roulette, and with that small consolation of relief she slips her phone back into her bra.

It isn’t long before Kara comes bouncing back, dumping a glass of ice into an unseen sink behind the bar. “So listen,” she starts, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and glancing up at Lena. “I’m really stressed out right now, because you’ll never guess what just happened.”

The lilt to Kara’s tone and the way the corner of her mouth twitches like she’s trying to hold back a smile just amuses Lena in and of itself. 

So, she takes the bait. “Yeah? What’s that?”

“So basically, just now — wow like five minute ago — the past, present, and future just walked right into the bar.” She blows out an exaggerated puff of air. “It was tense.”

It’s such an awful joke but, sue her, Lena lets out a loud laugh, covering her mouth again with her hand. 

Kara is off again at the beckoning of another customer, gliding swiftly behind the bar, bouncing on her toes while Lena’s still catching up with the joke. Lena watches her thoughtfully, trying to not make it painfully obvious that she’s leering like a teenager, but it only takes her so far. Every now and then, while Kara’s rattling her cocktail shaker over her shoulder she catches Lena’s eye and smiles softly. Or Kara will sneakily pop a maraschino cherry into her mouth and try to be subtle while she chews it, only to catch Lena’s raised eyebrow, and then she winks a little clumsily as she swallows it down. 

And of course, there are more jokes.

“So I’m mixing some margaritas, and this dog — you know Alec Baldwin? Yeah, his dog comes right up to the bar, and goes, ‘ hey barkeep, it’s my birthday today. How ‘bout a free drink?’

Lena’s already struggling to suppress her laughter and Kara isn’t even finished with the joke yet, but the impression Kara puts on for the parts are cartoonish and goofy, and it just feels so good to laugh.

“And so I go, yeah! For sure, pal, the toilet’s just right down the hall.”

Although, Lena’s personal favorite has to be:

“Oh! Right, last night, this guy runs into the bar and asks me to pour him a shot of every scotch I’ve got, to line it up real nice for him, right? So I do, and he just starts pounding them back, and I tell him, hey buddy you’re drinking those pretty fast, and he goes, ‘ you would be too if you had what I have ,’ and I’m thinking dang, this guy must’ve gotten some pretty awful news, right? And so I ask, well, what do you have? And you know what he says?”

(Lena would fucking murder a man if it meant she could squeeze those adorably dimpled cheeks)

“No, what’d he say?”

“He goes, ‘25 cents, ’ and bolts it right out of here.”

All in all, Lena’s charmed. Like, thoroughly charmed and smitten and she can’t really remember the last time that warm pleasant feeling blossomed in her chest when someone just wanted to talk to her. It’s like drinking that first sip of a perfectly hot espresso when Kara came back up to her again, that tingling warmth that stretches up the back of her neck and cradles her cheeks. It’s just infectious.

She just wants to scramble to cling to it, like a high that she knows will quickly fade once the novelty has worn off, but maybe if she just digs her nails in, it might stay.

Okay maybe there’s a reason they say that three martinis is when shit starts to get weird.

Lena’s disappointed to be licking up the last drops of her drink, is reluctant to turn down Kara’s upbeat smile as she pulls the empty glass away and asks if Lena wants yet another.

A glance at the gold-plated face of her watch, it’s already nearing 1 a.m., and it’s been a while since Lena stayed out this late. Not since—

Well, before.

“Unfortunately, it’s getting time to call it, I think. I’ll grab the check whenever.” Lena slides her credit card across the bartop.

Kara’s hip cocks out slightly as she pouts, her lips scrunching together. “Ah, okay. Thanks for laughing at my jokes.”

“Are you always this much of a comedian?”

Kara shrugs nonchalantly as she swipes Lena’s card through the strip at the computer. “Nah. You just seemed like you could use a laugh.”

Lena is still blinking, nonplussed, by the time Kara slides her receipt and card across to her with a pen. Her smile is wide, easy and shining, even in the dimness of the crimson-lit bar, even through the somewhat muffled pounds of music.

“It was a pleasure to serve you, Miss…” Kara lets the sentence hang, almost not even a question at all, like it would be up to Lena’s discretion whether or not to offer her name at all, but the ever-slight rising intonation of her sentence makes it clear that she’s willing to hear it.

If Lena is willing to give it.

But she only drops the L-bomb three times tonight, and this isn’t one of them.

“Lena,” is what she settles for.

“It was my pleasure, Lena. I’m Kara. Obviously.”

Lena laughs. “Have a good rest of your night, Kara.”

Lena’s never been very good at words, or expressing gratitude — she doesn’t have the longest list of strengths to begin with, but she does know how to drop a clean-cut signature, so if she tacks on a hundred-dollar tip to the tab before Kara notices, well. 

Throwing money is what she knows how to do.

xx

When Lena gets home half an hour later, she’s stumbling on her heels more from exhaustion than anything else. Which, she’s not even sure why, considering she spent her day in a long cocoon of wallowing with her feet kicked up, but — whatever.

She does have enough energy this time around to scrub her face clean of makeup, to brush her teeth, if somewhat lazily, before crashing onto her new silk Armani sheets. 

And maybe for the first time in a month, she falls asleep with a smile on her face.

Chapter Text

When Lena’s eyes blearily blink open to a sunlit room the following morning, her first thought is that the silk sheets were the best idea she’s had in a long time.

The second thought, which takes a few moments for her discombobulated brain to string together coherently, is that she has utterly and absolutely no idea where to go from here.

She has no job, no friends, no family — not anymore, not really — no purpose . Lena’s not sure if she even remembers how to hold a friendship for longer than it takes a barista to scribble her name across the side of a paper cup. She hasn’t updated her resume in over six years, and she’s not sure she ever even learned how to cook something using any sort of appliance more complicated than a microwave. She’s completely, embarrassingly alone in this city, with nothing to offer and nothing to take.

Yeah, good morning to her.

A yawn falls from her drool-crusted mouth and she stretches her arms high over her shoulders, joints popping and a small groan building at the back of her throat. Lena shuffles out of the safe cocoon of her bed, shucks aside the covers. The pads of her bare feet brush at the sharp coolness of the hardwood floors, sending a shock up her legs, and she has half a mind to retreat back into the safety of her bed and hide there all day, all week. But she doesn’t have anyone to bring her coffee to bed, not anymore

She does rouse eventually, makes for the bathroom and mindlessly brushes her teeth. Her own thoughts begin to grow sharper, more vivid in their subsequent darkness. It’s unsettling to think how long she could last like that, for how long she could survive in this small apartment feeding off Postmates and becoming the kind of person who binges trashy reality TV until it fries her brain and the circles under her eyes become permanent. How long she could stretch her inheritance to keep her going and going, living meaninglessly and endlessly in this void of an apartment, forever, no contact with anyone in the outside world. Hell, she might even forget that the external world exists at all and she could totally lose her whole fucking mind. 

Lena quickly spits out her toothpaste after that, dresses, skips the coffee, and bustles out the front door.

xx

Lena spends the rest of her morning with sunglasses and an MIT baseball cap tucked over her face, fantasizes now and again that she’s actually a well-liked celebrity and not the sister of the most hated man in the United States.

The fantasy comes and goes, but never lingers long.

Mostly, she just explores what National City has to offer, but even this proves to be… taxing. She wanders a flea market, but she’s not what to buy, if she likes the aroma of natural incense or if she should stick with candles, if she really would even use a compilation kit of five different homemade jams, and somehow in the end she walks out with a thick tube of lipstick repurposed as a flask. Lena browses three floors of Modern Art museum for two hours before realizing that the restlessness inside her was plain boredom, and she realizes that she’s not very good at appreciating something she can’t touch, can’t read. 

Since getting swept up in her relationship with Siobhan and living essentially just to be arm candy to someone much more famous than her, which is essentially what her childhood standing behind Lex consisted of too, Lena just feels like she’s left with this uneasily empty pit in her stomach, plagued by the awareness that she doesn’t so much as know what she even likes anymore.

Like, does she really enjoy eating blueberry oatmeal for breakfast, or does she just think she does because it was a habit she picked up when she and Siobhan started dating? Did Lena learn how to completely disassemble a car engine and put it back together by the age of twelve because she was interested in automotives, or did Lex just want to prove he was a good teacher? Is she actually interested in vampire movies, or was it just because Siobhan was the lead of the hit Hollywood vampire movie of the decade? Does Lena enjoy playing chess or did she just spend most of her life as an opponent to Lex to help him get better at it? Is Lena a real person with dreams, hopes, hobbies, preferences and tastes, or has she lived nearly three decades as just a shadow of a personality that let everyone around her take the wheel on her own path?

She knows the answer, obviously.

And it is both humiliatingly horrifying to realize and also a crisp breath of fresh air to acknowledge.

In recognizing that she has allowed herself to become this two-dimensional shell of a person who has no relationships with anyone that could be comparable to the one she shares with her credit card, it means she has a chance to… well, do something about it. She can change her ways, be a better person, all that nonsense.

The only problem is that she’s not quite sure what good people actually do, so. She orders a cortado at a red-bricked coffee shop a few blocks down from the museum, browses some used bookstores, buys an anthology of Immanuel Kant’s greatest seminal works on moral philosophy. She stops by a homeless shelter and writes a check for twenty grand, and the woman she hands it to rushes around the counter to tug Lena in a teary hug. Even when the woman stares down at the check with wide-eyed shock, she doesn't bat an eye at Lena’s name, but that might be just a selective attention thing. Lena hastily leaves before she actually can be recognized, after insisting she’d like the donation to remain anonymous, and continues on down the sidewalk as if she’d just dropped off a book at the library. But she doesn’t exactly feel that much better about anything, and aside from a soft swell of sufficiency that she contributed something, she can’t help but feel like she’s missing a crucial point to being a “good” person, because she's been plugging donations into charities for years now, and she's pretty sure that doing so behind an anonymous alias is a fairly cowardly thing to do, not to mention that giving her money to people who would actually use it is the bare-minimum expectation for someone of her wealth. Doesn't exactly make her a saint. And she’s also not sure if what distinguishes her from her hideously corrupted, evil brother is that she’s actually good, deep down (under overlapping layers of distracted, misled, self-destructive behaviors), or just someone who wants to do good things so that people will consider her a good person.

Can you truly be a good person if you’re the latter? Is she running herself into a loop if she thinks she can possibly go from Option B to Option A, just by throwing some money around and reading up on what an old white guy said a few hundred years ago?

This all leaves Lena breathing rather heavily against the alley side of a clothing store, blinking forcefully against tears she refuses to let fall, pressing hard against her breastbone like it might stifle her bruising, hammering heart. Someone might say she’s hyperventilating, but once she starts thinking about how she could really use a drink right about now, she then reminisces about a certain cocktail from the night before. It is then that she decides she’s done enough soul-searching for today and deserves a break.

Like, sort of enough.

That’s what leads Lena to retreat back to the unsettling quietness of her apartment for the day, spend the afternoon unwrapping anything that hasn’t already been opened and turning the place into something that looks a bit more lived-in, rather than a picturesque shell of a life from a magazine capture. Everything is still too clean, too unused, and she’s not sure she’s succeeded on that front by the time the evening rolls around, but there’s only so much a girl with crippling doubts about her own integrity can do.

Of course, inevitably, she decides to go back to Roulette. It was just a matter of time.

There’s this tickling… warmth at the tip of her tongue as she shuffles through outfits, deciding what to wear. Because, well, yes it’s irrational, Kara is just a bartender that makes a business out of charming her clientele. It’s how she makes her living, and Lena’s never been one to assume someone in customer service was flirting with her just because they were being nice. She doesn’t imagine someone could make rent very easily by spitting in someone’s drink and calling them the devil incarnate, Luthor or not. But the fact Kara even asked her name at all, well, having one person in the world not know who she is feels like a blessing, one she won’t question. 

It’s just — fine, Lena recognizes that the only way she will get any sort of kindness her way is by paying someone who is in the very particular position of not caring who she is beyond a centurion  AMEX card. She’s sunk this low, she’s just that pitifully lonely, fine . She can live with that.

In the end, she settles with a long-sleeved midnight blue dress with a square neckline that perhaps shows an ideal spread of her collarbones, accentuates the length of her neck, and it has nothing to do with Kara. Because Kara is just doing her job, and Lena is buying what she’s selling.

Oh, god, she is pathetic.

xx

As the night before, it’s Veronica who greets her after the elevator.

“Two nights in a row, babe? That’s a little eager, don’t you think?”

Lena would rather call her mother than admit she has somewhat of soft-spot for the club owner, but she does allow a smile. “Like a certain letter you wrote back in high school? That kind of eager?”

“I stand by what I said back then, too.” Veronica shrugs nonchalantly as she unclips the red rope. “Enjoy your evening, Little Luthor.”

Lena doesn’t linger long enough to take in the atmosphere, instead makes a straight shot past the tables, cutting around the corner of the dance floor and up the short, twisted staircase to the bar. It’s busier tonight — not the bartop itself, there’s still an array of open seats, little more than half full, but there’s more people idling around the area, the laughter and carefree chatter much more pronounced than it’d been last night.

But behind the bar, inevitably, is Kara, with the same wide jovial smile and tight black ensemble, though tonight she has a black handkerchief tying her blond tendrils of hair out of her face. Inexplicably, Lena’s inhales sharply, feels a familiarly odd sort of tug deep in her chest, and it’s not until she’s rubbing her palms against the hips of her dress that she realizes she’s nervous .

And not at being out in the open like this, not in the kind of jitters one gets at going to a bar alone, uncertain as to how the night might end. 

She’s nervous because Kara is beautiful and endearing, and Lena’s… not sure what she is.

She slips into a spot close to where she sat the night before, safely framed on either side by empty seats. It takes a minute for Kara to notice her, and in the split millisecond that her eyes meet Lena’s, she panics that Kara might very well not remember who she is — it’s probably hard enough to keep track of faces as a normal bartender, but in a place like this, well, how can anyone be memorable if everyone is? — but then Kara’s lips, soaking red in the lights of the bar, split apart in a familiar smile and her eyes are glistening.

“You came back.” She says it graciously, like it’s an intimate revelation, but, well. Lena’s always seen the world through a hopelessly romantic lens.

“I guess I have.” Lena matches the smile.

Despite the way Kara had just been rushing back and forth down the line of the bar, she now stands absolutely still in front of Lena like she has all the time in the world for her. “Well, how adventurous are you feeling?”

It takes Lena a second to realize that she’s referring to the drinks. “I think I’ll just have the same one as last night, actually, if you don’t mind.”

Kara nods sagely. “‘Bout a four out of ten. Bonus points though for consistency, though.”

Of course, Kara really does work on borrowed time, and tonight she doesn’t have as many intermittent moments to spare for jokes and puns, so once the orange drink is slid in front of her, Kara quickly rushes back to work and taking care of the rest of the bar.

Which is fine, Lena decides, inhaling deeply before her first sip. It’s nice to just be alone out in the open like this, to let her guard down, at least a little bit, without some cheap paparazzi disguise. Even with all the people around her and the music, she actually—

“Oh Lena Luthor. It must be my lucky night.”

Being three martinis deep suddenly feels like something very, very necessary.

Lena doesn’t even turn. “Leslie, swore I heard that your show got cancelled.”

The woman laughs loud and boisterous, hopping up carelessly onto the seat beside Lena with a beer in her hand. “Yeah girl, and I heard your whole existence got cancelled. How was your Thanksgiving, by the way? Family up to anything fun?”

“Peachy. Did you need something?”

“Alright alright, someone’s crabby, I get it.” Leslie brushes a lock of her white hair over her shoulder, leans in closer. “No, actually, I just thought I’d come say hello and thank you for taking the spotlight off me. But also… I did want to say I’m sorry.”

Lena turns at that, hesitates. “For what?”

The former radio-show host sighs. “We’ve never seen eye to eye on some things, I know—”

“You literally asked Siobhan for a lap dance. In front of me. At my birthday party.”

“I know ,” Leslie repeats firmly. “So I just wanted to reach out and say I get it, I know how it feels, blah, whatever.” 

“Oh. “ A bit skeptical, Lena glances around them briefly. “Thank you?”

“It just, yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? The media will really hold one silly mistake against you forever.”

Lena cringes a little. “I mean, technically, I didn’t make a—”

“Such utter bullshit.” Leslie sighs wistfully again.

Lena decides it’s best to choose her battles, buries her face back into her drink.

“Leslie!” Kara appears in front of them with a wide smile. “So funny I’m seeing you right now — didn’t you ask me to tell you if Cat Grant ever stopped in? Think I just saw her headed down to the floor, but she might be on her way out again.”

“Fuck, for real?” Leslie downs the last half of her pint in one dangerous gulp, wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand. “Nice chattin’ with you, dollface, but I gotta grab her now or I’m never getting Jimmy Fallon’s number.”

Leslie disappears after that.

Lena’s shoulders relax minutely as she glances up at Kara’s sympathetic expression, lets out a soft groan. “Thank you for that, truly.”

“No problem. Saw you had that look on your face.”

“A look?”

Kara gestures vaguely around them. “Y’know like, SOS, someone’s talking to me . I see it a lot in here.”

“Well, some people here I don’t mind talking to.” Lena says and immediately cringes because — oh, God, was that too flirtatious? Or no, of course not, even worse, was it just weird to say to someone she didn’t know at all, or maybe it wasn’t but Kara had no idea that she was actually trying to express something? 

Lena’s on the verge of an aneurysm and she hasn’t even finished her first drink. Has it really been this long since Lena tried flirting with a stranger?

It’s hard to tell under the glowing red lights, and it’s probably wishful thinking, but Lena thinks she sees heat rush up Kara’s cheeks as she begins playing uselessly with her glasses. 

“Oh, ha, yeah, right. Same. Uh.” Kara clears her throat. “So what was Leslie bugging you about anyway?”

It’s probably in Lena’s head.

When the question registers, Lena immediately balks, reaches for her drink to buy her a second, because, “ well, she was just trying to bond with me by comparing her once saying something not-POC on live radio to my brother murdering hundreds of people,” is definitively not what one says to the cute bartender with juicy biceps.

“Just some… work stuff,” she answers finally.

Kara tucks the rag in her hands into her back pocket, perks up. “Oh, what do you do for work?”

Lena smacks her lips together, blinks at Kara, but Kara speaks again quickly before she can.

“I mean — gosh, sorry, I’m not supposed to ask things like that here.”

“No, um, well, it’s fine.” Because Lena is fucking gay and can’t stand being responsible for that crestfallen face. “I just, well… I’m sort of between jobs at the moment.”

Again, technically not a lie. Lena has learned this is how people generally define unemployment. She’s just been in between jobs for six years, it’s fine.

“Cool. What kind of stuff are you looking for?” Kara leans forward so her palms fall onto the edge of the bar, tilts her head thoughtfully.

Lena takes another sip of her drink, because, wow, her throat is unexpectedly dry. “Oh you know, just some… research. Yep, research, I’m trying to get involved in research. Again.”

“What kind of research?”

Lena’s going to self-combust.

“Well I studied mainly bioengineering but right now I’m going into… um, oncology. Yes. Which is just—”

“Study of how cancerous cells form, yeah. Wow, that’s… unexpected.”

Both impressed and apprehensive, Lena glances up quickly. “Why is that?”

Kara’s eyes widen slightly, and she laughs nervously. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply — it’s not like, you look not smart or anything, I just — well, most people that come here, they usually — oh man, I’m really making a lot of assumptions, I’m sorry.” Kara waves her hands, flustered. “Just, forget I said any of that. Wow, congratulations, you must be brilliant.”

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly in Lena’s head.

Lena’s mouth splits into a soft, amused smile. “Thank you, Kara.”

Kara takes off after that with a small wave, before she’s whisking up empty glasses down the bar and shaking new concoctions, gracing others with her sweet remarks and emphatic laughter.

No one else bothers Lena that night, but she’s busy nonetheless with that conversation lurching around her brain, weaving in and out of the forefront of her consciousness. Although Lena’s never been the kind of person to just have one drink and leave, her fingers bounce against her thigh in nervous jitters and she knows she has something to take care of.

When Kara rounds by to check in on her empty glass, Lena shakes her head and asks to settle up.

Kara waves her hand flippantly. “Nah, you way over-tipped last night. This one’s on the house.”

Lena’s shoulders slump in mock exasperation. “Kara, don’t start with me.”

“I am absolutely starting with you.”

What a smug little shit, Lena thinks. But God is she cute. “You really don’t want to play this game.”

Intrigued, Kara raises her eyebrows. “Yeah? Maybe I do.”

It’s said so softly, so gently, and if this was one of Siobhan’s movies, they wouldn’t be talking about the money or drinks at all, they’d be talking about something clenching around Lena’s chest, something stifling, a loneliness that paralyzes her bones.

“Don’t blame me when you lose,” Lena says with a gentle upturn of her mouth, her voice low and crackling, leaving a fifty-dollar bill on the bartop before she turns away.

xx

As soon as she’s out into the alley, the brisk air slapping her in the face, Lena tugs her peacoat tightly around herself and pulls out her phone. She quickly scrolls down her contacts list, and after a precise selection and holding it to her ear, it’s not long before a familiar voice sounds on the other end.

“Mm… hello?”

Lena sighs. “Thank God you’re up. Listen, I need a favor.”

“...Lena? Lena Luthor? Shit, do you know what time it is?”

“Oh relax, it’s not even eleven.” Lena walks down the street with her head down, tucks her hair behind her ear.

“Hm. Can’t exactly raise a seven year-old with that attitude.” A low, tired sigh. “So, what’s this favor?”

Lena bites her lip. “I need to get in on your research.”

“You need to?”

“Yes.”

“What, you lie to a cute actress at a bar and say you were involved in my research again?”

“...You’re actually very close. She was the bartender.”

“Jesus, Lee.”

“So…”

“Really know how to make a big entrance, huh?” There’s some unintelligible grumbling on the other line, the shuffling of fabric. “I need to talk to my team, run it by my boss—” Another sigh. “I’ll see what I can do, okay? But listen, can we talk about this later? Can’t even think straight right now.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Lena nods eagerly. “Yes, yes of course, you sweet, darling genius. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Oh, and Sam?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”

xx

She does call Sam back the next day, and they set up a time to meet the following weekend. They arrange to meet in a coffee shop in the area near Ruby’s school on the north side, and when Lena strides into the sunny cafe, she pushes her sunglasses back over her head. There’s no hesitation when Sam quickly pulls her into a tight embrace.

“It’s been too long, you big dummy,” Sam sighs into Lena’s hair.

Lena laughs sardonically. “Yeah, I know. Should’ve called sooner, eh?”

Sam pulls back, and with a mockingly serious face as she smacks at Lena’s shoulder, she nods. “Like six years ago, yeah, absolutely. But I’ll find it in me to forgive you this time.”

“You’re too soft to hold a grudge, anyway. And how’s Ruby?”

“Oh God, that little brat.” Sam groans dramatically, but Lena sees right through the exasperated ruse and can hear the adoration in her tone. “She’s way too popular, always has something going on. Yesterday was an audition for the second-grade play, tonight she’s at a sleepover, and tomorrow is soccer practice. But, anyway, I’ll tell you all about her in a minute. First — coffee.”

They turn to step into line, and Lena is saying, “Okay, yes, but I do really want to hear all about—” when a hot latte is immediately tossed into her face and she can’t process anything but the way everything just fucking burns .

“I don’t know how you can look yourself in the mirror every day,” a cracked, low voice hisses in Lena’s face, and Lena is gasping, struggling to scrape the scalding liquid from her face, hardly registering the words and blinking through the liquid dripping down her face, when she realizes it’s just a girl, some teenage kid with a remarkably heartbroken fury trembling in her face, and Lena’s stomach crumbles. “I hope someday, someone takes from you everything you’ve taken from me, I hope there’s one thing in this world you love and I hope someone fucking kills that too, I—”

Lena forgets how to breathe and Sam is pressuring the girl back and fretting over Lena, and the whole thing is making a rather horrendous scene. 

They leave pretty quickly after that.

Neither of them have said a word, even once in the quiet of Sam’s Subaru while Lena blots her face with some spare Dunkin’ Donuts napkins found in the glovebox. There’s just the soft hum of an indie music station through the speakers while Sam drives them away from the city and into the suburbs.

Sam’s the one that breaks it. “That happen a lot?”

Lena shrugs. “Now and again. It’s better than it was in Metropolis.”

“You mean there’s been worse? Than that ?”

Lena laughs dryly. “Did you read about how Siobhan and I broke up?”

Sam takes a right turn down a residential street. “I think… TMZ said you cheated but People Magazine said you got her fired.”

“Right. I’m not surprised. No, someone broke onto set and pepper sprayed us, and I guess that was the last straw for her.”

Sam hisses. “Damn, that’s messed up.” 

“Still, honestly, it could be worse.”

“How the hell does it get worse than that?”

Lena drops her chin to stare at the coffee-soaked napkins in her hands. “I mean, I could’ve been the one who helped Lex get a controversial cancer treatment that killed six hundred sixty-two people FDA-approved.”

“Um… Do you mean… You didn’t like…?”

There’s a much different silence hanging in the car between them this time, and Lena’s skin prickles with vulnerability. Why did she even say that? Why did she even bring this up?

“No,” she says, blinking past the stinging in her eyes. “No. But I might as well have.” 

Sam pulls them into the driveway of the pale green two-storey bungalow and cuts the engine, but she makes no move to get out, just crosses her arms and turns to face Lena more directly.

“Why do you say that?”

“It means he asked me, back then. When you and I graduated, he asked me to help him finalize the project he was working on and I… I didn’t.”

“Lena, babe, I’m not following.”

Lena clears her throat and stares resolutely forward, jaw taut. “I didn’t help him, so I might as well be just as responsible as he is. All he asked was that I look over his trial results, take a couple weeks and give him my thoughts. All he wanted was my perspective on it and… I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, had I not been so busy running around the country with someone who didn’t even love me back, then maybe he wouldn’t have paid off that—”

“Lena,” Sam interrupts firmly. “Sweetie, you can’t torture yourself like this.”

Something bitter within Lena, something dark wanted to spit back watch me , wanted to yell who’s going to stop me?

Instead she musters up a placid smile, wipes some stray coffee from her face. “Come on. Enough of my sob stories. Let’s go inside and talk terms.”

xx

“Alright, thanks Jack. I’ll let her know… Yep, bye.” Sam is pocketing her cellphone when she reemerges into her living room. 

“I’m not usually known for my optimism, but that sounded like a good I’ll let her know ,” Lena says, tucking her legs underneath her on the couch.

Sam laughs and drops beside Lena. “Yes, it was. I seriously can’t believe it was that easy, but he did say yes. But. ” And here Sam holds up a hand to postpone Lena’s excitement. “There are conditions.”

“Yes, I’d imagine.”

“You have to fill out an actual application. You know, formally. Send him along your CV, list all the research projects you’ve been involved with, both undergrad and grad. Have you worked on anything since?”

Jaw clenched, Lena shakes her head. “No. I mean, some acting, but nothing relevant.”

“That’s fine, don’t worry about it, I just wanted to double-check. What was your dissertation on again? ”

“I wrote a quantitative analysis on cell decision processes in response to inflammation and their role in mediating genotoxicity. Which, is sort of relevant, I suppose.”

“You’re kidding, right? That’s completely relevant. You already know, the department I lead in is responsible for furthering research on carcinogenesis, but my team right now is working on putting together a formal set of conditions on genetic risks for cancer.” Sam waves her hand. “You’ll fit right in. Just send Jack your dissertation, along with your CV.”

Lena inhales gingerly as she nods. “Okay. What else?”

“The hours aren’t going to be… the best. We’re already at our quota for personnel, and funding is stretched pretty thin as it is. So, he can only afford to—”

“How much do you need?”

Sam blinks. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not worried about payroll, but if you’re short on funding, I don’t want to add to the problem. I know you’re cashing in on a huge favor to even get me into this, so.” Lena folds her hands in her lap. “How much do you need?”

“Oh, I, uh, I mean, there’s not, there’s not really an exact amount, per se, it’s all, um.” Sam shakily gestures vaguely, pressing her lips tightly together. “It’s just—”

“I have an extra two million that I was planning to invest in one of Lex’s labs before… you know. Would that be enough? For now?”

Sam blinks owlishly at Lena, jaw slack. “F-for… For now?”

Lena nods simply.

Sam swallows thickly. “Yeah. Um, yes, I think… I think that might help. Just a bit. God, I’m fucking thirsty all of a sudden, you down to get a drink?”

And that was that.

xx

After the incident at the cafe, it doesn’t take much elaboration when Lena suggests they go to Roulette. 

Although that might have something to do with the whole “celebrity speakeasy” part, because on the Lyft ride over, Sam is buzzing in her seat with excitement.

“Oh, my God, do you think Kristen Bell will be there? Wait, no, fuck , c’mon Sam, think bigger.” Sam presses her hand to her mouth, deep in thought as her leg bounces up and down, before she snaps her fingers and presses close to Lena. “Holy shit, you don’t think Béyonce is going to be there and I’ll have to pretend she entirely doesn’t exist and like I’m not dying to smell her hair, do you?”

Lena raises her eyebrows. “Somehow, I don’t think it’ll come to that.”

“Okay, thank God.”

“It’s really not that elite of a place, Sam.”

“Lena. You said that you saw Usher there two years ago. I think it just might be.”

xx

Aside from Sam enduring a profound bout of flirtation from Veronica, they don’t run into any difficulties to get Sam inside.

 Although Sam does try to tell the bouncer in the alleyway about how her manuscript that researched prostate cancer in chimpanzees from 2015 became a viral Buzzfeed article. It had something to do with a guest lecture she gave at UCLA, in which she said “ and the chimps kept getting dick — I mean, sick. Ha, can you imagine? No, sick. They got sick. I’m sorry.”

The bouncer doesn’t show any sign that he cares and Lena just ushers them inside with a grim smile.

Given that it’s a Friday night, the club is considerably much busier than it had been on the two weekdays that Lena was there, and the ride up the elevator is cramped tight with other patrons, and despite Veronica’s ogling up and down Sam’s form, she does inevitably wave them in quickly to keep the line moving.

Luckily, it being so crowded and dark, Sam catches no sight of anyone particularly notable in her book as they cross the threshold of the club, and Lena’s starting to think maybe this wasn’t a terrible idea. On the other hand, they’re climbing the short staircase to the bar when:

“Wait, didn’t you say it was a bartender you were trying to impress the other night?” Sam asks much too loudly, and Lena scrambles.

God , keep it down. Yes, I did, and… yes, this is the same bartender,” Lena says as they round the corner of the wall and Kara comes into her sight.

In the same all-black attire, Kara stands behind the bar with a full, trembling shot glass. Balanced on her nose. There’s literally a shot glass of some clear liquor precariously swaying on the tip of Kara’s nose.

She looks like a fucking walrus.

Lena, naturally, swoons.

“I got it, I got it, Lucy, don’t come any closer, don’t you dare take this from me,” Kara cautions her coworker loudly, face tight with a deep frown. 

The coworker, Lucy, stands a few feet away behind the bar with her phone trained on Kara, looking just as focused and infinitely more amused, making no move to stop Kara. 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” is Lucy’s distracted response.

Beside Lena, Sam’s face splits into a grin. “Oh, please tell me she’s the one I think she is.”

Lena sucks in her bottom lip between her teeth, doesn’t take her eyes off Kara. “Yep. That’s definitely the one.”

Somehow, miraculously, Kara precisely jerks her head back just so , and the shot glass tips forward, pours entirely into her open mouth, and just as the now-empty glass tumbles off Kara’s chin and spins through the air, her hand swoops down and snatches it before it shatters, and the few groups around the bar that were paying attention erupt in applause.

Chuckling, Lena claps along as Kara pumps her fists in the air and gives a theatrical bow to both the crowd and her coworker’s camera. There are shouts and calls for a repeat performance, but after wiping her wet mouth against her bicep, Kara just laughs loudly and waves her hand sheepishly, quickly sets back to work.

Lena and Sam don’t manage to find an empty seat at the bar itself, so they stand together off to the side where there’s a slight gap and enough standing room. Sam takes full advantage, however, of the time it takes for Kara to notice them.

“She’s very cute,” she remarks dryly, leaning close into Lena’s ear to be heard over the loud chatter.

“Shut up.” Lena swats at her friend’s shoulder. “And for the record, she doesn’t know who I am yet, so don’t say anything incriminating.” 

“Incriminating like, they’re calling your psychopathic brother a modern Walmart version of Napoleon?” Sam gives her a skeptical look and Lena scowls, but her friend quickly settles. “Sure. Your call, I guess. I think her knowing you’re a millionaire would just help to loosen up her panties, but whatever.” She frowns. “Millionaire? Billionaire? What is your net worth these days?”

Lena ignores the latter question pointedly. “Most everyone in this room is a millionaire.”

Sam glances around them with peaked interest. “Really? Maybe I should be talking to someone else then.”

Lena rolls her eyes. 

Sam turns back to check out Kara as the bartender rattles two shakers in the air simultaneously over her head. “But really. I get it. I would totally tell her I’m a freaking astronaut if it meant getting a free drink or some action that wasn’t PG-13.” Sam pauses before swiveling her head back to Lena. “Wait, are you getting free drinks? Because I know you haven’t been getting laid.”

Lena purses her lips. “Like, not technically. But sort of.”

“My god, you sexy little—”

“Lena!” Kara appears before them at the bar with a wide smile and Lena hastily pushes Sam a safer distance away from her. “I wasn’t sure if I’d see you again.”

“Really?” Lena lets out automatically. Sam snorts quietly, and Lena inconspicuously kicks at her leg. “Of course you would. I mean, of course I’d come back. Not to see you specifically or anything, but—” When Sam coughs, Lena cuts herself off and takes a quick breath before trying again. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Whipped,” Sam mutters under her breath.

“Sorry?” Kara asks over the loud room.

“Nothing,” Lena assures Kara with a smile. “Don’t worry about her, she’s obnoxious.”

“I am right here, by the way.”

Kara laughs before she holds a hand out across the bar. “I’m Kara, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Sam, and same goes.”

“I know you’re busy, so I won’t keep you,” Lena tells Kara. “I’ll just have the same as last time, and she’ll have a Hendricks and tonic.”

Kara nods curtly, adorably, and turns back to the bar.

There’s all but four seconds of silence, along with Lena’s quiet, “ Don’t, ” before Sam bursts into laughter. “What did I just say?”

Sam makes a pitiful attempt to stifle her giggles into her hand, shaking her head. “Lena Luthor, I swear, I thought people got better at this with age.”

Lena glares.

“I’m not kidding, you had more game in college.”

“I have game.”

“Uh huh, I beg to differ.”

“Whatever, it’s not like — for all I know, she may very well be straight.”

Sam smirks. “Sweetie, look at yourself, you’re dripping sex appeal. ‘Til you open your mouth anyway. Besides, what’s that thing they say? About straight girls and spaghetti?”

Lena rolls her eyes and grumbles under her breath, “I so do not know why I brought you here.”

They migrate to one of the chairless high top tables off to the peripheral of the bar so they  can talk more easily, and spend the next hour or so intermittently catching up on what they’ve missed in each others’ lives since graduation. It’s over the course of this conversation that a prickling nausea begins to creep up Lena’s throat. It’s hard to understand where it comes from, and Lena rubs her collarbone uncomfortably as she keeps up with Sam’s story about how Ruby was inexplicably convinced she was a skeleton from Halloweentown when her first baby tooth fell out. Lena is contemplating if maybe she ate something questionable that day when it hits her; this shallow, hot chill down to her stomach isn’t nausea at all but rather guilt.

Loud, sticky, squelching guilt.

“Hey, um.” Lena reaches across the dark table to drape her hand over Sam’s. She quickly loses her bravado, though, and stares back at Sam, lost.

Sam just smiles, a little sarcastically. “Yeah, babe?”

“I just… I just wanted to say that, um… Look, I—”

“Save it,” Sam assures softly, twisting her hand over to grasp Lena’s fondly. “It’s okay. The phone works both ways. If anything, I should’ve been the one to call you, especially after what your shit show of a family got up to. So, I’m sorry.”

She won’t cry, not here, not now, but a brief warmth envelops Lena.

Sam’s phone starts ringing before Lena can properly respond to that heavy of a sentiment, and at first Sam moves to ignore the call, but upon reading the caller ID she quickly apologizes to Lena and steps away, leaving Lena alone with her drink and thoughts.

She hadn’t quite meant to lose touch with Sam, hadn’t actively let her go from her life. But it was all just a whirlwind of being swept up into this universe that Lena had always been on the outside watching. Growing up, Lex had been a darling at parties, had stood tall and confident beside their father at banquets and award ceremonies. “ We can’t very well just bring anyone we like ,” Lillian had told Lena when she was a young teenage girl, watching the older woman stick pearls into her ears with an Emmy invitation in hand. “ You’ll just have to wait until next year .”

Then Lionel had died, and there were still only two invitations to everything, and the excuses became, “ Lex has a reason to be there with me. He’s doing something with his life, taking over your father’s research. What are you? A college student? Should we bring along your entire graduating class too ?”

Meeting Siobhan three years into her PhD meant trying a jager bomb for the first time on a Tuesday night, it meant cocktail parties with casts of unknown indie movies, it meant tickets to Sundance and weekends in SoCal Airbnb’s filled with nothing but sex and indulgence, champagne and clouds. Meeting Siobhan meant opening doors she didn’t know were closed and meeting rock bands that wanted her to be their face of their new single. It meant being recognized, being seen and taken inside the glass door. It meant being allowed in a place like Roulette, because suddenly people knew who she was, even if it was for who she was sleeping with rather than anything she herself has done. Because what did all her studies and genius get her? 

It’s funny to wonder how things might be different if she had never followed Siobhan in the back of a van from film set to film set, concert to concert, party to party. Maybe she would have helped Lex, and maybe all those people wouldn’t have died, but more likely is that she wouldn’t have been any smarter than he to notice the faults in his formulas, and nothing would be different. He still would have bribed an FDA official to speed along the certification process in order to get on track at becoming the youngest two-time Nobel Prize of physics winner. It wouldn’t have mattered, maybe, because Lena would still just be the sister of the most hated man in the country, would still be seen as the enemy, as an outsider, as someone who doesn’t belong.

Lillian was perhaps right all along. She wasn’t notable, still isn’t particularly. She hasn’t done enough of anything to warrant being a somebody . Staring into the bottom of her martini, Lena sucks in her bottom lip and thinks maybe that’s about to change. What she’s about to do with Sam, it’s objectively good . It’s something Kant and Socrates would approve of, hopefully.

She’s making something of herself, isn’t she?

Sam rushes back to the table with a grim, apologetic look on her face. “So. Ruby had a nightmare, apparently she had too many Oreos before bed or something, and is begging to come home. I’m sorry to call our night short like this.”

Lena waves her hands. “Of course, don’t even worry about it, go get her. I’ll settle up here.”

“Yeah? You’ll settle up? Or will your, ah, new friend over there take care of it?” Sam wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.

“Good bye Sam,” Lena emphasizes with a laugh, pushing Sam away towards the exit.

“Alright, be like that. Listen, send your stuff to Jack, and we can meet up Monday to discuss everything more. I love you.” Sam leans back in quickly to press a chaste kiss to Lena’s cheek, pulling her close for a brief hug, before she’s bouncing away with a called goodbye over her shoulder.

Lena takes Sam’s half-empty glass and her own back to the bar, noting an empty seat by the far end of the bar near the wall. Might as well finish her drink at least, it’s not like she’s had qualms about drinking alone at Roulette before.

Kara doesn’t come by for a while, and Lena finds herself folding napkins mindlessly as she works through her cocktail, humming under her breath to the beat of the music. She’s not sure how long it is before Kara does finally appear with an open expression, bemusedly taking in Lena’s sloppy paper cranes. 

“You know I hear that if you fold a thousand of those, you get a free wish,” Kara says as she wipes her hands with a rag. 

“Traditionally, I suppose,” Lena agrees. “It’s also a symbol of hope and… healing.”

(Why does she hesitate, why does she pause? Why does she glance up shyly at Kara like she’s fishing for a specific response?)

Kara just smirks in return. “I’ll make sure to keep them safe, then.”

She’s not sure what answer she was hoping for, but it couldn’t have measured up to a response like that anyway.

“Did your friend take off?” Kara asks, gesturing to the unfinished gin and tonic beside Lena.

“Yes she did, had something to take care of.”

“But, you’re staying, right?” Kara says this with a downward lilt like it’s the punchline to a joke, but Lena can’t deny the rush of glee that threatens to break across her face, that silly teenage crush rearing like a sick puppy.

Lena’s ensuing grin is probably nowhere near as stifled as she thinks it is. “Sure, Kara. I’ll stay a bit.”

 

Chapter Text

When Lena says sure Kara, I’ll stay , she means that she’ll stay another half hour or so, perhaps one more final drink before she leaves by midnight, one at the latest, per her usual routine. Because Lena has been pretty into the idea of a routine, lately, something to keep her busy and grounded. It’s about stability, something she hadn’t realized that she desperately craves.

So like, Lena’s not quite sure what exactly compels her to stay another five and a half fucking hours, but she does.

It starts like this:

Lena finishes off her first drink, licking the last drop of the sweet whiskey from the rim of the martini glass, and Kara is making her way back down to where Lena sits. Given that she’s sat at the end, it’s also where there happens to be a gap between the bartop itself and the wall, the exit and entrance to behind the bar for Kara and her coworkers. This isn’t something Lena would normally pay attention to, hasn’t given much thought to it until now, especially since she prefers the monotonous safety of sitting somewhere in the middle. 

But it comes to her attention now because it means that rather than leaning across the sticky bar to hear each other over the loud conversations, rather than existing with this inevitable, necessary barrier between them, Kara can actually stand to the side of Lena at this end corner. Homoerotic bells are banging like cymbals in Lena’s skull when Kara comes to stand beside her. The bartender crosses her arms, her elbows resting on the hardwood, and the tendons of her forearms twitch in the red glow. Maybe Lena should reconsider getting that vibrator.

“I’ve got about fifty seconds before Lucy realizes I’m gone,” Kara confesses with a deep inhale like she’s trying to catch her breath.

“Guess I better make them count, then,” Lena says in return, and, oh yeah, she might be completely in love with herself for how smoothly that falls from her mouth. 

“I guess so.” Kara laughs.

Lena chews on the inside of her cheek, forcefully dragging her eyes away from Kara’s arms and up to her face, the strain of her jaw, the slope of her dark smears under her eyes. “You seem exhausted, how long have you been working?”

Kara shrugs. “Ah, it’s what, a little after eleven? So about five hours, give or take.”

Lena sarcastically pushes forward Sam’s abandoned drink in offering, but Kara waves her hand. “Thanks, but I actually don’t drink.”

“Didn’t you just take a shot like, an hour ago?”

“Ah, jeez, you saw that?” Kara ducks her head with a sheepish laugh. “Yeah, no that was just water. My sister is the actual pro at that. I mean, she was.”

Lena’s brow immediately furrows. “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t—”

“Gosh, no, I don’t mean like — she’s not dead or anything. She just, she doesn’t drink either. Anymore.”

“I see.” Lena struggles to not let her morbid curiosity show on her face, and she likely does a terrible job, so she clears her throat and summons a smile to ease the rather serious look that crinkles Kara’s forehead together. “Well don’t worry, I can easily drink enough between the both of us.”

Kara’s laugh is definitely one out of pity, because Lena is cringing at her insensitive joke, but the moment passes, and Kara pats her hand with finality against the bar. “Better keep ‘em coming then. You’re having another, right?”

Lena’s nod is much too eager, but who’s paying that much attention anyway?

So Lena stays a little while longer, has that second drink. Somehow, despite it being busier tonight, Lena finds herself with just as many of these stolen moments with the bartender where she quickly catches up the line of the bar and takes half a minute to make unweighted small-talk with Lena. 

One thought that lingers at the back of her mind throughout the night is that Lena’s not really sure why her . She’s not the only regular, if she can even qualify herself as such. There’s a high-end fashion designer and his graphic designer wife that are friendly enough with Kara to warrant the bartender squealing with glee before she rushes around to give them a hug hello. There’s an actress with impeccable eyeliner that stands next to Lena as she orders her drink and asks Kara why she hasn’t seen any new Instagram posts of Kara’s cat — which, Lena didn’t even know Kara had a cat. Not that she would, because that is precisely her point: she does not know Kara very well.

Or like, at all.

Lena’s just learned Kara has a sister, she already knows that she likes to tell jokes and knows her basic scientific terms. And she’s got some elite college-kid party tricks up her sleeves. Sleeves — which reminds Lena — like the ones hugging Kara’s thick biceps. Lena’s fairly certain she can add to the list that Kara probably works out. A lot.

Lena shakes her head. 

Right, the point.

It’s just that, Kara’s clearly been here for a while, and there are customers that know Kara much more intimately than Lena would. Yet, somehow, when the cheeky bartender has a moment to spare, it’s not any of them that she goes to when she’s thought of a new pun, when she wants to sneakily rest for a moment by inconspicuously leaning against the bar. It’s Lena. And she can’t really put her finger on why that is.

In all honesty, it’s probably because Lena keeps throwing money at her, and, well. Like Sam said, who wouldn’t kiss up to a millionaire that was a bit too loose-handed with her cash, all too willing to spend it on a pretty face?

Not that— 

She’s not just overtipping and sympathizing with her exhaustion because she’s stupidly fucking attractive, Lena’s not that shallow, at least she hopes not, but she just...

Oh, whatever.

This light-hearted back and forth swing of Kara coming and going from their little nook, the patrons at the bar rotating in and out with Lena stagnant lasts for about an hour and a half. Lena stops building the paper cranes because she was gathering far too many and it’s absolutely a waste of product, and also because after one of them gets spilled on by a knocked over beer, Kara gets madly devastated and scoops them all up to keep behind the bar.

“For safekeeping,” she promises with a wink.

So Lena passes the time by conceding to checking her social media. She starts with Snapchat, because it feels like the safest platform to peak at without drowning in death threats, but seeing the stories of friends that no longer speak to her, broadcasting their Friday night parties and celebrations back on the east coast, it just makes her homesick for a place that no longer exists for her. She quickly switches over to Instagram, drops a few likes and goes nowhere near any of her mentions. But as she brushes through her feed, catching up on what she’s missed over the last two weeks, something pulls her attention and she hastily scrambles back up the page, halting forcefully on a post of two girls kissing.

Siobhan. It’s Siobhan and — somebody, God, Lena doesn’t even know who. They’re standing on the balcony of Siobahn’s penthouse in Metropolis with the sunrise behind them. This mystery girl is blonde and a good few inches shorter than Siobhan, and Lena refuses to think that this girl is everything Lena isn’t, but the way they’re wrapped up in an old throw together and kissing sweetly, the way the caption says sweet early mornings with my sweet girl , it’s all too much. With shaking hands Lena goes to tap the picture and find the tagged profile of the other woman, but she — of fucking course — accidentally double-taps and likes the picture instead, and Lena lets out a ragged, dramatic gasp at her mistake before she drops her phone entirely.

Kara is suddenly in front of her with furrowed eyebrows. “Hey, be gentle with the tech, it might control us some day.”

Lena stares back at her blankly. “I… what?”

“Never mind. You okay?”

Lena looks away shyly, picking up her phone and wiping off her dark screen with the sleeve of her shirt. “Yes, yes I’m fine.”

“You sure?” 

Lena looks up to meet Kara’s gaze, and softens slightly. “I… may have liked an Instagram photo that I shouldn’t have.” 

“Like, you were way too deep into stalking someone’s profile, or is this an ex-type situation? Oh man, or both?”

“The second one.”

“Ah.” Kara frowns and lifts a hand to stroke her chin, deep in thought. “Is it too late to block them?”

“Probably.” Lena has 3.6 million followers and Siobhan has over twelve, so she wouldn’t be surprised if there are already countless sightings of the one-sided interaction.

“You could always deactivate your account,” Kara jokes. “I did that with my Myspace page in middle school once after this kid Bobby said my profile song sucked.”

Lena pauses. Blinks rapidly, picks her phone back up.

“...and like, honestly? It was a good song, he was totally just jealous that his parents wouldn’t let him have an account. I can’t believe I threw it all away for him. He was such a dweeb, you know?”

“Okay. It’s done.”

Kara tilts her head cutely. “What’s done?”

“My profile,” Lena sighs, letting her shoulders sag in relief. “I deleted it.”

“I’m sorry, you what? Lena, I was kidding.”

“I know.” Lena pushes her phone back into her purse and runs a shaky hand through her hair. “But it actually was a good idea. I don’t use social media much, anyway. And she’s probably already seen that I liked the picture but…” Lena exhales. “Fuck it.”

Kara slowly smiles. “Alright, yeah, cool. Eff that.”

“Fuck, Kara. I said fuck.”

“Yep, that you did.”

Lena smirks. “You can say it, I won’t tell anyone.”

Kara jerks a thumb over her shoulder with a sheepish expression. “I’ma get back to work actually, so…”

“Coward.” Lena laughs when Kara backs away defensively.

An hour and a half somehow turns into two and a half, and it’s after 1am.

It starts slowing down a bit finally, and so Kara no longer needs to stand less than a foot away from Lena in order to be heard. Which, of course, Lena resents, because now that she knows Kara smells like coconut shampoo masked by the splatter of beer and liquor, she’s bitter to go back to talking over the boundary of the bar between them.

“So, you and your friend seemed pretty close,” Kara says as she’s wiping down liquor bottles from the well. “Sam, you said? How do you two know each other?”

Elbow on the bar and jaw resting in her palm, Lena stirs the cocktail straw around her drink. “Yeah, we are. We’re going to be working together soon actually. I hope, at least.”

“So you found that work then?” Kara’s eyes light up, and Lena remembers that she had told the bartender she was in between jobs and that this hadn't technically been a slight lucky scheme built on a white lie.

“Yes, it all worked out,” she says, choosing her words carefully.

Kara hums. “And are you two… I just mean, you seem very close,” she says again, this time with a more meaningful drawl and fluttering eyelashes.

Lena snorts once she realizes what Kara’s asking, covers her mouth to hide her mouth. “Sorry, uh, no. God, not like that. We met back in grad school, and I adore her but… no. We’re just friends.”

This is around the time when Lena starts to be feeling pretty good about her gaydar judgements, clearly having dropped the right kind of hints that she isn’t straight, and the fact that Kara herself acknowledges it is probably a good sign. Right? God, maybe Sam was right, she really is out of her flirting game. What she used to love about this back-and-forth tug seems so fleeting and unsteady, because how the hell does someone tell the difference between a straight girl being nice and someone who wants you to notice them as much as you do?

Lena orders another drink.

She might be on number five by now. Six? Who’s counting, and besides — she glances at her watch — it’s been over the course of four hours, so this is easily not the worst she’s done.

Wait— 

Lena pulls her phone from her purse hastily, and yes, her watch is not lying to her, it’s indeed 2 fucking a.m. When she spins and turns around herself, she sees that the crowd has thinned out considerably and only a few other people remain at the bar, and the dancefloor has dwindled down to only the sloppy late-night drunks that haven’t yet realized the party’s long over.

“Kara, oh my God, I can’t believe I kept you this long, I’m so sorry.” Lena is already fumbling for her wallet, digging through her purse.

“Huh? Oh, don’t be sorry.” Kara laughs at Lena’s distress. “It’s nice to have the company. Last call isn’t for another hour anyway.”

Lena pauses. “That late, really?”

“Mm, yeah, but if I’m good at starting my side-work early, I usually can get out of here pretty quick.”

Lena glances around herself once more. There are still people here, she supposes. Even if she left, Kara and her colleague would still have to wait for everyone else to leave. 

“Well. Suppose I can’t very well leave you alone like this, can I?” 

Kara grins. “Guess not.”

And that’s kind of just how it happens. Lena didn’t intentionally mean to dawdle for five and a half hours, didn’t expect to be here so late into the night that it’s practically morning when she suggested the place to Sam. 

It’s just, Kara has such a sweet, gentle smile that Lena can’t quite remember ever being on the receiving end of before. It was never like that with Siobhan, no, she was all teeth and cheap thrills, and some not-so-cheap thrills in the form of something powder and white caked up her nose. The notion of anything sincere coming from Lillian is absurd in and of itself, and Lionel wasn’t much a man for facial expression to begin with. Although there was the occasional drop of a hand on her shoulder and a curt nod that meant about as much as a tight hug and a murmured I’m so proud of you would have conveyed. 

And it’s probably cheating, what Lena’s doing. Greedily sucking in this kindness like soda from a straw simply because it’s being made available to her, because the one person in the world who’s willing to give it to her is possibly the only one who doesn’t know who she really is, doesn’t know where she comes from.

Lena’s spent so long being selfish, so self-indulgent with her cravings and urges, and now — God she’s trying to be good, trying to do something new, turn over a new folium or whatever, but who can resist a face like that? A smile so bright, in a world so grim. Lena’s always been deathly afraid of the dark, and now she’s living in it, shivering. So what if she chases after what few pinpricks of light shine their way through the blackness?

It’s not until the last person has left and Kara’s wiping down all the high top tables around the bar that Lena asks, again, “Are you sure it’s okay that I’m still here?”

Kara chuckles, tucking her rag into her back pocket. “Yeah, ‘course it is. Lucy doesn’t care, do ya Luce?”

Behind the bar, the other brunette bartender doesn’t look up from where she’s sweeping the floor. “Don’t give a fuck. Can you hurry up?”

Kara beams. “See? All good.” Kara squeezes passed Lucy and makes her way to the register at the opposite end of where Lena sits.

Lena hears the heeled clicks on the floor of someone approaching behind her, and then a low, familiar voice. “So, this is who you keep coming back to see then?”

When Lena turns, Veronica is coming up beside her, and the tall woman nods her head faintly over to where Kara stands behind the bar licking at her thumb, counting a thick stack of bills.

“You didn’t actually think I was here for you, did you?” Lena raises an eyebrow teasingly, a small smirk.

Veronica hums quietly, eyes scanning over Lena with a rather serious expression. “Just be careful, yeah?”

“What, with Kara?” Lena laughs at the notion. “Don’t tell me you have a soft spot for Little Miss Sunshine.”

Veronica levels Lena with a dry look. “No,” she says quietly. “But I do have one for you.”

Lena’s smile falters, her eyebrows knitting, and she opens her mouth to respond, to dig at Veronica’s cryptic notions, because they were never really friends even in high school, but nothing comes out. And then Kara is coming up to the pair of them and handing an envelope filled with cash and a bundle of receipts across to Veronica. 

“Pretty good night, I’d say,” Kara reports, then glances between the two. “You guys know each other?”

Lena’s stomach churns, because, please, no, she’d really rather now not be the time that Kara finds out her last name, and so she turns to Veronica with a poorly masked look of panic. But the woman is back to her same steely coyness, not meeting Lena’s pressing gaze.

“Yes,” Veronica replies coolly. “We go back a bit.”

“Oh. Cool.” Kara glances at Lena with a slight bewildered expression, very briefly, before back to Veronica. “Uh, Nia left early but her cut is in there. Am I all good to close up?”

After another chilling stare that stretches just a second too long, Veronica gives the okay. She then takes the heap of papers and tucks them under her arm, and without a proper goodbye she takes off behind a dark corner of the bar for what Lena assumes to be her office.

Once she’s gone, Kara chuckles and starts pulling her hair from its ponytail, raking her fingers through it. “She’s so weird sometimes,” she admits to Lena. “But she is actually pretty great to work for. But you probably knew that, being friends and all.”

Lena is currently too preoccupied taking in how Kara’s luscious caramel-blonde hair tumbles over her shoulders, how soft and sweet it must feel and, oh fuck, it must smell amazing. She gives a distracted, “Uh-huh,” and then she’s watching Kara’s fingers too, long and sinewy. Lena shudders to think what it might feel like to have those hands scratching back through her own scalp, to trail down her jaw and around her neck—

“Luce!” Kara calls out. “Come grab your cash and get out of here.”

Lena swallows, pulls at her collar a bit.

Kara rounds the bar to plop down onto the stool beside Lena exasperatedly, relishing in being off her feet after such a long shift as she pulls her own pile of cash towards herself. Lucy passes by the pair of them and zips up a thick leather jacket.

“See you tomorrow, girl.” Lucy presses a kiss to the top of Kara’s head and gives her a one-armed hug quickly and nods at Lena briskly on her way out.

“Sorry just give me a sec and then we can go,” Kara promises as she hikes up her foot onto the seat and unzips the side of her boot. 

“No worries, take your time.” Lena’s not even sure what she’s still waiting around for anyway. It’s 4 a.m. — as soon as they both leave here, they’re going to say goodbye and Lena will take a Lyft home, maybe walk Kara to her car first or something, pretend that she isn’t morbidly curious as to what Kara’s arms might feel like around her.

Lena takes a deep breath. And then she notices what Kara’s doing, which is stuffing the majority of her cash earnings into her boot, pressing it tightly against her white sock as she zips it back closed, and then tucking the last couple twenties into the front pocket of her jeans.

“What do you split it up like that for?” Lena asks.

“Oh, uh, it’s just like, a technique we use. Y’know, in case someone stops you on the street and asks for your money, just give them the smaller stash, and you still keep most your money. Win-win. Sort of.” Kara shrugs and hops up to her feet. “You ready?”

The walk to the service elevator for employees is quiet, Lena chewing on her bottom lip. It’s not like — well, yes, she was raised in a very pompous lifestyle, with boarding school and helpers and tutors and so much money that she doesn’t even know what to do with most of it now. Yes, she was probably neglected more than a young girl should be and she was so touch-starved for any type of affection at all when she met Siobhan that she cried the first time they had sex and locked herself in the bathroom for over an hour until she calmed down her quaking hands and panting breaths. But her family gave her fucking everything. Maybe her first car wasn’t as nice as Lex’s but it was still hers. Maybe it was to upkeep appearances and extinguish any suspicious talk, but she still only wore the nicest designers and saw the most reputable hairdressers. She was cared for, accounted for by somebody. Hell, it’s her family fortune that afforded her to simply set aside a PhD she spent four years cramming to finish only to dally around the country for over half a decade. Of course simply coexisting in tight spaces with Siobhan Smythe is a career all on its own, but she didn’t have a job, discluding the random acting gig here and there. But, being the girlfriend to a rising star like Siobhan, it felt more like playing dress up for fun than actually something professional.

“You alright?” Kara asks, prodding Lena from her thoughts as she reaches across and presses the elevator button for the ground floor.

Things are changing, Lena reasons to herself. Maybe she’s scattered and misguided, but hopeully, oh how she fucking hopes, that will all be different now. She’s got this new research, and if it pulls through then she has a home to call her own, untainted by painful memories or visceral associations.

And, glancing at the bartender beside her, who watches Lena with a thoughtfully attentive expression, maybe she has something else, something entirely new, too. 

“Yeah, I’m good.” Lena clears her throat. “Do you always stay this late?”

Kara nods. “On weekends, yeah. These guys seem to think we’re living in New York,” she says, waving around the small elevator as if they’re surrounded. “Some mornings I’m here until five or six.”

“Like when clingy customers overstay their welcome, you mean?” 

Kara scoffs and rolls her eyes, bumps her shoulder against Lena’s. “Oh, stop. You’re different.”

Lena’s eyebrows knit, and she’s reminded back to earlier, noticing how many regulars Kara must have, how many people to tell her jokes to.

“Why?” Lena asks hesitantly, almost shyly.

Kara looks sideways at her, tilts her head as the elevator comes to a stop. “For one thing, I didn’t have to peel you off the floor and call you a cab.” 

“Okay, but you know what I mean.”

Kara sighs, reaches out to push open a door and holding it for Lena. “I dunno, I mean, you’re just… nice.”

Lena raises an eyebrow as she steps out into the cold, hugging her arms around herself. “Are you calling the rest of your clientele something else?” she teases.

Kara rolls her eyes again fondly, buries her hands into her coat pockets. “No, I meant like, you’re nice to talk to is all.” She shrugs, stepping out of the alley and onto the sidewalk.

Lena doesn’t feel like she’s going to get a much better answer than that, but upon looking across at the bartender, how the yellow of the street lamps melts over her cheekbones and catches in the curls of her hair, emblazing it gold, she falters. Perhaps she’s being a little strange. She barely knows her at all, and for Christ’s sake they don’t even know each others’ last names. It’s hard to believe that just earlier that day, Lena was at a cafe with Sam getting a latte thrown in her face, much less that a week ago she didn’t even know Kara existed. Does Lena always have to push so earnestly? To press on matters that should be left well enough alone, at least for the time being?

Kara catches her stare as they walk down the sidewalk, and she scrunches her mouth to one side adorably. “I think you’re interesting, okay?” 

“You really like your ambiguous descriptors,” Lena remarks dryly, deliberately looking ahead of them. 

The other woman laughs. “Okay, fine, then how about you tell me this. Why’d you stay all night talking to me?” She waves a hand in a wide arc around them, across the empty street and over the buildings. “This whole city, of all the clubs and hysterical bartenders out there—”

“Pretty sure most of your jokes are from Google, but continue.”

“Of all that ,” Kara goes on with an exasperated smile. “Why are you here still talking to me?”

‘You’re fucking hot’ and ‘ You don’t know who I really am’ aren’t the best candidates for answers to that question, although Lena does take half a beat considering the former option. They stop at the street corner down the block from the bar under an orange light.

Lena grumbles under her breath, tightens her arms across her center. “I like talking to you,” she admits.

“See? No better way to put it, you get me.”

Lena shakes her head with a quiet laugh. She takes one last look around them, taking in the quiet of the streets around them, how the shadows breathe and the cold dampens the noise of traffic farther than where they are now. A cab turns onto their street a few blocks away, heading in their direction, and Lena knows their night is close to its end.

She’s reluctant to even look at Kara as she says goodnight, the inevitable goodbye, but she does. Kara is looking down on her with the softest look of intrigue, as if she’s drinking Lena in as much as Lena is her. But it’s gentle, not prying or invasive. Lena hates the tug low in her gut, that pleasant squeeze of warmth clenching around her. She hates it because she knows it will leave her soon, she knows this is all fleeting, she knows she doesn’t know this woman before her at all, and she doesn’t know Lena, and Lena hates how perfectly easy she can breathe in a brief interim of long stretches of solitude.

“Right,” she breathes, the heat of her words forming a cloud between them. “Well, I guess this is—”

“Are you hungry?” Kara blurts.

Lena wavers in her train of thought, only blinks in response for a handful of seconds. Kara’s cheeks are pink from the chilly midnight air, and Lena is shivering at this point, but as she slowly smiles, she thinks that she can’t remember the last time she felt so warm .

“I… could eat, yeah.”

“Cool.” Kara beams, bounces on the heels of her boots. “I know a place that’s open late.”

xx

The place Kara takes them to is only six blocks away, and it’s a 24/7 diner with a glowing green and red neon sign outside that reads Four Aces over a glowing hand holding four playing cards. A bell clangs over their heads as Kara holds the door once again for Lena, and the warm aroma of flour, sugar and coffee envelops them both immediately. Lena sighs into the atmosphere, rubbing her hands together and relieved to be out of the cold.

“Kara, what on earth are you still doing awake?” a middle-aged woman chastises immediately as they enter, meeting them at the entrance with crossed arms. “I swear on my life, I’m not sure you ever sleep.”

“She’s exaggerating, I sleep a lot actually,” Kara stage-whispers to Lena with a sarcastic smile.

“Don’t be a smart-ass.” The woman pats Kara on the arm. “Or I’m giving you the whole-grain waffles.”

Kara immediately tenses, no longer entertaining herself with Lena. “Rhea, you wouldn’t dare.”

The woman shrugs. “Don’t test me, kid. Now, you gonna introduce me to your friend, or should we all forget our manners?”

“Oh stop making me look bad.” Kara shakes her head. “Lena, this is Rhea, she owns the diner. Rhea, this is Lena, she’s a friend from work.”

Lena slyly glances up at Kara at that, and then quickly to Rhea, wondering if the other woman knows where Kara works, if Lena’s walked right into a sticky net of her own doing. She had already been skeptical about going anywhere more public than a deserted street or a speakeasy with Kara, the notion of a public restaurant being dangerously nerve wracking. But she couldn’t very well say no to pale eyes like those, not in the dimness of street lamps and a bare sliver of a moon low in the sky.

To her credit, Rhea shows no sign of caring much about Lena at all other than pleasantries, and she only shakes her hand warmly with a gracious smile before waving them off to sit wherever they’d like and a promise that she’ll be over in a moment.

Despite the late hour, the diner has a few other tables still, a few pairs and some by themselves, but it’s not nearly as empty as Lena had expected. When Kara leads them up to a booth by the window, an itch prickles at the back of her throat at how… visible they would be, on display like an art show to anyone that walks by.

“Oh, um, do you mind if…”

Kara pauses, glances back at Lena with a frown. “What’s up?”

“It’s, ah, colder by the window. Is it alright if we sit over there?” Lena gestures back to a booth further back, where they can’t be seen from the street and Lena can sit with her back to the rest of the room.

Kara shrugs like it couldn’t make a difference in the world to her and they take a seat where Lena’s pointed out. Though, after tugging off her bomber jacket and the hoodie underneath, she holds the sweater out to Lena in offering. 

“No no, it’s fine, keep it.”

“You’re shivering still.”

“It’s fine, really.”

“Lena, take the stupid hoodie.”

Lena presses her lips together firmly, wanting to not let her smile burst across her face like an adolescent, but she’s not sure she does the best job because Kara laughs as she accepts the black zip-up and pulls her arms through.

It smells faintly of the same coconut and lime shampoo as her hair — and if that’s not a creepy ass thought to have, Lena doesn’t know what is — but also something else, just a crisp, refreshing fragrance of someone warm, of something soft.

“Thank you.”

Kara nods and smiles back sweetly as Rhea comes around with only one menu for them and already sets a white milkshake in front of Kara, which she immediately digs into with a dreamy, excited grin. 

“How you don’t have diabetes yet boggles my mind,” Rhea mutters, shaking her head. “Can I get you anything to drink, hon?” she asks to Lena.

“Oh, um, just an herbal tea, please. Thank you.”

As Kara happily hums, her mouth otherwise preoccupied (don’t fucking say it, Luthor), Lena shakes her head endearingly. Alright, so of the list of things she knows about her, she can now add something of a sweet tooth to it.

“You and Rhea seem like you go back,” Lena notes.

Kara nods, takes a deep breath as she comes to for air. “Oh yeah, she’s known me since I was a kid. Gave me my first waitressing job, actually.”

“You didn’t start off at Roulette?”

Kara chuckles. “Nah, you gotta work your way up to a place like that. I worked here for a few years in high school, then up at this fancy Italian place on 33rd where I learned to bartend. And then before Roulette, I worked at a jazz club for a couple years, and the owner there knew Veronica pretty well, so when I was in a pinch for better pay he gave her a call.” 

“That’s pretty lucky. So you didn’t have to go to bartending school or anything?”

“No. I mean, I went to school, but not for bartending or anything. Well, Veronica requested I get a few certificates when I first started, but those are just formalities, technically, and you can get those from like, a two hour training session. I did have to sign an NDA, though.”

Lena’s eyebrows raise. “Really? What for?”

Kara gives her a droll look. “You probably know. It just says I’m not allowed to talk to anyone about anything that happens there with anyone who hasn’t been there themselves. Fight club and all that, basically.”

“Oh, is that all?” Lena asks with a laugh.

Rhea comes back with a white ceramic mug and sets it in front of Lena, tendrils of white steam wafting, with an ace of spades painted on the side.

“I know Kara’s order, but are you all set?” Rhea asks Lena expectantly, already pulling a pen from behind her ear.

Lena cringes, because oh how Siobhan used to agonize over how long it’d take Lena to decide on anything from anywhere , and she hasn’t even given the menu a first glance, having been preoccupied talking to Kara, but Rhea is looking at her and her palms are growing sticky.

“Give the woman a second,” Kara mockingly objects, flicking her cherry stem at the business owner with a laugh. “I’ve been distracting her.”

“Oh I’ll give you a piece of something,” Rhea growls, reaching out to ruffle a hand messily through Kara’s hair, sending all those luscious locks chaotically askew.

Lena forces herself to use the quick chance to skim through the menu. It’s not like diner food changes much anyway, right? 

“By the way,” Kara interjects, reaching out to lay her hand across Lena’s menu. “Whatever you do, don’t get the oatmeal. Tastes like prison food.”

“Kara, I swear, one of these days I’m going to get your mother in here and give you a proper smacking.”

“Okay, but Eliza doesn’t like the oatmeal either.”

So, no blueberry oatmeal. With a wry smile, Lena thinks she can manage that. “It’s alright,” she cuts back in, closing her menu. “I’ll just have the eggs benedict, please.”

Rhea takes off with their menus, but not without flicking Kara in the forehead first and a faintly mumbled, “ annoying little punk .”

“She’s actually very sweet, I promise,” Kara assures with a grin as she straightens out her hair. But come on, Jesus, did the woman have to look good even completely disheveled? Lena loathes to think what she might look like in the morning when she gets out of bed. Or when she gets out of bed after— 

“She just likes to pretend she’s all tough and not happy to see me,” Kara continues. 

Lena shakes her head. “Of course, no, she does seem nice. It’s clear she cares deeply about you. You said that she knew you even before you started working here?”

Kara tips up the glass to tilt the last swallow of ice cream into her mouth, and when she sets the glass back down, there’s a dollop of whipped cream on her nose and a smear across her upper lip. “Yeah, I grew up with her son Mike, and he always used to be this major jerk to me — I’m talking like, he stole my Gushers and stuff, it was serious — and so she was always bringing him by to apologize for one thing another. Then she and Eliza, my adoptive mother, they became friends and it all just led to a job one day, I guess.” Kara shrugs, and she licks off the strip of cream from her mouth, but she wrinkles her nose adorably when she can tell she hasn’t gotten everything.

“This is pathetic to watch,” Lena murmurs as she reaches over with a napkin to swipe the mess away from her nose.

Kara laughs, that same gleeful, childish laugh she’d had on that first night Lena met her, the laugh she had been so drawn to. Lena takes in her crinkled eyes, that wide smile — there’s something so refreshing about someone so unabashedly themselves, someone so comfortable in their skin.

Lena can’t relate.

“But anyway, enough about me.”

Lena’s stomach drops.

“What about you? I know you said you’re doing some cancer research, right? How’d you get into that?”

There’s — 

Of course there’s an easy way to answer this, without lying, because there’s just obviously the truth . It’d be so easy to tell Kara how she got to where she is, about her family, their prestige, how far back the line of their money goes and the depths of their research. There are all these answers swimming in her skull like chunks of a simmering stew, just one sopping, thick mess that has nothing to do with who she is, nothing about her.

Kara immediately backtracks at what must be a panicked look on her face. “Or not, you know, we can start somewhere simpler.”

After a nod, Lena sips her tea.

“You don’t have to answer this if you really don’t want to, believe me, I get the controversy around asking something like this.” Kara inhales sharply, meeting Lena’s gaze with a heavy weight. “But tell me…  f you had to live off one kind of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Lena promptly snorts her tea. Kara throws her head back and laughs .

“Cheeky bastard,” Lena laughs, wiping her face clean. “God, fuck you. Uh, what was the question? Food?” 

Kara nods cheerfully.

“Right. Um, I’m a big fan of Greek food, anything mediterranean. And you?”

“Easy, definitely Chinese. There’s this great dumpling place near my apartment, best pot stickers I’ve ever had. The family that owns it is from Hong Kong, and I swear — masters of their craft.”

Lena smiles. “I’ll have to check it out, then.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll take you sometime, don’t worry.” Kara waves her hand flippantly, as if it’s nothing to suggest that they see each other again outside of the bar, as if this is all going fine and that Lena isn’t melting on the spot and her cheeks aren’t burning. “But moving on. What’s the most embarrassing place you’ve ever cried?”

“Good God,” Lena grimaces, burying her face in her hands. “No way, it’s horrible.”

“Come on.” Kara pokes at Lena’s forearm on the table with a goofy smile. “Can’t be that bad.”

Of course it takes nothing more to persuade her. “Fine, but if you breathe a word of this to anyone, I’m suing Roulette.”

Kara raises her hands. “Fine by me, Veronica’s got good insurance. So, where was it?”

“I… may have cried at a Wendy’s, once. It was years ago, okay? And their Frosty machine was down, so. I was devastated.”

Kara is ecstatic at this news, hunches forward on her elbows. “Oh my gosh, really? Don’t get me wrong, I know an ice cream craving like nobody’s business, but why ?”

Lena purses her lips, fiddles with the tag of the tea bag hanging from her mug. “I mean, I’d had a rough day, and I might have been a little high, so…”

It takes four minutes to get Kara to stop laughing.

“Alright, so what about you?” Lena presses once the bartender clears the dampness from the corners of her eyes.

“Oh jeez, um, my best friend’s wedding probably.”

“Why’s that embarrassing?”

“Well, I was the maid of honor, and I am a very ugly crier. Like, snot everywhere, blotchy face, loud hiccups, the works. And… it was a very large ceremony.”

Lena smirks. “So what you’re saying is that there’s footage of this somewhere, right?”

Kara holds out a finger in warning. “No way, don’t even ask.”

“Please, you think I’d have to? I have resources, Kara.”

The bartender groans. “Ugh, whatever. Moving on. What’s one—”

“No no,” Lena cuts her off. “It’s my turn to ask you something.”

“Your turn? I didn’t realize we’re playing a game.”

“Yes, we are, and you started it.” Lena drums her fingers thoughtfully against her mug. “Hm. You mentioned you went to school, what did you study?”

Kara scoffs. “Lena, your questions are so boring.”

“They are not!” Lena laughs, realizes her cheeks are starting to hurt from smiling. “Answer the question.” 

The blonde sighs, licks her lips. “I studied journalism and global public health.”

“Oh.” Lena resists the sudden clench of alarm, because — it’s fine, she’s not actually a member of the press, she’s just a bartender, it’s fine, it’s fine. She clears her throat. “And, forgive me if this is rude but, how come you didn’t… pursue that?”

“You mean, why am I still working in customer service?” Kara laughs. “The journalism thing just hasn’t worked out yet. Someday, hopefully, but for now. Well. Bartending for National City’s most famous is a great gig.”

Lena tugs distractedly at the strings of Kara’s hoodie, twists it around her forefinger. No, she’s being neurotic, she knows that, but it’s suddenly difficult to meet Kara’s eyes directly.

Kara changes the subject, leaning forward onto the table. “What about you? You must’ve studied some cool stuff to be doing the research that you are.”

Lena forces herself to relax, to breathe, because somehow this is completely different than what Kara asked before. “I, um, yes. I suppose. I spent my undergrad on comp-sci and physics, but I did my MA on molecular biology before going back to get my PhD in biomedical engineering.”

A stretch of silence envelops them, only the faint sounds of clattering plates, clinking silverware, the hum of low conversation between them. And Kara, she gapes at Lena with her jaw hung low like a fish. God , did she have to be so fucking adorable all the time?

“Holy crap,” Kara breathes. “Holy crap , Lena.”

“Hm, thought I might get a real swear for that one.”

Kara ignores the comment. “How old are you?”

Lena scoffs in mock offense. “I’m only twenty-nine, thank you. I finished high school early, and my studies took about… a little over seven years? Give or take.”

Kara puffs out her cheeks comically. “Wow… I’m having dinner with a certified genius.”

Lena laughs again, her nose wrinkling. “I don’t know that I’d call this dinner.”

“That’s insane, Lena, your parents must be so proud of you.”

Her heart stutters again, reels to a halt, jumps, and Lena’s gaze flickers down. Lillian hardly qualifies as a parent . “Maybe, but they’re both passed, actually,” Lena says with a flat smile, because it’s not really a lie, is it?

“Oh. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed like that.”

Lena waves her off. “It’s okay, I’ve long since dealt with it.”

Kara quickly jumps them back into their makeshift game of twenty questions, and Lena’s grateful. She’s not sure how many people would be so accommodating about skirting around so many sore topics, so patient about how private Lena is. Mind you, it’s because she’d rather not lie and there’s only so many questions she can vaguely answer without deceit, and so that’s why she’s secretive about any details that are far too revealing about who she actually is, but Kara is gentle and understanding without any need for elaboration. Of course it’ must be associated with the nature of her job, the nature of how they met, but Lena can’t help but sense it’s also an underlying quality to the woman herself, this forbearing side to her.  They make more small-talk, continue on with this back-and-forth until their food arrives. Lena’s pleasantly surprised to realize how much you can actually learn about a person just through trivial things that no one usually bothers to ask about, things that Kara asks.

She already knew this, but she learns Kara really likes her sugar, that she can’t drink coffee unless it has at least four packets of sugar in it — brown, though, never white, she swears they taste different. She can’t stand any milk alternatives, and is vehement about the fact that oat milk tastes like chalky, diluted mud and almond milk is just white water. Lena learns that Kara’s favorite ride at a carnival is the bumper cars, that she thrives off the boggling echoes around her skull and the inevitable dizziness when she firsts steps out of the car, how unless she has the first inklings of a headache then she didn’t go enough at it. Lena learns that if Kara were to die in a freak accident, it’d probably be from eating Cheetos while driving, and the first responders to the scene would find the interior of her car splattered with the orange dust, and absolutely no one in her life would be surprised. Lena learns that Kara isn’t really a cat or dog person, she could never choose just one, but she has a cat because it used to be her neighbor’s, and the orange creature would escape into the hallway dozens of times and make its way to Kara’s apartment that constantly smelled of food, and Kara would play and care for the animal until the neighbor came by and collected him back again. Except, one day the elderly woman never came back, and the woman had no other family, and someone from the city came to pack up all her things and found no next of kin, so Kara considered no other alternative but to take the pet in herself. She recounts this story like it’s a set of consequential inevitabilities, like it’s something anyone would do, about as simple as lending a neighbor a cup of sugar, but Lena can’t help but melt in her seat at how soft-hearted and loving a person like that must be to not even think twice.

The concept is so foreign to Lena that it’s both remarkably extraordinary to meet someone like that and yet terrifyingly disconcerting to realize she can’t think of anyone else she’s surrounded herself with in the last seven years who is so kind, generous. There’s Sam, of course, who’s just as much of a force of good as Kara, but Lena can’t deny that she left her behind in what became a past life to chase after someone who just… wasn’t any of that.

Lena forcefully shoves Siobhan from her mind, into a box, out of reach.

In turn, Lena tells Kara that she’s never been one for sweets, and she’s never been to any sort of carnival or fair — both facts that completely appall the other woman — but she does have a weakness for blue raspberry cotton candy, and with how her mother used to treat this craving you’d think Lena had a guilty pleasure for shooting up heroin. Lena tells Kara that she can tie a cherry stem with her tongue, and Kara immediately scrambles up to the counter to harass Rhea for a small bowl of cherries to have the fun fact proved (which Lena does), how if she could only see one band live for the rest of her life it would probably be the Cranberries, but also has never seen a live Broadway show. Lena tells Kara about the time in boarding school when she, Veronica and some other girls snuck out after curfew, lit a bonfire on a beach where they drank until late into the night before heading to a rival school’s football field to spray paint their own school’s logo, and Kara teases her relentlessly. 

Their food arrives eventually, Rhea dropping off a glass of orange juice beside Kara’s plate and topping off Lena’s tea with more hot water. They settle into an easy silence, mainly because Kara’s busy devouring her stack of waffles and stuffing her face with berries sopped up in syrup. They eat quietly, enjoying their own meals, but towards the end a serious expression clouds Kara’s face and the bartender clears her throat.

“I really don’t… do this much,” Kara admits, elbows draped on either side of her plate. 

Lena sets her silverware down onto her mostly empty plate and looks back at her expectantly. “Go to diners at 4am with a stranger? I don’t either.”

“You’re a brat.” Kara huffs, and Lena smiles. “No, I mean, interact with people from work. Not the people I don’t actually work with, anyway, because I do hang out with them all the time. But like, you. People like you.”

“Ah.” Lena stares down at her mug, wondering if the inevitable question is coming, feeling the hairs on her arms tense and suddenly aware of her heart’s steady beat in her ears. 

“It’s not forbidden or anything, it’s just not something I make a habit of,” Kara goes on, waving her fork flippantly.

Lena goes to pick at the crust on her grain toast. “You seem pretty friendly with most of them.” 

Kara nods around a large mouthful of food and washes it down with a gulp of her juice. “Yeah, I mean, I’m pretty good at remembering people, and it helps to have regulars and stuff. But I’m not usually taking them out for a bite to eat afterwards.”

“Well, I imagine most people are ready to go to bed at this point.”

Kara laughs, her fork dangling from her long fingers. “Are you always this difficult?”

“Just when it’s fun to.” Lena shrugs. “And besides, you’re not taking me out to eat.”

Kara frowns, looks around them. “Then what do you call this, exactly?”

“I’m taking you out to eat. You think I’m going to let you pay for this?”

Kara’s ensuing groan is loud, and she runs her hands over her face. “Lena, c’mon we were having such a good time.”

“And we still are.”

“Nope, you blew it, because now we’re going to argue.”

“There’s no arguing about it. I’m paying.”

“No, you’re not. I literally invited you here, the rules clearly state that this is on me.”

“Rules change.”

“Lena—”

“You girls are so loud ,” Rhea interrupts as she clears their plates away. “Split the bill like a normal couple, for God’s sake, and leave me in peace.”

If Lena had been drinking her tea in that moment, it’d probably be splattered all over her front by now, and she’s positively certain that a sticky blush is swarming her neck and cheeks at Rhea’s word choice, but Kara doesn’t even bat an eye at the comment, moves past it entirely.

“Rhea, you’re supposed to be on my side. Eliza would back me up.”

The owner rolls her eyes. “No, Eliza would tell you to stop being rude and let this sweet girl buy you a meal. You work too hard, kid.”

Kara waves a hand dismissively. “Okay, you’re no longer allowed any input.”

Rhea holds her hand out to Lena, who already has her AMEX card out, and takes the black card wordlessly.

“Thank you,” Lena calls after her, and Kara throws her hands in the air.

xx

The inescapable goodbye does come, though. Lena can’t complain exactly, not when it’s pushing on after five am and there’s a certain pale glow to the sky that says sunrise isn’t too far now. The bell of the diner clambers over their heads as the two women step out onto the street, and Lena ties the belt of her peacoat securely around her waist while Kara rubs her hands together.

“Which way you headed?” Kara asks her, her voice low as if she’s reluctant to disturb the rare tranquility of a quiet night in the city.

Lena makes a vague gesture behind her. “Uptown, east side. What about you?”

Kara laughs. “Lower west side. I was gonna ask if you wanted to share a cab, but I guess that’s my answer.”

“Probably for the best. You’d just argue with me about who pays the fare anyway.”

“Ha,” Kara blurts. “So you admit we were arguing.”

Lena rolls her eyes and takes a couple steps backwards. “Yeah, I’m not up for a round two on this.” She smiles softly at the bartender, who’s blonde hair shimmers red and green under the hue of the diner’s lights, imagines how supple it must feel to graze a hand over those freckled cheeks.

“Have a good night, then, Kara,” Lena finishes, already turning away, because a Luthor is never the first to be left behind.

Lena makes all of two and a half steps away before there’s the crunching of boots over asphalt and Kara’s gentle lap of breath just behind her. “Lena, wait—”

No, she wouldn’t actually—

Lena turns, and Kara’s much closer than she expected and, oh, she’s got a few inches on Lena. Somehow she hadn’t noticed this yet, hadn’t realized that Kara looks down on her ever so slightly.

“Yes?” she asks, forcing uniformity into a voice that wants to tremble.

It’s so quiet out here, so brilliantly serene, that she both sees and hears Kara’s throat bob with a thick swallow.

“Is it okay if, I mean — sorry, I don’t know if this, like, crosses any boundaries or anything, um, I just, I was wondering if — if maybe—”

“Ask me,” Lena exhales, her chest hammering.

Kara’s eyes wobble, and it’s too dark to tell, too full of shadows to properly make out, but Lena thinks her eyes might be blue, gray perhaps, like the snow that’s sure to fall any day now back in Metropolis.

“Can I have your number?” Kara finally gets out.

Right, okay. Sure. Definitely exactly what Lena thought she was going to do, and by no means does her starstruck smile droop at the edges. Lena shakes her head, laughs under her breath to herself as she pulls her phone from her coat pocket. She’s being ridiculous, she wouldn’t even know what to do if Kara actually—

“Here.” Lena unlocks her phone to her contacts page and holds it out for Kara. 

Kara sighs, this actual relieved, adorable sigh, like she was holding her breath and can now let go, like after the last seven hours (holy fuck, really?) Lena might’ve actually had the gall to say no to something so small.

Of course, it’s not small, or insignificant, Kara probably understands. She must know better than most, with anyone that comes into Roulette, that her personal number on her personal phone (and not one of the many sidelines she uses for some middle ground) is extremely guarded, that not even most of Siobhan’s friends even had it. But Lena’s not the first celebrity to be private about her life, she reasons, something sour left behind in her mouth. Her thoughts start to prick at throbbing curiosity, and Lena wonders if what Kara said before was true, if she really doesn’t usually do this with every pretty actress that falls for a sweet smile and corny joke.

“Here ya go.” Kara hands her back her phone, smiles at her with this thick, closed-lip smile that crinkles the corners of her eyes.

It’s impossible to not feel special with a girl looking at you like that, Lena thinks.

“Text me so I have your number too,” Kara adds, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet.

Lena blinks away her nagging speculations. “Of course. I mean, maybe.”

“Maybe?”

Lena shrugs, moves to back away again. “Guess you’ll find out.”

“Oh come on, just send it to me — wait, wait, stop it.” Kara’s eyebrows knit in confusion and she reaches out after Lena, and her hand only faintly grazes Lena’s elbow, a polite, unprecedented touch if there ever was one, but it’s enough to immediately pull Lena back as if it were more.

Lena frowns with an amused smirk. “What now? I’m not giving you my autograph.”

Kara huffs. “Shut up, just, that streets sketchy.” She nods off in the direction Lena keeps trying to escape to. “Lemme get you a cab on the main street, okay?”

“I am an adult, you know,” Lena drawls. “I can get myself home just fine.” Though she is already following the other woman easily, mindlessly.

Kara rolls her eyes. “Just humor me.”

They don’t say much else, Lena figures the weight of exhaustion is laying heavier on Kara now. She can’t really imagine how the poor girl’s still walking and talking like this, still alert enough to navigate them and step out onto a street corner with a long arm precisely held out.

Nothing is said between them until a cab is pulled up to the curb and Kara is opening the door for Lena. “Go on, I’ll get the next one.”

Kara leans over with her arms on top of the door as Lena steps down onto the curb, and she glances back once at Kara, longing for — 

Something. 

Mostly, she wishes she were the kind of woman ballsy enough to press forward, drop a harmless kiss on Kara’s cheek. It would be nothing, it wouldn’t have to mean anything. Lena is anything but touch-starved these days, it’s barely been two weeks since she kissed Siobhan last, but standing under the weight of Kara’s velvety gaze, to be on the receiving end of that tender look, she can’t help but feel like she doesn’t know what it means to be touched at all.

“Good night, Kara,” she says one last time, and this time Kara doesn’t stop her.

“Get home safe.” 

Kara shuts the door for her, and after giving the driver the cross street for her address and he pulls away, she looks back through the window to see Kara give one slight, tentative wave.

Lena waves back.

xx

It’s not until she’s inside, when Lena is stripping herself of her stiff, wrinkled clothing, and dead set on sleeping for a month, that she notices she’s still wearing Kara’s hoodie. 

Lena doesn’t know what this is (Read: what the fuck she’s doing). With Kara, where she expects this to even go. Realistically anyway, how long can she keep this up? The longer she waits to tell Kara who she is, the more complicated it all is, the blurrier the gray lines become.

On the other hand… it’s nothing that can’t wait till morning.

Lena kicks off her slacks, tosses aside her maroon blouse and escapes from her bra, before pulling the warm hoodie back on and climbing into bed with a soft, sweet aroma tucking her in to lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t text Kara.

It’s not like she doesn’t want to, like she didn’t enjoy their easy banter over sticky waffles and too-salty benedict, like she doesn’t think Kara’s mannerisms when she speaks are vibrant and that the way her tongue pokes out to lick at a dollop of whipped dream on her lip is painfully adorable. It’s not like Kara’s voice isn’t low and sweet like a spoonful of sugar stirred into a strong black tea, like Kara’s not patient with Lena’s secrecy or kind enough for her insecurities, like she doesn’t leave Lena starstruck and and full of wonder with every chance she gets to learn just a little bit more about her.

It’s the very fact that these are all true statements that leaves Lena breathless and paralyzed whenever she picks up her phone and considers texting her. There’s the urge to push it off, to wait, be coy and let Kara text her first even though that’s impossible if Lena refuses to actually give her her number. 

Because instead of being rational, Lena would rather stare contemplatively at the dim screen of her phone in the blanketed dark of her bedroom, late at night, where Kara has saved herself in Lena’s contacts as her first name, inexplicably followed by the female superhero emoji and the thrumming pink heart.

She gets enough satisfaction from staring at the keystrokes the woman typed out herself, right? She isn’t longing to learn what kind of texter Kara is, if she takes hours to reply or is instantaneous, if she types in long paragraphs or incessant bursts, if she capitalizes or uses punctuation, if she keeps it tame with things like lol and haha or if she’ll go to the extremes with XD and ROFL and make Lena reconsider the matter entirely.

No, she’s not curious at all. It’s fine.

She just spends the next five nights like this, and maybe a few mornings, and also like during lunch breaks with Sam when the other woman isn’t paying attention.

It’s hard to explain, really. 

So there’s this bubble, right? Just your classic, standard, organic bubble of the romantic variety. Lena’s got it perfectly crafted, all shiny and pink, encasing her and Kara. This bubble is where things still look pretty and endearing and everything stays safely in the practical strangers domain but toes the line at explicit fantasies and soft gazes and entertaining what if’s. 

She knows it’s unreasonable to place this much weight on giving someone her phone number, someone who has verbally expressed that she actually wants her number in the first place. 

There’s just something safe about staying where she is, because how long does Lena expect to play this game anyway? She probably shouldn’t even pursue the matter, should stop going to Roulette altogether. This scenario only goes a certain way, Lena only has so much time before Kara eventually tries to Google Lena, asks what tier of stardom brought her through the doors of Roulette, figures out the inevitable truth. 

It’s not a lie, no, but it might as well be. Especially because Lena knows that when Kara learns who she actually is, she’ll want nothing to do with her. 

She’s not being dramatic or paranoid, it’s just the truth. The fact of the matter is that Lena doesn’t get this sort of story. At least not now. She’s not quite that bitter yet to think that love will be this forever elusive thing , but it’s so far away into her future and intangible that it might as well be unattainable. It’s not something she gets while she’s still a Luthor, while she’s still this shadowy, malfunctioned copy of a person that hasn’t done anything remarkable or knows how to be a good person.

She doesn’t deserve the sort of love story she dreamed about when she was a kid. Not yet, not anytime soon, not with someone so bright, so untainted by her twilight.

xx

It’s fine anyways, because Lena only lasts six days in her self-deprecating martyr act before she goes to Roulette again. So maybe she’s a bit fragile, gets a little lonely — she’s only human.

It’s Friday, and she’s been working by Sam’s side all week now, just about getting a grasp on how things work around here, stretching her scholarly muscles and relighting neuronal pathways she hasn’t used in years. 

“I had a weird dream the other night,” Lena confesses early on in the day, arms crossed and leaning against the doorframe to the breakroom.

In front of her, Sam pours a splash of milk from the staff fridge into a white mug of coffee that reads, Scientists: just regular, normal people… who are way smarter than you .

“Yeah? Still get those wet dreams, huh?” Sam asks.

“Oh fuck off. That was one time.”

Sam laughs, rinsing her spoon off in the sink before carefully plucking up the handle to her steaming mug. “Sweetie, you were in the shower with your vibrator for over an hour the morning of my lab practical. It’s not something I’m gonna let you live down.”

Lena makes a low, disapproving groan in her throat as they step out of the breakroom and make back down the hall towards the offices. “If you tell anyone about that, then I’m showing your staff all the pictures from your goth phase.”

“Okay, and? You had one too.”

“Yes, but I actually pulled mine off.”

Sam laughs loudly but sneaks a half-hearted punch to Lena’s shoulder. “You’re such a brat, anyone ever tell you that?”

“Nope, not once,” Lena answers coolly, but as they turn the corner she knows the red is curling around her cheeks, and Sam isn’t that oblivious.

God , I love how easy you are to read,” Sam gushes, spinning Lena back around so they stop in the hallway. “Please tell me it’s the cute bartender and not somebody new, you know I’m horrible with names.”

“Okay, yes, she called me a brat one time, let’s move on. God, you’re like a private detective.”

“So is that like, a sex thing? What’s the opposite of a praise kink?”

“Can I go back to work now?”

“No, sorry.” She didn’t sound sorry at all. “Tell me about this dream.”

“You give me whiplash.”

Sam scoffs as she loops her free arm through Lena’s elbow, tugging her into the communal office space. “I’m barely even awake right now, and it’s Friday, so get over it.” Sam sinks into her desk chair with a sigh of content. “So. Dream?”

Lena takes her seat opposite Sam at her own new desk, which is already overspilling with data and research she’s yet to catch up on to get up to speed on her new project. “Right. It was… odd, to say the least.”

“About the bartender?”

“Her name’s Kara. And no, it was about Siobhan.”

Sam makes a face. “Gross. You kill her or anything?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Hm, shame.”

“She just—” Lena chews on her bottom lip, pensive. “We were at my old apartment, in Metropolis, and she just kept asking me about this woman, asking me her name and who she was and where she was, and I had to keep telling her I didn’t know who she was talking about.”

“Meta.”

“And, she just kept asking me if I remembered her, like Siobhan was asking me if I remember herself, and she’s trying to make sure that I’ve forgotten about this other woman, but I don’t know who it is that I’m supposed to have forgotten in the first place. You get what I mean?”

“Not at all. Keep going.”

“And so, then we’re having sex—”

Ha , knew it.”

“—And like, I’m on top of her, right?”

“Okay, you know what? That’s so fake. You’re such a bottom.”

“And just all of a sudden, I start crying , horribly, while I’m actually on top of her, and I’m panicking because I have to hide it, but I don’t know what to do with all these tears, but her eyes are closed so she doesn’t see, so I just have to keep wiping them away and swallowing them so that none drip onto her.”

“You really do have some fucked up kinks.”

“And then we’re in the doorway of her apartment, I think, but she’s leaving, and she’s asking me what this other girl’s name is, but I’m begging her not to leave because I don’t know who she’s talking about, but Siobhan’s telling me that she’s… God, what did she say? I think she said something like she’s tired of being settled with. And then she’s leaving, and I’m alone, and— Jesus, it felt like I was suffocating, but then suddenly I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t relieve the feeling. So I went back to my room, her room I guess, technically, and I get into the bed and stare at the ceiling and, in the dream, I close my eyes. And when I open them, she’s right there. Kara is, I mean, just at the foot of the bed, staring at me. And then I woke up.” 

Sam regards Lena with a contemplative frown for a long moment, one that stretches on and filled only with Lena’s shaky inhales of breath as she shakes herself free from the thoughts of the other night. 

Then Sam’s reaching into a drawer of her desk, and she slides a bottle of Black Label across the desk. “You really need this more than I do.”

Lena stares at the expensive whiskey for a moment, actually considers being the responsible type of person to reject it, but caves and twists off the cap. “So? What do you think it means?” she asks anxiously after taking a swig, clearing her throat of the burn that lingers.

Sam leans back in her chair, steepling her fingers together. “Think it means you’ve totally lost your marbles, to be honest.”

Lena rolls her eyes. “Helpful, truly.” Spinning back into her desk, Lena chews on her the inside of her cheek, staring blankly at her work before her. “It’s just that… I only just met this girl, and yes, she’s wonderful and kind but, I mean. I just got out of a seven-year-long relationship barely two weeks ago. What the fuck is so wrong with me that I’m already jumping at the opportunity to move on?” Because she’s not immune to Siobhan, not yet, still can’t let go of the grip on her shoulders that still cares , if her reaction to Siobhan’s post with a new girl is anything to go by.

Sam sighs. “Okay, listen. I think you’re overthinking the whole dream thing. But from the way you talk about it, what you and Siobhan had was pretty superficial anyway. Maybe it really ended a long time ago for you, maybe it never started, and this bartender chick—”

“Kara.”

“This Kara chick, she’s touching a nerve. Like, a sappy, cute, gay nerve. You’re not insane for having a crush, Lena.”

“Maybe I should have tried harder,” Lena mutters. “When Siobhan said it was over, I just stood there. I didn’t say anything, or do anything. You know, you’re right, I talk about her like I meant nothing to her, but in the end, for all I know, she was the one waiting for me to fight.”

“She didn’t even have your back, babe.” Sam’s pitying eyes are heavy and bore into Lena like icicles. “With everything that was going on with Lex, your family… you had enough on your plate already without having to perform against some reverse psychology bullshit from your girlfriend.”

“I just… feel guilty, I suppose. Seven years over, I don’t say a fucking word, and already I’m dreaming about someone else.”

“Okay, let’s try this angle: maybe this dream thing is just a sign that you need a rebound, and considering that this hottie is basically the polar opposite of Siobhan, it sounds perfect.”

Lena doesn’t know what kind of response she’s supposed to give that, because somehow getting involved with Kara in a way that’s only meant to be temporary is worse than the dream. So Lena lets out nothing more than a quiet hum as she turns back to her work.

“Just… stop psychoanalyzing yourself so much, okay? Have a little fun.”

The point drops after that, but something bitter squirms under Lena’s tongue. Still, she forces herself to stop feeling pathetic about her flaccid romantic life long enough to steer her focus back to her work. Sam heads off to the labs on the opposite end of the floor soon after, and a few hours later Lena’s joining her. 

Sam is just finishing up with showing Lena some of the lab test results they’d run through over the last few weeks on cell regeneration in a specific class of amphibians most closely related to mammals. It’s supposedly an angle her team had been working, how they might be able to manipulate the DNA sequences to regenerate cells that are fried in radiation therapy, but that trail of research on the project is currently at a standstill, and it’s where she’ll be focusing Lena’s attention. 

While Lena inspects a petri dish through a microscope, Sam chats aimlessly about her plans for the night to take Ruby to see a new Disney movie in theaters, and Lena makes some offhand comment about how she could really use a Xanax and a stiff drink after this, when: “Oh, holy Jesus mother fucking shit .”

Lena, slightly alarmed but thoroughly entertained, lifts her head from her chin as Sam starts scrambling around their work bench to a stack of papers. “Darling, I can certainly share, don’t worry.”

“No, what? I just — wait, do you really have…? No, never mind, shit, shit. Look, I completely forgot I promised Jack I’d get this stuff delivered over to Lord Technologies today. Fuck .” Sam groans, frantically stuffing a manilla folder under her arm and moving to clean up their equipment.

“Lord?” Lena echoes. “I thought Spheerical Industries stopped partnering with him years ago.”

Now on the hunt for the case for her titration pipette, Sam shrugs distractedly. “Um, technically yes, but not officially? He gives us access to some clinical data from his facilities, just numbers and figures on patients really, in exchange for any research we do on pharmaceuticals that comes from his company. It’s sort of under the table, I guess, but it’s not illegal or anything, Lord just doesn’t want to credit anyone but himself for the research. Anyway, I’ve been looking into what seems to be this weird new strain of a demyelinating virus that’s been popping up, and Lord asked us to see if any of his treatments are involved. So I had Marcus from the neurostats department make up an analysis cross-referencing reports of the virus with visits to a Lord facility, and I promised Jack I’d bring it over because go figure that Lord doesn’t trust sending sensitive information over even a fax machine for fuck’s sake—”

Lena hops off her stool and waves Sam off. “Go, please, before you have a meltdown. I’ll take care of everything here.”

Sam hesitates, poking her head from behind the table where she’d been searching on the floor for the plastic case. “Are you… sure?” She shakes her head. “No, no, it’s fine, if I start now I can make it to Lord’s by seven and then I can get to picking up Ruby by eight at the latest —”

“Sam,” Lena interrupts again, this time with a laugh. “I know how to run a lab, I saw Lex do it enough times.”

Sam’s eyebrows knit together, but Lena can tell she’s giving in. “How soon is too soon to make jokes about that, by the way?”

Lena blinks. “What, about Lex? I’ve been making jokes about him being the antichrist since I was seven, I don’t think they stop now just because it turns out to be true.”

“Okay, great. So, when you’re isolating all the chemicals tonight, you’ll do everything that Lex didn’t do, right?”

“Don’t poison anyone, got it.”

After shucking her gloves and disposable apron into the waste bin, Sam pauses one last time. “Are you sure you’re good here?”

“Yes, yes, now go .”

With one last, overwhelmingly heartfelt thanks over her shoulder, Sam rushes from the lab, leaving Lena to clean up. 

It doesn’t take long or anything, and it’s not like she has anything better to do than return to an empty white apartment that still smells like a new car and eat Sweetgreen leftovers and finish off an opened bottle of merlot. Plus, she’s hands-on — she enjoys the opportunity to familiarize herself with the equipment again after all these years, relearn protocols and regulations for securing a lab. It’s mundane work that honestly an intern could do, but Lena knows it helps keep her grounded.

She’s nearly finished by the time ten rolls around, sitting in the dark of Sam’s private office with only the dandelion glow of her desk lamp illuminating her papers and the glare of the computer monitor. She texts Sam briefly for a few comments to put into the closing report, but other than that, she’s just about ready to pack up and head home when the office door is being pushed open.

“Yo Sam, bunch of us are headed to Murphy’s for—” It’s one of the researchers on the genome branch, Lena can’t remember his name, but he catches when he looks up from his phone. “Oh, Lena.  Hey. Uh, is Sam around?”

Lena’s face is carved of stone as she shoves off the clench in her throat. “No, she had to leave early. What’s going on?”

The man shakes his head much too quickly. “Nothing, uh, don’t worry about it. See you Monday.” With a thin-lipped look that she supposes is meant to resemble a smile but looks rather like a grimace, he dashes from the room much quicker than he entered, and Lena is alone again.

If she was feeling reclusive about going home to her apartment before, she’s feeling downright nauseous with solitude now.

It’s not like —

Her new coworkers are nice. Polite. They introduced themselves with nods and plastic smiles, were happy to welcome her to their team, but they skirt around her like she carries something contagious in her lab coat. They don’t shake her hand, don’t ask if she wants anything when they make coffee runs, don’t sit at the same table in the break room as she does. 

She wasn’t expecting to make friends, it’s not like that. She didn’t start working here to become a social butterfly, and honestly she’s pretty used to being a pariah by now. 

Logically understanding and appropriately anticipating behaviors, though, does nothing to stop the sharp sting of something so trivial and adolescent as being left out of a fun night out.

It’s fine, she thinks to herself, standing and powering down Sam’s computer. It’s fine, it’s whatever. It’s not like she could even go to a public bar like Murphy’s anyway, she would’ve said no anyway .

She runs from a thought that rises slowly, does her best to swallow it down before it even surfaces, but it scratches through eventually, once Lena’s in a cab and she closes her door off to the noise of the city.

How many times, even before everything that’s happened, did Siobhan actively used to ask Lena to wait for her back at their apartment while she went to a party, before she’d inevitably stumble in through the door at 1 a.m. with marbleized eyeballs and breath that stank of tequila? How many times did Siobhan imply that the people she’d be with that night wouldn’t be Lena’s sort of crowd when really it was blatant across her face that she was embarrassed to bring her girlfriend with her everywhere she went?

Lena clenches her jaw, closes her eyes, leans back against the leather seat, tries to shake off the restless reminders like a mosquito.

It wasn’t every time, no. She was a part of Siobhan’s world, of course, everyone knew they were together, it was never like that. But any new project that Siobhan started on, whatever new cast or director she was working with, in the beginning, she’d ask Lena to stay at home and let her go alone. She wanted to feel around for things first, make sure they were the kind of people to get Lena’s sense of humor first. Lena didn’t know what there was to get about her, she didn’t have much of a sense of humor to start with, but she accepted it, even convinced herself she understood. Of course, respect her boundaries, don’t be too pushy. 

Lena just had nothing better to do with her life but wait around for Siobhan to come home, and that’s not on anyone but herself.

Oh fuck it, wine just won’t do it tonight.

xx

She ends up at Roulette, because where else would Lena go?

It’s not even 11 yet, but the club is already dwindled down and only at half the capacity it had been last weekend. When Lena makes her way back through to the bar, she catches sight of Kara on her knees and stocking beers into a fridge.

No, she does not think about what else Kara could be doing on her knees, thank you very much.

“You chase everybody away?” Lena asks, leaning forward on the bar to peer over at the blonde.

Kara jumps slightly, whips her head around, but her face immediately splits into an enchanting smile as she adjusts her glasses. “Lena, hi. I — what?” Kara hops to her feet clumsily and looks around, sees the mediocre scope of patrons, and rolls her eyes. “I didn’t do anything, I swear. There’s just a film festival going on uptown that I think is keeping all the A-listers busy.”

Lena shrugs playfully. “I don’t know, did you remember to put deodorant on this morning?”

Kara scoffs, jaw agape. “ Yes , of course, I smell amazing.”

She doesn’t doubt it.

“I’m glad you’re here though,” Kara goes on, softer. “Even though all I’m getting so far is sass, because I have a proposition for you.”

Lena swallows thickly at the onset of nerves, scrambles to control her breathing. “What is it?”

Kara’s already reaching for the top shelf whiskey that Lena likes in her drink, and Lena’s tries to both wrap her mind around how she doesn’t even ask anymore because she just knows Lena will say yes, and the probable fact that Lena’s whole identity is about to be put into question and this fun little game will come to a sharp, abrupt close.

Lena forces herself to breathe.

“So,” Kara starts as she tosses together the cocktail ingredients in a shaker. “I’m getting off at twelve tonight.”

The anxiety immediately starts to dissipate, and Lena smiles. “Oh?”

“Yeah, so my question… How good are you at pictionary?”

“Pictionary,” Lena deadpans. “Like that app, the Draw Something game?”

Kara beams, nods excitedly as she slides the finished drink across to Lena. “Yeah! Exactly, but in real life. Are you any good? I’m really terrible, and I could use a decent partner.”

Lena wavers again, mouth parted in confusion. “I… suppose I’m alright, I don’t know. But I’m lost, what are we doing?”

“Right, yeah, so once a month, my friends and I all request off the same night so we can actually get together for a game night because, gosh, it is so difficult to get everyone in one place at the same time otherwise. And I kick butt at stuff like Codenames or Jenga, but it’s just that pictionary is my one weakness.” Kara frowns very seriously for a moment before positively beaming at Lena. “So whaddya say?”

About halfway through that spiel, Lena takes a rather large gulp of her drink, easily half the small, red cocktail, and it’s hard to tell the difference between anxiety and the rush of liquor down her throat. “I, ah, I’m not sure,” she confesses tentatively, reluctant to do anything to diffuse that smile. “I mean, I’d hate to intrude.”

Kara, for her part, doesn’t falter, and waves a hand. “Please, it’s not a big deal at all, plus-ones are always welcome. It’s literally just a small group of us, and we’re an odd number this time anyway.”

Lena can’t help but wonder who it is that’s missing from the usual repertoire, but she bites her bottom lip, still evasive. “You guys are having a game night at midnight? On a Friday?”

“Oh, I wasn’t supposed to be working tonight. Barback called out, so I’m just here to help for a bit, and they’re all waiting for me.”

Lena quenches her dry mouth with another hearty swallow of her drink. “That’s… nice of them.”

“Sure, but I own all the boardgames. They have no choice either way.”

Lena grimaces. “You’re not gonna take no for an answer, are you?”

Kara leans back, crosses her arms with a pout. “I mean, I will, but I’ll be super sad about it, especially considering you still haven’t sent me your number.”

“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed,” Lena drawls with an elusive glance back down to her drink, but inside her chest is pounding. 

Kara’s lips pinch like she knows Lena’s being coy on purpose, and if Lena didn’t know any better she’d say the bartender’s cheeks look a little warm. “Yup.”

God, she can’t actually fucking do this, can she? Who the hell is even going to be there? And where ? It must be Kara’s apartment, right? No, Lena cannot in her right mind go to this woman’s apartment, where she fucking lives. It’s one thing to flirt over drinks, or even trudge off down the street for a 4am meal and talk about things like food and their studies, but it’s an entirely other endeavor to go to where this woman lives. It’s… personal, it’s intimate. Especially considering they won’t be alone, Lena will actually meet Kara’s friends, which is something else entirely to wrap her mind around. Sure, they don’t have much of a routine, it’s only been two weeks since they met, but it feels like ages , and Lena is comfortable in this bubble of isolation, of not being seen, of hiding from prying eyes. No, accepting this invitation is completely out of the question.

Also, like, of course Lena hasn’t texted Kara yet. What the hell would she even say? Hey

Struggling to stall, Lena forces a laugh. “You haven’t been waiting all this time by your phone, have you?”

“No! No, of course not,” Kara stammers, messes with her glasses again.

Lena’s shoulders loosen from their coiled tension, just slightly. It’s starting to feel like a felony to say no to a face like that. “So… you don’t want my number?” she teases.

Lena .”

She grins, a slow, red thing that spreads across her face. “Yes?”

“You’re being a brat again.”

“Mm, yes, I’m aware.”

See, this game is much more fun when it’s just them. She does enjoy spending time with Kara, and the prospect of playing silly games she doesn’t understand — and didn’t spend much of a childhood around in the first place — with a woman who palpably exudes childlike fun, it sounds heavenly.

But.

“They all work here,” Kara says rather pointedly after a moment of silence, as if reading Lena’s thoughts. She nods around the bar. “Like, they’re not… nosey. I mean they are, but about me. They’re discreet, is what I mean.”

Lena’s jaw throbs, and she licks her lips. No, Lena, don’t be ridiculous, you’re not doing this. This is setting herself up for humiliating slaughter. So what if they work here? Who are Kara’s friends ? Lena doesn’t know shit about being friends with someone, not really. She doesn’t know how to make small talk unless she’s chatting up what Siobhan has been up to lately, her family, anything about anything other than herself. 

No, she can’t do this. She won’t.

xx

So like, she does. Obviously.

Lena has a second drink if only to calm her nerves, because the anticipation of what she’s agreed to sends a crawl over and across her skin, makes it hard to keep her hands steady without the boost. She considers a third, and although Lena’s pretty adept at handling her alcohol, she knows that it would be pushing the limits of what would become a very loose tongue, in probably more ways than one, so she stops at two. She doesn’t have much more time anyway, because soon Kara is rounding the bar with her jacket dangling over her shoulder and an expectant look on her face.

“You ready?”

“Yes, I just need to close out.” Lena waves at her empty drink and digs around in her purse for her wallet, tries to catch the eye of Kara’s coworker left behind the bar.

Lena only hears Kara’s huff behind her, and then a deliciously warm, soft hand is wrapping around hers and tugging her away. “We have been over this, you’ve paid enough to last you through the winter. Let’s go.”

Lena doesn’t have much fight in her while her brain is short-circuiting over the contact at their hands. Their fingers aren’t entwined or anything, Kara’s just got her sizeable hand wrapped around Lena’s palm as she leads her back to the private employee elevators, but Lena’s hearing music all the a same.

Okay maybe this isn’t the worst idea in the world, not if Kara’s got hands that soft on her for the rest of the night.

Not on her, on her, just like—

Kara keeps her hold on Lena’s hand all down through the quiet elevator ride, and Lena can’t help but wonder if Kara’s as tongue-tied as she is, if she’s tossing and turning her thoughts over in her head and trying to determine how long they can keep this going without it being weird, without it being dangerous. Lena wonders if Kara is thinking as much about it, or if it’s just second-nature, if her thoughts are entirely on something else and it’s only a forgetful afterthought that they’re still clasped together.

When Kara does let go, right before they step out into the night, Lena almost reaches right back out to take her hand again, but it probably wouldn’t do to be photographed leaving a bar with a woman in the middle of the night holding her hand . Least of all with the one person she is desperate to not have figure out who she really is, and nothing would draw Kara’s attention to that like tabloid headlines featuring them both. It’s not like there’s ever been photographers outside Roulette in the last few times she’s been here, because it seems Roulette truly is the best-kept secret of National City, otherwise it wouldn’t really maintain its business, but still. Lena refrains.

Kara insists they take the subway, waving off Lena’s many offers to call them a Lyft, because it’s a straight shot up the orange line and there’s no point in wasting any money.

Lena resists the urge to comment that seventeen dollars couldn’t possibly be more meaningless to her, because, well, she’s trying. She bought the CVS brand of hand soap the other day, for God’s sake, she’s practically one of the people. So if that means taking subways now, then so be it. The only real obstacle is that she doesn’t have a metro card, and rather than making her buy one, Kara just tugs Lena snugly behind her with a loud, infectious laugh as they squeeze their way through the turnstile.

Lena’s blushing like mad, she’ll probably be having dreams for weeks about how Kara’s curved ass fits against her front and the firmness of her shoulders under Lena’s hands. As soon as they break through the barrier, Kara stumbles in front of her onto the platform, keeling over gleefully and looking back at Lena with shining eyes. 

“Sorry,” she laughs. “I can’t double-swipe, I bought the time package. But see? Now it’s even cheaper.”

“Right, we’re just criminals now.” Lena, flustered, smooths down her ruffled hair and straightens her blazer, and it’s only then that she looks down at her expensive office attire and contrasts it to Kara’s black jeans, loose and low on her hips, her gray NCU hoodie.

“Oh, Kara, I’m way over-dressed for this,” she realizes suddenly, eyes wide.

“What? You look great.” 

“So you’re saying everyone will show up to this occasion in a three piece suit?”

Kara contemplates this with pursed lips, her arms crossed. “Okay, fine, but we can work with this,” she insists with a cute wrinkle between her eyebrows. She steps back into Lena’s space, and carries along with her a cloud of that sweet coconut scent that hugs around Lena like a bath.

Kara tugs lightly at the maroon jacket sleeve, not noticing the way Lena regards her with swooning heart eyes. “Take this off, first of all.”

Lena obeys mindlessly, pulls it off, leaving her still in her red vest and black silk button up. Kara hums under her breath as she crouches slightly and pops open the buttons of the vest with deft fingers, brushing it back loosely over Lena’s waist, before moving on to unbutton the top buttons of the shirt underneath.

Lena’s inner thoughts are so X-rated she worries she’s going to scar her own soul for every following lifetime to come.

“Cool,” Kara concludes, stepping back to admire her work. “Just roll up your sleeves, and you’ll be golden.” Kara reaches out once again to rub the fabric of Lena’s shirt between her fingertips. “This is really nice, though, I could totally sleep in this.”

Thoughts of Kara waking up naked, sun streaming through her golden hair splayed over Lena’s sheets, sitting up and tugging on Lena’s shirt to walk off to the kitchen for coffee — it’s overwhelming, but the innocent wonder in Kara’s oblivious eyes is so endearing Lena just unabashedly stares back at Kara.

But when blue eyes — because yes, Lena now realizes, they’re definitely blue and clear and quiet — flicker up to her own, she realizes she’s been asked a question, and she stammers. 

“Oh, um what? Where’d I get it?” Lena pats down at her shirt as if it’s the first time she’s seen it, and she clears her throat, blinking quickly. “It’s from Saks, I think. I can’t remember.”

Kara whistles low, but otherwise makes no comment. When Lena says nothing more, just blinks back at Kara as if waiting for her to do something else that’s going to send her mind absolutely haywire , Kara smiles gentle. “Sleeves,” she reminds tapping at Lena’s elbows, and Lena flushes yet again as she scrambles to roll them up.

The train car quickly careens by, sending Kara’s hair fluttering wildly and beautifully with the sudden gust of wind it brings. The segment that comes to a stop before them is empty, thankfully, and Lena trails after Kara inside. She’s not sure if she’s supposed to sit or not — don’t people usually stand on these things, in the movies? Or do they just stand when it’s full and all the seats are taken? Are the seats even clean?

While Lena starts cataloguing everything she’s ever learned and seen about public transportation, and a voice overhead announces, “ Stand clear for the closing doors ,” Kara, for her part, starts pole-dancing.

Like, literally, this woman is a child, Lena’s certain. She’s spinning around a metal bar in the middle of the car, leaning far out with her feet close to the base, twirling, her hands slipping along its surface, completely carefree. 

“Kara, what are you doing?”

The bartender makes a few more rounds before slowing to a stop, and one side of her mouth lifts into a light-hearted grin. “What’s it look like? Dance with me.”

Lena’s not stupid, she knows this is the part where she insists there’s no music and Kara beckons her along anyway and inevitably teaches her something about letting go of preconcieved societal expectations. Or something like that. Instead, she snorts, crosses her arms. “Kara, that’s hardly dancing.”

“You show me how it’s done, then.”

Lena rolls her eyes. “I will not—”

The train lurches into motion, and Lena stumbles backwards immediately, but Kara is already instinctively reaching out for her and catches her arm, using the pole to keep them grounded. Lena huffs, pushing her frazzled hair from her face, but Kara just laughs, her eyes crinkling as Lena finds her balance on the swaying train car.

Lena lifts her chin to meet her gaze momentarily, once again notices their height difference, the charming way Kara’s chin tilts down so she can catch Lena’s eye, how she’s still leaning into Kara’s hand for support that now snakes around to rest securely on the middle of Lena’s back. It’s much more intimate than necessary, not strictly platonic, but Lena’s too terrified to mention something about it lest Kara take it the wrong way and lets go . Because Lena’s skin squirms, suddenly, with how much she craves the bartender's strong hands all over her. 

“I used to dream of being a dancer,” Kara confesses, breaking the quiet.

Lena blinks off her dizzying arousal, clears her throat. “Oh. Really?”

“Mhm, I was obsessed with Dancing With The Stars when it first came out. Started high school thinking I was gonna go to Juilliard someday and everything. I loved to sing, too.”

Lena glances over Kara’s face. “What changed?”

Kara shrugs, and Lena resists a shiver when she can feel Kara’s fingers absently shift against her back. “I’m not sure. Just started thinking realistically, I guess.”

Lena’s eyes drop down to stare at Kara’s sculpted jawline, and she tries not to think about how she’s always had enough money to do anything she wanted, how she has three degrees, how she could’ve gone anywhere and been anyone she wanted, and yet she chose the path that she did. A pining, heedless path that left her with even less than where she started.

“What did you want to be when you grew up?” Kara asks softly, ducking her head to catch Lena’s aimless eyes. 

“Oh, um.” She scratches at her nose. “A doctor, mostly. I didn’t dream very big.”

“Nah, I think that’s super cool. You wanted to be a big hotshot and help people, huh?” Kara grins.

“Something like that.” Lena chuckles gingerly, and then bites on her bottom lip. “Although when Youtube started to become a big thing, I did dream of becoming a vlogger. Just a little bit, for a second.” Lena holds up her fingertips like forceps, pinches.

Kara laughs ecstatically at that, tossing her head back. “Oh man, but how? You don’t even like social media.”

Lena cocks her head at that. “That’s right,” she says slowly, a chill suddenly creeping up the back of her neck. Had she mentioned her social media before? Surely she hadn’t let something like that slip up, not without a specific reason, she’d remember something like that. Wouldn’t she?

Kara must sense Lena’s guarded, steel walls vaulting so high that Lena might as well be jumping out the emergency exit, because when Lena takes a small step back and away as the train comes to a stop, Kara’s face morphs into a look of complete lucid transparency, of gentle patience as she backtracks.

“When you deleted your Instagram last week,” she explains quietly, like Lena is some panicked, small animal. “You said you don’t like to use it anyway.”

Did she? Lena can’t quite remember her exact wording now, but, well, she supposes she did say something to that effect, after accidentally liking Siobhan’s picture. Which reminds her, actually, that there was a swarm of Twitter mentions and a Buzzfeed article pointing out the exchange the morning after. Lena can’t help the small groan she lets out when she thinks about it.

When Kara leans down again to catch Lena’s eye, Lena finds herself relaxing at the long-suffering compassion on the bartender’s face, and she clears her throat, leaning back into Kara’s hand just as the train starts moving again. “Sorry,” she stammers. “I know I can be…” Lena trails off, not knowing what she means to say in the first place. That she can be a liar? Too secretive? Paranoid?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” is Kara’s cheeky response, and when Lena looks back at her, she’s pushing her glasses up her nose. “I think you’re the normalest person I’ve ever met.”

Lena chuckles dryly. “Oh? And do you say that to all the girls that come through Roulette?”

Kara looks positively aghast at the notion. “What? Of course not. Lena, most of those girls are superstars. You know what they’d do to me if I called them normal? I’d be out of a job for the rest of my life.”

Lena laughs, because Kara’s adorable and carefree and so sweet she wonders what the emotional equivalent of a cavity could be.

“You don’t have to answer this,” Kara starts, and God Lena wonders how many conversations she’s left the bartender to feel like she needs to preface with that. “But how’d that whole ex thing go? Did she notice?”

Lena sucks in the inside of her cheek, shrugs one shoulder. “I have no idea. Probably. Haven’t heard from her, though.”

“So… that’s good news, right? Or did you like, want her to notice?”

Lena glances again at Kara, her innocent curiosity, and she shifts from foot to foot. It’s… weird, to talk about her ex, especially after her dream from the other night, with the one person who might make her feel like she doesn’t care what Siobhan thinks anymore.

“No, no, it’s a good thing,” Lena murmurs. 

Kara’s lips scrunch together. “Was it a messy breakup?”

Again, Lena shrugs. “Not really? I mean, it was… quiet.”

“Sometimes those are harder, don’t you think? Like you almost wish it could’ve gone out with a bang, like that’d make it mean something more than it was.”  Kara leans into the pole, staring off at something above Lena’s shoulder, but then she laughs shyly, dropping her chin to her chest. “Sorry, that was vague a-and weird, um—”

“Not at all.” Lena keeps her gaze on Kara until the blonde meets it back. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Kara returns Lena’s gentle smile as the train stops again, though this time a group of college-aged boys step on, their lively conversation interrupting them. Lena’s mind sucks back to the boys at Bed Bath & Beyond, to the girl at the coffee shop. Swallowing slightly, Lena turns so that her back stays to the boys, and she sneaks a look to see if Kara’s noticed her discomfort, but the blonde isn’t even looking at her, just watching the kids behind them.

Lena’s probably imagining it, but she thinks Kara’s hand on her back tightens, pulls her just a smidge closer.

The doors close and the train keeps moving.

They do stand slightly closer together now, if only to keep their conversation private, and Kara changes gears entirely.

“So like, if you were to die tomorrow, what would you want to do today?”

“Definitely not go to your Game Night, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Can we put a brat-threshold on tonight? Like you get two freebies, or something? That was one.”

“I’ll wager for three, starting now.”

Kara laughs, her left shoulder slumping against the pole. “I can deal with that. But really, what would you do?”

“You ask weird questions.”

“Stop deflecting.”

With a small smile playing  at the edge of her lips, Lena inhales deeply, actually takes the question into consideration. The fuck would she do, really? She’s not dying tomorrow and already she goes day by day mindless and uncertain. If there was a time stamp, a clock ticking down, what’s left that matters? Would she call Siobhan? Her mother? Go visit Lex? Does she have anything left to say to these people in her life? Maybe she’d take Sam somewhere, Ruby too, an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland in Paris, maybe she’d dump all of her money into Spheerical Industries. But these are things she can do in a few minutes, with a few taps on her phone. How would she actually spend her night, tonight , when it was already almost over?

Is it horribly naive and pathetic if she maybe would just go to this silly Game Night anyway?

“I think that I’d spend it with someone I didn’t get enough time with. Someone that I didn’t get a chance to… experience.”

Lena avoids Kara’s eyes at first, but when she sneaks a glance up at the blonde, the woman is smiling thoughtfully, only nods in response.

“What about you?” Lena asks.

“Oh, I’d probably eat my body weight in potstickers and go hang out with a bunch of dogs.”

Lena’s eyes narrow. “Why do I get the feeling you already do both of those things on a regular basis?”

“Hey.” Kara wags a finger in Lena’s face. “I do not get to the shelter nearly enough.”

Lena suppresses a whine. Of course this perfectly sculpted, sweet, generous, friendly woman goes to an animal shelter on a regular basis. Lena’s only a fool if she ever doubts that Kara is just the embodiment of everything that’s good in the world.

Instead she laughs, shakes her head at the absurdity of her life right now. Remembering something Kara said before, she bites her lower lip. “You like to sing?”

Kara’s face lights up, and she nods eagerly, swinging closer to Lena in her excitement. “Yeah, I love it. I told you I worked at a jazz club for a bit, right?” She barely waits for Lena’s nod before continuing. “I mostly just bartended, but some nights the owner let me sing along with the band. Usually it was when it wasn’t too busy, or our regular performer was out, but it was so amazing Lena. That’s probably the one thing I miss that I don’t get at Roulette.”

The corners of Lena’s mouth pull back into a soft smile. “You should sing for me sometime.”

Kara’s eyebrows raise excitedly. “Yeah?”

Lena’s nods faintly.

“How about let’s see how tonight goes and then I’ll talk you into our annual karaoke night.”

Lena’s smile drops. “Your annual what?”

Chapter Text

Kara wasn’t kidding about the train being a straight shot, because when they step off (and Kara’s hand falls away from the small of Lena’s back), it’s only half a block west before they’re at the stoop to Kara’s building. It’s only a fourth-floor walk up, and Kara’s keys dangle from her fingertips all the way up as she talks over her shoulder, prepping Lena for what they’re about to walk into.

“So you’ve already met Lucy, she bartends late nights and weekends with me, and she’ll seem like she doesn’t pay attention but she will crush you in Catan if you take your eyes away for even a second. She usually she teams up with Winn, he does the early shift on weeknights. They literally have nothing in common, but I guess they think super alike because they make a scary good team.” Kara stops in the middle of the stairwell briefly, holds up a finger. “Oh, but if you put any sort of snack or drink out, then it’s over for them. They won’t be able to pay attention to save their lives.”

Lena pulls at the open collar of her shirt as Kara continues rambling. “And then there’s Kelly and James, they’re brother and sister. She works weeknights with Winn, and James supervises when Veronica’s not around or doing paperwork. Anyway, those two are relentless when they team up on charades, know each other in and out, it’s unfair. But we can totally capitalize on the sibling rivalry, because they’re very competitive; You pin ‘em against each other on anything and we win immediately.”

Kara stops outside a yellow-painted metal door and lowers her voice, leans in close to Lena. “Brainy is — well, he’s Brainy for a reason, he’s brilliant and that makes him dangerous, but he’s super in love with Nia so keep in mind that she’s his weak point. I don’t think they’re technically together yet, but honestly I can’t keep up with them anymore. They’re my barbacks just on weekends, during the week they go to NCU.”

Kara sucks in a gulp of breath, smiles wide, keys hovering before the lock. “Any last questions?”

Lena had a 3.98 GPA in one of the most grueling grad programs in the country, yet somehow she feels more lost standing outside Kara’s apartment than she ever did before an exam. “Is it too late to back out?”

Kara rolls her eyes and loops her arm through Lena’s elbow. “I’m counting that as your first pass for being a brat.” She then pushes the door open and calls out a greeting into the open apartment space, and a chorus of excited shouts echo back.

“It’s about fucking time,” Lucy grumbles as she walks passed them from the kitchen, taking a swig from a bottle of wine. She does a double-take when she notices Lena, however, and her eyes flicker straight back to Kara’s with her eyebrows raised in question, but Kara seems oblivious.

The blonde takes Lena’s blazer and purse and hangs them up with her own coat on the back of the door, and clears her throat. “Everyone, this is Lena, Lena this is everyone, and we’re going to destroy all of you tonight.” Kara nods curtly. “Thank you for coming to my TED talk.” 

Oh, God, Lena’s pining after a fucking nerd.

Lucy gives flashes Lena a brief, tight-lipped smile. “Yeah, great to see you again. Kara? C’mere a sec?”

Kara gets tugged away into the small kitchenette to their right, no doubt for Lucy to ask what the hell Lena is doing there. Lena takes a steadying breath, but she can’t help the way her skin prickles as she stands aimlessly in the foyer. It’s fine, it’s been like all of four seconds and she hasn’t ruined anyone’s life so, she’s on the right track.

She doesn’t stand there lost and helpless for long, because a tall, clean-shaven man in a tight t-shirt wanders up to her and sticks his hand out. “Hey, I’m James.”

Lena forces a smile as she takes his hand, this pitiful, elastic thing across her face. “Lena, hi.”

Sinking his hands back into the front pockets of his jeans, he jerks his head back towards the kitchen. “Let me guess, she ambushed you with this at the bar?”

“Technically I didn’t put up much of a fight. Why, do I look that out of my element?”

He shrugs, scratches at his chin with a smile. “No, not at all, but I know how Kara can get.”

Lena glances over into the kitchen where Kara wears a wide-eyed, earnest expression, rocking on the balls of her feet as she babbles energetically about something to Lucy.

“So she’s always this… peppy?”

“When she’s in a good mood, yeah, just about.”

Lena lifts an eyebrow, a smile curling her mouth. “So she is capable of good moods then? She knows how to cry?”

James laughs, this deep, whole-body rumble. “Put on any Disney movie and you’ll see just how strong those tear ducts are.”

Lena huffs out a laugh, and her shoulders drop minutely from their tense coil.

“I’m about to grab a drink, you want anything?” James points a thumb over his shoulder.

Those two cocktails from Roulette feel like hours ago, and Lena nods gratefully. “Sure, thank you.”

He nods and waves a hand towards the living room where everyone else sits together on the couch and carpeted floor. “Cool, make yourself at home, Kara’s place is basically communal at this point.” 

Lena smiles appreciatively and makes over to join them after a deep breath. The whole room is encompassed in a warm glow from baby yellow lamps and a scattered candles, thrumming with a sweet aroma of vanilla and sandalwood. Low, easy-going conversation makes up the small group lounged around the white coffee table in the living room, and it’s enough to knock Lena’s rigidness down further. Lena toes around the couches and takes an empty, cushioned chair by the window. So far, this isn’t so bad. She’d be happy to spend the whole night talking about Kara’s sunshine personality, about anything but herself really, to keep her hands busy with casual drinking and light-hearted banter. 

A woman with a glass of wine in her hand and a dark turtle-neck offers a smile from the short, pale blue couch. “So Lena, you’re either incredibly brave or just another victim to the Danvers puppy dog eyes.” She laughs at Lena’s guilty expression that suggests the latter. “I’m Kelly.”

Danvers , Lena turns over in her head. It’s cute, it suits her, she thinks.

“Nice to meet you,” Lena greets back, smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles in her trousers and hoping she’s subtle in how she wipes off the claminess of her palms. The remaining three — Winn, Nia, and Brainy — introduce themselves, and Lena does her best to stifle the professional formalities, to keep cool and resist the urge to shake everyones’ hands. 

She should be better at this, more confident anyway. She was the plus-one to hundreds of parties with Siobhan, was perfectly tailored arm candy as she trailed around the room after her actress girlfriend, introduced to dozens of faces who she’d treat like royalty only to forget their name half a second later. Lena was good in those situations, she was good at making Siobhan look good. Lena had a polished entourage of witty remarks tokened by subtle evasiveness, she perfected the technique of being charming enough to make anyone feel like the second most important person in the room, but not so endearing that she’d take the spotlight off her marvelous date.

Honestly Lena easily could have been in the lineup for just as many acting awards herself.

But of course this is different, she’s not playing a role, not filling in a cookie-cutter space. Lena finds herself wanting to listen to what Kara’s friends talk about with one another, wants to engage with them and impress Kara with how cool and casual she can be, just for the sake of being liked. Even though it’s probably inevitable that all of this will lead to regret, both on Kara’s part for inviting Lena in the first place and on Lena’s behalf because she knows better than to think she’s good for anything but being a trophy wife, Lena still viscerally craves something so simple as being approved of. 

James comes back around thankfully before Lena can spiral further, and she takes the drink he holds out eagerly. She really needs to relax, because sitting in the corner, mute and frozen, is in the opposite direction of the impression she hopes to make.

She can do this. She’s Lena fucking Luthor, she knows how to socialize. People literally used to pay obscene amounts of money just to hang out in the same room as her and Siobhan. But considering she’s not here as anyone’s date or to represent her family, acting as stand-in for support at Lex’s side because Lillian was busy, or with the single mindset to make Siobhan look good at a cocktail party, well… it means she doesn’t have to overanalyze everything she does, right? Sam would tell her that she just has to be herself.

Taking the first sip at what tastes to be a simple rum and coke, Lena forces herself not to think about how the reason she’s in National City is to figure out who exactly she is in the first place. Because if she thinks about that, then she’s not left with a whole lot of ideas on how to proceed now.

Maybe this is exactly how she finds out.

Lena shakes her head, tunes her anxieties out. Winn and Brainy are heatedly debating something about the risks of companies cloud computing without a properly secured network, especially ones in the business of information. Rather than psychoanalyzing her whirlwind of thoughts, Lena pushes herself to listen in on their discussion.

“Fuck’s sake,” Lucy interrupts, returning from the kitchen and dropping onto the couch beside Kelly. “Can’t you guys talk about something actually interesting? Lena’s gonna think we’re all a bunch of losers that just spend our time playing board games.”

On the floor next to Winn at Kelly’s feet, Nia wrinkles her nose. “But that’s exactly what we do.”

Kara also bounces over and settles onto the armrest of Lena’s seat. She braces her hand along the backside, distracts Lena with her sweet smell when she sways close. “Lena likes the sciencey stuff, don’t worry. She’d probably out-nerd all of you anyway.”

Lena scoffs. “How am I the nerd? You literally recited over a dozen standard bar jokes the first night we met. In a bar.” 

“Okay, but like, it worked, didn’t it? You’re here now.” Kara’s tone is suddenly challenging and sultry that Lena nearly misses how Nia snorts her drink.

Winn ignores them entirely and twists round to face Lena, the neck of a beer bottle dangling from his fingertips. “Okay okay, then you settle can this for us. Is it or is it not reckless to to store the mainframe of a complex, expensive database in a network that has virtually the same level of protection as any regular household wifi? I mean, it’s madness, right? Tell me I’m right.”

Brainy clears his throat. “I did not say they shouldn’t protect their mainframe, just that it’s not very economical to spend so much on security when you could be expanding the outreach of service delivery. It’s not productive, it makes no sense. Who’s going to hack a reference database like Wikipedia?”

Lucy lifts a hand lazily mid-sip of her wine. “I’ve ruined plenty of Wikipedia pages, actually.”

Everyone laughs, but Winn and Brainy are looking to Lena, awaiting a solution that will tell one of them wrong.

Lena falters, glancing between the two men. She quickly looks to Kara, but the bartender just regards her with laidback ease, and she swears she sees the subtle inclination of an encouraging nod.

Breathe.

“Well.” She wraps both hands around her glass. “I’m not a computer scientist by any means, but I think, like most things, there’s a balance. On the one hand, you need to be constantly expanding your dossier to cover an array of data so that you can keep up in this technological age, and you can’t be too generous with your security or you risk falling behind, because technology advancement slows for no one.”

“You see?” Brainy says to Winn smugly.

“On the other hand,” and here Lena waves her hand skeptically as she sips at her drink. “Knowledge, data, information — it’s all the new currency. Online encyclopedias, search engines, they already exist and have access to all public domain information there is. What’s coming of age are new methods of sharing that knowledge, like TED talks, crash-courses, podcasts, new social media apps. Pharmaceutical companies are finding new ways to make money when they’re at a stand-still for new miracle cures; they’re changing how they release product, rather than updating what’s on the shelf. It’s all the new deliveries of info that people are interested in, and companies are scrambling fast to be the first with the next big one to go viral, and it can take too long and be too expensive to patent anything nowadays. So if you’ve got something, and it’s a good one, you’ve gotta lock it down, otherwise it’s not a matter of if, but when someone steals your idea. Maxl Lord is more paranoid than anyone I’ve ever met, but he runs the largest pharmacology research facility in the country. So, you know. Balance.”

Quiet envelops the room as Lena finishes off her ramble, leaving only in its wake the pounding of her heart in her ears, and Lena mentally plays back and forth on a loop everything she’s just said, analyzes, critiques, corrects — she could’ve been more specific about patenting processes, more vague there, didn’t need to get off on such a tangent, it was all such a simple question to begin with, she doesn’t really even know what she’s talking about anyway — 

“Wow. She left both of them speechless.” Nia, blinking, looks up to Kara starstruck, and points at Lena like she’s not there. “Where did you find her, and can I have one too?”

While everyone laughs, Kara just beams down on Lena and tucks a strand of hair behind the brunette’s ear. The anxiety bleeds from Lena’s tendons like mist as everyone breaks back into a room full of chatter, but Lena’s eyes are glued to Kara’s. It doesn’t last long, because the blonde hops up to her feet once more, and Lena raises her eyebrows in question. 

Kara nods her head towards an adjoining room. “Help me grab the games?”

Kara’s friends are the epitome of polite and easy, but Lena would be lying if she said she’d rather Kara didn’t leave her again, so she nods eagerly and climbs out of the seat. She can handle her own, she’s got this under control for the most part — high-functioning social anxiety at its finest — but something about Kara’s eyes locking onto hers, crisp and unwavering like broad daylight, no matter who’s in the peripheral… everything else just feels a little less overwhelming.

As she follows Kara around the corner, she thinks she hears Winn ask, “Do you think she really knows Maxwell Lord?”

“Shut up, Schott.”

It’s not until she’s actually in it that she realizes, oh. Kara’s room. She’s in Kara’s bedroom, right now.

Normally she actually kisses a girl before she ends up in here.

If Kara notices the way Lena’s mouth pinches and her cheeks flush, she doesn’t let on, but once they’re alone and out of sight of Kara’s friends, she turns back to Lena with a cutely furrowed brow. 

“Are you doing okay? This isn’t too much, is it?”

Lena lets out a small laugh. “A little late to be asking that, don’t you think?”

At Lena’s sarcastic tone reemerging, Kara doesn’t look the least bit guilty, and she’s smiling again. “That’s freebie number two, by the way. And maybe I just want the satisfaction of hearing you say you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Mm, still too early on that one. Get me drunk, then we’ll talk.”

“What kind of drunk are you?” Kara’s grin scrunches the corners of her eyes. “Just for future reference. Like are you gonna be the same amount of mean and bratty as always? Or super cuddly? Because I’d really prefer the latter, if I’m getting a say in this.”

Lena smacks at Kara’s shoulder, grimacing through a smile as a blush crawls up her neck. “Keep up with the attitude, and you’ll never find out.”

Kara’s cheeks look ready to burst if her lips widen any further, but the blonde only shakes her head and turns away from Lena towards a faded brown armoire, drops to her knees and rummages through. The blonde is practically crawling inside to make through the crowded cabinet, getting at the buried board games. Lena absolutely doesn’t take a moment to check out Kara’s ass in her black skinny jeans. Totally not.

Inappropriate leering aside, there’s a rush of elation blooming in her chest again, like toasted honeycomb dripping down the back of her throat, like whiskey that doesn’t burn on the way down and just keeps her warm and satisfied. 

Lena thinks maybe she’d like sticking around here.

With Kara preoccupied, Lena takes the chance to glance over the room. It’s cute, and so very Kara it’s endearing. The peach walls, the giant iron-paned window offering a welcoming scatter of the neighborhood lit by the moonlight, it’s cozy. Cluttered, sure, there are sweaters and other articles of clothing strewn about, unfinished books open face down on shelves, the desk, the floor. The bed’s made, if a bit sloppily, with a green-striped comforter tossed haphazardly across. But in taking in the bed and the mountain of disheveled pillows, Lena notices the very still, very orange, fuzzy mound .

Lena remembers, vaguely, something a woman at the bar had said. “Kara?”

She gets a distracted grunt in response.

“Is that… a cat?”

“Huh?” Kara, with her hair mussed and glasses askew, pushes jackets out of her way and pokes her head out of the armoire. “Oh yeah, that’s Pork Belly. You can pet him, he’s nice.”

Lena, pressing her lips together, raises an eyebrow. “Pork Belly?”

“I know what you’re going to say, but I didn’t actually name him. Go on, he’s super soft.”

“Sure you didn’t. I think I’m alright, though.” Lena trusts Kara, sure, but she’s still skeptical the creature won’t claw her face off.

“Hold on, I’ll show you.” Kara clambers out of the closet to come beside Lena, cups her hair behind her ears. Already cooing, she leans over to scoop the fluffy animal up into her arms. Aside from a low squeak, the cat is practically limp in Kara’s arms and lets her manhandle him to cradle like a baby.

“See? Look at him, he’s a prince.” Kara scrunches up her nose adorably as she rubs it against the cat’s small, whiskered face. His purrs start to become more audible, and okay, fine, Lena smiles.

“Thought cats were supposed to be… you know, mean.” Lena gingerly strokes a finger along the striped arm dangling out of Kara’s grip. Other than a small twitch and a flick of his tail, he’s indifferent to Lena’s touch. 

Kara’s voice is all baby-talk and distracted. “No of course not, you just have to raise them right. Isn’t that right, PB? Isn’t that right?

Shifting her focus from the cat to Kara’s comically wide eyes and jovial smile, Lena swoons.

Once she’s gotten her fill of attention, Kara sighs wistfully and holds the cat out to her by his sides. His feet and tail hang cartoonishly low, his face scrunched up and pouty, and yes he’s adorable but Lena quickly shakes her head and backs away.

“Uh, no, definitely better if not. Sorry.”

Kara shrugs like it couldn’t make a difference in the world to her, and after setting the animal back down on the bed, she takes back to the armoire to finish digging.

The cat sashays around in a circle slowly at first, before he makes way over to the corner where Lena stands. She watches him curiously as he moseys up to her and nudges his head against the back of her hand, only as forceful as an attention-seeking cat can be. 

Fine, she pets him. Just a little bit.

Go figure the human embodiment of sunshine would also have a cat so tame and sweet.

A monstrosity of board games later, Kara finally huffs with satisfaction and turns back around, scooping up half while Lena takes the rest.

But then there’s this last, private smile they share before exiting the room, and it lasts only for a moment, but it leaves Lena breathless. It’s soft, it’s PG-13 and adolescent, it’s like morning frost when the sun first emerges from behind the clouds, it’s the kind of sweet that used to make Lena think she liked love songs on the radio and kept her sitting through rom-coms and sneaking Nicholas Sparks novels under her blanket after Lillian thought she’d long since gone to bed. 

“Do you keep those games under five fucking levels of security or something?” Lucy groans loudly once they return to the room, and Kara rolls her eyes.

“You know there’s a reason I keep them hidden.”

“Oh yeah?” Lucy perks up at Kara’s challenging tone. “And what’s that, little Danvers?”

Everyone gives Lucy a baffled look, but James is the one to answer the question. “Your Monopoly set only has five hundred bills, and it’s missing over half the properties.”

Lucy waves her hand. “Yeah, and?”

“Pretty much all of your Cards Against Humanity cards are soaked in wine stains,” Kelly adds.

“Okay but you can still read them.”

Winn holds a finger up. “There was that one time you put cut-outs of all our faces on the What Do You Meme cards. That was pretty genius.”

“Hell yeah, it was,” Lucy agrees emphatically, reaching out to high-five Winn. 

Most of the games they play that night do end up requiring teams, if only because most of the actual individual-player boards take too long and they’re already getting a late start as it is. This night is as much a test on her social capabilities as it is on her attentional awareness and how quickly she can learn to play something she’s never heard of before. Everyone’s rather patient with her, even offer a few times to try practice rounds, but she waves off their concerns calmly, insists she’ll catch up. 

They take the gathering to the bar stools around the kitchen island, and the first game she teams up with Kara on is Codenames. 

“So this one depends on you keeping in mind how I think,” Kara explains in Lena’s ear as James and Kelly first go up against Winn and Lucy. “So that you can give clues you know I’m gonna pick up on, and that’s how I figure out what cards on the table belong to our team. Does that make sense?” 

Lena doesn’t even know what Kara’s saying to her, not when her mouth is so close to Lena’s face and she leans so close to where Lena sits. Watching Kara’s lips move with the words proves only more distracting.

“Yep. Got it.”

She figures out the gist from watching the others. It’s an intimidating place to start, considering every other pair seems to have a home-field advantage on having known each other for God knows how long. It doesn’t help matters when Kara, after moving to sit across from Lena and next to Brainy, smacks her hands on the table and threatens everyone. “We are going to destroy you guys so bad you’ll never want to show your face at Game Night again. Right Lena?”

Total. Fucking. Dork. 

Beside Lena, Nia whispers in Lena’s ear. “She gets a little competitive, if you haven’t already noticed.”

Lena gives Kara a nervous thumbs up across the kitchen island.

“Right, so just to recap,” Nia explains quickly as the cards get rearranged in front of them.  “The object of the game is to give Kara hints as to which cards belong to you guys, but you can only give one-word clues. And you have to try and make sure that Kara won’t mistake one of mine and Brainy’s cards with one of yours. Good?”

Lena nods.

“You need anything else cleared up?” 

“Another drink is what I need,” Lena mutters, and everyone laughs. Except Kara immediately stretches across the game to snatch Lena’s empty glass and bustles to fix another rum and coke for her, and the group laughs again at Kara’s eagerness to get the game moving.

They’re not half bad, and Lena’s surprised to see how much Kara’s actually picked up on from the few interactions they’ve had so far, how much she remembers, how they already have their own insider tells that no one else would get. She certainly doesn’t expect to win, and only halfway through at that. Things are pretty tired and both sides still have four cards left, when Kara gives the clue diner, and indicates the last four of their remaining cards. Lena, thinking back to their first date (not actual date, just like, you know, dinner, breakfast, whatever), automatically picks out carnival and sweater , she doesn’t even need to think twice. It takes her a few more seconds of contemplation, but she goes out on a limb and settles ultimately on the last two being Greece and milk . When Kara elatedly slaps the winning marks on their cards and cheers, Nia and Brainy loudly object.

“What do those even have to do with diners?” Nia groans, running her hands over her face.

“Nothing.” Brainy wears a deep, serious frown. “There is absolutely no correlation whatsoever.”

So they take the win on the first game.

Kara pulls out all of the strategies that she suggested to Lena. Though despite all the pep-talk she’d given, Kara seems to have got the sabotage aspect of the night covered all on her own. The first thing Lena notices is rather harmless — Kara just sets out a bowl of hot chili Doritos in front of Lucy when it’s her turn in Scrabble, flashes a wink Lena’s way, and no one really understands why Lena giggles in the middle of her turn. Lucy’s steady climb in points plateaus out after that. Just before they start a game of Egyptian War, Kara offers Winn a slice of her precious, hoarded carrot cake, and Lena’s not sure how the game works exactly, but apparently Winn doesn’t even try the entire game, and Kara takes home another win. At some point, Lena overhears Kara telling James something along the lines of, “I dunno, I thought I heard Kelly say Winn’s the real pro here, and if Lucy hadn’t already called dibs, she’d totally pick him over you.” When charades comes around, James is too defensive and exasperated to get any point across, and Kelly just flounders with nothing concrete to work off of.

Okay, yeah, maybe she accepts Kara’s subtle fist-bump when no one’s looking. Her tactics are a little impressive, if not slightly terrifying.

The last task, though, Lena never sees Kara make much use of, and she actually starts to keep an eye out for when the blonde is going to put it into action. But it never comes. She thinks the mischievous smile and pursed lips she gets from Kara a few times is perhaps encouragement, so, alright, during a round of Spoons, maybe she leans closer to Brainy, nonchalant as they keep swiping through cards.

“Hey—”

He doesn’t so much as look up at her. “Looking at my cards is cheating.”

“I’m not looking at your cards.” Lena rolls her eyes, briefly makes eye contact with Kara across the circle. With a grin, and holding that gaze, Lena says to Brainy, “I just wanted to say, you and Nia make a cute couple.”

Brainy stops picking up new cards, letting his pile grow as his nose scrunches. “Nia and I are not a couple.”

“Oh?” The way Kara is shaking with how hard she’s trying to stifle herself across the circle makes Lena herself struggle to keep cool. “So… she’s single then?”

Brainy ends up losing that round, and Kara later makes a PSA declaring Lena as her favorite game night partner. 

They have their downs though, because when Pictionary comes around, Lena proves to be just as awful at Kara is at drawing. When Kara draws what Lena guesses to be a microwave, or maybe a case of beer, the timer goes off and supposedly it was a prison cell. Lena doesn’t see it. In turn, Lena draws the Statue of Liberty to the best of her abilities, like it’s really just a woman with a crown holding a torch, but Kara is unyielding in her insistence that it’s Spider-Man. They fail miserably at every other prompt, only getting points on the pitifully simple ones, but the fact that they’re both as equally, artistically incoherent sends bouts of raucous laughter through Kara’s friends. For the first time, Lena learns how failing at something doesn’t have to be the end of the world, doesn’t have to be a horrible, dreaded, shameful thing, that sometimes it can be for the best.

Because when Kara collapses onto the couch beside Lena after the last round, exhausted from laughter, the brilliant grin she shares with Lena is earth-shattering. It makes the axis on which the world spins tremble. It doesn’t quite shake, doesn’t set things off kilter, Lena doesn’t feel horrifyingly out of her depth like before, the world isn’t flipped upside-down. But rather everything is just twitched a few degrees, just the slightest change that lets in a little more light into Lena’s perspective, makes everything not seem quite so dark and gloomy.

When Lena came to National City just two weeks ago, with her tongue in her throat and convinced all she’d ever be is lonely, or hell, even just a few days ago when she wasn’t sure if she’d ever let herself talk to Kara again — Lena would’ve laughed if she’d been told that she’d end up here. Here, on a practical stranger’s couch, surrounded by people who are emphatically kind and miraculously without any ulterior agenda to being friendly with her. There’s no kissing-up to keep her famous girlfriend tame or overly-feigned interest because of how heavy her credit card is, how menacing her family can be. She’s just here, next to someone like Kara, who smiles like there’s nothing in the world she couldn’t take on.

She would’ve laughed because she didn’t think someone like her had a chance at something like this.

The energy starts to dwindle down around four in the morning, people losing steam. Lena’s honestly impressed they made it this far in the first place, but Lucy assures her with a wry smile that given their schedules, how they make their paychecks, staying up until four is like any other week night, and it’s actually “pretty fucking embarasssing that these pussies are already getting tired.”

Lucy’s words, not Lena’s.

It’s not like she’s reluctant to admit it, but it’s taken until now for Lena to decide that she really likes Kara’s friends. Lena was fairly reserved about forming any sort of judgements at first, honestly had just been too preoccupied with fretting over herself to even think about it, from the way she sat in a chair to trying to keep up with all the gameplay. And there’s also the fact that Lena just hasn’t made much of a living out of having her own opinions, being concise with them. She always kind of went along with things before her. Having an opinion on who Siobhan partied with or where Lex shared his research, it hadn’t made a difference in the end. It was rather easier to not care, to wave things off, turn a blind eye, not put too much weight on things she can’t change. Having an opinion, caring , it just led to the inevitable sort of fight blown out of proportion, with Siobhan screaming her throat raw that Lena only cared about the stupid things that didn’t matter, that she wasn’t supporting her girlfriend’s dreams and apparently only trying to sabotage her future at every turn, while Lena in turn would rub her eyes raw and frustrated and slam doors throughout various hotel rooms across the country, trailers on set, apartment foyers. Always, always, she’d leave, a Luthor must always leave first, but she always came back too. Which is probably why Lena was left alone in the end.

Lena reckons an opinion is easier to have when it’s a positive one, anyway.

Still, she’s long since come around to deciding that coming tonight wasn’t the worst idea in the world.

“Oh, you don’t have to do those,” Nia tells her offhandedly, sneaking up beside Lena as she washes the empty drinking glasses at the kitchen sink, while the younger woman deposits some trash from their snacks into the waste bin underneath. Lena had snuck away to scrub a few dishes as the gang winds down, but Kara’s still going hard in the living room with a Jenga tower on its last dregs of life with Kelly and Lucy, the girls yelling, the boys narrating its collapse.

Lena shrugs. “It’s the least I can do, for letting me crash your guys’ plans, and all.”

Nia laughs and leans back against the kitchen counter. “Yeah, Kara is pretty selective about her sacred game night. But don’t feel like you’re crashing anything. I know she definitely appreciates the distraction, with Alex not being here and stuff.” 

She says this with a vague wave of her hand and a solemn smile, like Lena should know who she’s talking about, because Kara had mentioned earlier that they were short someone and she even opens her mouth to ask who they might be, but she thinks better of it. 

“Right, of course,” she answers coolly. 

Being someone who could start a brand out of keeping secrets, she’s feeling rather keen about respecting Kara’s privacy, not wanting to take advantage of Kara’s friend to greedily learn as much about the blonde as she can.

Because that’s all she wants. She just wants to know more .

And she gets the irony, she isn’t blind. She can palpably taste her curiosity for learning as much about Kara as there is to know, while at the same time withholding as much as she can manage. It’s a precarious dichotomy, one that won’t last forever.

When just about everyone’s dragging their feet, jargons slowing down, Lucy finally stands and is the one to call it, and then everyone is making a break for it. Kara catches Lena’s gaze from across the room, and while everyone gathers their things, the bartender comes up beside Lena. 

“Stick around for a minute?”

She can’t lie and say that she wasn’t already planning on stalling in order to steal a few moments alone with Kara before the night ends anyway, so like, this works too. Lena nods, smiles at the grin on Kara’s face. 

So she lingers, as everyone starts making their goodbyes. They’re all quite the huggy group with one another, and in retrospect she supposes it would stand out quite a lot if everyone were to simply shake her hand, or whatever it is that friends do with each other, but she’s still surprised when Lucy tugs her in for sideways, firm hug that feels more like an obligatory sports check than an embrace, but still. It’s a hug, and then James is hugging her goodbye, and Nia, and so on. If anyone thinks anything of how Lena is the only one to stay behind with Kara, none of them mention it, and Lena tries not to read too much into that.

“So, can I hear it now?” Kara asks once she shuts the door behind her finally.

Lena lifts an eyebrow. “Hear what?”

“That you had an awesome time, that my friends are awesome, that you think I’m awesome.”

Lena wishes she could say anything to the contrary, really, because the smug look on Kara’s face is infuriatingly cute, the crinkle at the corners of her eyes enamoring. 

Lena runs her tongue along her top row of teeth contemplatively, turns back to the kitchen. “I think I’ll plead the fifth on that one.”

“Oh come on.” She can hear Kara rushing after her. “That was awesome, c’mon say it with me.”

Glancing back at Kara over her shoulder once with a shake of her head, Lena concedes. “Okay, yes, I had a wonderful time, and your friends are lovely.” 

“And? You’re forgetting one.” 

Lena rolls her eyes with a smile as she sits back onto a barstool. She hesitates, looks back at Kara with pursed lips and bashful eyes. “You’re pretty great,” she relents, but it comes out much softer than she intends.

A goofy smile pulls Kara’s lips apart. With her hands stuffed into the belly pocket of her hoodie, hair tied back in a sloppy ponytail and her crooked glasses, and then the fond expression lining her eyes, it’s so fucking adoring that it’s nearly enough to make Lena whine with affection. Because she never knew someone could make her feel so warm like this without laying a hand on her, without sexual undertones or even a single spoken word. Of course, it also makes her want to keen forward and kiss the hell out of her, but that’s secondary. Mostly.

This is all terrifying, absolutely, but it’s easier for Lena to not be so scared when she’s got Kara looking at her like that.

Lena shakes her head — because, Christ, she can really get ahead of herself sometimes. She decides to switch gears. “Can I ask you something?” 

“Sure, anything.”

Lena licks her lips. “Feel free to… well, not answer at all,” she starts, and — wow, they really are making a habit out of this, aren’t they? “I just, I was wondering… who’s Alex?”

Something of a shadow passes over Kara’s face. The lines of her mouth, at her eyes, they all flatten, her jaw tenses. It only lasts a fraction of a second, hardly, before Kara ducks her head, and when she looks back at Lena again she’s more composed, though still somber. Kara doesn’t say anything, not right away, stays quiet as slides back onto the seat beside Lena, looking ahead at the opposite wall. Lena is almost wondering if Kara might actually take her up on her offer and not even answer the question, but then she speaks.

“She’s my sister.”

Lena bites her lip. “Your sister… the one who’s not dead, and doesn’t drink?” she asks slowly.

Kara chuckles, nods. “Yeah, that one.”

“Did you two have a falling out or something?” Lena would definitely be the expert in this department, if that’s the case.

“No, nothing like that.” Kara shakes her head, dips her chin down and picks at the seam of her sweater. “We’re great, actually. She’s my best friend, my whole world. I’d do anything for her.”

“Okay.” When Kara looks up at Lena with a squirming question in her eyes, Lena nods for her to continue, to take her time.

“We live together, actually. Normally. She’s away right now.” Kara’s voice is suddenly rather choked up, and she laughs sardonically as she blinks away damp eyes. “Sorry, it’s really not that big of a deal, I’m being much more dramatic about this than I need to be.”

“Don’t apologize. You’re not being dramatic.”

“I am, a little bit.” Kara laughs dryly. “She’s fine. Or like, she will be. I just miss her, is all.”

Lena chews on the inside of her cheek. “Where is she now?”

There’s another stretch of silence, and again Lena contemplates dropping the topic altogether, as it’s clearly uncomfortable for the other woman, and she almost regrets asking in the first place.

“She’s in rehab.”Kara inhales shakily, stares ahead forcefully. “It’s only a forty-five day program, it’s really not that big of a deal, I guess. It’s just a lot, you know? She only just left a few days ago and it’s weird not having her around.” She turns to look at Lena again, smiles half-heartedly. “She’ll be back before no time, but it took a lot to get to where we are right now. A lot had to happen before she… before we came to this decision. And it’s for the best, really, that she’s there. I’m glad she’s getting help, that she wants to at all. This isn’t the easy part or anything, but the hard part’s over at least.”

Kara’s gaze drops to somewhere below Lena’s face, her shoulder maybe, but it’s drifted, thick like she’s somewhere else entirely. 

Lena might be really overstaying her welcome at this point, could be completely out of bounds, but she takes the small risk. She leans closer, slides her hand on top of Kara’s fidgeting fingers. 

Kara’s eyes snap back up to hers at the gesture, and they wobble with vulnerability. Lena’s not overwhelmed by the emotion in them, by how just a few hours ago she couldn’t imagine anything but a smile to ever take over a face like that. But it does make her chest clench, gives her a visceral longing to alleviate a strain like that all the more.

“Thank you for telling me.” Lena squeezes Kara’s hand, and after a beat, warm fingers twist to wrap around Lena’s and squeeze back back.

Something like shy, Kara presses her lips together in a sheepish smile. “Thanks for coming tonight,” she says in turn, her soft voice croaked at the edges. “Sorry if I was too pushy.”

Lena accepts the change in subject graciously, and rolls her eyes. “Kara, I know we only just met, but I don’t think you could strong-arm anyone into anything even if you tried. You’re rather doughy, you know.”

Kara mockingly gasps in offense. “ Doughy? Like, a donut?”

“Please, you’d be so happy with yourself if you were a donut.”

The bartender sighs wistfully. “Mm, yeah, I totally would.”

Lena notices a tiny smirk form on Kara’s face, and already Lena’s telling her, “Don’t say it—”

“I’d totally eat myself.”

Lena sighs.

“I should probably get going,” she admits eventually. A glance at her watch tells her that… yes, it is actually 4:34 a.m. Calling up a Lyft on her phone, Lena huffs. “You are really doing nothing good for my sleep schedule, I’ll have you know.”

Kara’s face falls, and she really does nail the puppy dog look, but it’s so foolish Lena doesn’t let it win.

“Okay but who needs sleep when you’re having fun?” Kara shrugs.

“Everyone, Kara. You always need sleep, that’s not something that changes.”

Kara makes a hmph . “Yeah but it’s flexible.”

Lena walks over to the front door and starts to slip on her blazer her open, wrinkled vest, shaking her head fondly. “You’re a terrible influence.”

With her hands stuffed into the front pockets of her black skinny jeans, Kara ambles up to Lena. “Maybe, but at least I’m funny, right?” 

“I’m going to let you think about that one for yourself.”

“Okay,” Kara sighs, reaching ahead of Lena to pull the door open for her. “If I’m terrible for your sleep then you’re bad for my ego. You wound me, Lena.”

“You’ll survive.”

She turns back one last time, now in the doorway, to regard Kara. Slumped against the edge of the door, her hand dangling over her head, God, does she have to exude such effortless sex appeal? In a sweatshirt of all things?

“Thank you for inviting me tonight,” she says quietly. They stand so close together, not even two feet apart, there’s no need for anything louder than the brush of a murmur right now. “I needed it, I think. More than you know.”

Lena laughs self consciously, but when Kara reaches out to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear in a move that’s becoming familiar, her breath catches in her throat. Kara’s hand disappears as quickly as it came.

“Don’t sweat it.” Kara’s closed-mouth smile is sweet like dessert. “You’re welcome anytime.”

Her phone alerts her that her driver is here, and so they exchange their soft goodbyes, the small goodnights that are too delicate to be said louder than a whisper. All too soon Lena is exiting the apartment building and climbing into the BMW waiting for her outside.

Lena would like to say that she at least waits until she’s gotten into bed first before pulling her phone out, but in all honesty she’s still in the elevator to her apartment building when she’s tapping Kara’s name.

And, really? The only reason she doesn’t text her immediately upon leaving is because she can’t think of anything good enough to say.

Lena bites her lip. 

Her groundbreaking, well-thought out masterpiece of an opening text is: Hi. This is Lena. 

Kara doesn’t respond until Lena’s making through her front door tiredly, dropping her keys onto the marble counter with a clatter in the serene darkness. Her phone vibrates in the front pocket of her trousers, and she blinks away the harsh brightness of the screen when she pulls it out.

hi :)

At only a short, silly text, Lena is already smiling like a fool. Warmth steamrolls low in her gut at just the one word, the goofy smiley face, the surreal understanding that on the other end of the screen is Kara, also probably smiling at her phone. A series of more texts come through immediately.

this is a nice surprise 

long time no see ;)

oh what should i save ur number as??

lucy's already taken Biggest Brat I Know so i need ur ideas

Lena smiles, because God, how can she be obsessed with someone who's this much of a dork? Kicking off her shoes, she types back. 

My Favorite Customer has a nice ring to it.

The next text comes in as she’s brushing her teeth. 

but u don’t even pay for your drinks

And who’s fault is that?

pretty sure u started that tbh

anyway

can we focus please

I think the contact thing is supposed to be your job to figure out.

if u don’t give me anything to work with then i’m saving u as lena

Lena crawls into bed with a certain hoodie wrapped about her, her face wiped of any makeup and her hair hanging loosely around her shoulders. 

I don’t see anything wrong with that.

just lena?

Yes.

When Kara sends a screenshot of Lena’s contact info, just her first name and nothing else, she can’t deny the blanket of satisfaction that envelops her. She’s not Lena Luthor, the sister to somebody smarter than her, the girlfriend of someone more famous, the face on a feature she had nothing to do with.

To Kara, she’s just Lena.

 

Chapter Text

“Lena, come on, I’m eating.”

Tongue between her teeth, deep in thought, Lena peers around the edge of her phone. “What?”

Across the table from her, Sam waves her fork over her salad and then wags it in Lena’s face as if she’s gesturing to Lena’s entire being. “This, the giggling, all that. It’s fucking weird, I didn't even know you knew how to use your phone. And I thought I told you to sleep with the girl, not shack up and marry her.”

Lena smirks. “Don’t be so dramatic. We’re just texting.”

“Yeah, sure. I can hear the church bells already.”

Lena rolls her eyes and sets her phone face-down on the break room table. “I know you haven’t been on a date since high school, but this is how things work these days. You text a lot first. It doesn’t mean anything.” Lena pauses. “I think.”

“Yeah, don’t act all high n’ mighty on me yet. You have no idea what you’re doing either, do you?”

She grumbles at that, picking her phone back up indignantly. “I do, thank you very much.”

Sam lets out another theatrically loud exhale. “Lena, how often a day do you text this girl?”

Lena shrugs distractedly as she types a response to Kara before answering Sam. “I don’t know, few times a day. Bit in the morning when she wakes up, bit at night before I go to bed.”

“Right, and when are you seeing her next?”

“Um.” Lena purses her lips, reads a response from Kara, and types with a small smile as she responds to Sam. “Think she’s teaching me how to bowl Wednesday night when she gets off work. Some place uptown that’s open late.” 

“What? Lena, you were a three-time bowling champion at MU.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t know that.”

“...Okay, whatever, fine. And when did you see her last?”

“I went to her place to meet her friends over the weekend, you already know this. What exactly are you going on about?”

“Lena, have you even fucking kissed the girl yet?”

Lena doesn’t even look away from her phone screen. “You’d be the first to know if we had. But like I said, it’s just texting, we don’t need to make an ordeal out of this.”

“When do you even have time for all of this?” Sam stuffs a large mouthful of spinach into her open mouth, talks around it. “You stay at the lab until way after dark every night, you’re the first one in every morning, and I know you sneak Jack’s unpublished research home to read when you’re not here.”

“Kara works late hours,” is Lena’s half-assed, end-all be-all explanation for Sam, though it’s mostly because she’s concentrating on what she’s texting the bartender rather than any actual intention to be cryptic.

“Oh give me that.” Sam stretches out to snatch Lena’s phone. “What the hell are you two even talking about?”

Lena sits back, nonplussed. “She’s trying to figure out whether she can get away with wearing a maroon belt to work tonight because she can’t find her black one, so she’s sending me pictures and I’m trying to tell her no one will be able to tell the difference.”

Sam’s eyebrows furrow together as she looks intermittently between Lena and the phone.

“Because the lights are red,” Lena clarifies, unsure as to what about this is confusing for Sam. “Everything looks red anyway.”

Sam slides Lena back her phone with a sigh. “You really embarrass me sometimes, Luthor.”

xx

Lena spends a few hours after lunch working on genome isolation to get the amphibian research moving again in that department, but gets positively nowhere. There’s a cloudy, fuzzy whirl of disappointment in herself, but she’s certainly not surprised. Feeling a pull behind her eyes, she decides to take a quick coffee break and heads down the hall. She’s actually waiting on some footage documentation to download from the back servers, and she’d be waiting around at her desk mindless anyway, and so this is her reasoning for not feeling guilty when she pulls out her phone.

Kara answers on the third ring.

“Hey you. I thought you’d still be at work.”

“I am,” Lena says switching a capsule in the Nespresso. “Still have a few more hours, but I just wanted to say hi.”

“Well, hi.” Lena can hear the dorky smile.

“Have you left for work already?”

“Ah, no, I’m just finishing getting ready. How’s work? Save anyone’s life today? ”

Lena sighs. “Not even close. I’m pretty sure I’m moving backwards at this point.”

“I dunno that science works like that.”

“It does, actually. Didn’t you know? I’m on track to set oncology back twenty years if I keep this up.”

Kara laughs but quickly adopts a scolding tone. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Didn’t you just start like two weeks ago?"

“Well, yes, but—”

“No buts. It takes more than a few days to save the world, Lena.”

“It can, but it doesn’t have to. I have a lot of wasted time to catch up on.”

“How do you mean?”

Lena bites her lip. She’s gotten to know Kara pretty well these last couple weeks, and, sure. She’s opened up around the other woman, she can talk a little about growing up around money, about boarding school — the basics, safe territory. But there still lingers an anthology’s worth of detail and background that Lena has omitted, that Lena doesn’t know how to pencil back into the narrative. Things like, how she’s spent the last seven years since college, who her ex is, her last fucking name.

“Nothing. Just, progress can never be too soon, right?”

“You can’t rush genius, though.”

Lena smiles, pouring a dollop of almond milk into her coffee. “Watch me.”

xx

As planned, Lena stops by Roulette around closing two nights later when Kara’s finishing up work. Veronica gives her a droll, flat look when she waves Lena through, and Lucy calls a nonchalant greeting once she makes into the otherwise empty bar. Kara, on the other hand, is fumbling to get her arms through the sleeves of her bomber jacket, trips over a broom behind the bar, just barely avoiding a fall, and hops out in front of Lena breathlessly.

“Hi!” she gasps with beaming smile when she sees Lena. Kara squirms like a dog chasing its tail to find the other arm hole of her jacket.

“Hey yourself.” Lena raises an eyebrow bemusedly, tempted to help Kara but wondering how long it might take her herself to figure this one out.

“Take your time, you know,” Lena says sincerely as Kara rushes to get her bearings. “I’m not in a rush.”

“You’re not, but she is.” Lucy rolls her eyes, locking up the register. “She’s been talking about this all night. Think it’s the highlight of her week.”

Kara throws her beanie at Lucy. “I have not.” 

“You have, babe.”

Kara huffs. Lena reaches out to untuck the ruffled collar of her jacket with a small smile, and the blonde relaxes again, sways into Lena’s touch.

“It’s okay, I’m excited too,” Lena says in a low voice that only Kara can hear.

The bowling alley is further uptown, closer to where Lena lives than Kara, in the center of the city’s tourist hub where most everything is open late, if not all night. At first, the idea of such a public endeavor made Lena’s skin crawl, has her tossing anxious looks over her shoulder.  But from the way Kara talks about it, with the after-midnight black light theme and privacy of sticking to their own lanes, being recognized shouldn’t be an issue. It’s bowling, for fuck’s sake. Who would squint in a dark, loud gaming facility to make out if Lena Luthor was in their midst? 

So. It’s completely fine.

Okay, Lena might have said she doesn’t know how to bowl, because, well, she’s seen enough 90’s rom-coms to know how this goes. She knows it means Kara slides her warm hands over Lena’s when she tests out differently weighted bowling balls, helping her judge which is best suited for her. She knows it means that Kara stands behind her when they step up to the red line, that Kara adjusts Lena’s fingers in their grip on the ball, that she strokes over Lena’s arm to show her how to get the right kind of swing, how to flick her wrist, how Kara sets her broad hands down on Lena’s waist to urge her stance.

Fuck Sam, Lena’s totally got game. 

The infectious way Kara laughs when Lena turns back to look at her and wiggles her eyebrows, how Kara blushes when Lena nudges herself back into Kara’s frame, it’s all so dizzying and thrilling that Lena’s thoughts couldn’t possibly be any further from their environment, from her worries earlier in the night at being recognized.

It’s dark, it’s loud, there’s probably thirty or so lanes on this side of the building, and everyone’s too busy in their own games to pay them any attention. With the strobing blue, green, red lights dancing around them, how Kara’s teeth glow wickedly when she smiles under the black light, how they can barely hear each other over the obnoxiously computerized EDM music blasting around them — it’s like a dream.

Besides, it’s all priceless in the end when Kara finally steps back to let Lena take her shot, and she expertly shoots the magenta ball down the lane, how it curves beautifully into a perfect strike. The first one is cute, Kara claps boisterously for Lena, wraps her in a bear hug and spins her around while Lena slaps at her shoulders with screams to let her down.

But after the fourth strike in a row, Kara’s less excited and more baffled.

Lena spins back to her with a cheeky smile. “Guess you’re a great teacher.”

The deep, intense frown between Kara’s eyebrows, her pouty lips and the way she crosses her arms just adorable enough for Lena to consider snapping a picture. “Why do I get the feeling I’ve been punked?”

Lena plops down onto the plastic seat beside her with a wide grin and slips her hand over Kara’s knee. “Because you have.”

Kara takes in the scoreboard to see how drastically behind she is, sighs exasperatedly, and stands for her turn.

Lena wins, in the end. By a landslide. She does manage to talk Kara into a second game, if only because they already paid for it, but by the end of that one, Kara is losing her mind.

“Literally, how, Lena? How? How are you so good? Have you broken the Guinness World Record for most strikes in a row? Are you an Olympic bowler? Are you the prodigy child of an Olympic bowler?”

Lena presses her lips hard together to keep her laughter in, but she fails horribly, hardly manages to stop herself from keeling over at Kara’s upset.

“How could you do this to me?” Kara goes on, waving a hand. “I put my heart in soul into teaching you the perfect backswing just for you to stab me in the back like this? I’m ruined, Lena. Ruined.”

“Darling, I’m sorry,” Lena laughs, running her hand soothingly along Kara’s shoulder and around the slope of her neck. If she takes into appreciation the defined muscle tone under her fingers, it’s just a subconscious thought. Mostly. “You just sounded so excited to teach me, and I didn’t want to break your heart.”

Kara huffs. “Consider me heartbroken.”

“Will it make you feel better if I buy you pizza?”

Kara purses her lips, puts on her best impression of considering the offer. “Yes. Yes it will.”

So the bowling part itself doesn’t last too long, and after returning their shoes, Kara quickly drags Lena over to the opposite end of the alley to the concession window, and Lena does nothing to mask the sloppy smile at having Kara’s hand intertwined with her own.

She first tries to buy them just a few slices, but at the way Kara clears her throat, she concedes to a whole pizza.

This is how they end up at a red punched-metal table, eating too-greasy pizza that dangles limply from their hands and slurping sugary sodas Lena normally wouldn’t be caught dead consuming. But nothing could taste sweeter than the way Kara laughs so unabashedly, the way Lena’s cheeks ache from smiling.

“You know,” Lena starts, taking a quick sip from her Sprite. “I haven’t done this in so long.”

Kara wrinkles her nose. “Been bowling? Don’t even give me that crap, Lena, you have to practice at least on a weekly basis.”

Lena laughs, shakes her head. “No, no, I mean, just  — this. Go out, have fun, be normal. I can’t remember the last time I felt I could let my guard down in public like this.”

Kara tilts her head cutely. “Can you not usually go out in public?” 

“Oh, I mean, you know, just how lately—”

Lena stops herself so abruptly she can feel the kickback of anxiety like a visceral yanking, some external force reaching into her mouth and sucking back her tongue. She was so, so blissfully content and at ease, and Kara talks so openly like she’s known Lena for years that she—

Just for a second— 

She forgot who she was talking to. Who she, herself, is.

Kara still stares back at Lena with furrowed eyebrows and a confused smile, patiently waiting for Lena to deal with the way her brain is short-circuiting right now and how reality is clambering down on her like bricks. 

Lena shakes her head to clear her thoughts. “I just, um.” She forces herself to take a deep breath, physically splay out her thumping heartbeat, relax. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this… comfortable around someone. I’m not usually a very trusting person, because I think, I mean it just feels like most people really do have ulterior motives, you know?”

Kara nods minutely, her eyes whole and immersed. 

“There’s always a catch,” Lena goes on, picking at the plastic top to her cup of soda and shyly glancing away from Kara’s face. “With anyone, they always want something from you, or — or they’re playing an angle. And I’ve never been very good at figuring that one out, deciphering who’s who. So it’s always been easier to assume everyone is like that. With most people in my life, even the ones I was supposed to be closest with, there was always this barrier, this gap I refused to close because I never let my guard down. Not really, not completely.” Lena blinks up to look at Kara, who meets her gaze head-on. “But with you, for some reason I can just… relax.”

It’s so loud in the bowling alley, the noise is cacophonous, cumbersome, palpably everywhere. But right now, there’s just them, there’s just Kara’s pale eyes and undivided attention, just the soft way she looks at Lena like she couldn’t possibly say the wrong thing right now.

“And I know I’m extremely private, and you are so, so incredibly patient with me, it probably seems insane that this is me actually being vulnerable .” Lena laughs dryly, nervously. “But when I’m with you I feel like I can breathe. And — yes, the worries are still there, I’ll probably always be paranoid, but it’s easier to quiet them, put them aside. With you, it’s just, it’s this .” Lena waves between them. “It’s just this, it doesn’t have to be anything else.”

There’s still the crushing waterfall of anxiety once her mouth closes, the typical fretting that she has indeed said too much, that this is all too soon to admit, especially to someone who she just barely came to think of as a friend. There’s that childish, nervous edge that Kara will think she’s being melodramatic, will judge her for how she feels. 

Lena’s never been very good at believing anything but these doubts. She usually succumbs to them, in fact. 

But even before Kara says anything in response, Lena feels like she can push that aside. She can squash it down, tell it off, stifle it until it’s so quiet that she barely hears it anymore. Because Kara’s not like that, she doesn’t judge Lena and she never asks more of her than she is capable of giving.

Finally, after a prolonged, stunned silence, Kara positively melts with an incredibly bright smile. “Lena,” she whines. “You can’t make me cry onto my pizza, it’ll ruin the cheese.”

Lena laughs, and Kara pouts, and that’s all it really comes to. Kara’s a little bit teary-eyed, but Lena’s also a bit overwhelmed by how emotional she’s feeling, how heavy such a vague announcement feels to come off her chest. And of course, the ever emotionally-available Kara, picks up on that, and doesn’t let the intense moment between them sit for too long, quickly reroutes with her silly jokes and goofy personality.

Just a simple, genuine smile and some shared eye contact is all Lena really needs in response. As if to say, it’s okay . As if to say, me too.

The rest of their meal and time at the bowling alley steers completely away from sticky emotions and heartfelt moments, thankfully. Lena’s not sure she could handle being any more vulnerable than she already has been, even if she didn’t really say anything that specific, hasn’t revealed anything that groundbreaking and personal about herself.

But Kara gets it. She doesn’t have to.

“Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you,” Kara starts once they’re done eating and they’re depositing their trash into a bin. Kara rubs her greasy mouth with the back of her hand, to which Lena makes a noise of distaste and snatches a napkin flippantly for her. Kara, rolling her eyes, makes a theatrical show of wiping her mouth again with said napkin. “ Anyway , Nia’s having a Halloween party this weekend and she told me to make sure you’re free.”

Lena, distracted by the way Kara’s still licking her lips, blinks. “Me? Why?”

“‘Cause she wants you to come. Was that a rhetorical question?”

“Oh.” Lena blinks. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yeah, really. She said she thought you were funny.”

Lena’s just barely manages to keep her jaw from hanging agape. “I mean, of course, I’d love to come. But, are you sure she was talking about me?”

Kara flicks her crumpled napkin back at her. “No she was talking about the other cute customer I’m always hanging out with. Yes, you, dork. My friends really like you. Is that so hard to believe?”

A rush of heat blooms in Lena’s cheeks as she throws away Kara’s napkin absent-mindedly. Did Kara just call her cute? “No, no, of course it’s not. Yes, I can be there. I mean, if you’d like me to. And if it’s alright with everyone else. I just, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

Kara stares down at Lena with curious regard, a slow smile spreading across her lips. Lena feels particularly exposed under a gaze like that, so quietly scrutinizing.

“What?” 

Kara says nothing for a moment, shakes her head. Holding the door open, she holds her hand out to indicate Lena walk ahead first. “Nothing. I’ll find out the details and text it to you tomorrow.”

They leave the bowling alley, eventually say goodnight as Kara waits patiently with Lena for a Lyft to pick her up. It’s not until Lena turns to Kara with a timid smile, all of a sudden stupidly shy and once again over-analyzing how to properly say goodbye to someone she has a massive fucking crush on but could very well just consider her a really emotional friend, that she remembers earlier. During their first game, when Kara had spun Lena around like she weighed nothing, Lena squealing in her ear — it was their first hug, and Lena hadn’t even thought twice about it.

Actually, the entire night they’d been physically touching, someone’s hand always on the other, whether it was when Kara was guiding Lena’s body into the right position or when Lena was consoling Kara over being a sore loser, or their feet were just bumping together aimlessly under the table.

It had been so fluid, natural even. So why does she pause now? Now, under the tangerine glow of the street lamps, watching Kara and the strands of her blonde hair that blow around her face in the breeze. Lena thinks she’s tired of second guessing herself.

Lena rocks forward on her toes and snakes her arms around the taller woman’s neck, presses into her warmth, feels the soft skin of her neck against her cheek. “Good night, Kara.”

Something feels irrevocably proper, infinitely safe and secure, when Kara’s arms wind around the small of her back and hold her close, when she feels Kara’s frame tense at first contact in surprise but immediately relax into the embrace.

Lena can’t explain it, and she probably will never try to, not to anyone else, but standing on the crowded, grimy street in the center of National City’s most touristy strip, outside an overpriced bowling alley, Lena feels more at home than she ever did in Metropolis.

Maybe that’s too theatrical to say. Maybe she shouldn’t have said everything that she did about how much Kara already means to Lena, and maybe she’s fucking naive to let herself care this much about someone she’s only just met.

But for once in her life, Lena just wants to let herself fall, be damned the consequences.

xx

True to her word, Kara send over the details the next day for Nia’s Halloween party that weekend. Kara conveniently waits until late Friday night, however, to let Lena in on the essential piece of information that it’s a costume party. And so she spends most of her Saturday raiding Sam’s closet for costumes leftover from her years of trick-or-treating with Ruby, an afternoon with the two Arias girls laughing and putting on a fashion show.

There is one set back, though, early on. “Hey Sam?”

“Hm?” She doesn’t turn away from where she’s braiding Ruby’s hair.

Lena purses her lips, takes in the numerous costumes her friend has offered her to try on. “Do you have anything that’s… well…”

“What?”

“I mean, these are all a bit revealing, don’t you think?”

She hears Sam huff as she clambers to her feet, comes over to where Lena stands by the closet. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, where are the costumes you wore after you had Ruby?”

Before Sam can answer that one, Ruby shuffles in between the two women and grabs for the black lace material of a strapless, gothic corset that would show off a sinful amount of cleavage, and answers for her. “Mommy wore this one last year.”

Lena’s jaw drops. “ Sam . Tell me you did not wear that taking your kid trick or treating.”

Sam tilts her head, looks over the corset the Ruby is currently wiggling into in front of the mirror. “Yeah I did, so? I looked cute as F-U-C-K.”

It does, sure, Lena imagines Sam looked fantastic, and neither of the women acknowledge Ruby’s cheeky, “You know I can spell, right?”

The rest of the costumes are mostly of a similar variety. Which, normally this would be fine. It’s actually not all that surprising that Sam likes to show off her sexy legs this time of year, and honestly Lena would usually be on the same page. Really, she’s not knocking the confidence, Lena’s been photographed herself in a few… mature costumes, over the years.

She just isn’t all that prepared to have so much of her skin on display going to a Halloween party with a bunch of people she barely knows. Lena doesn’t know if this is the kind of thing you show up to in a thong and lace bra with cat ears, or like, is Kara going to be dressed as banana? Anything’s possible. Not very shockingly, Sam’s costumes are of little help, and she ends up rejecting all of them, but she does make use of the rest of her wardrobe. Although, when she’s knocking on Nia’s door later that night, she shifts uncomfortably as she tugs her long white dress shirt down over her thighs, second guessing that it might be too cold for this.

“Lena!” Nia exclaims when she opens the door to her, her jaw comically dropping. “Oh my God, are you Holly Golightly? You delightful woman, I fucking love you.”

It hardly required much effort at all, she could push a sleep mask up over her hair and borrowed some tassel earrings, it’s a simple endeavor, albeit if the shirt is too short and Lena really should have worn shorts underneath this. But the red-faced, stuttering mess that is Kara when she finds her is excruciatingly adorable, with the way her blue eyes blink over Lena’s bare thighs and flutter up over Lena’s chest where Sam insisted on one too many buttons undone.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Kara, on the other hand, is in a perfectly fitted Supergirl costume that shows not an inch of skin, but it grips at every toned muscle in her body, and Kara’s wearing contacts, her long hair is down in waves, and oh, Lena might ask someone to open a window.

It’s all the same people Lena met from game night the weekend before, minus Lucy and Kelly, who are still caught up working at Roulette. There’s a few others from the bar, and some friends of Nia and Brainy’s from school. Lena nearly faints when Nia introduces her to a couple of them as a friend of Kara’s, panicking at being recognized, because these aren’t people from Roulette, they’re just college kids — but she pulls her sleep mask a little lower on her forehead to obscure her face, and no one is the wiser. It’s not like anyone would expect to see a Luthor at an understated, intimate party such as this anyway, pants-less and on the arm of a bartender.

They play some Halloween-themed games, drink some green punch, listen to good music, but mostly it’s just laid-back socializing with fun snacks made to look like spiders and ghosts. At one point, Kara dangles a piece of dark red-stained spaghetti over Lena’s face when she’s deep in conversation with Brainy about a quantum theory article she read last week, and Lena lets out a blood-curdling screech when it drops onto her and she flails to get it off of her. When she realizes what’s happened, and finds Kara doubled over with laughter, she starts beating the bartender with an orange, pumpkin-shaped pillow. 

After the crowd thins down to the friends she knows, they watch an old horror movie. There’s a good amount of squishing and squeezing into whatever space anyone can find in the small living room while Nia breaks out every blanket she owns. Which, inevitably, leaves Lena on the far end of one of the couches tugging her shirt down and Kara curling up close beside her, sharing a soft throw together. They’re not cuddling, Lena is very certain of this. If they were cuddling, she’d be leaning her head on Kara’s shoulder, or Kara would have her arm around Lena or something. Sure, their sides are pressed together and maybe Kara’s foot is hooked under Lena’s bare ankle, and maybe Lena’s arm is resting on top of Kara’s, but that’s just the way they fit together to make more room for everyone else on the couch.

Obviously. It’s completely platonic

And, so like, maybe she spends the night at Kara’s that night because it’s nearby, and Lena’s a bit tipsy from the punch and Kara’s being all protective and cute and concerned and pretty. 

Okay, she’s pretty drunk. Same thing.

After hopping into a pair of Kara’s comfy sweatpants and a too-large t-shirt, cleaning her face of the sticky lipstick and tossing her sleep mask onto Kara’s bedroom floor, Lena curls contentedly into the mountain of pillows on Kara’s bed. Dreamily, happily, she is completely surrounded by that sweet coconut-lime scent of Kara’s body wash and it’s intoxicating. If Lena weren’t already drunk then she’d be hammered off the smell of Kara alone. 

Actually being in Kara’s bed is really not as much of an ordeal as Sober Lena will consider it in the morning, considering how a week ago she almost had an aneurysm about just seeing Kara’s apartment for the first time, and now she’s sleeping over, in her bed . But when Kara starts grabbing sheets from the bedroom closet and makes back out in the living room, Lena realizes that Kara means to sleep out on the couch or in Alex’s room, and that will simply not do .

Yes, she’s perhaps a bit whiney and petulant when she insists Kara come back, that they’re close enough now to share a bed. She maybe threatens to sleep out in the building hallway if Kara doesn’t come to bed in the next five minutes.

It’s fine. Apparently Sober Kara really gets along well with Affectionate Drunk Lena, knows how to appease her.

She’d probably be more mortified if she actually woke up with Kara in the morning. But when the sun’s finally high enough in the sky to come round at the right angle and lands on her face, Lena, mumbling, blinks open her eyes, and the other side of the bed is empty.

(She did wake up in the middle of the night, maybe around five or six in the morning, with a horrible cotton-mouth, deliriously still half-asleep, and sort of understood that she was being spooned by someone deliciously soft and warm, but for all she knows, it was a dream)

When Lena pads out into Kara’s kitchen, rubbing the migraine already setting in behind her eyes, probably looking like walking death, the bartender is at the kitchen stove flipping pancakes.

It’s like one in the afternoon, and she hasn’t slept in this late on a Sunday since her heavy partying days with Siobhan. When she’s awake enough to wrap her mind around this she starts to apologize to Kara profusely about taking up her space and time, but Kara just rolls her eyes and shushes her.

“Lee, I only woke up like half an hour ago. Don’t even worry about it.”

It feels important to store into her brain that it’s November third, the first time that Kara calls her Lee, but not the first time that Kara saying her name makes her stomach swoop.

They eat pancakes, and Lena’s a little too nauseous to be eating at all so she mostly just picks at hers, but Kara happily finishes them for her and instead blesses her with some fresh-squeezed OJ she’d already gotten from a market downstairs, and Lena gets through her hangover happily.

They don’t spend the day together, Lena has far too much work to catch up on, after having spent the day before with Sam and Ruby and then the party. Kara lets her borrow a pair of jeans and the same NCU t-shirt she slept in, thankfully, so she doesn’t have to perform what feels like a walk of shame in her costume. The jeans hang too low on Lena’s hips, but she couldn’t give less of a fuck, because Lena’s greedy and, in addition to the hoodie at home, she is slowly but surely stacking up a fantastic collection of Kara’s clothes. 

Their hug in Kara’s doorway lasts longer than a morning goodbye warrants, not when they see each other as often as they do, but Lena chalks it up to their mutual sleepy exhaustion. This time her arms fit around Kara’s waist, Lena’s face buried into her shoulder, and she swears she could fall asleep right then and there, standing and all. But someone makes a small hum, she’s not sure which of them really, and the hug ends and it’s a goodbye as soft as every other. One that’s not really goodbye, just a promise for later. Because there’s always a later, Lena realizes.

Every time she sees Kara, the bartender seems actively intent on ensuring they have plans to see each other again before Lena leaves. If not right then, then Kara will text Lena immediately after to find out when they can see each other again. Lena’s not quite sure how Kara isn’t sick of her yet, they hang out at least twice a week if not more. Of course, she’s smitten and naive enough to text Kara back every day at least, even if it’s just a few succinct messages here and there before and after work, a morning greeting and a midnight farewell. No, Lena’s definitely not sick of Kara. Hell, she’d see her every day if she could.

On November 5th, Lena makes a small (read: very small) breakthrough in her research, and it’s practically nothing, barely a hair of progress, but it’s something that moves forward a trail of investigation that’s been sitting stagnant for most of the year in Sam’s lab. It means running more simulative tests on the servers under a new perspective, under slightly different parameters. It means a very low-key dinner with Sam that night to celebrate the small win — because Lena’s learning it’s okay to appreciate the small things, it’s important to stop, take a moment to show gratitude for any progress at all, for healing. It means after dinner, she and Sam stop by Roulette for a nightcap, but it becomes a few more and a conversation with Kara and Lucy that lasts over an hour. Sam gets delighted by Kara’s corny jokes, Kara seems impressed by how Sam magically tames Lucy into actually being sweet. It’s strange, Lena thinks, watching Sam and Lucy laughing together while Kara tries to reenact the shot glass trick from a couple weeks prior but failing miserably at getting the right timing. She thinks Kara understands the complicated oddness of it, maybe, because they share a soft look, and Kara has this knowing, gentle, particular smile that Lena’s beginning to think is maybe just for her.

On the night of November 8th, or well, into the early midnight hours of the 9th, Kara texts Lena when she finishes up work and Lena meets the bartender at the boardwalk by the water. There’s no one out at this time of night, just the occasional late drunk partiers wandering home, but Kara’s brought a thermos of hot chocolate from Roulette and they sit on some stone steps in front of a statue overlooking the port. They pass the hot drink back and forth, and in the late-year, late-night breeze, it’s still rather cold, so maybe Lena scooches closer so her side brushes up against Kara’s, and the blonde just closes the gap entirely and they press tight together for warmth (just warmth). Kara ends up sliding back onto a step higher and behind Lena, and then Lena is just hugging Kara’s knee and hungrily absorbing the contact. Lena asks Kara about her family, how she was adopted, what that was like, and Kara tells her about growing up with Eliza and Alex, how they gave her so much love when she felt like she’d lost her entire world when her birth parents died. She talks about the conflict of loving both, of being thankful for her new family being a part of her life but still wishing her birth parents were here today, that she often misses their guidance. She talks about her relationship with Alex, the ups and downs, the financial blows during Alex’s lows and the tumultuous emotional roller coaster of them both coming to terms with her addiction. Kara seems reluctant to say anything more about Alex’s addiction, as if it’s still too sensitive a topic for her, and she leaves it instead on a note of how much she adores her older sister, how she would do anything for her to just be happy. This leaves Lena at a breathless loss, because logically she knew what family was supposed to mean, she’s seen the sacrifices Sam’s made for Ruby, but it’s something entirely different to hear Kara talk about her sibling in such a given, unconditional way.

Lena confesses she’s adopted too, that although her birth mother and Lionel are both also passed, there’s still Lillian. Lena doesn’t talk about Lex, not by name, doesn’t even talk about having a brother. But she tells Kara about a chronic desperation for perfection, about never feeling like she’s living up, constantly being reminded she isn’t. Kara listens, she always listens, just listens. As Lena talks, her hand rests behind her on the cobblestone to hold her weight, and at some point Kara lets her hand fall on top of Lena’s, and it stays there until they leave, and they don’t really talk about it. They don’t talk about how, when they walk back to a busier street where they can call their respective rides home, Lena’s hand just sort of falls into Kara’s, stays there. Their locked hands swing between them, and Kara’s grip is loose around Lena’s fingers, but she doesn’t doubt that Kara won’t let go.

On November 12th, one of Lena’s coworkers, Jess, sits with Lena in the breakroom. She doesn’t talk much, but she tells Lena that she heard she got the amphibian cell regeneration project up and running again, and Lena learns that Jess studied aquatic biology in college. Although the other woman is in the department focused on improving radiation therapy, Lena piques her interest with an offer to work together on her new revived project. The next day, November 13th, Jack approves the transfer, and when Lena calls Kara after work that night to talk about how nice it is to have someone else with her in the lab for once, Lena thinks she’s starting to forget how loneliness tastes.

On November 15th, Kara texts Lena a picture of some blue raspberry cotton candy that now sits on the bottom shelf of her pantry, with an added message beneath it. 

saw some at the store and thought of you :) come and get it

On November 17th, the other shoe drops.

Lena leaves work early. Which is to say that she leaves on time for once, at six when most everyone else usually clocks out. But Kara has the night off, and she never has Fridays free, so it’s something they’re both keen to take advantage of, considering their time together is almost always after midnight. An evening together is different. And where before treading on new territory was terrifying to Lena, now the chance to see Kara when she’s not delirious from the late hour or half-asleep from having just woken up to meet Kara somewhere, it’s thrilling. So yeah, she can afford to not stay after hours one night before the weekend.

She makes a stop by Sam’s office on her way out. “You need anything before I go?”

Sam doesn’t look up from her computer monitor. “No. Just please get laid tonight. I’m frustrated for you.”

Something in the tight-knit, focused way Sam’s eyebrows come together makes Lena smile. “Hey, you know I love you, right?”

Sam does wager one look up at Lena, and something in Lena’s delightful smile must disgust her, because the woman grimaces and makes a gagging noise. “God, seeing you all happy and in love is so weird. Get out of here.”

Lena’s still smiling when she knocks on Kara’s door, a jug of apple cider in hand, and Kara looks equally excited by the juice as she is in seeing Lena.

They just end up watching a movie, which isn’t anything very extravagantly novel for them. Lena imagines Kara might’ve had something in mind that involved going out, actually making use of places being open while they’re awake, to do something they couldn’t do at three a.m., if only because the blonde is wearing jeans and a gray Northface sweater, her makeup done. But Kara doesn’t so much as even suggest they go anywhere when Lena tiredly sheds off her coat and blazer and collapses onto Kara’s couch, sinks into the cushions.

After Lena feels the couch dip beside her and she blinks an eye open, she finds Kara regarding her with fond amusement.

“Feel-good rom-com or satirical indie drama?” Kara asks.

Lena waves a hand tiredly. “God, I don’t care. Surprise me.”

It’s that easy.

As Kara flips through her Netflix queue for a particular movie, she splays her arm along the back of the couch behind Lena’s head. “How come you’re so tired? Feel like the fumes usually keep you going ‘till a lot later than this.”

Lena rolls her head along her shoulders to fix Kara with a miffed expression. “Kara. You kept me up until five last night.”

Kara purses her lips like she knows where this is going, but continues to play dumb. “Mhm, and?”

“I had to be up at seven for work.”

“Listen, you really could’ve hung up whenever you wanted, nobody was stopping you.”

Lena groans dramatically and closes her eyes again.

At some point during the movie, after Lena’s been shuffling and shifting relentlessly for ten minutes trying to find a comfortable position, she hears a soft murmur from Kara. The blonde pulls a throw pillow into her lap and is holding her arms open, indicating for Lena to lay down.

Lena feels her ribcage positively melt at the distracted way Kara doesn’t even take her eyes off the screen but beckons Lena into her lap.

It’s not as intimate as it sounds, objectively they’re not even touching each other all that much when Lena crawls over and rests her head on the pillow. Alright, yes, Kara starts to thread her fingers through Lena’s hair in soothing, even strokes, and Lena hums low and quiet, content.

But it’s not a big deal.

Curled up on the couch with Kara’s hand curving a lock of hair behind her ear, Lena can’t deny the magma-rolling swarm of bliss that settles around her, the high of being so at peace, so content. The movie is pretty shit, and Kara balks and stammers onto a long rant when Lena says as much. Lena rolls over onto her back and Kara looking down at her, they’re sort of bickering about what makes a movie good in the first place, whether it needs a complex plot or it’s just enough to make you feel good, when Lena’s phone starts vibrating in her back pocket.

She has every intent to ignore it, but when she wiggles to pull it out to silence it, it’s Sam’s face on the screen. Sam, who knows Lena’s with Kara, who had been pretty adamant that Lena take a break from working so hard in the first place and have a fun night that doesn’t require her to lose hours of sleep due to Kara’s ungodly work schedule.

Lena’s stomach is already twisted when she’s apologizing to Kara. “Sorry, I should take this.” But it’s probably nothing, Lena’s always been pitifully paranoid. So she answers the phone without moving from her spot laying in Kara’s lap, and she swears the way Kara’s thumb starts to rub mindlessly at a spot behind her ear is meant to be comforting, like she can sense the way Lena’s already anticipating the worst.

“Hey, is everything okay?” Lena answers softly.

“Um, hey. You’re… are you alone, right this second?”

Lena glances briefly up at Kara, back to the ceiling. “No. Why?”

“Shit, right. Right, you’re with Kara fuck, I’m sorry.

Lena can’t help the anxious bile that threatens to rise in her throat. “It’s fine. What’s up?”

She can hear Sam’s swallow on the other end of the line. “ You should, um, can you maybe step away for a sec? And like, check your email.”

Lena’s already mouthing an apology to Kara before she’s sitting up and rising to her feet. “Or you could just tell me what’s going on and stop being so cryptic,” she whispers after she’s turned her back to Kara and makes for the bathroom.

“It’s just, um, well there’s a bit of a problem.”

“A problem with what?”

“Okay, okay, look, it’s hard to tell but, you know the research I’ve been working on? About all those Guillain-Barre cases popping around but then it seemed to have traits of MS? And they thought it might be some kind of lymphatic infection but then we were seeing a pattern of it in remission lymphoma patients."

Lena pinches the bridge of her nose. “Yes, what does this have to do with anything? Did you find something?”

“Look, I, uh… well you know how we give Lord access to our pharmaceutical analyses? And how I said in return he sometimes shares clinical results from his facilities around the country?”

“Sam, I know all of this. Get to the point.”

“I found another correlation. Or, well, I thought it was just a coincidence, at first, because, you know, it’s not that astonishing that that they all underwent the same treatment designed for lymphoma, it wasn’t a red flag at first—”

Lena’s blood runs cold.

“But then I did some extrapolative regression analysis and, of course it’s not perfect, the z-score did show a one percent error margin, it’s never perfect—

Staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, watching the muscles of her jaw dance under her skin, Lena feels herself sink deeper and deeper into herself, her mind pulling taut like rubber.

“There’s just, um, an incredibly significant correlation between instances of this disease and, and well—”

“It’s from the Neoremedium isn’t it? Lex’s treatment?” 

A quiet exhale. “Yes.”

“Who else knows?”

“No one. I’m on my way to Jack’s office right now to show him the data but… I wanted you to be the first.”

Her lower lip trembles. “How many?”

“What? ”

“How many people?” she asks, her voice cracking.

“So far there’s a few hundred cases across the country, mostly on the east coast where his treatment was first used, but the reports over here are increasing."

“Mortality rate?”

“None.”

There was an unspoken yet hanging between them, a taunting, dangerous implication.

“I sent you an email with everything I’ve gathered, all the analytical reports and my results.”

“I’ll read it in the car. Bring Jack up to speed, I’ll be there in twenty.”

“Listen, it’s late, and I know you’re with Kara, you don’t have to—”

“Sam.” Lena exhales shakily, braces her hands against the edges of Kara’s pale green porcelain sink, her knuckles white and throbbing. “I’ll be there in twenty,” she repeats forcefully.

Lena quickly hangs up before Sam can say anything else, before Lena can fall apart, before she fractures at the pity and concern in her best friend’s cautioning tone.

“Hey, um, I’m sorry there’s something that came up at work,” Lena says as she reemerges into the living room, toying with her phone in her shaking hands, her wobbling lips pressed tightly together.

Kara rises from the sofa. “Is everything okay?”

Lena reflexively takes a step back when Kara approaches her, and her chest thuds at the furrowed confusion on Kara’s face, the way she stops in her tracks.

“Yes, yes, everything’s fine.” Lena tries to muster up a smile, tries to keep her breathing neutral, because the second she lets Kara see she’s on the verge of losing control of her emotions, she will break down. And she can’t, she can’t, not this time, not now.

Kara clearly isn’t buying it, if the apprehension in her eyes is anything to go by. “Lena…”

“I have to go,” Lena insists, turning for the door and scooping her coat off the barstool. “I’m sorry, but I'll, um. I’ll text you?”

Kara stands in the foyer of her apartment with her hands loose, helpless at her sides. “Sure. Yeah. Go do your thing.”

It’s not until she’s in a cab on the way to Spheerical Industries that Lena finally allows herself a lapse in composure to fall apart. Just for a minute.

Chapter Text

If Lena thought she was working long hours before, the next two weeks are nothing in comparison. 

She makes use of the stiff, narrow sofa in Sam’s office at least three nights a week, will go thirty-six hours straight without leaving the building some days, won’t leave SI even to eat, will usually make use of the vending machines on the clinic floor downstairs. She only has something delivered into the lab when Sam becomes too overbearing about adequately balanced sustenance, but it’ll still remain largely untouched if it takes too long to eat, her mind whistling at too high a frequency to sit still for too long.

It doesn’t matter what’s in front of her anyway, it’s all mechanical. Chew off a bite, gulp it down with water. It’s as monotonous as brushing her teeth, it might as well be anything. She doesn’t even take the extra five seconds to pour a dollop of almond milk into her coffee anymore, she has too much of a rhythm to slow down on her quick trips between the drawing board and the Nespresso machine.

If Sam is responsible for keeping Lena breathing, then Jess is the saving grace that keeps her on task. Jess works efficiently and quickly like this is any other project with a fast-approaching deadline. She doesn’t coddle Lena or make sure that she’s getting enough fluids, she doesn’t ask her what it feels like to be on the cusp of reliving the last two months all over again if she can’t fix her arrogant, twisted egomaniac of a brother’s never-ending fatal mistakes. Jess is all pointed professionalism and sharp acuity, she understands that they have a job to get done and pleasantries can be left at the door. 

Her amphibian research has to be put on hold for now. Right now, Lena’s sole focus is learning anything and everything she can about what it is that’s putting lymphoma remission patients back in hospital beds. She’s been in contact with the CDC already to determine that it doesn’t seem to be anything contagious, it’s not being spread to the greater population, and the WHO doesn’t even consider it a matter significant enough for their intervention. Because apparently over two hundred cases of near complete immune system collapse, of people that were perfectly healthy one second and completely incapacitated the next, bed-ridden, only breathing with the help of a machine, heart barely managing to beat on its own — apparently, this isn’t anyone’s priority right now. It’s being investigated, hospitals are interested in the results Sam’s analysis has found, and she and Jack gave a press conference the Monday after Sam’s key discovery was made. 

When Lena first reviewed the patient files in Jack’s office that night, a dread like cold sweat whispering down the back of her neck, her only thought was how could no one have connected the dots on this sooner?

Now that it has been put together, now that SI is at the forefront of discovering a cure, sure, it has the attention it deserves. The spotlight is on them, but no one else seems much interested in lending a hand. The AAMC is officially, on the record, putting the task on Spheerical Industries and Lord Technologies. Lord’s got the data and outreach, and SI has the resources.

From what she and Jess can tell from the files and charts they received from Lord, the main reason this took so long to be narrowed down to one cause, the Neoremedium treatment protocol, is because there wasn’t much connecting the cases. The demographics were all over the place — different ages, ethnicities, climates, occupations. And then not every instance presented the same. For some, the onset was as immediate as Guillain-Barre, only a matter of hours between perfect health and teetering on near complete system failure. Others had logged complaints from prior appointments with their primary care physicians, with symptoms ranging from sudden fatigue and headaches to gastrointestinal discomforts, as soon as days earlier, if not a month, as in a few cases. But wherever they started, they all led to the same eventual end state as the others. 

“But there is one essential underlying correlation Jess and I managed to uncover,” Lena explains flippantly as she takes a sip of merlot. “It’s affecting cells that are capable of being fixed, which is good news. Until we figure out a cure, we have no idea how long the recovery process will take, but we do know it’s possible.”

“Okay,” is Ruby’s chipper response from across Sam’s dining table. She’s coloring in a cutout of a turkey, her Crayola markers squeaking in her small fists.

“But you see, Lord sent over some new data last week. And it appears — so there’s this wall, a barrier, that’s keeping it from reaching the body where it would be permanent. And it appears that this wall is becoming weaker, and we’re seeing symptoms that indicate the damage might be spreading. Are you with me so far?”

“Okay.”

Lena fingers at the stem of her wine glass, her vision zoning out. “Why this is happening, on the other hand, it’s complicated. We think something about the Neoremedium treatment left some kind of inherent weakness, a vulnerability, so to speak, in this part of their body. Most healthy people have protective mechanisms to prevent this part of their nervous system from being breached like this. What I’m trying to figure out is what exactly is it about my brother’s treatment that’s made them weak like this. However, the problem is that Lex’s treatment was a completely redesigned plan, it wasn’t just any one new process or medication, it was a complete restructuring of the traditional approach.”

“Cool.”

“Because although his treatment did kill hundreds, it also led to thousands of lymphoma patients to go into remission, even some who had originally been given a terminal end-stage prognosis. Except now, we’re seeing a subset of those same people getting ill again with something completely unrelated to the cancer they already beat. All the deaths his treatment was responsible for from before, that was due to an unpredicted, dangerous reaction in people with a certain genetic mutation, one that my brother didn’t predict in his calculations. He would’ve found it, had he done the proper trials and testing that his forged paperwork said he did. But no, he wanted to save money and time, and apparently it’s cheaper to buy out half a board of FDA officials into overlooking what just seemed like a small technicality at the time on a treatment predicted to save millions.”

Ruby caps her marker suddenly, scrunches up her nose cutely. “So like… how come you’re here? Why aren’t you with the doctors and everybody, fixing those people?”

“Because Auntie Lena hasn’t had a proper meal in over a week, and it’s Thanksgiving,” Sam answers affectionately as she comes round the table to press a kiss to the top of Ruby’s head. “Put your coloring away, dinner’s almost ready. And you .” She points a finger to Lena. “Don’t give my kid nightmares. Didn’t I say to take a break?”

Reaching for her glass of wine, Lena rolls her eyes. “Please, she doesn’t even know what I’m talking about.”

“People are dying, and your brother is evil.” Ruby glances between the two adults excitedly. “I pay attention.”

“Nobody is dying.” Sam fixes Lena with a forcefully exasperated look.

Lena drops it after that. She’s going back to the lab first thing in the morning, anyway.

Kara texted her the day before, wished her a happy holiday and invited Lena to a Friendsgiving at her apartment, but. Lena isn’t quite sure how to look her in the eye and pretend she has nothing going on at the office, that there’s more red ink being added to her ledger every minute she stays away from her work. How would she hold hands around a table or whatever it is normal people do, and tell the room what she’s thankful for like people aren’t getting sick all around the country because of her brother again? She barely even agreed to come to Sam’s, only conceded out of guilt in making the receptionist and security guard at SI work on a holiday, and, well. Being with Sam comes easy, there’s nothing she doesn’t know, Lena doesn’t have to pretend to be thinking about anything other than finding a cure.

It doesn’t change the fact that through the entire meal as she’s picking and spearing at her plate of smoked ham and sweet mashed potatoes mindlessly, she’s completely elsewhere. She can barely ground her thoughts enough to listen to Ruby regal them with the story of how she conquered the lunch room and won three chocolate milks on the last day of school before break. 

It’s a pattern, she finds. Lena’s mind strays wherever she is. She doesn’t leave the lab much to begin with, doesn’t spend many waking hours not working in the first place, but when she does, she’s not present anywhere else. When she’s sitting in the backseat of a Lyft, she’s flipping through updated patient files on her phone. When she’s laying in bed at night setting her alarm for four hours from then, she’s taking making a mental to-do list of which areas of research she should investigate next, what medical experts she can call. When she’s brushing her teeth, she’s scribbling chemical formulas and calculating transmission rates on the bathroom mirror.

But after her Thanksgiving dinner with Sam and Ruby, when Lena’s in bed reading an analytical study on Lex’s treatment from a few years ago, Kara texts her. 

hi 

i just wanted to say that what i’m grateful for this year is meeting u

that’s all :)

And for the first time in ten days, Lena falls asleep thinking about something other than her brother and her shortcomings.

There are other various messages from Kara, ones she doesn’t know how to respond to, the ones she doesn’t have time to think about. The easy route is a simple response of, sorry darling, big issue at work, and an added I’m involved in a new project that’s very time-sensitive.

Kara seems to understand, as far as Lena can tell. She gets a plethora of smiley faces and thumbs-up emojis, words of encouragement in response. Lena worries her vague excuse will only last so long, buy her a week tops. But even after two weeks of giving Kara radio silence, wherein Lena sort of forgets she even has a phone for any reason other than its calculator and a means of accessing work documents when she’s commuting, Kara will still send Lena the occasional easygoing, fluid text like nothing’s changed.

hope the new project’s going well !! i’m sure you’re kicking those cancer cell butts

Or sometimes there are the random fun facts.

did you know the pressure inside a champagne bottle is 3x the amount in a car tire? be careful when you’re celebrating that big brain of yours!

btw apparently the human body produces alcohol naturally like, all the time. do u think that affects breathalyzer tests? happy friday :)

Lena will respond, for the most part. Even if it’s just heart-reacting to the message Kara’s sent, or a short Haha back. Sometimes she sends back a red heart.

It’s just… it would be difficult to explain to Kara. And not because she wouldn’t understand,  rather on the contrary, really, Lena worries she would follow along too well. Lena learned that Kara’s adoptive mother was a scientist, a bio-engineer if Lena remembers correctly, and her adoptive father did something similar, and so Kara grew up in an environment where science talk was prevalent, where those studies were encouraged. Kara usually would be modest, but she understood most of the conversations Lena would have with Brainy about stem-cell research or gene theory. Kara knew more than just the basics.

So there wouldn’t be a natural stopping point with Kara if Lena disclosed what she was working on. She couldn’t simply leave it at the notion that her department just works in the oncological field and that this is a new illness falling upon patients in remission. Kara would ask why, she’d be able to keep up and she’d want to know where this is coming from.

Even after the press conference, their work has had little publicity in the media at large. There were headlines in reputable scientific journals of course, sure, some clickbait articles on Sci-News.com, but the general public hasn’t reported on anything SI-related. They have, on the other hand, been discussing the cases themselves and how even when half the Luthor family is out of the picture, whether that be behind bars or dead, they still are causing strife and chaos around the country. There’s social media trends trying to gain momentum in their goals for depleting the Luthor estate of everything they’re worth, and Lena thinks she even saw one poll voting to have her deported. No one cares much that Lena dedicates every waking moment, every neuronal pathway, to fixing this. She’s not sure anyone even knows she’s working at Spheerical Industries at all.

But the point is that Lena would really rather not get to the part of the conversation where Kara asks Lena what’s causing these people to be getting sick, and why that relates to how she has to be the one to fix this. If Kara so much as gets wind about this illness and is inclined to make the most vague of Google searches, then it’s over for Lena.

Lena likes Kara. She’s not a fool, she knows she needs to tell Kara rather soon who she is before the woman finds out for herself. It’s not like — Lena hasn’t been lying, she’s just private, and Kara respects that. Sure, the closer she gets with the bartender, the more terrified she is that Kara will be disgusted and spite Lena for what her brother’s done, for how Lena let her live in ignorance for so long, that she’ll grab a pitchfork and join ranks with everyone else online. 

But at the same time, Lena feels an inexplicable tug in her chest that urges her to trust .

It’s just, she has other priorities right now. She’ll tell Kara, she will, later, when she has the time. 

The truth is that, as painfully this bends her mind and how much it twists her heart that after all this time, even with her brother behind bars and his terrible treatment no longer in practice, he’s still hurting people — the truth is that Lena can’t deny the mystifying thrill of what she’s doing. There’s the adrenaline rush of walking through the lobby of SI, her heels echoing, pressing for the elevator, and knowing that the second she steps onto their floor, it’s time to begin. Nothing starts without her, Sam put her at the head of this team.

Because while her dissertation was on genotoxicity, Lena has the strongest foundation for cell decision processes in response to system threats. Over the course of two weeks, with Jess close by her side, she works with various department heads to rule out causes, slowly but surely narrowing down her scope of work.

There’s not even room anymore for opinionated coworkers or awkward breakroom lunches anymore. Over half of the oncology branch that Sam oversees at Spheerical Industries is working just like Lena to find a cure, along with three other departments in Jack’s facility. Any project that isn’t in the midst of a breakthrough is being set aside and on hold, because as the largest research facility on the west coast, they’re the best equipped to find an answer if there is one.

The facility is full of experts, brilliant people who have double or even triple the years of experience in research that Lena has. But somehow, at the end of the day, it’s her everyone turns to. She knows Lex’s research, it was her entire childhood, even before Lex had gotten involved. Yes, Lex had picked up the thread of study their father left behind, and it was the whole reason Lex was so hellbent on solving it. He was desperate to finish what was started, and maybe Lena abandoned her scientific studies for a life with Siobhan, but she was listening too. There was a time when she was Lionel Luthor’s other prized hope for the future of oncological research.

With Lena’s area of expertise and the homefield advantage of being related to the brains that put this together, she may just be the one person who can make this right, who can lay the infamous, fatal Luthor legacy to rest. It’s exhilarating, dizzying in its power.

But even still, it only takes her to certain lengths. While some days are power walking down linoleum hallways and feeling at the top of the world, a queen of her own making, others are kicks to the gut, leave her gasping and hopeless.

There are the nights she’s stuck and irritable, when she gets snappy with Jess and Sam and her hair is starting to look too greasy to be cute, and she’s forced to go home and concede to her lack of progress. It leaves her with clenched fists in the car, stifling anger that she can’t pinpoint whether it’s directed at her brother or herself. When she hits the shower, she still doesn’t let go, her frame stays coiled and trembling under the steaming rush of water pouring down her backside. She doesn’t cry, she can’t succumb to that, but maybe she allows herself an extra minute of aimlessness under the shower head to just breathe .

There’s one night, it’s one in the morning, and every joint in her body keens with exhaustion when she slumps into her mattress. But even with tranquil darkness and a mind so depleted she could probably cry herself to sleep, the actual sleep doesn’t come. She tosses and turns, flips onto her stomach, onto her back again, pulls the covers over her face. Eventually she’s brimming with a vibrating, restless energy that she bursts from the bed, and she returns only a minute later with an uponed, rather expensive bottle of wine. 

It was something she’d been saving for when Kara finally came over for the first, when she finally was trusting enough to invite her into her home. Kara wouldn’t drink it of course, it’d just be for Lena, but it was supposed to be a celebratory toast to herself for coming to a place of ease with herself, with Kara. Perhaps there’s something sacrilegious, then, in how she uncorks the bottle and drinks it straight from the bottle. It’ll bring sleep on quicker, it’ll put her under, and she’s out of over-the-counter melatonin so this will just have to do.

When she’s halfway through, an urge tickles in her fingers to text Kara. She gets so far as to pull up their conversation, sees the unanswered fun facts, wonders if she can will Kara to try again, text her one more time. If she did right now, Lena would answer. There’s a sharp sting of loneliness blooming through her chest like frostbite, one that Kara always knew how to quell, one that isn’t so generic and ungrounded anymore but focused down to a single person she desperately misses .

She falls asleep before she gets the chance to make a decision.

There are good days and bad days.

xx

At a some point, however, they only get so far, and there’s only so much Lena is capable of.

Lena slams the office phone back down on the desk and storms away, pacing to the wall. “Fucking useless bureaucratic shit bags.”

“Take it they said no?” Jess asks, slumped in her leather seat with crossed arms.

“Of fucking course they said no.” Lena scoffs. “They won’t give me access to the servers his research was stored on, said it’s classified evidence. Does it matter that it could be the key to saving hundreds of lives? No, of course not, because he feds are about as useful as they are smart.” 

Lena grits her teeth sourly, paces back to the desk. “You know, they didn’t even catch him themselves? It wasn’t even any medical association. A journalist was the one who figured it out. A journalist!” Lena barks a laugh. “Took four fucking years before anyone even realized his treatment was killing people, and an undistinguished journalist was the one to expose him.”

“Right.” Jess pushes her glasses back over her head, sits up straighter. “Well, that’s fine, then.”

Lena turns back to her partner, waves a hand. “Fine? What about this is fine? We’re stuck, Jess. I promised Jack I’d have something by now, I promised everyone. But where are we at? We know absolutely everything there is to know about who’s been affected and who will soon, how long it will take for their immune system to shut down, we know the exact condition of the outcome, but still, we have no idea what part of the Neoremedium is causing this degeneration. And until we figure that out? We’ve got nothing. Lex’s research was supposed to be the next step to get us there, and now that route is good for fuck all. So forgive me if I don’t see what about this is fine.”

“Lena.” Jess meets her erratic gaze with steady determination. “It’s fine because it’s what we’re left with. If we’re not getting his research, then that’s that, and we need to move on to the next best thing.”

There’s something bitter in her throat and prickling in her chest when she turns away, jaw taut. “Which is what?”

“You tell me.”

Scoffing just because she wants to cling to this dark edge, ruminate in her petty defensiveness, Lena faces the window with a trembling scowl. Jess is right. She’s overreacting, she’s letting her emotions clout her frustration with the science, and she can’t, she can’t, she can’t. The second she does, this is over, she loses, she knows this. She always thought Lex was so brilliant at keeping his personal life separate from his work, thought it was what made him so genius. It wasn’t until his entire domain collapsed and the truth came to light that she realized everything he did was tainted sick with his emotions, it was dripping in it.

Because Lex always had more pride than anyone. 

How could she have seen arrogance in someone she thought the world of? His confidence just seemed so rightfully placed — why wouldn’t he be assertive that they would single-handedly change the world if she truly believed he had the answer to saving it?

Lena blinks.

“You’re right.” Lena spins back from the window and beelines for her computer, sliding into the chair.

“I mean, I know that,” Jess says wearily, coming to lean over Lena’s shoulder. “But what are you doing now?”

Lena’s already selecting a flight by the time she answers Jess. “I can’t get his research, so, it’s like you said. I have to go to the next best thing.”

xx

Before she leaves the lab that night, hyperactively organizing the paperwork she needs to bring with her together into a pile, Sam stops in the entryway of the lab.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Lena continues to skim distractedly for a specific toxicology report. “Of course. Honestly I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner. If anyone knows the data better than me, it’s Lex himself. He’s the key, he’ll know how to fill in the blanks.”

“Forget the research, Lena, I’m talking about you. Are you sure that you’re ready for this?”

Lena stands with a confused expression. “This isn’t about me. He has the answer, I know he does. I’m not going to let hundreds of people die again while I sit idly by contemplating my feelings.”

“I’m not saying do nothing.” Sam sighs, her shoulders drooping forward. “Seriously, you’re already doing the work of three people, and you’ve made so much headway on a cure and it’s only been a couple of weeks.”

“Sixteen days. It’s been sixteen days, and these people are only getting worse. It’s not enough.”

Sam shakes her head and steps further into the room. “And what about you? Just send someone to talk to your brother, or I can try talking to the authorities this time. You’re going to burn out if you keep like this.”

“Oh please.” Lena laughs. “So I’m cutting corners on my sleep schedule and eating irregularly. It’s not going to kill me, and this isn’t any worse than how we lived in college. Lex won’t talk to anyone else, it has to be me. I have a responsibility to fix this, don’t you get that?”

“Of course I do, but Lena—”

“There’s not buts,” Lena says exasperatedly, facing her friend with thinly veiled frustration. “Darling, I love you for caring so much about me, but I have to do this. If I’m not ready now, then I’ve got a six hour plane ride to sort it out. And if I need a lifetime of therapy to deal with this afterwards, fine, you can drive me yourself to every appointment and I’ll tell a shrink all about how inadequate my brother’s always made me feel. I will. But for now?” Lena shakes her head, gives a tired smile. “I’m getting the answer I need, whatever it takes.”

Lena scoops her work up from the lab bench and turns to leave. Sam’s face is twisted with uncertainty, and she regards Lena with such fragility that it makes Lena nauseous down to her knees. She knows Sam cares, that she only means well, but Lena doesn’t need a friend to hold her hand right now. 

Just before Lena’s opened the door, Sam speaks again, her back to Lena. “I know you think you have something to prove here, that you don’t deserve to be happy until you’ve accomplished something.”

Lena stops for just a moment, her hand resting on the door handle.

“But you don’t have to be a hero to be worthy.”

 She doesn’t let her voice waver this time. “Maybe not. But I can certainly do both.”

xx

Once her plane lands in Metropolis the next day, and she switches airplane mode off on her phone, she’s greeted with cautionary notifications from the tabloids she tracks announcing that she was spotted going through security back in National City, and she can now expect reporters to be waiting for her outside baggage claim. Honestly she last thing she wanted was for anyone to know she’s back, certainly not Siobhan, but she’d been in such a rush to get here that she hadn’t even considered taking the extra precautions.

The one upside of being back in Metropolis is that she did phone ahead to have the family driver waiting for her, and he always was an expert in navigating the congested city streets and losing paparazzi tails.

“Welcome back, Miss Luthor.” He nods curtly as he opens her door for her, his six-foot-plus figure commanding and powerful when he presses the reporters back from the car.

“Thank you Marcus,” Lena sighs as she settles back against the crisp, familiar leather. “I didn’t take you away from your other responsibilities, did I?”

He’s not much of a man for facial expression, can’t be having an opinion when you work for someone like Lillian, but the slight twitch at the corner of his thin mouth suggests something of a smile. “Nothing that Mrs. Luthor can’t handle herself, ma’am.”

So at the very least, Lillian would know Lena’s in town either way.

She’s not so worried about her mother reaching out — or maybe the more difficult-to-swallow notion is that she might not at all — but she is rather cautious of how it will look if anyone follows them to the prison. She’s in a rush if there ever was one, can feel the adrenaline thumping through her veins and a twitching agitation to find out everything she needs to know as soon as possible, but if discretion is only guaranteed by Marcus taking the long, winding route, so be it.

As far as plans go, Lena doesn’t have much of one. To be honest, she’s not sure that it’s really even sunk in that she’s about to see Lex. She wasn’t lying to Sam the night before, she really did spend the flight over flipping and kneading her emotional turmoil associated with Lex, really tried to address the root of how she feels about him. But she just… didn’t find all that much. 

Of course there was fresh disappointment, polished and bright, like it’s been sitting on display for anyone to see for two months now. There’s hurt, definitely, but it doesn’t surpass the exhausting, incredible anger she feels for how reckless and pompous he was with his designs, an anger on behalf of everyone who died and everyone who’s sick now. There’s just something intangibly meaningless in how she feels about him now. Like he’s not her brother anymore, not that tall, goofy kid who never quite fit into his tuxedo. Lena can’t even pinpoint when exactly she lost him, wonders if she was even there to see him die or if it happened while she was away.

Perhaps that’s the emotional unrest she needs to deal with, the brother who’s gone now, the one who clapped her on the shoulder and cradled her close, whispered with brilliant confidence that she’d be right alongside him changing the world someday. The man she’s en route to see is not that loving boy, the only person that came even close to resembling light in the darkness of her childhood. She’s not worried about what it’ll do to her to see him because that version of Lex is dead. Maybe he never really lived, maybe Lena was blind and romantic about everything, she’ll figure that out later. For now, she has a meeting with just another arrogant jackass who thought the world was only created to serve him.

She came here for a job, to get information and details. It’s nothing more.

When she’s only a few minutes away from the prison, she gets a text from Kara.

did u know cotton candy was invented by a dentist? u can totally eat ur heart out <3 

Lena chuckles, a small thing at first, but then it morphs into a full-body laugh that’s got a thrill of elation seeping through her. She’s either on the brink of a complete meltdown or she’s finally getting a grasp at stable competence when facing a world of strange, debilitating obstacles. 

But regardless of which it is, it’s breathtakingly freeing to know Kara’s still there.

She’s got a few minutes, Lena reasons, pressing the phone to her ear.

Kara answers almost immediately. “Hey stranger.”

Lena smiles. “Hey yourself.”

“Can’t believe cotton candy really was the way to your heart all this time. I’d’ve mentioned it days ago if I knew that. You know I bought some for you, right? It’s still in my pantry.”

“Yes, I was just waiting for you to figure it out.” Lena bites her lip, fingers the lapel of her coat. “I’m sorry. I know I haven’t been around.”

“It’s cool, you’re a busy gal. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“Thank you, Kara.” Lena looks out the window, sees the signs for the prison growing closer, knows she only has a couple minutes tops. “I just wanted to say thank you, for the sweet messages and being so patient. But I think, maybe, things should be back to normal soon.”

“Oh yeah? ”

“Within the next week or so, I’m hoping. I’m looking into a resource today that should prove… promising.” Lena takes a deep, stabilizing breath. “If I’m right, it’s just the breakthrough I need.”

“Nice. If you need me to bully anyone for information though, say the word. I’ll send Lucy.”

Lena laughs, her mouth stretching wide in a way that’s already grown unfamiliar again, and she makes an impulsive decision. “I’ll keep you posted. But yes, soon things should be settled down and I’ll be finished with all this. And then… I was hoping maybe we could talk?”

The car is pulling up through the security gates of the prison and her driver is speaking quietly with the guard, showing their identification, when Kara answers. 

“Oh, uh, okay. Sure. Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything’s fine, it’s nothing bad I promise.” Lena bites her lip, still smiling. “There’s just some things I want to share with you. About me.”

The other end of the line is quiet, and Lena’s running out of time, so she presses. “Is that alright?”

She hears the other woman clear her throat. “Yes, yes, I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

Lena presses her mouth together in a tight smile, feels warmth all the way down to her fingers. “Okay. I’ll call you soon, then.”

“I'll be here."

xx

It’s not until the last three seconds before Lex is escorted into the visitation room that Lena, very briefly, panics that she’s overestimated herself and that this all was indeed an enormous mistake.

But then he shuffles into the room in shapeless, beige cotton, and his cheeks are unevenly shaved, smears of restless exhaustion under his eyes, and Lena deflates. She looks at him, this shell of a man, and she feels nothing.

“It’s about time,” he grumbles as he slumps into the metal chair across from her. “You bring the Xanax I asked for? I’ve sent you five letters already.”

Lena stares at him impassively.

“No? How about some Twizzlers? I’ll take anything at this point.”

Lena sits forward and clasps her hands together. “I need to ask you about your treatment. The molecular structure of the drug you added to the chemotherapy, the breakdown of the energy you used for radiation, I need to know everything. Why you bribed the FDA officials, where you cut corners, what you were hiding.”

Lex leans back in his seat with loose shoulders. “Oh come on, you could at least pretend as if you want to catch up.”

“I don’t.”

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, that’s why you pretend. So how’s Siobhan?”

“Lex. This is important.”

“Yeah, so’s my baby sister’s love life. You’re not pregnant, are you? That’s not why you’re here? Because I’m really not ready to be an uncle.”

Lena grits her teeth but refuses to let her gaze falter, to back down. “People are getting sick again, Lex. And whatever it is, it’s not the same as the toxic reaction from before. I’ve narrowed down all the biological properties of the disease, I know its population and I know the timeline. But I need to know what you did to figure this out.”

Lex tilts his head to the side, eyes sloping over Lena like he has all the time in the world. “I didn’t realize you cared about the science. You finally get tired of Hollywood? Or did they get bored of you first?”

“I’ve always cared,” Lena says evenly, but she can feel the rough edges of her composure wavering.

The way his lips pull back is less of a smile and more like a snarl. “Right, is that why while I was working on making the revolutionary scientific advancement of the century, you were busy posing for camera shots outside Madison Square Garden? Yeah, Lena, we can really see how much you care.”

“I should have been there, I know.” Lena works to steady her breathing, to keep her hands from shaking. “I think about that every day, if I had stayed, if I had helped you, then maybe things would be different, maybe I would have seen something you didn’t, maybe—”

“Come on,” Lex interrupts. “Cheek is not a good color on you, Lena, you must know that by now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot there’s only room for one prodigal narcissist in this family.”

“If that’s what you want to call my lifelong dedication to saving millions of lives, be my guest. You were the one performing in front of a camera like an animal in a circus.”

Lena pitches forward and runs her hands over her face. “Oh my God, Lex, I’m not here to fight with you.”

He continues to stare at her with incriminating disdain, all cold edges and gray contempt. And then something of a droll smile perks up the corners of his mouth, a slow upturn, and he laughs. “But we were always so good at it, don’t you think?”

Lena sighs, her shoulders falling tiredly. This stoic front, showing how little she gives a damn about her brother, it’s getting her nowhere, and she’s too tired to bicker endlessly with Lex only to inevitably walk away with nothing. With her disheveled clothes wrinkled and askew from the flight, minimal makeup and bloodshot eyes, she certainly can’t be faring any better than her brother in appearance. She’s tired, not stupid, but maybe there’s a sore spot here that she can capitalize on.

“I don’t have an angle here,” she tells him, her hands falling into her lap. “I’m not here to rub your nose in your shortcomings.”

“Why not?” he asks with a laugh. “Because that’s what I would do to you? Are you trying to prove you’re the noble one, more virtuous than me?”

“No.” Lena’s chest clenches, and she looks for that wrinkle of vulnerability between his eyes, perhaps a flicker of the boy she grew up with. Maybe she pretends it’s there, if only to make this easier to force out. “Because I don’t think you actually would. I always felt lacking, standing behind you for our entire lives Lex, but that wasn’t your doing. You did everything you could to welcome me in.”

Lex huffs as he crosses his arms. “You know I think I liked it better when you were insulting me. This sentimentality is stifling.”

 “You’ve always been full of shit.” Lena laughs, puts on that serene smile that always softened up Lex’s bravado. “But I need your help. I can’t do this without you, Lex.”

He stares back at her across the metal table, and Lena holds it well. There’s a reason he was so adamant about teaching her chess when they were little. Deep down, Lena thinks all he ever wanted was someone who could measure up to a challenge against him.

With a theatrically long, dry sigh, Lex sits forward, slumps his chin into the palm of his hand. 

“Alright. What do you want to know?”

Lena smiles, a smart, sly thing as clean-cut as immaculate lipstick.

xx

When Lena’s tugging her jacket back on and rising from the table, getting ready to leave, she chuckles under her breath. 

“What’s so funny?” Lex asks, watching her with the same twinkle of amusement he had when they were kids.

“Nothing.” Lena shakes her head, because now that she’s gotten what she came here for, there’s relief in tampering down the sympathetic play. “It’s just… I really can’t believe you thought this would work, that there wouldn’t be consequences. Did you just think you were above protocol? That safeguards don’t apply to you?”

The creases of Lex’s face immediately darken, sag with distaste.

“But you know what’s really so twisted?” Lena goes on, tying the belt of her coat around her waist with a look of exacerbated disbelief. “You actually would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t of been for that article. You really had the whole world convinced you could do no wrong.”

Lex is quick in his anger. “That journalist didn’t know what she was talking about.”

“Well clearly she did, or you wouldn’t be here right now.” 

Lex’s fists clench over the table, his frame stiffening. “Our father died from the very thing he dedicated his life trying to cure. I was the only one smart enough to rise up to the challenge before it was too late for someone else’s family.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t smart enough, were you?” Lena says mockingly.

“No, but neither are you,” Lex snaps. “Not if you really think that Danvers girl is the saving grace for this society because she got lucky connecting a couple dots.”

Something slips inside Lena. Stutters, a trembling hiccup. The room spins into blurring focus, and she slowly, slowly, slowly lifts her head. “What did you just say?”

Lex comes quickly to his feet, clapping his hands to the table. “I’m the genius that fortified the science, I’m the one that studied under Dad for decades, and guess what? I saved thousands . You really want to paint me a villain because I was so desperate to help people that I expedited the process a little? You think Kara Danvers cares about helping anyone?” 

Lena’s heart comes slamming to a stop in her chest, nearly cracks her body in two.

“I was the hero, Lena.” His lips twist down into a snarl, a manic glint to his eyes. “I was the one destined to save lives. What did she want? What was she working towards? Getting her name on a fucking byline for her fifteen minutes of fame.”

The room is spinning, something acidic is rising in her throat, and all Lena can do is stare at her brother.

Lex seems to realize he’s touched a nerve, because he slows, takes a step back from the table to examine Lena, as if he can’t put his finger on where her snapping point was.

It’s a coincidence, it’s a coincidence, it’s just a coincidence.

She can see Lex mentally backtracking, and she knows her mouth is parted open like pale-sheeted ghost, she knows her hands are so fucking cold all of a sudden that she’s not sure she’ll ever warm them back up again, she knows she’s floundering, she knows she’s breaking.

This can’t be happening, no, he’s talking about someone else, he’s mistaken, he’s fucking with her, this can’t be fucking happening. She’s a bartender, Kara’s a bartender, Lena knows this, it’s how they met, Kara’s corny jokes and an amber cocktail and bright shining eyes, there’s no conceivable, possible way they’re talking about the same person.

Her tone crackles like ice, arctic in its imbalance. “How do you know that name?” 

Lex fixes her with a bewildered apprehension like Lena’s lost her damn mind. “Danvers? The reporter? She wrote the article you’re talking about.” He glances around him like there might an audience. “I’m sorry, are we having the same conversation right now?”

When her lower lip starts to quiver, Lena knows she has to leave. She quickly sucks in her panic like ice-cold oxygen, runs a hand through her hair and avoids her brother’s eye. “Thank you for your time, Lex—”

“No, Lena wait, what is it? Why are you—”

“—I appreciate your input and I’ll keep you updated on any new developments.”

“Just talk to me.”

“Goodbye, Lex.” 

She’s already got her hand on the door and her back to the room when he gets it.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Lee. Don’t tell me you’ve been talking to her.”

Lena stops, her knuckles white around the silver handle of the heavy set door, her heart hammering in her ears like claps of thunder jolting her off kilter. She can’t move, she can’t say anything, she can’t think of anything but that fucking name, that brilliantly crinkled smile, those mishaped freckles, the weight of a hand at the small of her back, the soft murmur of a quiet, sleep-heavy voice over the phone, the sweet aroma of a sweater in her bed, the unabashed delight in a jovial laugh, oh , Lena thinks she’s going to be sick.

When everything comes to a peak, when there’s nowhere else to scramble to, Lena does what she knows best.

“You’re a lot of things, Lena, but Jesus I never took you to be a fool.”

She runs.

Chapter Text

Lena’s hands don’t stop shaking all the way back to National City.

They’re shaking when she exits the prison, her head held low as camera flashes burst like insects. But their shouted questions and calls for her to look over, all the noise as Marcus guides her into the car, it’s muffled, swimming, hazy. When the door closes after them and the sounds from outside or muted, she’s not sure she hears a difference, and her hands are still shaking.

They’re still shaking when she hands her boarding pass over to the flight attendant, when she buckles into a first-class airline seat and pulls out her laptop. They’re still shaking over her keyboard as she types up everything Lex told her, clinging to her memories of everything he said before and nothing after and desperately trying to squash down the stray array of thoughts flying around and trying to break her focus.

They’re still shaking when she strides into the lab at eight p.m. and she’s dragging over a file from her cloud onto the desktop with everything of Lex’s research that she’s transcribed. When Jess disappears to get Lena the tech she needs, and only minutes later the glass double doors to the lab are hissing open and Jack and Sam rush inside, Lena’s leaning over the desk and typing up the finishing touches to a program.

“Why’s Jess trying to cop Imra’s CAR T-cell computer?” is Jack’s first question, hesitant, weary.

Sam is all brilliant eyes and ecstatic grin. “You figured it out, didn’t you?”

Lena lifts an eyebrow, hands still shaking, and doesn’t look up. “Of course I did. Were you worried?”

Half an hour later, Sam’s hovering over Lena’s shoulder as she plugs the CAR-T computer into an isolated simulation chamber. “I don’t understand, how do you know this’ll work?” 

Just as Lena goes to answer, Imra bursts into the room with Jess hot on her heels.

“I told her you said—” 

“You have a lot of fucking nerve, Luthor,” Imra snaps, coming round the bench to her computer. “I don’t give a damn how much money you throw at Jack, you can’t just put a multi-million dollar project on hold over a hunch.”

“It’s not a hunch.” Lena’s smile is soft, sympathetic, but firm. “You’ll have it back by the end of tomorrow.”

“You know this completely throws me off schedule, right? Cellular engineering can’t just be paused, it’s not a movie.”

“Let her talk,” Sam interrupts, glancing between Imra’s trembling fury and Lena’s steadfast nonchalance.

Lena bites her lip. “It was something Lex said.”

“Oh, we’re working with the bloody psychopath now, are we?”

“Imra.” Jack levels her with a sharp stare, and the other scientist crosses her arms.

After a few more keystrokes on the specialized computer, Lena slides over to her own desktop and starts pulling up data. “For weeks now, Jess and I have been looking for a foreign agent that’s targeting the axons specifically. All we can tell is that seemingly at random, their myelin is weakened and degenerating too quickly for the glial cells to repair them. The only connection we have is Lex’s treatment plan.”

Imra’s nostrils flare at Lena’s mention of her brother again, but she stays silent.

“Part of why his treatment was so successful in the first place was the agility with which it worked.” Lena pulls up a sketch she did on the plane of a chemical structure. “Lex designed the drug in his chemotherapy specifically to expedite the process, had the body working twice as fast to attack the cancerous cells. You see this?”

Sam’s eyebrows knit as she leans closer to the monitor. “I don’t get it, it doesn’t look that different from your standard alkylating agent. It’s just…”

“Smaller,” Lena finishes. “More precise. It makes sense, honestly. Chemo traditionally can’t differentiate between the body’s regular fast-producing cells and cancerous ones, it’s why it’s so taxing on the body. But Lex’s idea was that if he could make a drug that would target the right ones, and twice as fast, then the right cells would be destroyed before we could even see side effects in the patient.”

“I don’t understand.” Jack waves to the monitor. “It wasn’t your brother’s chemo that triggered the original mutation in everyone that died before, it was the radiation. Shouldn’t we be looking there?”

“Yes, and that’s exactly what Jess and I did at first. We were looking for where the radiation must have weakened their system, but it wouldn’t make sense why now , why after all this time we haven’t seen any issues.

Lena turns in her chair to face them. “Basically, what’s happening is the drug wasn’t just attacking the cancerous cells by itself, it was using the rest of the body’s cells to all attack at once. That’s why it was so fast. It couldn’t work alone. The only problem is that — it was like training the perfect army, and it won. But now there’s no enemy, these cells have nothing to attack. Except over time, it started to see the myelin encasings as no different from the cancer, and one day it’s like a switch.” Lena snaps her fingers. “The body starts attacking itself, and we see complete shut down that we’ve only ever seen in cases of Guillain-Barre.”

“Okay, great, you figured out why it’s happening. So what does this have to do with my project?” Imra asks, though less challenging and more attentive now.

“Well I was thinking about how he engineered the drug to turn the body’s cells into what he needed them to be, and it got me thinking about the engineering you’re doing. You’re in the business of designing cells to fight against cancerous ones, are you not?”

“Well, yes, but it’s hardly that simple—”

“It doesn’t need to be.” Lena purses her lips. “We don’t need to design them to fight anything. We just need to shut it off.”

“Shut… what off?” Jack asks.

“The white blood cells. They’ve been programmed by Lex’s drug to fight against an infection that’s not there anymore. We just need to reprogram them back.”

Imra pinches the bridge of her nose. “That’s the most CW synopsis of a complex scientific procedure I’ve ever heard. Who exactly do you expect to even know how to write that kind of program?”

“Me.” Lena pulls up a document of code on her computer. “I already wrote it on the plane.”

Jack is scratching at his beard. “So you just… wrote that. In a couple hours.”

“Five. It’s essentially taking the theory from my dissertation on cell-decision processes and incorporating a regeneration sequence I discovered in my amphibian research, and using the technology from Imra’s CAR T-cell apparatus to implant it.”

Sam sighs shakily, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. “It sounds great in theory, but, again, how do you know this will even work?”

Lena turns back to the chamber where she’s set up a simulated version of the average patient’s central immune system. She peers through the microscopic lens, and resists a smirk when she looks back at her colleagues.

“Well. It already is.”

As they all rush close to inspect the results for themselves in the simulation chamber, Lena swallows thickly, takes a step back.

Her hands are still shaking.

xx

Lena feels like her head is going to explode and that her skull will come away in pieces in her hands when she gets a text from Kara two days later.

me winn and james are going bowling tonight if u wanna show them what a superstar u are

no pressure tho :) hope ur making progress

Lena is in the bathroom splashing water in her face, trying and failing to control her breathing, feeling as if her heart is going to collapse out of her chest in a bloody mess over the porcelain sink. She stares at herself in the mirror, watches the droplets trickle down her face, curve around her chin and drip back into the sink. 

You’re a lot of things, Lena but Jesus I never took you to be a fool .

Lena fixes her running mascara and walks out of the bathroom with magma behind her eyes.

xx 

There are articles about her achievement, a few over the next week, but none that headline with how people are recovering, or what a reputable research facility Spheerical Industries is. Some don’t even mention Jack, Sam, Jess or Imra altogether until they get to a list of contributing scientists as a footnote. No, they’re all just talk of how the “other Luthor” is cleaning up a family mess, most speculating on whether she should even be allowed to contribute at all, whether her cure can be trusted. Some obscure fanatic websites go so far as to say that she and her brother are actually working to save humanity by actively killing the “weak links.” Which, it doesn’t matter, she doesn’t care what people are saying about her, she didn’t do this to be recognized or redeemed by the public eye. She doesn’t care about that. 

But there’s something nerve wracking in how little the media cares about how many more people could have died if she and her team had taken any longer to fix Lex’s legacy, about the rest of the work they’re doing, about anything other than what the sister of a criminal is doing these days. 

Although it’s not like Lena’s thinking about anything but gossip journalism either.

xx

Google is usually the first place most people go, isn’t it?

Lena types luthor, she types kara danvers, and she types treatment failure.

It’s the first result, it’s an article Lena’s already read it a few times, of course she did, months ago when it was first released.

She’s not sure what she’s hoping for, maybe Lex was off, maybe it was a Kiera Danvers, Kara Daniels, maybe he was just simply mistaken, maybe he’s been keeping tabs on her and just knew how exactly to fuck with her head, maybe he didn’t know what he was talking about.

But it takes all of thirteen seconds on the internet for Lena to click a CatCo Media link to the article that changed her entire life, to see the name at the top of the page, bright as day, the one she never paid much attention to before, the one she didn’t think twice about.

The Massacre That Won a Pulitzer by Kara Danvers

Lena slams her laptop shut.

xx

After a few glasses of wine, she types Kara’s name into the CatCo website.

How could she be so stupid? So blind, so naive, so fucking childish and in denial to think Kara didn’t know who she was? She studied journalism, for fuck’s sake. Did Lena really think that just because Kara was at Roulette working when the 9 o’clock news comes on that she didn’t at the very least tune in to watch one of the biggest scandals of the decade? 

But no, she didn’t have to watch it, she didn’t need to catch up on anything because she’s the one who wrote the damn story.

Among the search results, Lena doesn’t find very much.

The article in question comes up along with a few others that mention Kara by name, but only when referencing the original publication on Lex. There’s no title to her either, no fellow reporter Kara Danvers, no renowned journalist, nothing. She’s just Kara, just an apparent nobody who came out of nowhere with a story of the decade.

When Lena takes it back to Google, still, there’s not enough for her to go off of. There’s a few dozen Facebook profiles, some Instagram handles, but nothing public. It should have been a red flag, in this day and age everyone has social media, and not once had Kara ever tried to connect with her on anything. Lena had assumed it was because of who she was, how she was private, that Kara was respecting her boundaries. Lena never considered that Kara herself might have something to hide, and Lena’s cheeks burn both from the wine and the overwhelming humiliation from being so blind.

When she finds a LinkedIn account for a Kara Danvers based in National City, she opens an incognito window and lurks.

It’s sparse, and clear that Kara doesn’t upkeep it very much. It only has her restaurant experiences listed, all of which Lena already knows about. Her current employment is listed only vaguely as Bartender at National City Club & Bar , not a breath or mention of Roulette, and — of course — no affiliation with CatCo. There’s a hyperlink to the ever-looming article, a brief summary of its contents, but it’s nothing more than a highlighted status update. She doesn’t know what this confirms and what it rejects, if it means anything at all, but Kara’s smiling in her LinkedIn picture and it makes Lena’s bottom lip wobble and so she refills her glass. 

Lena scrolls next through what few connections Kara has, tries to find a single contact with anyone at the major west coast media company, but she finds nothing. 

She does, however, find a connection to a reporter at the Daily Planet in Metropolis.

She looks up clark kent this time, and it doesn’t take long until she’s at a blog page. She knows what this is, she knows how this goes, she’s seen enough of these by now, has clicked on countless links for these sorts of pages when she wants to torture herself or cling to the awful, villainous image of her brother in her head.

Clark Kent died on September 9th of 2018, almost a year to the date of the publication of Kara’s article.

There’s a video of a memorial service from a month ago, with beautiful, melodic music played on a harp and tragically elegant white flowers and massive groups of people gathered to remember someone lost. And then there’s a stage and there’s Kara’s stepping onto it, tapping at the mic, saying, “My cousin can rest now that the truth is out . I found it for him and for every other family like ours. May they all finally rest now.

Tears are streaming down Lena’s cheeks when she buries her face in her arms, but they’re dried and crusted over by the time she takes a second bottle to bed.

xx

“Hi, this is Kieran Smith, I’m calling from the LA Talk Radio about an article one of your journalists wrote a couple months ago on Lex Luthor, believe it was Kara Danvers?” Lena leans back against the bathroom stall door and twirls a strand of her hair around her finger. “I was hoping you could put me in touch with her. Wanted to see if she was interested in an interview for a new episode we’re doing on the Luthor family.”

“Uh-huh, hold please.”

Lena’s on hold for nineteen minutes. Nineteen minutes of gnawing on the dead skin of her cuticles, of pacing in the small bathroom stall before she moves to pace around the whole bathroom, of feeling silly, of scuffing her heels at the trash bin.

“Ms. Kieran, are you still there?”

Lena nearly slips on the linoleum floor. “Hi, yes, I’m here. Hi.”

“Yes so, Miss Danvers doesn’t actually work here, my apologies to make you wait.”

Lena’s almost too scared to even breathe at this point. “She doesn’t work there anymore, you mean?”

“No, she was never employed with us. The article you are referring to was a freelance piece. But in reference to the show you’re currently working on, would you perhaps be interested in—?”

Lena ends the call. 

Looking back at a pale face and bloodshot eyes in the mirror, Lena wonders if this is what Lex looked like when he lost his mind.

xx

There’s a voicemail from Kara a few days later, six days since she visited Lex.

“Um hey, it’s me. Kara, I mean. Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing, how work’s going and stuff. Ummm… yeah. I hope you’re doing okay, that work’s good, all that. Um, give me a call? Or a text, like, whenever you can. No rush, obviously, I know you’re suuuper busy.” There’s something like a cough, but Lena thinks it’s supposed to be a laugh. “Anyway, yeah. Just text me when you can so I know I don’t need to file a missing person’s report or anything. Um. Yeah. Bye.”

Lena doesn’t know what to do, what to say in response. 

She imagines busting Kara’s door down kicking and screaming, slapping her across the face and asking who she is and why she didn’t tell Lena that she’s known who she is from the beginning, letting her rage uncoil and shake the building.

She imagines crying, holding Kara’s face in her hands and begging her to explain this in a way that makes sense, to tell her it’s all a big misunderstanding, to feel her strong arms wrap around her and feel like the world doesn’t always have to be such a big awful place.

She imagines cold indifference, imagines the way that’d make Kara flinch away more than anything Lena could say, imagines Kara being the one to fall apart while Lena stands strong.

None of these scenarios do much for making her feel better.

She texts, Sorry. Had a breakthrough, been celebrating with Sam. Call you soon.

Lena doesn’t know what kind of celebration lasts almost two weeks, but it doesn’t matter. If Kara knows who she is, then she’s probably keeping up with the news and already knows Lena made a major scientific discovery, and this kind of thing would normally warrant such celebration. Kara’s not one to question it, Lena doesn’t think.

Although whether she really knows anything about Kara in the first place is up for debate.

xx

Lena’s had a lot of low moments in her life, she went to an all-girls boarding school and was the daughter of a billionaire, the younger sister of a dangerously narcissistic sociopath. She’s been involved in questionable things, done some sketchy shit, there’s maybe a thing or two on a court-sealed record. But that’s all in the past now.

She has never, on the other hand, actively, and consciously followed someone. In person. Without their knowledge. For three days. 

Stalking, fine. Lena knows this technically qualifies as stalking, but following sounds better and makes her less queasy about her actions. 

Yes, so she rented a car with tinted windows at ten p.m, drove to sit outside Kara’s apartment building, watched her come in around three in the morning, and then called out of work around six the following morning to keep watching. It’s surprisingly easy to let the time pass for hours and hours without activity other than a tired bartender trekking off to bed, especially when Lena’s whole being vibrates with anxiety for what she might see.

She’s not sure what she’s looking for, can barely scrabble for any rationalization for how she’s resorted to this. But nothing’s adding up — there’s a plethora of puzzle pieces piling up in front of her, one consisting of how Kara studied journalism but claims to ultimately not have pursued it, how she truly does seem to have no experience whatsoever but then comes out with arguably one of the biggest stories of the century in a world-famous publication like CatCo without actually, officially being employed there. Kara just decided on a whim to find the truth about what happened to her cousin, found it, and her first point of action was to sell it to a media company? And Lena is supposed to believe that Kara isn’t actually employed there, that she just dropped that dream and is continuing on with her life as a bartender, and she just happened to befriend the sister of the criminal she exposed? There’s something she’s missing, a crucial layer of perspective that would glue this all together, and as far as she’s concerned, it all comes down to two options.

Either Kara had an angle in befriending Lena, or she didn’t. 

And Lena’s always been too paranoid to believe in coincidences.

But she thinks that the longer she digs only to come up with nothing, the closer she comes to considering the latter possibility.

The first day, Kara doesn’t even leave her apartment until half past five when she’s headed to work, and Lena follows along behind the bus to confirm she is indeed going straight to Roulette. Lena takes the opportunity to snooze a few hours, parked in an obscure side alley with a view of the employee exit, and she wakes around three to make sure she catches Kara leaving. It’s harder at night to keep an eye out every time the bus stops, to see if Kara gets out. It’s too dark to see, but in the end she does manage to track Kara back to her apartment and the bartender makes no other stops on her way home. Lena’s not sure where Kara would even go at such an obscene hour that might incriminate her, might give Lena something to work with, but her skin thrums with nervous energy if there’s perhaps the slightest chance she misses Kara for even a second.

The second day, as in just a couple hours later, Kara leaves early. Like, earlier than Lena thought Kara was even capable of waking up, this is the woman who sleeps past noon on a regular basis. It’s just after six a.m. when the blonde exits the apartment building with her hood up and in joggers, and she must have barely slept two hours but her skin still looks radiant in the pink morning light of a waking city. 

When Kara glances both ways before crossing the street, Lena barely gets a few seconds to realize Kara is walking towards Lena, and she scrambles to sit low in her seat so fast that she wonders if she should have gone into the business of surveillance.

Kara strolls by the car without so much as a glance, and Lena hears the faint hum of her whistling as she passes on by.

Lena thinks this is it, her fingers are trembling when she turns the keys in the ignition and trails along to follow where Kara might be going at this ungodly hour. But then Kara gets onto the south-bound subway, and Lena can’t find a parking spot quick enough. When she loses her, Lena slams her hands in frustration against the steering wheel, earning her a few dirty looks from passing-by pedestrians.

Okay, so maybe surveillance isn’t exactly for her.

Head slumped forward, aggravation with herself clouding her senses like a surreal dreamstate, Lena forces herself to breathe. She swallows thickly, rubs her tired eyes, and regathers her composure like picking up the pieces of broken ceramic.

If it’s too late to find out where Kara goes, then in the meantime Lena can just wind back around to Kara’s apartment and park across the street again. After calling out of work once again, she pulls up the subway system map on her phone, studies it closely. Kara went into a station for the downtown line, but CatCo is uptown on a completely different line, so she’s not sure what to make of that but she reasons that this isn’t the most devastating setback. She’s not going to have a meltdown.

Considering Kara already lives downtown, though, there’s not much elsewhere for Kara to actually go unless she was heading out of the city into the more provincial outskirts. There are the suburbs, factory districts, smaller towns that the subway spreads out to but it ultimately ends a few miles out until it reaches the airport. And if Kara is headed there, then Lena might actually lose it.

She manages to tamper down her panic long enough for Kara to return about an hour and a half later. She pulls up in a taxi this time, and she’s not alone. Lena’s can palpably feel the rush of blood through her ears, her steadily rising heart-rate as Kara steps onto the curb and turns back with her hand held out to the other passenger. It could be anyone, could be Cat fucking Grant for all Lena knows, and this feels like an essential turning point in her surveillance that her grip on the steering wheel is stiff and taxing on her hands. 

Whoever it is swats Kara’s hand away, and Lena of course can’t hear, but she sees Kara throw her head back and laugh, her face taken up in a bright smile that strikes a familiar pang in Lena’s gut, has her shifting in her seat and clearing her throat. Kara then she steps back and an auburn-haired woman climbs out after her. It’s not until Kara winds round the back of the car to the trunk and is pulling out a red suitcase that it sinks in.

Alex, Kara’s sister. Has it really been over a month already? Lena feels like she just checked into a hotel room in National City and was browsing apartment listings last week. 

A twinge of guilt surfaces as she watches the two sisters, how Kara slings her arm joyously around her sister’s shoulders, the eruptive glee on her face as they head inside. Lena wonders if Kara’s anxious about her sister’s return, if she was overwhelmed or reserved, if she needed someone to talk to about it, if she would’ve confided in Lena about it at all.

Lena swallows down the thoughts, tucks them away with a shake of her head.

Kara lied to her, it doesn’t matter how she feels.

(Did she lie?)

The two Danvers women don’t leave for the rest of the day, even when night comes, and so when it’s pushing on nine p.m. and she’s sure Kara’s not going anywhere, only then does Lena head home to crash onto the pillows exhaustedly. Sitting in a car for nearly forty-eight hours with only cheap, lukewarm coffee and Kind bars was taking a toll.

Not to mention the pulsating dread and twisted thread of putting together a story that doesn’t want to be unveiled.

Lena doesn’t dream.

The third day of Lena’s detective antics is also her final day. Mostly because if she calls out of work one more time after this, Sam might actually show up at her apartment in a whirlwind of mothering panic and drag her to the ER by the ear. Although it is Friday.

But also because, after a quick breakfast with her sister at a cafe near their apartment, Kara heads back out into the city. Lena is better prepared this time, has already parked her car at a garage, has her sunglasses on and the MIT baseball cap pulled low. So when Kara hops down the steps below ground at a different subway station than the day before, Lena isn’t far behind her. Lena even planned ahead and bought a metro card, she’s practically a regular civilian now. So keeping a few paces back and ducking onto the subway car at the opposite end of Kara is easy enough.

They’re headed uptown, and Lena knows from her earlier studies that the green line is the quickest route from Kara’s apartment to CatCo. The notion that this might finally be the day the misfitted blocks come together is both exhilarating and terrifying.

In fact, Lena’s actually sweating when Kara pushes off from the car wall and exits the train at the station closest to the media company, because this is it and she doesn’t know what it’s going to confirm to see Kara enter Catco but she knows it’s conclusive of something messy and unsavory. It doesn’t help matters that Kara’s all dressed up in her nicest black slacks and a checkered button up which Lena knows she only keeps in her closet for job interviews. Lena jogs up the station stairs after her and watches Kara head east, again where the company is, and Lena can taste the bitter dread salivating under her tongue, wants to gag on it.

But two blocks away from CatCo, Kara stops, and steps inside a cafe. Lena lingers across the street, shuffles and leans against a phone booth, and she can just make Kara out through the shop front window as she waits in line. It’s only a few minutes later that the bartender comes back out with a brown paper bag in hand and a tray of four coffees, and Lena’s stomach churns.

Because the whole ‘getting coffee for the office’ thing is definitely a reporter thing, Lena knows, she’s seen the movies. Isn’t it? 

Except when Kara comes out onto the street, she turns around and heads back in the direction of the subway.

Lena’s half tempted to run after her screaming that she’s going the wrong way.

It’s not until after they’re back on the train, after Kara’s exited two stops back in the direction of her apartment, and once again remerging into the city that Lena realizes where she’s headed towards, recognizes where they are.

Spheerical Industries. 

Kara’s walking in the direction of where she works. With coffees. Lena remembers actually that Kara had texted her a few days before, asking about her schedule, and Lena said something about twelve hour days at the lab all week, to buy herself time in order to avoid Kara as much as possible.

But Lena’s not actually there, because she’s here. Following Kara.

Oh for fuck’s sake .

Lena scrambles and ducks around the corner of the next street. From where they are now, they’re about four blocks away in a straight shot to the front entrance of SI. If she runs a roundabout path, she just might manage to not get into Kara’s path and actually get there first. 

Lena doesn’t even take a moment to consider how utterly ridiculous she’s made her life to be these last few days, she just bolts it down the next side-street. Both from jittery panic and the run, Lena’s really sweating now by the time she makes it into the lobby, and she’s fanning herself as she rushes past the security guard and up to the lobby receptionist.

“Eve, hey, how’re you going?” Lena forces out with her strongest attempt at easygoing pose, pulling off her sunglasses as she tries to conceal how she’s sucking in sharp lungfuls of air through her nose. 

“Good afternoon, Miss Luthor. Oh, dear, you do look terrible.” Eve grimaces as she takes in Lenas sweaty hair, her surely pale complexion.

Wiping off a thin sheet of sweat from her forehead, and pulling at the collar of her sweater to alleviate the heat, Lena glances down at herself, her skinny jeans, an old white t-shirt under Kara’s zip up hoodie.

Because, of course she’s still wearing this outrageous sweater despite everything.

 Right, no, she is positively not dressed to be at the workplace. “Yes. Thank you.” Lena yanks off her baseball cap, hastily combs through her matted hair and glances over her shoulder anxiously. “But um, just Lena is fine. Listen, someone is about to come in looking for me, I think.” 

Eve’s immediately frowning with concern. “Do you want me to say you’re not here? Should I call security?”

“No!” Lena lowers her voice, laughs nervously. Fuck, what does she do? “No, God, nothing like that. It’s just, um, a friend. Listen, I’m gonna go on up, just call me when she’s here. I’ll be in Sam’s office.”

Eve doesn’t look like she gets it. “Miss Arias is not going to be impressed that you’re here, you know. You should be at home resting.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

“You work much too hard, Lena. I heard about everything you did, too, you deserve a break.”

Lena’s foot is tapping now as she impatiently looks back at the front entrance doors, the ones Kara will be striding through any second now. “Okay! Yes, I’m only picking up a few things. Just, please call me when she’s here? Sam’s office. And don’t tell her I know she’s coming.”

Eve nods curtly. “Yes, I will happily do my job for you.”

She calls a quick thanks over her shoulder as she rushes up to the elevators, taps repetitively at the call button, looking back at the entrance once, before the doors slide open. The dragging of floors up the elevator shaft is painfully, agonizingly slow, practically inching. She makes it to the forty-second floor, and she’s a frantic ball of hysteria by the time she bursts into Sam’s office, slamming the door behind her.

Sam jumps in her seat. “Lena! What are you doing here? I thought—”

“I will explain everything to you in five minutes if you just back me up and help me get rid of her.” 

Sam stares back at Lena, bewildered, like the woman who’s just entered her office is a complete stranger. “Tell who—?” 

Before Sam can respond, her office phone rings, and then Eve’s voice is coming through to alert them that a Kara Danvers is at the front desk.

“Oh my God.” Sam’s jaw drops comically. “What is she doing here?”

“I don’t know.” Lena quickly grabs a random stack of papers off Sam’s desk and waves her out of the office.

“Wait, how does she know you work here?”

Lena stifles a reaction, the immediate sharp, stinging response that Kara has likely known all this time because—

She doesn’t have all the facts yet. She’s working on it. It’s not like Lena doesn’t trust Sam, rather it’s completely the opposite. It’s just that, the second she drops forward her cards, everything is going to change and Lena won’t be able to take that back. 

No, Lena needs to handle this on her own.

“I don’t know,” is all Lena says, stiff and dizzy with dread.

To be fair, for anyone watching the news or following her family it is now public knowledge that she works at SI, for anyone that so much as knows her name even. Because apparently it was wishful thinking on Lena’s part to imagine there might be somebody out there who doesn’t know who she is, doesn’t care where she comes from, has no ulterior agenda for introducing themselves to Lena.

In the elevator, Sam’s questions only grow while Lena’s resolve thins.

“How did you know she was going to be here? Why are you here in the first place? You look like hell, Luthor. And why did you grab my Victoria’s Secret invoice?”

Lena glances down at the papers in her hands, the ones she grabbed on a whim to appear as if she came here for an actual fucking reason, and she shakes them incredulously at her friend. “Why did you spend four-hundred dollars at Victoria’s Secret?” 

“That is so not the most confusing thing going on right now.”

Lena’s head falls back against the wall. “I’ve been dodging her calls.”

Sam smacks her on the shoulder. “Why? That girl is a fucking angel, stop sabotaging your happiness.”

Lena swats her hands away. “Quit it, I know, it’s just—” Lena swallows, desperate to shove off the sudden sting behind her eyes. “I just, I’m trying to be careful, is all.”

“Fuck careful.” The elevator stops, the doors open, and Lena follows Sam out into the lobby. “You deserve to be happy Lena.”

“I know that,” Lena hisses. “But still, can you please—”

“...and so I wasn’t sure what kind you’d like, but I mean, coffee’s coffee right?” Kara’s at the front desk with Eve, who’s smiling with her manicured hands wrapped around a maroon coffee cup identical to the remaining three on Kara’s tray.

“You’re a lifesaver, thank you,” Eve gushes, and Lena wonders if she looked just as moonstruck the first night Kara made her a drink.

Lena approaches the desk apprehensively, and when Kara’s eyes flit up to meet hers finally, the brittle resilience of Lena’s sanity crumbles into fragments.

It’s different, seeing her straight on like this. 

It’s been weeks now, God knows how long, since Lena last saw her, since that night at Kara’s apartment when Sam called. Following her around the city from a safe distance is nothing compared to Kara being a few feet away, to seeing the splash of freckles under the rim of her glasses, to make out the gleam of her teeth when her mouth splits into a smile. 

For just a moment, just a second, Lena wishes she didn’t know. If she didn’t know, she could fully immerse herself into the giddy glee of Kara visiting her at work, of realizing that Kara’s so dressed up like this for her.

If this was before, Lena would be swooning, she’d be melting, she’d be falling.

Now Lena just stares at Kara, lost.

“So they’re not keeping you in chains here.” Kara hums, her smile all soft edges and sweet like honey.

Beside Lena, Sam scoffs. “Please, you know I have to kick her out of here most nights.”

Kara laughs as she plucks a small drink from the tray and holds it out to Lena. “Good, I was getting worried. Here, almond cortado, right?”

Turning to Sam, Kara adds, “Here, I got you one too. Red-eye, splash of milk I think?” The last and final coffee on the tray, aside from Kara’s own, is handed to Sam, and Lena’s stomach churns. She’s pretty sure she’s never actually even told Kara Sam’s order, she probably just ordered for her once while standing next to Kara, one of their brief mornings together when she actually managed to get Kara to wake up and walk with her to the nearest cafe before work. Kara would be bleary-eyed and half asleep, rubbing at her cheek sleepily as she complained the whole time that Lena’s dragged her out of bed.

It seems almost decietful, that a person can tick off so many boxes, seem so perfect and endearing, when in reality they’re just a fucking liar.

It makes Lena feel cold, makes her feel like she’s overheating, makes her numb.

Sam has the same starstruck gratitude as Eve when she takes her coffee, and Lena wonders if there’s anyone who isn’t just a little bit in love with Kara. 

Anyone except Lena, who’s trying to keep both halves of her heart forcefully apart lest they merge back together and she convinces herself that maybe trusting Kara wouldn’t be such a bad idea, there’s still a chance for this all to be a misunderstanding. Because she can’t, oh God she can’t, she doesn’t know if she can bring her hopes back up again like this. Fool me once, right?

Kara’s eyes fall back onto Lena, soft, sunny, serene. “Hey.”

Lena swallows. “Hi.”

“I won’t keep you,” Kara assures shyly, rubbing at the back of her neck. “Just wanted to, uh. See you. Oh, this is for you guys too.” She holds out the brown paper bag.

“Ooh, I’ll take that.” Sam smiles mischeviously as she snatches the bag, peaks inside. “Holy shit, are these cinnamon rolls?”

Kara smiles, laughs. “Oh yeah, only the best from Noonan’s. They’re my favorite in the city.”

“Yeah so, Lena was actually just leaving!” Sam excitedly announces around a bite of the dessert, and Lena’s blanches. “She’s been out sick, actually, just came in to help me with something for a quick sec.”

“Oh gosh, are you really? You should’ve called, I would’ve brought you something else.” The pinch of her nose, the downturn of her frown, the high, empathetic octave to her voice, it makes Lena light-headed. 

Lena wants to sink into her, see if she smells the same. It makes Lena’s throat bob to force herself to remember that the person standing in front of her is a total stranger when everything about her looks so familiar, screams authenticity and sweetness. She has to actively push to the forefront of her mind the fact that Kara isn’t who she says she is, that she has secrets, that her sunshine face is all a facade and Lena’s being played.

“But that’s all done now,” Sam continues with a cheeky smile. “So. Off you go, Lena.” She elbows Lena towards Kara. “You don’t mind making sure she gets home alright, do you Kara?”

Lena blinks between the two, panic thudding in her chest, and she waves a hand feebly. “That’s, that’s fine actually, I don’t—”

“Of course.” Kara gives Sam a firm nod. “I’d be happy to.”

“Perfect.” Sam beams at the pair of them and glances back at Eve, who watches the trio of them with oblivious interest, sipping at her coffee. “I’ll see you Monday then, Lena.”

If looks could fucking kill.

“Feel better.” Eve waves cheerfully as Kara’s arm loops through Lena’s elbow and she’s guided to the front door.

“Call me later!” Sam calls.

“Um—?”

The doors close behind them after Kara waves her goodbye, and Lena’s alone with her.

Lena thinks this must be a nightmare, surely this didn’t all go so wrong, she did not dig herself into this astronomical mess and she surely is not finding herself here right now. With Kara. Outside.

“I’m guessing you’re not up for the subway?” Kara asks as they exit under the building archway and make onto the street. Lena can feel the hum of her low voice in Kara’s arm, the one tangled with her own, and she realizes how close the bartender is. They’re pressed side to side, Lena can confirm that Kara hasn’t changed her bodywash since she saw her last, and she’s so incredibly fucking warm it makes Lena’s breath catch.

Lena wants to lean into her comfort just as much as she wants to hide somewhere and cry.

She pulls herself loose from Kara’s arm, takes a staggering step back. “It’s fine, I don’t need an escort.”

The look Kara levels her with is playful, like she can’t see Lena’s tortured reluctance. “Maybe not, but I wouldn’t put it past you to turn around and go straight back to work.”

“Really, I won’t, I’ll go home.”

Kara’s eyebrows twitch, and she looks Lena over. “Okay. Humor me, then? I’ve missed you.”

Not even Lena’s own family, professional experts in lying and deceit, could put so much conviction in such a soft admission. It makes Lena want to scream, because she’s nauseous and there’s a headache pressing into her eye sockets and she doesn’t want to say it, she shouldn’t, but.

“I miss you too,” she whispers.

Miss, not missed, because that Kara is gone, because Lena can’t go back to the Lena that didn’t know.

Kara smiles, cocks her head. “So. Can I take you home?”

Lena’s not the fool her brother considers her to be, she’s not stupid. She swore she moved to this god forsaken city to make a name for herself untainted by monetary prestige and scientific dishonor, she came here to prove she’s capable of something more for herself than being a trophy wife. She can contribute to something worthwhile, be the kind of person who’s proud of themselves.

Lena swears she’s not a fool, but.

“Yeah,” Lena sighs. “Take me home.”

Lena calls them a Lyft, waits patiently on the curb, Kara standing tall and firm beside her, their sides skimming. 

Lena knows Kara can tell something is up now, surely she’s not that oblivious. Lena can see from her peripheral how the blonde sneaks small looks down at Lena as they wait with only the noise of cars and the hustle of the city to fill in the gaps. She’s not sure how to even look at Kara, much less talk to her, but at the very least she knows she has to keep an eye on her.

If there is an angle to all of this, if Kara can’t be trusted and this was all an elaborate scheme to begin with, Lena has to know. She can’t just keep hiding, run off to her apartment, ghost Kara like a bad one night stand, because then she’ll never know.

She’ll never know if she was too quick to jump the gun, if it was all just a coincidence, if maybe Kara has never actually even seen a picture of Lena’s face and she still has no idea she’s talking to the sister of the man responsible for the death of her cousin, or if maybe she did know all along but there was no secondary agenda on the table.

There’s like, one too many threads to their connection for Lena to keep track of, it makes her temples throb.

She has to admit, though, she is curious. She wants to know how Kara rationalizes not telling Lena what she knows, if she even cares enough to justify herself at all.

“How did you know where I work?” Lena asks in the car.

Does Kara actually tense beside her, or is Lena reading too much into the way she shifts in the seat? 

“Uh, Winn mentioned it the other day. Said you were bragging to him about some new 3D printer you guys got last month.”

“Okay, I was not bragging.” Lena crosses her arms, and then stops. She does remember that conversation with Winn, after maybe a drink or two at Roulette on a Thursday night. 

Kara laughs, turns so that she’s more angled towards Lena and props an arm behind her head. “Sure, ‘course not.”

Lena tries a different approach. “How were you planning on finding me once you got there? It’s a massive building.”

Kara, if anything, just looks amused by Lena’s line of questioning. “Your receptionist asked if I was a friend of yours, and I said yeah. Didn’t take much.”

Right, that would be Lena’s fault.

Lena looks back up at Kara helplessly, her kind eyes, the way she looks so nonchalantly happy to just be sitting with Lena in the back of this car, as if nothing else in the world exists or even matters.

There’s a part of her, a small, childish spark buried under layers of pessimism, that wants to point out that even though Kara probably does know who Lena is, she still looks at her like… like that. Everything Lena was so afraid of, all the reasons she held back in telling Kara who she was, they’re insignificant, because it seems that Kara does know, and she still looks at Lena like she put the moon in the sky.

“You okay?” Kara says quietly, and Lena realizes she’s just staring at Kara like she’s on the verge of a breakdown.

Which, she is. But that’s beside the point.

“Yeah.” Lena forces a smile. “Just…”

“Sick?”

Lena nods dumbly.

Kara hums and stretches out her arm to wrap around Lena’s shoulders, pulls her close against her and rubs up and down Lena’s side for warmth. Lena’s not pathetic if she sinks into it, is she? She just, she needs to keep close tabs on Kara, and it’d be weird if she jerked away, Kara would really suspect something is up.

The internet found nothing except confirmation that Kara wrote the article, didn’t actually give anything valuable to whether or not Kara is still working as a reporter, or hell if she even ever plans to. And then following her around found nothing, and yeah, okay fuck it, Lena’s hoping maybe this will all turn out to be nothing. But if she’s going to find that out? She has to figure it out from Kara, hear it from her mouth, get an explanation out of her that Lena can pick apart and inspect like a specimen in the lab. Only then can she really determine what to do here.

Lena curls into Kara’s side, tucks her face into the broad, soft shoulder, closes her eyes.

It’s about keeping your enemies closer, or something.

xx

“Hey Lena?”

“Hm?”

“So like… um…”

Lena pauses from where she’s pouring water into the kettle, turns to her open bedroom door where Kara’s voice comes from. “What?”

Kara reemerges with disheveled hair, her glasses crooked. “How the hell do you ever get yourself out of bed in the morning with a mattress like that?”

Lena blinks. Kara clearly does not have the same reservations about bedrooms that Lena did the first time she went to Kara’s. “Is this a trick question? I usually wake up at six.”

Kara pouts, drags her feet as she sulks back into the kitchen and hops onto the counter beside the stove. “Listen, I need you to explain why we’ve been hanging out at my dump of an apartment this whole time when you live in a literal palace.”

Lena peeks around them, takes in her kitchen. It’s only two-hundred square feet. That’s normal, right? “I thought I was being fairly modest when I picked this out. And your apartment isn’t a dump. It’s cozy.”

“That’s rich people talk for small.”

Lena rolls her eyes, pulls a white ceramic mug from a cabinet. “You’re being dramatic. Your place is lovely, and my place is not that nice.”

“Lena, your bed alone costs more than twice my rent.”

“Okay, you’re clearly exaggerating, or you’d be living in a cardboard box.”

Kara gives Lena a baffled expression as she’s handed her tea. “Eighteen hundred, Lena. My apartment is eighteen hundred. Do I even want to know how much you pay for yours? Am I allowed to ask that?”

Lena purses her lips, leaning her hip against the counter. “About five, I think.”

Kara, mid-blow on the hot beverage, pauses. “Please say hundred.”

“Kara, look me in the eye and tell me this looks like a five hundred dollar apartment to you.”

Lena expected it to be harder to pretend around Kara, pretend that she doesn’t know about the article and act as if it’s not eating away at her that this entire friendship was probably based on a lie. But the moment she laid her head on Kara’s shoulder in the car and closed her eyes, let go of the restraints it was… simple. 

She’s playing for the long game now, not succumbing to her inner turmoil. She just has to keep Kara thinking everything is okay, to buy Lena some time until she can figure out how to get Kara to tell her the truth herself. 

Lena doesn’t expect an easy answer to this one, though. The most economical route would be Kara just manning up and deciding Lena deserves to know everything, and this would be the ideal result. Lena can pretend she didn’t know all along, for a little bit anyway, and let Kara do the work for her in scrounging up a reasonable explanation for all of this. The simplest choice for Lena would probably be to just tell Kara like, hey by the way, I’m Lena Luthor, thought you should know. This would give Kara a nudge in the right direction, really put her on the stand and see if she has what it takes to blatantly lie to Lena’s face.

Because if Lena thinks about it, technically, Kara hasn’t lied to her. At least, not in any way that Lena hasn’t already lied to Kara herself. It’s all the same thing anyway, both lies of omission, right?

She did say she hadn’t gotten the journalism thing off the ground, or something to that affect. What was her exact wording? Lena can barely remember what she ate this morning in the car, much less a side tidbit about her studies at a diner over a month ago.

Speaking of, Lena really needs to get that car rental back. 

Lena never claimed to be somebody else, and Kara never claimed to not know who Lena is. Mind you, Kara was one step ahead of Lena and let Lena think she had the upper hand but, still. Lena’s finding it harder and harder to hold against this woman the simple desire of not wanting to be misunderstood for something with her name on it.

Or things with her family’s name, in Lena’s case.

So. If she wants to push things forward, she just has to tell Kara who she is. Which should be easy in theory. Kara already knows, it’s not a big deal anymore, a massive reveal. She’s just gonna tell her.

They’re sitting on Lena’s stiff green sofa while Kara talks animatedly about something Lucy did last weekend involving some pool noodles and a screwdriver, about an hour later, when Lena decides. She’ll just ask her, just rip off the bandaid.

“Kara, I need to tell you something.”

She’s got this, really, she can do this. She’s a Luthor, she cured an emergent disease in under three weeks, she’s got an IQ of 172. 

Kara hums, pushes her hair from her face and adjusts her glasses. “What’s up?”

Lena thinks she might be the cutest human being she’s ever fucking seen. 

She blinks. 

She’s got this.

“I haven’t eaten in two days,” Lena blurts out instead.

“You what?”

xx

Yeah so Lena doesn’t tell her. But she will. Later. Tomorrow, maybe. She can’t very well drop a bomb like that on Kara when the woman is stuffing her face with fried pierogi and now they’ve got a nature documentary on.

There’s also this horribly bleak, nauseating feeling in her stomach that this is all just the beginning of the end, and as soon as she addresses this out loud, she’ll know which way things are going to swing, where the dice will fall.

Lena’s not sure if she’s ready for that just yet.

She sifts through her borscht, not all that hungry despite the truth that she really hasn’t eaten in two days aside from fruit bars and coffee. Forty-eight hour stakeouts really don’t leave a lot of room for nourishment, and God knows she wasn’t getting much of anything in her system in the weeks leading up to visiting Lex.

Kara’s not having it though, because she cuts up a slice of her food and holds it out for Lena. When she waves her off, Kara just makes a persistent noise and Lena relents, swallows it down, begrudgingly admits to Kara that it’s good, fine.

Lena expects Kara to leave after the food is finished, eventually finishing up her soup even if it takes her most of the movie to do so. But even once the film is over, and Kara shushes Lena as she scoops up the trash from their takeout and cleans up, she fully anticipates Kara to scratch her head and tell Lena bye, give her a see you later with those stupid finger guns she’s always doing, or something.

But Kara just hops back onto the sofa and curls her feet underneath herself with a dreamy smile. 

Lena yelps when Kara scooches closer and pulls Lena’s legs onto her lap, and she has to remind herself that they were indeed this close before everything. It’s hard to imagine, it seems like a lifetime ago, because Lena can’t help the sticky, cautious sensitivity as if they’re back to square one, when everything was all timid touches and reserved words.

But no. They’ve literally slept in the same bed before, they’ve held hands, Kara’s laid in her lap, been wrapped up in her arms like they’ve known each other for years. Lena is struggling as if there are two versions of Kara, two iterations that refuse to weld together appropriately in her brain, the one from before and the one now.

“Tell me what’s been up with you,” Kara says, poking at Lena’s knee. “I feel like I’ve been talking your ear off all night.”

Lena exhales, wrings her fingers together over her stomach. “Not much, really.”

Kara leans forward to catch Lena’s eye. “You said you were making headway on a new project last time we talked. How’d that go?”

Lena really can’t decipher what angle Kara’s playing at, what the point is of asking these sorts of questions when surely she must already know all about what Lena’s been up to, the disease and the cure. 

“It worked out, yes, that’s all finished now. I flew out to Metropolis, actually.”

There’s a twitch of — something, around Kara’s mouth. “Oh yeah? For work?”

“Sort of.” Lena thinks the room is starting to spin, but her eyes are only on Kara. “I was…  visiting my brother.”

She’s not making it up now, there’s absolutely a flicker of understanding in Kara’s eyes, but she smothers it quickly, and her voice is low and quiet. “You don’t talk much about your family.”

Lena’s not sure if it’s better that there’s still no blatant lie to call her out on, if it hurts less or more. Kara’s always so careful about what she says to her, Lena wonders if its conscious, deliberate. 

“We’re not close.” Lena’s gaze wanders to the ceiling. “But he’s something of an expert on the focus of my work. I needed his input, nothing more.”

Who is she justifying this for?

“Was it nice to see him, though?” Kara asks. When Lena looks back to Kara’s face, she sees only open curiosity, no judgements or masked contempt. Why can’t this be simpler? Why can’t Kara just hate her? 

“No,” Lena admits wetly. “He’s a real ass, to be honest. But I found out what I needed to know.”

The truth, but no answers, not really.

Kara smiles, runs her hand along Lena’s kee comfortingly. “Were you two ever close?”

“When we were young, I suppose, sure, as close as kids can be. But when I went to boarding school he stopped coming home as much, and then so did I.” Lena shrugs flippantly. “It’s not as heartbreaking as I make it sound.”

“Why do you seem like you’re trying so hard not to miss him?” Kara’s hand reaches out, curls a lock of Lena’s hair around her fingertips, and Lena is swept and dazed by the brush of Kara’s knuckles against her cheek, the stimulation of having her so close. Kara’s inane, pointed questions, the physical contact, the dangerous swirling in her gut.

“He’s changed.” Lena clenches her jaw, struggles to tamp down the sting in her eyes. “I don’t know anything about who he is, I barely recognize him anymore.”

“And you don’t want to? Get to know him now?”

Lena regards Kara cautiously. Is she trying to gauge whether Lena’s a narcissistic maniac like him? If she has any interest in his failed work beyond reparations, if she believes he’s innocent?

But Lena’s tongue is sharp against her teeth. “No. I’m not much interested, and frankly, I deserve better than someone who only cares about how they can use me to achieve their ends.”

Because being bitter and angry is so much easier than giving into the conflict she’s choking on.

Kara doesn’t so much as flinch, just keeps at the same soothing strokes through Lena’s hair, quiet, contemplative, her eyes falling somewhere low. Lena’s hands shake, she thinks she’s really going to be sick this time because why can’t Kara just tell her the fucking truth.  

“It probably doesn’t mean much coming from me, but I’m proud of you.”

Lena’s chest clenches, she doesn’t know how to carry all of this inside her. “What for?”

Kara shrugs, meets Lena’s gaze fluidly. “For knowing your worth. It takes a lot to demand that, and even more to walk away when you’re not getting it.”

Lena wants to ask if this is the part where she’s supposed to walk away from Kara, where she’s strong enough to know she deserves someone who can be honest with her from the get go, someone who hasn’t betrayed her trust. 

But when Lena’s face crumbles, her lower lip bobbing like boiling water that threatens to spill, it’s Kara she crawls into, Kara who she plants her tears into. Lena can only imagine what Kara must think as to why Lena could possibly be crying right now.

As much as it hurts, as conflicted and torn Lena’s will is being stretched taut at both ends, as much as she hates Kara for putting this feeling onto her… it is so liberating just to finally let go.

When arms wrap around her and she’s pulled into the blonde’s lap, and she is truly, fully held, Lena can’t remember if Siobhan ever really touched her like this. If anyone ever touched her like they cared.

And so maybe Lena isn’t entirely certain why this hurts so damn much either.

Chapter Text

If Lena thought she deserved an award for smiling at Siobhan’s side and being the ideal, perfect girlfriend whenever in the spotlight, well. 

She might be in line for an Oscar nomination if she keeps this up.

Peacefully reading a manuscript on tumor heterogeneity with her head in Kara’s lap on the couch again two days later, as the blonde scrolls through her phone and absently strokes her fingers through Lena’s hair, you’d never know that Lena’s mentally teetering on the verge of three different catastrophic meltdowns just by looking at her.

First off, there’s the fact that this is the woman who is responsible for putting her brother in prison and getting a dangerous, fatal treatment out of circulation, saving God knows how many lives.

Then there’s the near 100% chance that this same woman has known who Lena is all along, and that she perhaps has in fact had an ulterior motive to befriending Lena, though the likelihood of the latter is yet to be determined.

And finally, Lena’s just oversensitive flaccid goo under those gentle fingers. She feels like she’s both at a luxurious spa getaway and also two tequila shots too deep, still deciding whether she should run to the bathroom and hurl or stay calm and play it cool.

So yeah, the fact that as far as Kara can tell, Lena is just quietly reading the same page of a manuscript over and over again, she deserves a few awards. That would really piss off Siobhan. Although Lillian might actually try and call her for once.

Despite how every morning she’s telling herself that today’s the day she’ll confront Kara, and at least three times for every hour that they spend together, it still doesn’t come. Lena comes close to blurting it out all of four times over the next couple weeks, is on the cusp of letting it pour out of her like a last wailing breath, her heart beating like a church bell slamming against her ear drums. 

Once, is now, here, on Lena’s couch, Sunday morning.

Kara had worked late the night before, but she’d promised to bring Lena back something to eat and check up on how she was feeling after. Lena insisted she’d probably be asleep, that Kara shouldn’t go to such lengths, because for fuck’s sake she’s not even sick, and also Lena’s got some mental calculations to do about how long she can reasonably keep this up, to figure things out. 

But when the bartender texted at five a.m. to ask if she was awake, Lena caved without a second thought. She was more lonely than she was tired, under the covers in her bed in sleeping shorts and one of Kara’s t-shirts. Kara showed up at her door with a bag of leftover soup dumplings, and then Kara started rubbing her eyes tiredly when they were finished eating, and it was rather an easy progression to Kara spending the night. She showed Kara where she keeps the mouthwash, and then it was just a tired, fuzzy-minded decision to take the blonde’s hand and pull her to bed.

They slept together before after Nia’s party, it’s fine, it’s nothing.

Like, in the same bed, the act of sleeping. Not— 

So, yes, Lena was too torn between clinging to her sour, humiliated heartbreak and a childish longing for Kara’s comfort to kick her out the next morning. She couldn’t stomach it, not when she woke around eleven with Kara’s arm draped loosely over her hip, snoring face-down into Lena’s pillows. Lena was weak, and her loneliness just wasn’t something that just anyone else could quench.

She’s still nauseous with conflict, thinks she might pull her own hair out if she doesn’t figure this out soon. But with Kara’s hair splayed across Lena’s sheets and the sleepy way she pulls Lena closer makes her desperate to fight for… whatever this is.

So Lena made them coffee, told Kara she could stay if she wanted but she was going to catch up on work. Although she should’ve had better foresight about being able to process any written material with Kara in the same room, but there’s nothing she can do about that now, so she might as well do a little prodding. 

Because if she can’t force the words out herself, if she’s too much of a coward to face the truth, she’s going to claw herself as close as she can to a picture of something real. 

“Hey Kara?” Lena angles her head back to peer up at the blonde. “I know I asked you this before, but why didn’t you pursue journalism?” 

Maybe Kara will confess she’s already dipped her toes into that world, maybe she’ll explain how she went from grieving a family to a freelance piece on the Luthor name, maybe this thumping in her chest will come to an end and maybe Kara will tell Lena the truth all of her own accord and Lena will finally be able to breathe.

Of course, she’s not at all surprised when she feels Kara tense underneath her, an instinctual defensiveness to keep her secret, but it doesn’t do anything to stop Lena’s stomach from sinking low to the ground. All the obvious signs, the blatant tells, the convenient coincidences — has she really been a fool this whole time?

“I did try.” Kara’s hand stops carding through Lena’s hair. “Right after I graduated, and a few times since then but I never had the right kind of experience they were looking for. When I was in college, I was busy working part time in restaurants, didn’t have time to be doing unpaid internships, and I couldn’t afford my rent on desk job rates.”

“And now?”

Kara shrugs shyly. “Guess I’ve always just been waiting for this magical amount of money saved up so I can get that experience they’re looking for, but. I dunno. With my sister struggling to hold a job for very long, fighting her own demons, I always worried I wouldn’t be able to bail us out if I was working as somebody’s assistant. Could cover my portion of the rent yeah, but not both, not like how I can now while bartending.”

A dark, morbid desperation in Lena wonders if she threw a certain sum of money at Kara, maybe they could bury the journalism thing entirely, runaway somewhere else, pretend none of this ever happened. But this is sticky and sour in her mouth, like something Lillian would do, and she forcefully slams that gate shut.

“What kind of journalism do you want to be doing?” Lena tries.

There’s a pause, and when Kara meets her eyes, she thinks she can see something unspoken in them for a second. Like Kara’s trying to tell her the truth, trying to get Lena to fit the pieces together.

But wishful thinking hasn’t gotten Lena much of anywhere lately. Just leaves her bruised, shivering in the dark.

“My focus in college was on scientific press, it’s what I’m good at, but it was kind of a compromise with Eliza and Jeremiah. They were wonderful and supportive of what I wanted to do, and I don’t think they ever meant to pressure me or Alex in any direction but they were… disappointed, when Alex dropped out of med school. Mostly in themselves, I think they took on a lot of the blame because they felt like they failed her somehow, but honestly that just made Alex feel guiltier, and drove them further apart. I talk to them sometimes, now and then, but… yeah.”

Kara inhales sharply, sucks in her bottom lip. “I dunno. I know they weren’t thrilled when I decided to study journalism, something a little more risky for career opportunities. So scientific journalism seemed like the right way to get their approval, you know? But now, I think I’d like to get into civics. I like working at Roulette and all these people will tell me about their lives, talk about what they think about what’s going on in the world. Even when I don’t agree with them, and I can’t really express any sort of political stance of my own, it’s nice to hear the different perspectives. It’s a lot of exposure to different ideas.” Kara laughs dryly. “Mind you, having a customer base made up exclusively of celebrities and the extreme upper class doesn’t make for the greatest diversity, but that’s why I want to go into civics. I wanna know the other side of things, even if I don’t always agree.”

Lena picks at the hem of her sweater, looks away. “Wouldn’t you rather report on things you care about? Make the change you want to see, all that?”

Stamp out criminal arrogance, weed out whether his sister is the same.

Kara sighs. “Every voice matters, but one voice alone doesn’t make much change. I think it’s when you band a lot together that you see true progress. But how can we get that started when so many people don’t think their opinion matters enough? Or those who don’t even have a platform to be heard. I want to put those people in front of a microphone.”

Lena wishes the longing in her chest was still so simple as an affectionate desire to support Kara in who she is and what she wants to be. Lena’s not sure how to hate someone who just wants to put others’ needs above her own.

The lingering question, the words she’s been straining to push out, “is that why you never told me you knew who I am? ” It lodges like a dry pill in the back of Lena’s throat. Did Kara just want to hear Lena’s voice freely, untainted by guilt? Did she just want Lena to be comfortable enough to be herself and give her an opportunity at sharing her side? Lena would kill to hear her say it, but this isn’t the right time, not when Kara’s so open and pure, Lena wouldn’t dare crush her now.

She’ll ask her another time, she reasons as she turns onto her side and burrows into Kara’s side, hiding her face. 

“Can we order something to eat now?” she mumbles.

Kara, already pulling out her phone, laughs. “You’re my favorite. Okay, breakfast or lunch?”

xx

Lena puts away the baseball cap and sunglasses and goes back to work on Monday.

“So, I’m confused.”

Lena sighs, hanging up her lab coat. “I already told you three times, Sam, I have no interest in seeing the sex tape you made with your TA, I don’t care how good the quality is.”

Sam bumps her shoulder against Lena’s as she passes her by. “First of all, for 2008 that video was really so ahead of its time. Secondly, stop being a bitch. I’m talking about Kara.”

Lena’s stomach plummets. “What, what about Kara?”

“You kidding? I’m talking about Friday. What the hell was that about? You never called me.”

“Well I remember I specifically told someone to help me get rid of her, and instead I was sent home with her.”

“Yeah, so you’d get your head out of your ass. Did it work? Why were you avoiding her in the first place?”

Lena clenches her jaw as she pushes open the door to Sam’s office. “It’s complicated.”

“Everything about you is complicated, this isn’t anything new.”

Lena collapses onto a chair. “I’m not sure where this is going with her, is all. I can’t figure out what she wants.”

Not exactly a lie.

“Well, she’s definitely not straight if that’s what you mean. You know she was practically drooling over your tits at the bar?” Sam shrugs as she rounds about to her desk chair, kicks her feet up. 

That’s the other thing — a twisted, convoluted thing. Before she discovered Kara’s familiarity with her true identity, Lena had maybe been toying with the prospect of Kara liking her too, in a similar way. She’s not that blind, she’s got every longing gaze and affectionate touch catalogued down to the date by this point. Lena was timid about making any presumptions about Kara’s tenderness, but she hadn’t been completely hopeless in thinking Kara might return her feelings, right? She just didn’t want to jinx it, was still feeling everything out. Sure, she told Sam things were platonic and she justified that this was how things normally went, but she still felt that it was moving in a more romantic direction.

Now, though? 

Lena doesn’t even know what she thinks.

On the one hand, the bitter, pessimistic side of Lena wants to come to the conclusion that Kara is a liar and everything they’ve shared is all worthless now. It was all a sham, Kara only got close with her to further her career or get an exclusive, whatever. In which case, Kara never had feelings for Lena, she played her like a fucking violin and Lena just unraveled for her.

But Lena’s a scientist. A pragmatist. And there’s quite a bit of evidence pointing in another direction, one where Kara is not soulless or conniving. 

There’s the way Kara’s hands will always find Lena’s hair if they’re within two feet of each other, how she plays mindlessly with Lena’s fingers when she’s talking. There’s the way she’d always text Lena good night even when she’s working late at Roulette because she knows when Lena will usually crawl into bed. There’s the way she stopped Lena at the bowling alley before her turn to crouch down and tie her shoe for her, the cute smile she gave as she hopped back to her feet, and there’s the way Lena nearly kissed her right then and there. There’s the way she introduced Lena to her friends, the way Lena’s heart ached with loneliness before and the way Kara flooded her life with comfort and life like the way the sun comes around in the spring after a long winter.

So Lena’s not quite sure where Kara stands. “Okay, but then why hasn’t she made a move yet?”

“Maybe it’s because you pull shit like last week on a regular basis, try to push away anyone that cares about you?” Sam rolls her eyes.

Lena wants to retort that with, “I don’t push you away ,” and she thinks Sam can sense it if the way her eyebrows raise in challenge is any indication. But the truth is that that’s exactly what Lena did, for six years. Maybe it wasn’t out of self-preservation, fear of being loved the way she wants to be but not knowing how, but it still shows Lena’s inexperience with maintaining relationships.

It’s pretty fucking sad, actually, that Siobhan was the longest-running relationship she’s ever had. 

“I mean, I’d be pretty confused too if I was getting a hot and cold treatment,” Sam goes on.

“I’m just trying to be careful.” Lena takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to invest myself head-first into something that was too good to be true all along.”

Sam sighs. “Let yourself be happy, okay? Things aren't always as complicated as they seem. You’ve got a good thing going with her, she’s amazing, and she seems to genuinely care about you. It might just be that simple.”

Could it?

Lena will chew over that notion more later, but for now, she nods, and Sam claps her hands with finality.

“Great, can we talk about me now?”

Lena laughs, leans back in her seat. “Yes, yes, go ahead.”

“So I met someone.” 

Lena grins. “Oh?”

Sam launches into a story about a single dad of one of the kids on Ruby’s soccer team, how they coordinated a team party together and he asked her out for drinks over the weekend. Sam recounts the date with excited fervor, erratic gestures and mannerisms, and Lena laughs along with her. Sam goes on about him, the way he dresses, the cologne he wears, the jokes he makes, and Lena hangs on to every worth with a saccharine smile.

Sam didn’t date anyone seriously in the years they were apart. Caring for Ruby was always a priority above anything else, and they certainly didn’t have enough time during school for anything with more depth than a one night stand. So Lena knows it’s been a while since Sam was excited about someone like this. She wonders, in passing, if this is how she looked when she talked about Kara in the beginning, before everything.

It makes the hopeful, soft spot for Kara just that much more tender.

“There is one red flag, though.” Sam scrunches her mouth guiltily. “I heard from some of the other moms that the reason he and his ex-wife separated was because he cheated.”

Lena cringes. “Right, you had me for a minute there, but no. Absolutely not.”

“Okay, I know, I know, but listen. It could easily just be gossip, or maybe his wife was a wench and it was a loveless, miserable marriage.”

“So? He should have divorced her first. You can’t seriously be blaming the wife.”

“I’m just saying, we don’t know what actually happened.”

Lena shakes her head in disbelief. “You can’t really be considering this, Sam. How could you ever trust him if you know he’s done it before?”

“It’s not like it was me.” Sam waves her hand dismissively. “People make mistakes, and I can’t just hold something against him from before we ever even met. Maybe he’s different now.”

Suddenly Lena stills, and her eyes drop for a moment, contemplative. “So… you think people shouldn’t be judged on their past? That you have to determine who they are, their virtues, on how they behave now?”

“Yeah, absolutely. Who am I to make a verdict on something that I don’t have the full story on?”

Lena goes home that night biting her nails.

xx

The second time Lena is on the cusp of asking Kara, they’re at Roulette. 

Kara swapped shifts with Winn, and so she finishes up early around nine and comes around the bar to sit and have a drink with Lena. 

Kara’s tugging her hair out of its ponytail, mouth full of olives, when Lena blurts it out. 

“Why don’t you ever ask me personal questions?”

Kara, cheeks puffed, finishes chewing slowly. “Uh, what?”

Lena’s turned in her seat to face Kara head-on, fully prepared to draw out all the answers she needs from this conversation even if it kills her. It’s time, this has gone on long enough, she can do this.

“You never ask me about personal things,” Lena repeats. “I literally asked you last week if you have a spanking kink, but you don’t so much as ask me where I was born.”

Kara’s blushing, and she sputters. “Look, I still don’t know why you wanted to know that.”

Lena raises an eyebrow. Kara’s cheeks darken further and she ducks her head.

Of course Lena knows one possible if not likely reason why Kara doesn’t ask her private questions, knows it would probably be easier for Kara to get the scoop on Lena if she let her guard down and thought Kara didn’t know.

God, there’s so many perspectives to keep up with.

“Um.” Kara clears her throat. “You just seemed pretty uncomfortable in the beginning when I’d ask you stuff so I figured… I dunno, that I’d wait until you weren’t anymore. I don’t want to assume you’re willing to share stuff about your personal life with me just because we’re friends. Sort of. I mean, sorry, I don’t want to assume that either—”

“Kara.” Lena leans forward, all bravado and determination vanished. She’s never seen the bartender so shy , she normally wears confidence like a thick layer of skin she’s had all her life. To see her tripping up over something so silly as this, it makes Lena’s resolve weaken. “You can say we’re friends.”

Kara’s head perks up with a smile. “Really?”

“You’ve slept in my bed and seen me in my underwear. Yes, I think it’s safe to say we’re friends.”

Lucy, who was placing an orange soda in front of Kara, snorts loudly and the two of them look over. With her lips pressed together bemusedly, containing herself, Lucy waves them off. “Sorry, nothing, carry on.”

Kara throws her straw at the bartender.

Brushing her hair behind her ear, Kara turns back to Lena. “Anyway. I mean, I can ask you stuff if you want. I was just trying to respect your privacy.”

How could Lena possibly hold a grudge against a sweet face like that? 

Kara looks so innocent and open with the way her undivided attention sprinkles over Lena and her needs like early-morning dew, the way her legs dangle off the bar stool and she kicks her feet absently in the air, how their ankles bump together. 

And still, there’s no lie in what Kara tells her, nothing that contradicts how Lena knows Kara knows who she is, nothing incompatible with a story she desperately wants to believe but grievously needs to prove.

Lena exhales, soft, her eyes falling down to Kara’s mouth. 

God, if this was before, she would just kiss her.

“You can ask me anything you want,” Lena says quietly instead, squeezing Kara’s knee.

Kara nods. “Cool. In that case, did you ask me if I have a spanking kink because I seem like a violent person? Or was it because I got really competitive at game night?”

Lucy bursts out laughing behind the bar, and Lena just sighs.

xx

It’s been a week and Kara still hasn’t told Lena that her sister’s back in town. In Lena’s detective rulebook, this is cause for suspicious.

She figures this is the main reason Kara keeps coming over to Lena’s now rather than inviting her over. Lena doesn’t mind, prefers this actually. In scoping out Kara’s true intentions, it feels… safer, to keep it on her own territory where she’s comfortable.

It has nothing to do with the fact that she likes how Kara looks on her furniture, using Lena’s mugs, flicking the light off when she comes out of her bathroom, existing in Lena’s space. No, nothing at all.

But it gets Lena wondering. Kara’s an open book about everything, she’ll tell Lena anything she wants to know, will talk about anything in the world — except for two things: the article and her sister.

The first one, Lena gets it. She’s mulled over that enough by now, it’s a secret, and the motives are still questionable and up for debate, but she knows it’s not meant to be something she herself knows. Off limits. Alright, understood.

But the deal with her sister?

Lena’s less certain about Kara’s reluctance there. She’ll talk about her past with her sister, their upbringing, will offhandedly mention that Alex would like this movie, how she has to tell Alex about this takeout place near Lena’s, so on. But she strays away from mentioning her now, as if there’s a before and an after spectrum that Lena’s not seeing. Because it doesn’t seem to be the drinking, Kara will talk about the earlier days when she first realized Alex was struggling, the warning signs, the arguments. There just seems to be a certain point where, after which, Kara no longer wants to talk about her sister. All Lena can decipher is that now, today, falls into the after.

The first time Lena had asked about Alex, it was also the first time she ever saw Kara’s resolve crack, saw a depth of torment and aching heavy on her back. And Lena understands better than anyone how heavy a siblings’ decisions can feel.

So Lena really doesn’t want to prod at this wound, doesn’t want to peek under the bandage and inspect for her own self gain. It’s merely a hunch that Alex is related to all of this, grounded only on the basis that Kara seems to not want to talk about it. 

It’s selfish, and awful of her, but she has to know if this is something else Kara is keeping from her for a reason.

Lena, finished with her research for the night, sets aside her laptop and props her chin in her palm.

She just rips off the band-aid. 

“So when does your sister get back?” 

Kara blinks at Lena, hands hanging midair over a half-built house of cards on Lena’s kitchen table.

“You said it was a thirty-day program, right?”

The tower collapses, and Kara’s hands drop into her lap. She huffs adorably, and scratches her nose as she mulls overLena’s question. “Um, forty-five. She... actually came back last week.”

Lena watches her face carefully. “Oh. And, how is she?”

“She’s good, yeah, she’s a lot better.” 

Lena sucks in her bottom lip, her heart rate picking up. “Is it nice to have her back?”

A real smile, like a breath of relief, breaks across Kara’s face, and she laughs. “Gosh, yeah, you have no idea. It’s amazing, I really missed her. She’s already back to bossing me around to clean my room, though.”

Lena laughs softly. “Your room is a mess to be fair.”

“Listen. It’s been worse.”

Kara’s smile flattens out as she goes back to building her tower, humming, and Lena watches her. 

She’s even more lost now than she was before this conversation started. 

After reestablishing the first row of cards, Kara asks, “Do you want to meet her?”

Lena’s eyes lift, and Kara’s looking at her with a small smirk, a quirked eyebrow. Lena opens her mouth to answer, but it hangs parted for a few moments of silence, because, oh, what does she say to that?

“Me?”

Kara’s smirk stretches into a grin, and gone are the blonde’s reserved uncertainties. “Yeah, you, you goof. You two’d hit it off, to be honest. She’s really into fancy whiskey and being mean to me. Although maybe don’t bond over the whiskeys.”

“Right… noted.”

Focused on balancing two cards together, Kara doesn’t look at Lena when she asks, “Do you have plans for Christmas?”

Lena blinks. “Christmas? No, God, I haven’t planned that far out.”

“It’s this next week, Lee.”

“What? No it’s not.”

Lena’s not sure when the month even turned over to December, much less how the year is almost over at this point. It’s been over a month since Sam’s phone call about Lex’s treatment, and, God, Lena doesn’t even know how to process that. She’s been so torn up and twisted in figuring out Kara’s motives that the earth’s spinning axis just slipped right out from under her.

With a wry smile, Kara shakes her head. “Yeah, it is. So, you going anywhere?”

Lena barely refrains from laughing, because Jesus where would she go? Metropolis? Where her mother is likely telling everyone she only has one child, where Siobhan is flaunting her beautiful blonde girlfriend all over the press, where her brother is rotting in a prison cell and fantasizing about how he got under her skin again?

“I haven’t decided.” Lena presses her lips together tightly.

“Well, if you wanna take it under consideration, you should come to mine. You can meet Alex, I’ll make you a stocking, y’know. It’d be fun.”

Lena doesn’t know what to do with the overwhelming impact of adoration she feels for this woman sitting across from her, the all-encompassing warmth of being cared about like this. It makes her breath catch, her lips part, her chest stutter. What else is there to say but yes, yes, yes?

When Kara finishes her house of cards again, and insists Lena take a picture, posing beside it with an eager thumbs-up, Lena thinks she might be out of ideas.

So apparently she hasn’t found that end-all-be-all question, a special button Lena can press to get Kara to tell her herself. Whatever it is that’s holding Kara back, whatever her background is with journalism, maybe Sam was right. Maybe Lena can’t hold against Kara something she did before they even met, something that saved lives and brought closure to her family for her cousin’s death. Lena can keep digging all she wants, her nail beds are raw and her muscles sore from it at this point, but maybe it really is so simple to think Kara just hasn’t told Lena because she didn’t want to pressure Lena into anything. There’s also the nature of how they met, Kara’s in the business of respecting privacy and letting the other person set the pace, the tone. It’s Lena’s own doing that the Luthor name is forbidden between them, Kara just followed along.

Lena doesn’t know where this leaves her, what this aftertaste is called.

Maybe twenty minutes later, it’s crunching on midnight and Kara sighs, says she should probably get going, let Lena get some sleep. 

Yes, she’s lost, and yes, the world is a terrifying place in the dark, not a lot of corners where the light can reach. So what if she drinks in the sunlight?

Lena tugs Kara by the hand towards her bedroom. “No. Put on some sweatpants, we’re watching Babadook.”

Kara whines. “Lee, I told you, I hate scary movies.”

“I know, that’s why you’re sleeping here. I’ll spoon you.”

She’ll just figure out how to just ask her about the article tomorrow.

 

Before tomorrow comes, though, once the movie has ended and Lena is sleepily wrapped around Kara, on her last dregs of consciousness, the blonde turns around in her arms to face the ceiling.

“Lee?”

Lena doesn’t open her eyes, mumbles in response.

She feels a hand poke at her cheek.

“Mm. Fuck off.”

“Can I ask one of my questions now?”

“No.”

“But you said I could ask you anything.”

Lena groans, a low growl in her throat, but she manages to push an eyelid open. “What?”

Kara’s got a small smile on her lips, Lena can make it out from the moonlight settling in the dark, but Lena can tell from the way her hands fidget under the blanket that she’s nervous.

“What is it?” she asks, softer this time.

Kara swallows. “Why do you like me?”

Lena wants to laugh, because what isn’t there to like? But when she looks between Kara’s pale eyes that gleam through the dark, the serene wavering in them, she  sighs. She doesn’t know why Kara’s asking, why she wants to know, and maybe this is relevant data Lena should factor into her investigation, but she’ll deal with that in the morning.

For now, Lena just closes her eyes, rests her head on Kara’s shoulder. “You make me laugh.” 

“But you said yourself that most of my jokes are from the internet.”

Lena snorts. “No, those don’t count. But just, you. You’re sweet, and you make me laugh when you’re just being the dork you are.”

“Lena, I’m not a dork.”

“Mhm. Sure you’re not.”

Kara takes a deep breath. “What else?”

“You’re nice to look at, I suppose.”

“Lena.” Kara pokes her side and Lena stifles a giggle into Kara’s shoulder.

“Alright, sorry.” Lena brushes her hand along Kara’s hip under the covers, shifts tiredly, the cogs of her sleep-crusted brain struggling to piece together the mosaic that is Lena’s adoration for Kara. “I like… that you look out for the people in your life. Not just me but — your friends, your sister, your neighbors, the… the public at large. You’re always looking for a way to make everyone happy, comfortable” 

Lena’s eyes are open now and she’s staring into the darkness at her hand on Kara’s chest, thinking back over the last couple months, wondering when it was that she stopped looking down. 

“I like that you make me feel safe even if I’m scared to death,” she finishes quietly.

Even if Kara is about to break her heart.

Kara doesn't respond at first, and Lena lets herself drift, finally.

And then, “Can I tell you what I like about you now?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

The last thing Lena registers before falling asleep is the way Kara’s arm snakes around her and squeezes her close.

xx

Christmas isn’t for another five days, but Lena still isn’t left with much time to get presents in order, and Kara gives her very little to work with for her sister.

“I dunno, she likes Alex things,” Kara says over the phone.

“That means nothing to me, Kara.”

“Listen, don’t get her anything. Just be you. Everybody likes you. Especially me, and my opinion is the only one that matters anyway.”

Lena scoffs, because she knows for a fact that Kara’s aware she isn’t anywhere near universally liked. Half the country still hates her guts. A little wit on her side is not likely to change that.

“If she hates me then it’s your fault.”

“Does that mean that if she loves you, I get the credit for that too?”

Lena hangs up on her.

xx

Lena stands outside Kara’s apartment on Christmas Eve with two large paper shopping bags in hand, practically cutting of the circulation in her fingers. But when she goes to adjust the collar of her loose flannel, she notices her hands aren’t shaking, that her breath comes even, and it doesn’t take much of a pep talk to get her knocking this time.

The door opens to reveal Kara in a red and green dinosaur Christmas sweater.

“Hi.” A breathless smile breaks across the blonde’s face. 

Lena’s returning smile feels genuine for the first time in weeks. “Hi.”

After quickly setting her bags down by the door, Lena leans in to press a brief kiss to Kara’s cheek, and Kara’s arm wraps around her lower back. But with her hand sweeping across Kara’s jawline, Lena notices a tremor in her neck, the taut tension in her shoulders.

“Are you okay?” she asks quietly, pulling back to meet her eye.

Kara nods quickly, forcefully. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She clears her throat, shuts the door behind Lena and rubs at her nose, waving to the other person in the apartment. “Uh, so. This is Alex.”

It takes Lena a conscious reminder to not say something utterly foolish like I know, because she’s seen Alex before, when she first got back from rehab and Kara led her out of the cab. But it’s probably not a good first impression to mention that she stalked her sister for a few days, wouldn’t look great.

Alex, in dark jeans and a plain black crew neck sweater, stands leaning against the kitchen island next to Pork Belly with an unreadable expression, scratching behind the cat’s ears. The cat’s festive, at least, with a red ribbon and a gold bell tied around his collar.

Lena can’t help but feel like she walked in on a tense moment, weighs the cons of asking if she should come back later, but then Alex is pushing from the island and offers her a soft smile, holds out her hand.

“Hey. It’s nice to meet you, Lena.”

Lena pours as much authenticity into her voice as she shakes Alex’s hand. “You too, finally. Kara’s told me so much about you.” Lena smiles back, hoping her strain for cool composure isn’t obvious. 

Glancing between the two women, Lena wonders if this actually as incredibly awkward as it seems or if she’s imagining it. 

“Well, this is for you.” Lena turns back to one of the bags she brought with her and digs out a smaller gift bag, extends it out to Alex. 

“Oh. Shit, thank you, you didn’t have to get me anything. Thanks, that’s… actually really sweet of you.” Alex fishes around in the gift bag and pulls out a pale blue candle, turns it over in her hands.

“I tried to ask Kara what you like, but the only thing she could come up with was herself, so.” Lena shoots Kara a scolding glare and Alex laughs. “I hope this is alright. It’s one of those candles meant to smell like your home state, and Kara mentioned you both grew up in Midvale.”

Alex smirks at her sister and nods, chuckling. “Yeah, sounds about right. Definitely don’t trust her with anything important.”

“Hey. I can be helpful.” Kara pouts, of course, and Lena notices how some of the tension coiled in her posture loosens. 

“Sure you can.” Alex snorts, turns back to the kitchen and sets the candle onto the island beside Pork Belly. While she reaches into the fridge, Alex glances back at Lena with a lazy smirk. “So, a little while back, August maybe, I asked her to pick up some eggs on her way home, right? I sent her a couple texts too, you know, she can be pretty forgetful, but she swore she would get them. You know what she comes home with?”

Kara is grumbling nonsense under her breath, something that sounds like, “Why didn’t I get any presents?” as she fishes a bag of caramel popcorn from a cupboard, but Lena pays her no mind, raises an eyebrow, amused. 

“Not eggs, I imagine?”

“She brought me those chocolate-covered marshmallows they sell during Easter, the ones in an egg carton, shaped like eggs? Yeah, she comes home at five a.m. with half a dozen cases. I don’t even know how she found them this time of year.”

Lena bursts with a laugh, scoffing at the blonde beside her who scowls and slumps back into seat.

“The dollar store was the only place open that late, okay? I panicked.” 

Lena turns back to Alex and pulls her from her fond attention on her sister. “You know, she goes through about half a jar of maraschino cherries every time I visit her at Roulette.”

“Just half?”

“Oh she gets into the orange slices too.”

“Are you guys finished?” Kara asks around a mouthful of popcorn. 

They both laugh at Kara’s red, bulging cheeks, and Lena bumps her knee affectionately. Kara gives her a sheepish smile in return and swallows, but when she glances to her sister, Lena notices another rather serious undertaking to it, an indecipherable exchange between the two. 

Lena wonders if this was what it was like for others to watch in on her and Lex when they were kids, when they fabricated their own secret language for encrypted messaging. She doesn’t feel the pang of longing she expects in watching Kara and Alex interact, a loss for what she had as a child. No, she’s not jealous, not even close. Lena’s just happy for her, she thinks. Lena’s fine without it in her life, but there’s a certain relief to knowing Kara will always have her sister.

She feels again as if she’s intruding on a moment between them, a tender silence. But then Alex is laughing, and they’re smiling like nothing’s changed.

“If you guys are just gonna gang up on me all night, I will leave. That’s not a bluff.” 

“Yeah, it is.” Alex flicks a piece of popcorn at her. “But you know I’ll always have your back, no matter what.”

There’s one last, meaningful smile between the two, and then it’s gone, and Alex turns back to Lena with a wry smile.

“So, Lena. How long you think we can put off giving Kara her presents?”

Lena purses her lips. “I reckon we can put it off until next year if we play our cards right.”

They laugh, and Kara buries her face in her arms and groans.

xx

“Lena, how did you even fit all of this in the one bag? I haven’t gotten this many presents on Christmas since the fourth grade.”

“Can’t believe she got you an entire library and I just got a candle.”

Lena at least has the humility to look embarrassed, but she powers through. “To be fair, I did have you in mind when I picked out the espresso machine.”

Both their heads whip around to Lena, and then look around bewilderedly.

“What? Lena. Just, what.”

“Oh, right.” Lena purses her lips. She pulls up a tracking shipment page on her phone and holds it out. “Um. So someone will be by on Friday to assemble it.”

The Danvers sisters both stare at her, and Lena looks back wide-eyed. She peers into the bag at the last remaining present, and bites her lip. “Does this mean I shouldn’t tell you I got you those sneakers you wanted?”

Kara sits cross-legged on the floor surrounded by three teetering piles of books and an abominable amount of tissue paper, and she scrambles for the bag in front of Lena and snatches out the sleek black Nike shoebox. Her jaw drops, and Lena vaguely wonders if this is what Kara’s orgasm face would look like.

“Lena, I seriously cannot accept all of this.”

Alex, on the couch behind Kara, leans over her shoulder and plucks the box from her hands. “I can. You’re a seven and a half, right?”

“Oh don’t you dare.” When Kara fails to respond quick enough and Alex jerks the box out of her reach, the two quickly fall into a messy brawl, yelping and arguing over the shoes.

Lena is fully endeared watching the way they fight like children, thankful that the earlier tension is completely gone now. She’s convinced now that she just imagined it, she knows the holidays can be stressful for any family, even between sisters as close as these too.

The white, central coffee table has been pushed to the side, and set against where the TV usually is is a short, crudely decorated Christmas tree. It’s not crude in that it’s lacking but more so that it’s rather easier to tell Kara was probably the one to set it up. It’s covered in a mess of variously colored tinsels, lopsided, mismatched ornaments, and rather than a star sitting on top there’s just a cut-out picture of Pork Belly taped to the tip. The winding of rainbow lights strung around it cast a glow like candy over them, and the colorful, warm ambience of Kara’s apartment is starting to feel like sweet comfort again.

Also, yes, Lena is aware she went a little… extravagant on the presents. But there’s an exhaustive, never-ending-scroll of books saved on the notes in Lena’s phone, both ones she’s read over the years and loved and ones she’s been recommended but not yet gotten around to reading. She knows Kara loves reading, perhaps even more than Lena, her room is a scattered mess of wrinkled and folded books. She’s definitely adding fuel to the fire by giving her more when Kara seems to have a problem finishing any she already has, but. Lena struggled to narrow her choice down to just one book in her cart, and then it just grew into a justified mountain of literature.

Besides, now that she knows Kara knows who she is, there’s less of a desperation to keep secret how much money she has to her name. She can be flashy, flamboyant, spoil her friend. 

It’s not until now, watching Kara red in the face as she beats her sister with a pillow and Alex wheezing with laughter, that she wonders how much the sister knows. Lena can’t imagine Kara wrote such a life-changing, front page story, made a groundbreaking discovery for her family, and that her own sister and roommate wouldn’t know. 

It’s just another thick, breathtaking layer of complexity that makes Lena take a step back. Makes her wonder who else knows who she really is.

What ensues is a light-headed dawning of clarity, a moment where she realizes perhaps the implications of her being here tonight. Not that she isn’t acutely aware of how close her and Kara are, they can be physically affectionate and they’ve met each other’s friends, of course their lives are interconnected, but it’s baffling just the extent to which it goes. Kara has dozens of people in her life, friends she’s known for years, and out of all of them, she chose Lena to come home with her on a private Christmas day with the most important person in her life.

It begins Lena’s inevitable unraveling.

When the sisters settle down, Kara triumphantly reclaims the box and scrambles to put Lena between her and Alex, hiding as she fishes out the shoes and tries them on.

Alex stands and straightens out her twisted sweater and flattens back down her mussed hair, breathing heavily. “Shit, I think I’m getting too old for this. You two clean this up, I’m gonna go shower.” Alex waves around at all the wrapping paper and overturned pillows as she hops around them. “Don’t you dare fucking start the movie without me!”

Once she’s gone, and Kara’s laced up her brand new Jordans, she turns to Lena with a dopey smile that makes Lena dizzy with tenderness.

“Thank you for my presents,” Kara says softly, and Lena knows she’s not imagining it when the blonde’s eyes fall to Lena’s mouth as her own lips break into a grin. 

“You’re welcome. It really wasn’t much, you should see what I got Ruby.”

Kara raises her eyebrows, intrigued. “Do I want to know?”

“Let’s just say the Broadway tickets for Frozen was the smaller one.”

Kara’s laugh is breathless, and she pitches forward, her head falling onto Lena’s shoulder and her arms snaking around her waist. Her touch sends shocks of thrill through Lena, leaves her fingertips tingling, and she turns to welcome to the cuddling blonde more easily, wraps her arms back around her. With only the hiss of flickering candles and the muffled sound of the running shower, there’s nothing but their heartbeats on Kara’s living room floor for minutes.

Lena’s grateful that, for once in her life, when things got scary and everything was in jeopardy, she decided not to run. She decided to stay.

Kara makes a small squeak eventually and disentangles from Lena frantically. “Oh! I completely forgot about your present, jeez, okay, get up.”

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Kara.” But Lena’s already climbing to her feet and following along into Kara’s room nonetheless.

“Don’t even start with me,” Kara warns over her shoulder, crossing around her bed and dropping to the floor to search underneath.

Lena crawls over her unmade bed, scoots across on her elbows and peers over the edge curiously, but all she can make out is Kara’s ass wiggling from underneath the frame, and she smiles. “What is it? Is it your secret vibrator collection that you think I don’t know about?”

She both feels and hears Kara bang her head on the underside of the bed, followed by a loud yelp, and Lena cackles as Kara comes shuffling out from underneath, rubbing sorely at her head.

“You’re not funny,” she mumbles, holding a tattered shoebox under her arm.

Lena sits up on her knees. “If those are the new Adidas, you should know I actually already had them preordered.”

Kara frowns, looks down at the box, back at Lena. “What? No. It’s not shoes. This is just, um, the container.”

“The container?” Lena raises her eyebrows, takes in how Kara shuffles from foot to foot and clenches the box stiffly in her hands, tilts it around her palms.

“Yeah. So, I didn’t get you the stocking, but… well, um, you’re kinda hard to shop for when like, you could just always get the nicer version of something for yourself. And also I’m on a budget this year. But you know, so I was thinking like, about what money can’t buy, and like…” Kara inhales deeply, finally looking back at Lena’s curious gaze.

Giving up on her supposed explanations, Kara abruptly thrusts the blue box out to Lena.

Lena slides her feet off the edge of the bed to sit normally and gives Kara one last precarious look before she gently lifts the lid.

Inside is just a shuffle of papers, long standard envelopes that don’t quite fit the length of the box but fill it up across. It looks like some typical, old-school filing, and Lena glances up at Kara with furrowed eyebrows. 

Kara points impatiently at the box. “Pick one.”

“One?”

“Yeah, just any one.”

Lena sifts through, runs her fingers along the crisp edges of the clean, white envelopes, and pulls one at random. In Kara’s crude chicken-scratch handwriting, it reads: 

Open when you feel happy .

Lena shakes her head, and once again looks back to Kara. “I don’t get it.”

Kara’s face is red, and she huffs an exasperated sigh as she drops onto the bed beside Lena, gestures to the words. “Well. Are you happy right now?”

She looks at the blonde beside her, this goofy, horribly annoying woman in a Christmas dinosaur sweater with her soft hair twisted in a low tie behind her, her dimpled smile, those expectant, patient eyes. Lena thinks about how much she doesn’t know about her, how much they have to talk about, how far they’ve come but how much further they have to go.

“Yeah, I think I am.”

Kara smirks. “Okay, so open it.”

She does, flicks her finger under the corner tab and swipes it open. Inside is an unmarked card stock and Lena opens it to the written words inside.

Dear Lena,

You deserve this. I know happiness can be fleeting, and I know people say that it has to be that way so we can appreciate it when it’s here, but I hope this lasts as long as it can for you. I hope you’re still happy tomorrow, and the week after, and next year. I think if anyone deserves to have it all, it’s you. I hope you keep me around to see it. 

So bask in your glow, because I know I am.

Always,
Kara

Lena holds onto the letter, lets her eyes roam over the words again, mouthing quietly along. With a knit brow, she drops the letter beside her and begins to skim through the other envelopes. Open when you need a hug, open when you need inspiration, open when you’re feeling sassy, open when you’re somewhere beautiful . They go on and on, there’s at least thirty, maybe even fifty in the shoebox, and Lena’s trembling but it’s not in her hands.

When she looks up at Kara, the soft way the corner of her mouth ticks up, it makes Lena’s heart swell, makes her wonder if the fall was always inevitable.

Kara’s smile is bubbly, everglowing. “Merry Christmas, Lena.”

xx

“All I’m saying is that Kara talks a big game, but there’s very little follow through.” Alex raises her hands defensively. 

“Okay, you are so not any better at pictionary than I am!” Kara, leaning against Lena’s side, scoffs and tosses one of the couch cushions across the living room.

“Watch it.” Alex snatches the pillow from the air. “You always start shit you don’t know how to finish.”

“You wanna bet?” Kara grabs a pillow from the other side of Lena’s lap and holds it warningly, ready to launch.

Lena, however, settles her hand onto Kara’s thigh placatingly, chuckling under her breath, and stands. “And I believe that’s my cue to go, before the two of you start another war.”

Kara forgets about the pillow entirely, her voice dropping. “You’re not staying?”

Lena glances at Alex, who watches them blatantly with an amused expression. Lena finds she doesn’t mind all that much. 

She strokes her thumb under Kara’s chin, smiles. “Not tonight, darling. I’ve intruded enough already. You should spend tomorrow morning with your sister.”

Kara’s hand falls along Lena’s forearm and drops to tangle with her fingers, mindless, comforting. “But you’re not intruding,” the blonde mumbles with a frown. 

“I take up plenty of your time as it is.” Lena smiles again, squeezes Kara’s fingers back. “And also, your room is really fucking cold, so, I’d rather sleep in my own bed anyway.”

Pouting, Kara makes a hmph sound. “It’s not cold if you’d let me—”

Okay .” Alex claps her hand, rises to her feet. “Let’s let Lena actually get going, yeah?” 

Lena laughs at the way Kara grumbles, but the bartender releases the hold on her hand and Lena heads for the foyer where she’s hung up her coat. Alex trails along with her, and Lena wonders, foolishly, for a split second, if maybe Kara had been so hesitant in introducing Lena to her sister because she knew that Alex would give the inevitable speech.

Lena doesn’t know much about this speech from personal experience, has never given it nor received it, and it has especially never been given to anyone else on her behalf. Not unless you count the girls from boarding school that Lillian paid off, but that was less of a cautionary speech and more of an active threat she only heard about after the fact.

At least, Lena thinks she’s gonna get the speech because she can see Kara hiding behind the edge of the couch with only her head poking over, intently and curiously watching the two of them.

Alex follows Lena’s gaze behind her and snorts. “You wanna stage a fight to freak her out?” she asks.

“Sure. Should I slap you, or do you want to pull my hair?”

“I can hear you guys, you know,” Kara calls across the apartment.

Other than a small smile they share together, they otherwise ignore her, and Lena shakes her head. Lena offers one last, gentle wave of her hand over Alex’s shoulder to her favorite blonde, and Kara waves back eagerly.

Alex walks along with Lena to the door, dropping her tone so this time they can’t be eavesdropped on. Lena thinks this is it, maybe even hopes for it because it’d indicate something about what’s going on here, but then… the speech never really comes. Not the one Lena’s expecting, not much of one at all.

“I’m glad I got the chance to meet you,” Alex tells her as she holds the door open and laughs  dryly. “I know she was nervous about tonight.”

“Yes, well. You’re her whole world, so I don’t blame her.”

“Yeah.” The sides of Alex’s mouth fall into a flatter smile, one that doesn’t quite reach her eyes, looks far off. “But I don’t think it was all that much about me.”

“How do you mean?”

Alex tilts her head with a droll, pointed expression. “I think you know.”

Lena opens her mouth to answer, but Alex is already nodding decisively and inching the door closed. “Have a good night, Lena.”

“You too,” Lena responds on instinct, but then the door closes, and she stays aimless and dumbfounded outside Kara’s entryway for longer than she should. 

It’s not until she gets a notification that her Lyft has arrived that she finally leaves.

Chapter Text

Now that Lena’s knows Kara is aware of who she is, and shows no ill will despite her family, Lena finally lets go of most her restraints, no longer holds herself back. There were so many things she was terrified of doing with Kara out of fear of being outed, recognized. But now? 

Kara already knows, and frankly, it would solve 80% of Lena’s problems if someone would just blurt the L-bomb already in front of Kara and they had to face this together. 

Despite Kara not being very forthcoming with how their histories are connected, Lena trusts her to tell her the truth, should it come to it. If Lena didn’t already know, and she were to have some sort of nervous breakdown about her last name, full of apologies and pleas for Kara to not judge her for her family, Lena can imagine the soft, crooked smile the blonde would put on, the way she’d tilt her head and scrunch her nose. She’d tell Lena she already knew, and cares for Lena all the same, that it never made a difference. Lena was just a girl in a bar and Kara was just the woman who took her hand and pointed to the sky.

It’s not like Lena’s reckless, per se. She’s not about to run out onto the street in broad daylight, waving her arms and calling for someone to recognize her.

The first step was the Christmas presents, but that was hardly a splurge. Kara already knows how much Lena pays for her apartment, and being a customer at a place like Roulette, money was an assumed given. 

But Lena now can now make use of the evenings Kara has off, she can spoil the bartender with extravagant plans and flamboyant restaurants that only someone of a Luthor ranking could pull off and she doesn’t have to give a damn about who might see them.

When Lena stops by Kara’s before their dinner plans after work, two days after Christmas, Kara’s entire living room is overtaken with her wardrobe and the blonde is running back and forth frantically, in and out of her room.

“Oh thank God you’re here.” Alex rushes off the couch and up to Lena. “Please help her, I don’t know even know what she’s trying to accomplish anymore.”

Lena raises her eyebrows, looks over Alex’s shoulder, and sees Kara messing with rainbow-patterned suspenders. “Right. I’ll take over.”

“Thank you. She’s all yours.” The Danvers sister gives Lena’s shoulder a grateful squeeze and hurries off to her room before Lena can change her mind.

Lena drapes her coat over her arm and approaches Kara, smirking. “How are you doing, love?”

Kara spins around from the portrait mirror set in front of the TV and gives Lena an incredulously terrified smile. She hooks her thumbs under her suspenders. “Hi. Do you think these clash with my shoes?”

Lena glances down to her plain, unexceptional, black dress shoes. Lena blinks back up. 

“This is a trick question, right?”

Kara groans exasperatedly and fumbles to hack the suspenders off herself, tosses them on the couch. “Lena, this is serious. I don’t have anything fancy enough for this place, the only blazer I have is from college and is way too small for my shoulders now, and you said yourself my interview shirts make me look like a nerd—”

“A cute nerd.”

“Lena. I can’t do this.”

Lena, laughing, comes up to Kara and splays her hands along Kara’s broad shoulders appeasingly. “Darling, you’re fine. Literally you could wear jeans for all I care, it doesn’t matter. I promise, the richer you are the shittier you get to dress.” Lena chuckles. “You would not believe what my brother used to wear to our father’s board meetings, he thought he was Mark Zuckerberg or something.”

There’s something of a hopeful glint to Kara’s eyes when Lena mentions her family, how the blonde’s gaze jerks to Lena’s. It makes Lena think Kara is perhaps just as eager and desperate for Lena to break the ice between them too, to come clean, to have everything out in the open. For Lena to be ready to share that part of herself. Maybe it’s not now, before a dinner reservation is not the ideal moment for a confession, but that’s okay, and Lena still thinks she can’t wait.

She smiles, pats down Kara’s ruffled hair. “Just wear what makes you comfortable.”

Kara sighs defeatedly, her shoulders slumping. “But you look so good in that dress, I’ll look like a chump standing next to you.”

Lena smirks. “Adorable, maybe, but not a chump. Come on, just wear that Zara button down I like.”

“The red one I wore to the movies on Tuesday?”

Lena nods and Kara scrunches her mouth together in thought. Lena must give her the right sort of encouraging smile because Kara dashes off to her room a second later, and after some clattering and shuffling, reemerges ready to leave. 

Lena glances at the tornado of Kara’s living room, asks if they need to take care of the clothes strewn about everywhere before they go, but Kara waves a hand flippantly and says Alex can deal with it. Lena’s thinks she can hear Alex shouting something incomprehensible after them as the door closes, but Kara hurries them along.

At the restaurant, an old Middle Eastern place on the water with a wall of windows revealing a beautiful drop of the silky river under the silver moonlight, Kara has the cutest wrinkle in her brow. She’s trying to wrap her head around why the menu doesn’t list prices, and it takes Lena three tries to properly assure Kara that it truly doesn’t matter, to convince her to get whatever she wants. 

Kara fidgets in her seat like she’s making too conscious an effort to sit still, adjusts her glasses and looks around the large room owlishly, craning up at the vaulted ceiling, the gold trims. It’s adorable, of course it is, it’s Kara after all and Lena’s only human. But once the first course comes out and Kara’s too distracted by the way the steaming lamb kofta melts on her tongue and how the flavor sends her eyes rolling to the back of her head, Lena grins.

Now that Kara’s more relaxed, less analytical of herself in this environment, her eyes fall onto Lena’s like snowflakes, and from that point forward it’s all routine. A choreographed dance they know all too well. It’s not all that different from when their ankles bumped beneath a bowling alley table over sticky pizza, just different food, a quieter room. 

Lena isn’t sure of much, most of the conclusions she’s come to lately have been based off speculation, but if Kara keeps looking at her like it never mattered where they were, so long as they’re together, that their paths are side by side, then maybe she doesn’t need the concrete assurance anymore.

“Oh, by the way,” Lena says once their main dishes have been cleared away. “What are you doing the last weekend of January?”

Kara wipes her mouth with the red cloth napkin in her lap, an oddly weary expression on her face. “Um. I’m not sure. Why?”

“There’s this conference in Lausanne that Sam and I were going to go to, on the bridge between scientific research and pursuitive journalism, but something came up, Ruby has a band recital or something like that. I was hoping you might join me instead.”

“Lausanne as in… Switzerland?”

“Is there another one?”

Kara pulls on her tightly buttoned collar. “Oh, wow, uh, I — I don’t know.”

Lena leans forward, drapes her hand over Kara’s. “It’s one weekend, just a couple days, all expenses paid. If you don’t come, then the ticket is just going to go waste.”

Kara’s jaw is clenched, her lips tightly pressed together, but she nods and smiles, timid. 

Lena’s mouth flattens out into a sultry smile. “And it’ll be nice, to get away. Just you and me, a little vacation. Don’t you think?”

Kara’s cheeks are still red by the time dessert comes out, and Lena can’t remember how long it’s been since she’s been this happy.

She wants to find a better word than that, something that doesn’t fall so flat of the immense, boundless light inside of her, the spark that Kara’s ignited. She wants to scour every library shelf, every museum plaque, every written catalogue until she finds a language that might be able to sum up everything it is that she’s feeling, this blind trust, this effortless bliss.

But maybe it can be summed up just like that, without the theatrics, the glamor. Maybe it’s more than enough, more than she ever dreamed of, to be able to say this.

Lena is happy, and that is everything. 

Even if she craves something more.

xx

It’s not until New Year’s Eve that their path begins to unravel, to blossom, that Lena realizes she can’t keep playing this game anymore.

Sam’s hired a babysitter for the night, Kara’s got a gold, glitter-coated pair of 2020 glasses and three pounds worth of sparklers, Alex has queued up the perfect playlist for taking them into the new decade, Lucy has a joint tucked behind her ear, and Lena is completely and wholly ready to say goodbye to this wretched year.

They’re on the rooftop of Kara’s apartment building, the edges rimmed with high-strung yellow lights and colorful streamers. Against the brick wall of the service door are two folding tables a plastic tarp thrown across, an almost obnoxious assortment of drink and snack options laid out. She supposes that’s what you get for hanging around bartenders. Opposite the snack table is the roof ledge that overlooks a brilliant strip of glittering cityscape, and set up all over the roof are various games and activities to keep everyone busy until the ball drops.

James is the only one missing from the usual lineup, as he’s working the bar at Roulette with another one of their coworkers. It’s none of Nia’s college friends or other strangers, just the usual group and a few other of their friends from Roulette, nobody Lena doesn’t already know, and so it’s a sweetly familiar thing for her by now, this group of people she’s gotten to know and familiarize herself with. No more is the hesitant hovering around the entrance, waiting for someone to offer an in, no more shy anxiety or overanalyzing tactics on how to hold a conversation.

Friends. That’s what they are. They’re just a group of friends celebrating a holiday because they enjoy one another’s company, because they can, and that’s breathtaking.

She brought Sam, of course, because the woman hasn’t been out for the turn of midnight since Ruby was born. Lena makes an enterprise out of it, takes Sam out to dinner first and then a line of tequila shots at a bar near Kara’s, gets Sam a bit passed the line of tipsy and bordering on drunk by the time they arrive at the party. 

Yeah, sure, she had a couple too, so she’s a little loose when she finds Kara on the roof in those stupid plastic glasses and some yellow ribbons strung up into her golden hair. Lena immediately rushes into her arms with a squeal, in front of everyone, careless because they all must know by now that this is where she belongs, they’ve seen it enough. She winds her arms around the taller blonde’s neck and jumps into her weight, and Kara lets out a boisterous laugh when she catches her. She staggers back, and Lena only squeezes her harder, but she keeps Lena aloft.

She thinks she might hear Lucy ask, “Why the fuck do none of you greet me like that?” but Lena’s too busy contemplating whether or not to just stay in Kara’s arms all night to pay much attention.

Of course, she disentangles from Kara when it’s necessary. Like when Lucy and Kelly lug up large plastic tub full of water from downstairs, and before Lena can catch up with what’s about to happen, Alex is holding Kara’s hair back and the blonde is dunking her head into the water.

When she reemerges, triumphant with an apple in her mouth, Lena can burst with laughter in her face. Kara’s hair is a mopping mess down her sides with the wet, tangled ribbons in it, and next thing Lena knows, Alex and Lucy are pushing Kara to her knees and tipping her head back. Kara isn’t even phased, like this is a normal treatment, but Lena gawks as they pour a concoction of a dessert into her mouth — non alcoholic, of course, just apple cider, cinnamon, and whipped cream. When Kara jumps to her feet, struggling to swallow and a mess of cinnamon over her chin, all their friends cheer and Lena shakes her head.

Kara’s a beaming fool, her hair and red sweater soaked from the game, whipped cream on her nose and her mouth sticky with juice. Lena, feeling bold from the tequila, wipes her fingers over the mess of sugar on Kara’s chin with a fond smile, and she sighs. Because Kara’s her beaming fool.

Kara’s eyes drop darkly to her mouth when Lena licks the cream from her fingers. Everyone else is moving onto dunking Winn in the bucket, but Lena raises an eyebrow at the dumbfounded way Kara stares at her, sucking off the tip of her index finger, and she smirks.

“You’re a hot mess,” she tells Kara quietly. Kara still blinks blankly at her, and Lena makes a wide gesture over her being. “You, all this. You’re soaked. If you think I’m sleeping with you tonight like this, you’re dreaming.”

Kara’s blushing now but she grins through it, shakes her head. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll shower, you princess.”

“Yes, I am a princess, thank you very much.”

She’s pulled from Kara’s side when all of a sudden Lucy’s grabbing her by the elbow, and she thinks they mean to have her go next — which, fuck no, she is so not getting her hair wet. This quickly shifts to her yanking on Sam’s wrist, who has been just on the sidelines bemusedly watching, but her eyes widen when Lena pulls her next.

Except after Sam is lugged out of the water, her dripping hair flinging over her back and apple in mouth, Lucy isn’t grabbing the apple cider but instead two liquor bottles.

“Care to do the honors?” Lucy holds them out to Lena.

“Fuck yes,” she says, eagerly taking the proffered bottles. “But I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Oh! I got this.” Kara quickly swoops up behind her, her arms snaking over Lena’s to guide her like she did all that time ago in a bowling alley with strobe lights. Kara smells like sugar and cinnamon, Lena can feel the hot tickle of her breath against her cheek, and she almost misses Sam’s mouth entirely when they pour equal shots of Fireball and apple pucker in between her teeth.

Sam’s already sputtering by the time Lena’s successfully gets the whipped cream can configured, and when she sprays it across her best friend’s face, missing her mouth, and the sprinkle of cinnamon flutters dangerously close to her eyes, Sam starts choking and gives an aggravated shout at Lena. She scoops some of the stray cream off her face and throws it at Lena in retaliation, and Lena hides behind Kara, who gets another mouthful of sweets in her face again but she doesn’t seem to mind all that much.

Even if Kara is damp and sticky, she still settles for keeping herself secured at her hip, holding onto Kara’s arm draped over her shoulders throughout the party, throughout their throng of friends under these magical glowing lights.

Kara teaches Lena how to play corn hole, tossing a sack into a wooden hole, and after two embarrassing throws — one that nearly goes off the roof edge — Lena gets into the physics of it. She messes with the weight of the sack, playing with how much volume the sand takes up inside the cloth versus how much volume can be displaced, she quickly runs through the mental calculations of a proper trajectory. It’s not long before Lena’s expertly making all her shots and Kara is boasting ecstatically to anyone paying them attention that Lena’s the best game partner she’s ever had.

Alex, on the opposing team with Lucy, raises an eyebrow at her sister.

Kara ducks her chin. “Okay. Sorry. Second best.”

Part of why she’d taken Sam for drinks beforehand was because Lena hadn’t been anticipating any being there, had imagined that no one else would be drinking out of respect to Alex. But it’s not the case, clearly, if the apple-bobbing game was anything to go by. The table beside the snacks is lined with beer and wine, and securely tucked in the center are unopened bottles of champagne sitting on a bed of purple tissue paper in a metal bin, reserved for the big drop.

Lena, leaning against Kara’s torso, pokes her stomach to get her attention. The way Kara immediately turns to look down on her, swivels her head like a puppy, has Lena smiling goofily for a moment before she remembers her question. 

“Hey, um. I know it’s not really my place to ask but, are you sure Alex is okay with all of this? The drinking, I mean.”

“Yeah, I talked to her about it.” Kara sighs glumly. “She said she’d just feel worse if everyone went out of their way to make her comfortable, that she doesn’t want to feel like… like everyone’s compromising for her, I guess? I tried to tell her no one cares about that, we just want to support her, but. She was just about walking out the door to go to the liquor store herself and stock for the party if I didn’t. Here, hold on, told her I’d check in actually, thanks for reminding me.” 

Kara jogs off to the corner of the rooftop where Alex is leaning against the cement ledge, talking to Sam. She doesn’t hear their conversation, Kara just leans into Alex’s ear and whispers something. But then Alex is glaring at her sister and she throws her juice pouch at Kara, smack in the chest. 

Kara returns to Lena cackling, wiping the juice from her face.

“What the hell did you say to her?” Lena asks incredulously as she hands her back her soda. “Also, you are seriously filthy right now.”

Kara wipes the tears from the corners of her eyes as she calms down, slinging her arm back around Lena’s neck. Lena at least has the dignity to pretend to be annoyed, yelps and recoils away from her sticky wet mess, but the blonde struggles against it. She’s persistent, and eventually she loops Lena back to her, pressing their fronts together, and Lena’s mouth zips shut.

They’re both breathing heavily, Lena’s hands are squeezed between their chests and Kara’s are wrapped around her lower waist.

Lena swallows, peering up at the soft curl of blinking eyelashes, the summertime slope of a sweet mouth. 

“I asked her how her kiddie juice was.”

Lena jerks her eyes away from Kara’s mouth. “What?”

“Alex, she’s drinking Capri-Sun. I asked her how her kiddie juice was and she threw it in my face.”

The fact that Kara says this all with a straight, serious face and a thick, low tone as if she’s telling Lena something far more intimate, makes Lena snort. And then she’s laughing, clapping her hand onto Kara’s chest, and her head falls forward to Kara’s shoulder because that twinkling gaze might be too much for right now.

Lena prods Kara in the stomach scoldingly as she pulls away, but when she looks back over, Alex is chuckling fondly and Kara’s stomach muscles are flexing with laughter under Lena’s hand, so. Her mind trails elsewhere. 

It gets to a little past eleven and Lena’s mostly sobered up by now. She finally pushes away from Kara’s sturdy frame with a firm, playful push and scoffs at Kara’s silly pout. “Okay love, no, I need to stop, I’m gonna go find Sam.”

“Boo. Don’t leave me.” Kara’s hand catches on Lena’s hand as the brunette tries to pull away. At Lena’s admonishing look, she gives Lena’s fingers a quick squeeze and lets go. “Fine. But find me again before midnight?”

Lena rolls her eyes. “Kara there’s like ten people here. It won’t be that hard.”

“Okay, but still. Find me.”

Lena steals away from Kara, finally, and makes over to join Alex and Sam in the corner while Kara watches from afar. Sam’s tied back her wet mop of a head into a ponytail, and while it’s mostly dried and cleared off the mess by now, Lena can still see a small patch of dried whipped cream at her hairline. She’ll tell her later. Maybe.

She doesn’t even catch the tail-end of their conversation, approaches just as Sam is laughing loudly and grasping Alex by the elbow in a move that is definitively not platonic. Lena doesn’t stifle her smile, lets her eyebrows rise knowingly when Sam notices her presence.

“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she asks teasingly, and the amused but miffed press of Sam’s lips suggests Lena in fact is doing just that.

“No, not at all.” Alex’s smile is relaxed, twinkling, but there’s a delay before she pulls her eyes away from Sam to Lena. “I was gonna go dig into the crab puffs anyway.”

Lena winces. “Oh, about those.”

“Don’t tell me she already finished them already.”

Lena shrugs guiltily and Alex’s jovial smile morphs into a snarl. “Oh I am going to kill her.”

Alex quickly stalks off, and Lena and Sam laugh.

They talk for a bit about the party and Kara’s friends. Sam asks questions about some of the other people there, and Lena answers them to her best ability, lists off what she knows. Sam, of course, listens rather intently when Lena gets to Alex, and Lena smirks.

“So you seem to be having a good time,” she notes, raising her plastic cup of wine to her lips.

Sam scoffs and turns away, but Lena would bet her entire heritage that she’s blushing. “Yeah, well, I could say the same about you. You and that bartender chick were looking pretty cozy over there.”

“You’ve really got to start using her name at some point.”

“I will. As soon as you stop being an idiot and actually make a move.”

Lena’s smiling, but she sighs wistfully, walks behind Sam to lean against the brick barricade, putting her back to the flickering city lights and watching Kara and Alex bicker playfully across the rooftop. 

“I know I do.”

She sees Sam’s head twist from her peripheral. “Really?”

Lena nods. “Kara’s too respectful to do anything herself. She thinks I’m skittish.”

“I mean, you are.”

“Shut up.” Lena smirks. “I know that too. I’ve been giving a lot of mixed signals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she just never so much as acknowledges the potential of something… more, between us.”

Kara’s so timid and careful of Lena’s boundaries that she’s kept practically half of her life hidden from Lena out of reverence. Lena doesn’t know how, never knew someone could be so perceptive, but Kara somehow figured out that if Lena was ever going to form a close enough bond with someone to let them in, to let her guard down, it needed to be on her terms. Because she is skittish, distrusting, paranoid, neurotic. Maybe it’s because of a lifetime of sitting in the backseat to her own life while someone else drove, but the idea that someone else is in control now, calling the shots, it would make Lena implode.

She lost everything when the news of the Neoremedium came out, and she didn’t even have much of anything to begin with.

Lena’s not fragile, she never has been. But that first month in National City, those first few days, she was grasping at the thin ends of her sanity. She was on edge, irritable, lonely. Colors were bleak, taste was dull, the world was dark. And now she’s here, with Sam, with Kara and everyone else.

It’s not glamorous, but it’s a space that’s hers.

“I just don’t know if I’m ready,” Lena confesses quietly. “To take the risk.”

Sam opens her mouth to reply, a quick retort, but Lena’s phone pings loudly from her clutch, and she’s moving to silence it when she sees the content of the notification on her screen. Even as she reads, more steadily pour in.

Smythe Put A Ring On It, Who’s Gonna Tell Luthor? 

If Lena Luthor fled the city after a kiss, what’s she going to do about a wedding?

Sorry Smythors, looks like Siobhan’s having her honeymoon elsewhere!

There are more that pile in, clickbait blocks like Tetris dropping down her phone screen, and Lena’s stomach churns as she flicks through them, willing herself not to succumb to opening them, to torturing herself with the pictures, to caring.

Siobhan, engaged. Lena laughs bitterly, shakes her head. 

“What? What is it?” Sam inches closer to peer over Lena’s shoulder down at her phone, and immediately gags. “Oh, ew, tell me that’s a joke. Someone would really marry that shrew?”

Lena successfully manages to lock her phone and put it away, inhales sharply. “Well, I don’t care.”

“You know you can be upset about this, right?” Sam leans back to eye Lena suspiciously. “I’d be pissed if I found out even my ninth grade boyfriend got engaged.”

Lena only takes a harsh gulp of her wine, one almost too large to swallow down. 

“Is this why you’re holding back with Kara? You don’t think you’re ready because you’re not over her?”

Lena scoffs darkly. “Fuck, no. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t go back to Siobhan unless I was seriously deluded with a self-destructive complex.”

“So, what then? Since when is Lena Luthor afraid of a little risk?”

Lena turns back to look over the city abruptly. “No, I mean, this is exactly it. Siobhan and I fought constantly, all the time. There was no depth to our relationship, and we spent very little time actually alone, never actually talking to one another. But we were good together.” Lena bites her lip. “We were actually stable, together for seven years. Everyone loved us, her friends, the public, hell even my mother said if I was going to be with a woman that I made a decent choice. We did that, together, kept it alive. I was good at that. That level of a relationship, I knew how to maintain that, and I did for seven years.” 

Lena gnaws on the inside of her cheek, runs her fingers along the lip of her cup anxiously. “But even that I couldn't keep going. I wouldn’t know the first thing about keeping something so… genuine with Kara.”

“Sweetie,” Sam starts. “You just haven’t given yourself the chance.”

Lena’s nostrils flare, but otherwise she stays staring out into the black skyline, silent, ruminating.

“Listen. I’m not going to begin to try and understand what being apart of your family is like, what that’s done to you. But I know you, and I know you think everything that happened with Lex was your fault, and it’s not.”

“Okay, but I still could—”

“You are not responsible for someone else’s failures,” Sam interrupts firmly. “You don’t have to keep punishing yourself over something beyond your control. You have done incredible, revolutionary things since moving here, and I have no doubt that you’ll do countless more. But you don’t have to keep holding yourself back from living your best life with the person you want to have it with, because you can have that. Right now. Whether that’s Kara or someone else, but Lena, anyone with eyes can see that poor girl just wants the same thing.”

There’s a stiff tension holding Lena together, one that strains under the weight of a lifetime of never being good enough, never reaching high enough, never standing tall enough. There’s always been a stretch for more, she has to, it’s what was expected of her. That’s why she ran after college, why she left. It was too daunting a crest to wear. Her family gave her everything she ever needed, of course she’s grateful, of course she understands the immense privilege she comes from. She tries to at least. 

Perhaps that’s why she refuses to give in, why she feels there’s never going to be a point where she can sit down and appropriately say, okay, I’ve done enough. Because nothing will ever be enough, if there’s more to be done then she has to do it, she has to make up for everything she didn’t do all those years, she has to do what she can now because so few others are in a position to themselves. 

Yes, maybe there will always be more that she can do, more people to help and discoveries to make, and she’ll do it, she will rise to the occasion, but maybe—

Maybe there isn’t a quota she must reach before she’s allowed to seize something for herself.

She can be a hero, she can be worthy, but maybe she can be more.

More than just happy, just this. Is that really an attainable thing, realistically? To want it all, to have it all?

The tension bleeds away like falling silk, her shoulders loosen, and as she lets go, the world miraculously doesn’t come to an end. 

Lena turns to Sam, lifts her head. “‘Poor girl’?” she echoes wryly.

“Yeah, poor girl for being head over heels for you. You’re about as easy to read as Chomsky.”

Lena scoffs, but her smile thins and she drops her eyes. “You really think she is?”

Sam’s ensuing smile is affectionate, nurturing. “Yeah, babe, I do. I think you can have everything it is that you want. You’ve just gotta take it.”

Just like that.

Can it really be so simple as taking the hand of this beautiful, wondrous gift of joy that’s been right in front of her all this time, and asking to be loved?

Taking a shaky breath, Lena laughs restlessly, runs a hand over her face. “Fuck, what a party, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not over yet.” Sam reaches out for Lena’s hand and grips it firmly, her warm eyes ever patient and stable for Lena. “Just talk to her. She might surprise you.”

On first glance over the rooftop, Kara’s actually nowhere to be seen, contrary to Lena’s remark about not having trouble finding her. 

Lena turns back to her friend once more. She doesn’t give her time to grumble and object before she winds her arms around Sam’s neck, pulls her into a bone-crushing hug.

“Oh, come on, my beer—”

“Thank you,” Lena says firmly in her ear. “Thank you for coming back into my life, and thank you for being here for me when I had nothing. I will never forget that.”

Sam grumbles as she pats Lena’s back, a low, “Yeah yeah yeah.” But when Lena pulls away, her eyes are damp and her lips are pursed like she’s trying to hold back a smile. “Whatever. Just go finally have your big rom-com moment, okay?”

Lena laughs again as she takes off, hops down off ledge and rejoins the party. Kara’s not up here, she makes two rounds of the whole rooftop before confirming that. She asks Kelly, Winn and Nia, but none of them have much of an idea, and Alex says she refuses to talk to Kara until next year. Impatience like an annoying itch is building up inside Lena, because if she doesn’t do this now, she might never have the courage to again. Also it’s like, less than half an hour until twelve, and Lena’s never been one for a hallmark moment, but maybe if she could do this before midnight then she might concede to being that kind of a romantic.

She finds Lucy, who informs her that Kara’s gone downstairs to her apartment to scavenge for more snacks after her brawl with Alex about eating most of the ones up here.

She nearly trips down the staircase twice in her haste down, has to mindfully will herself to slow down in her heels and clings to the chipped-paint metal railings. She used to love that Kara only lived on the fourth floor, an easy trek without an elevator, but now it’s fucking annoying and she wishes she were closer, because Lena’s heart is pounding in her chest and she’s ready to bring this building down to the ground if it brings her to Kara faster.

When she bursts in through the front door of Kara’s apartment, out of breath and panting, hair askew, Kara jumps in surprise from behind the refrigerator door. She has an opened container of grated parmesan cheese in one hand and a spoon in the other, a guilty, startled look on her face, and there’s a smear of white crumbs around her mouth.

Lena can’t believe she lasted three months waiting for this.

“Uh, I was just…” Kara gestures to the fridge with her spoon, capping the cheese and stuffing it back into the door. “Alex gets mean when she’s hungry, and, uh—”

“Are you seeing anyone?” Lena blurts out.

“Am I—?” Kara starts coughing on the cheese in her mouth, brings up her elbow and spins around for a glass of water. Lena comes up opposite her across the kitchen island, steadying her breathing while Kara gulps down her drink.

“Why do you always ask me this kinda stuff when I’m in the middle of something?” Kara grumbles, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her sweater.

“Because it’s fun. So, are you? Seeing anyone?”

Lena can see Kara’s swallow, the deer-in-headlights look. “Um. No.” Kara clears her throat. “Are you?”

Lena doesn’t resist her smile, doesn’t try dampen it in the slightest. “Nope.”

“Cool.” Kara nods slowly, looks Lena over as if she’s going to say something else, and then points over shoulder. “Anyway, I’m just gonna—”

“So are you the relationship type?” Lena asks, cocking her head as she splays her hands along the edge of the island. “Or do you prefer just one night stands, casual, that sort of deal?”

Lena’s never heard someone draw out an um for as long as Kara does now.

“Um… well… I prefer… serious stuff,” Kara says, painfully slow, her cheeks tingeing pink.

“Huh. Interesting.”

Kara’s immediate in her response. “Why’s that interesting?”

“So why aren’t you in a relationship right now, then?” Lena asks, ignoring Kara. “What are you waiting for, exactly?”

Kara laughs nervously and rubs at the back of her neck. “Um, you know… the right person, I guess? Like everyone else. Why, what are you—”

“How about me?”

There’s a moment of nothing, where Lena’s heart pounds against her ribcage, where she thinks this might be the step off the ledge, where she isn’t afraid to look down this time.

“What?” 

“Right now, us.” The room is spinning and dizzying and Lena is starting to lose bravado, she can’t believe she’s doing this, but she can’t imagine doing anything else. “You said you’re waiting for the right person. What about me?”

Kara stares back at Lena across the kitchen, her mouth small, cheeks red, eyes so round and so pale. “I, uh — you um,” she stammers, scratching at her nose. “You mean…?”

“Yes.” 

“Lena, I—”

“Because I think I’m a decent candidate,” Lena goes on, winding slowly around the counter to approach Kara, slow, careful, coy. “So if there’s an application pool, I hope I’m in it. I mean, I hope that you’d consider me.”

“Um.” Kara takes a step back, her hands going to the edge of the counter behind her as Lena comes closer, and she laughs again. “You’re funny, you know that? Why do we always say I’m the funny one? You’ve got great jokes.”

Lena comes close enough to brace her hands on either side of Kara, leaning close enough to feel the gentle puffs of Kara’s breath but not enough for them to be touching. 

“I’m not joking, Kara.”

Kara glances back and forth between Lena’s eyes in a panic, and it’s not until she notices the way the bartender's shoulders are trembling that Lena pulls back, suddenly small with the sinking terror that she’s read everything wrong.

“Do you want this to be joke?” she asks quietly, uncertainty as sharp under her sternum as icicles.

It might just be a trick of the light, something with the shadows over her face, but Kara’s eyes look damp when she makes an ever so slight shake of her head, gray and blue like the galaxies they crossed to get here.

“I don’t.”

Lena’s not sure if she wants to laugh or cry. “So would you?”

“Would I what?”

“Would you pick me?”

Kara deflates, her shoulders fall, her white-knuckle grip on the counter behind her loosens and the look she levels Lena with is wistful, delicate like dandelions.

“I’d always pick you, Lee.” 

When Lena steps forward and stretches up on her toes to kiss Kara, it feels like the answer to a front-row prayer, like relinquishing a throne she never wanted, like giving in to everything she’s so afraid of facing, only to discover it’s just the early morning light.

Sunlight, cream-like warmth, addictive in its richness.

There’s no shock or hesitation in the way Kara’s mouth responds to hers, like she knew this was as inevitable as the sunset falling.

Here, tonight, it’s only them, just Kara’s wet lips between Lena’s, her whimpering breath.

Kara immediately melts under Lena’s touch, her arms winding around Lena’s back and she welds them together, her lips parting like honey for her. Lena sighs into her mouth, a  low murmur catching at the back of her throat as she tightens her hold around Kara’s neck, presses their chests and together and oh, she doesn’t know what the hell they’ve been waiting around for.

Kara pushes Lena back against the island in a move that’s jarring, electric, her lower back thudding against the edge and Lena gasps into her mouth. She scrabbles her arms around Kara’s shoulders, pulls her in tighter, presses herself up higher and closer, about ready to climb on top of Kara in the middle of the kitchen if she can’t quench this overwhelming desire to just have her impossibly closer . Because it’s been too long, they’ve spent so much time not making use of the skin that aches to be touching, Lena can’t hold out any longer. 

“Kara,” she mumbles into the kiss, wanting, dazed, scraping her blunt fingernails possessively along the nape of the bartender’s neck. The mix of their gasping breaths into each other’s wet mouths is hot, stifling, makes Lena want to unravel completely.

The blonde pulls back with a shuddering breath to look at Lena’s face, her eyebrows tight and full of concern. “What, what is it?”

Lena squeaks in objection, yanks Kara back to her. “Don’t you fucking dare stop kissing me.”

“But you just—”

Lena’s tongue twists between Kara’s lips, runs along her bottom lip and flits along the edge of Kara’s before retracting, leaving Kara to chase back after her. And then Kara’s tongue is hot in her mouth, gentle, prying but polite, slick as it runs along the front edge of her teeth, and Lena shivers, her hips jolting against Kara’s, but the blonde stands tall and firm against her. The sounds of only their mouths moving together is humid, delirious, with Lena’s low groans and Kara’s panting breath. Kara’s mouth moves expertly with hers, painfully precise and languid, supple, and Lena doesn’t know the difference between wanting to devour or to be devoured. 

She’s actually about ready to tug Kara’s clothes off of her, to beg her down to her knees, because she can’t properly breathe like this, a desperate knit in her brow as she clutches at Kara’s broad shoulders. But then Kara’s swooping her arms under Lena’s ass and lifting her onto the counter, and, right, this is how a few late-night fantasies have definitely played out. Things topple around her as Kara slides her back, something clatters to the floor, but a rush of heat floods between Lena’s legs  because Kara just fucking lifted her like she’s nothing and, oh God, can someone die of arousal?

Lena wastes no time in wrapping her legs around Kara’s waist, hooking her ankles together to press Kara tightly against her, the hem of her dress riding up high along her thighs. She can feel it, Kara’s muscled midsection up against the crotch of her tights, but just barely, just a brush, this isn’t the proper angle for any solid friction, these sinful tights aren’t pulled up high enough, and Lena sighs again into Kara’s mouth, rolls into the pressure that isn’t there. But Kara’s hands fall to Lena’s hips over the wrinkles of dress, take a full grip around her edges and it’s so possessive that Lena’s exhale through her nose is quivering. She rolls her hips against Kara’s stomach, feels Kara’s hands move along with the motion, and it’s delicious and hot and Lena can’t get enough of the way Kara tastes, of the mind boggling heat of their bodies, of the way she wants more.

She starts to giggle then, her lips pinching, and instead of pulling away this time lest Lena kills her, Kara just gives a distracted, questioning hum.

“It’s just, um.” Lena sucks in a gulp of breath deliriously, mesmerized by the skillful fold of Kara’s lips, of Kara’s hands deftly rubbing up the sides of her waist.

“You—” Her voice pitches when those hands run under her chest, just the barest graze underneath the tight press of breasts, it makes her shudder, and what the fuck was she even going to say?

When Kara’s mouth makes a wet trail from her mouth down across her jaw, sucks on the corner where it comes to Lena’s neck, Lena think she might pass out from how good this feels, like she’s some touch-starved teenager kissing a girl for the first time. Lena tips her head back, her hands fisting into Kara’s hair, matted and tangled from the games, and she holds the bartender against her neck as Kara plants sloppy, thrilling kisses along the sensitive skin.

“You were saying?” Kara murmurs, and the gentle vibration of her lips against Lena’s pulse point makes her dizzy.

Then she’s giggling again, mouth stretching into a grin. “I was going to say, you taste like—” Kara bites down on a patch of her skin and Lena lets out a particularly loud moan, her thighs clenching around Kara’s sides and a new jolt of insatiable throbbing bursts between her legs. 

Fuck. Cheese, Kara.”

Kara pauses, her hands stilling. “Huh?”

Lena closes her eyes, succumbing to the fact that she’s a horny, helpless mess like she’s sixteen again and they’re not even at second base yet. “I said you taste like cheese, Danvers.”

Kara chuckles against Lena’s neck, ducking her head so that her teeth brush against Lena’s collarbone. “If I’d known,” she murmurs quietly between softer, slower kisses, “that you were gonna do the whole New Year’s Eve procedure, I probably would’ve brushed my teeth.”

Lena grins at the ceiling, her eyes closed, and splays her fingers along the base of Kara’s neck, twirling the thin strands of hair. “Honestly?” she says, her voice low. “None of this was planned.”

A hum reverberates from Kara’s mouth to Lena’s skin as Kara draws her mouth back up to Lena’s, her hand cradling the back of Lena’s head to pull her back to eye-level. Lena blinks her eyes back open with a dreamy smile as Kara brushes her hair from her face.

“No?” Kara asks with a scrunched nose and Lena laughs. “You sure? This feels kinda staged.”

Lena lets her hands fall forward over Kara’s breastbone, spreads across her shoulders, greedily drinking in the warmth beneath her palms. “It’s about as planned out as a decision from ten minutes ago can really be.”

“Oh.” Kara’s nose nudges against Lena’s as she presses a delicate kiss to her cheek. 

“What?” Lena’s eyes drift back shut, lets the blonde flower her with gentle grazes of her mouth over her face.  

“Nothing, nothing.” A kiss to her cheekbone, her temple. “I just thought, maybe, that you’d been thinking about this for a while.”

“Hm, not really, no.” Lena feels Kara’s smirk against her forehead. “Just figured I’d give this a whirl. Spontaneous thing, surely you understand.”

Kara’s laugh is breathless as her cheek falls against Lena’s, and Lena curls herself around the blonde’s frame more tightly, blissfully tucking her head in the crook of her neck. 

Lena licks her lips, staring down at Kara’s shoulder as she catches her breath. But being pressed against her, their bodies intricately intertwined like they are, she feels as if she has a tactile visualization of Kara, she doesn’t need to look her in the eyes.

It feels safer this way, actually. The euphoria in her chest is massive, it’s all-encompassing and Lena thinks she needs to calm down for a second or her heart might burst because Lena can’t remember the last time she was so happy, so relieved, so liberated.

“Can I ask you something?” she says quietly, fingering the small hairs at the back of Kara’s neck. 

“No, I’m closed for business right now, actually. Can you check back in later?” Kara tightens her arms around Lena’s waist even as says this, buries her face into Lena’s hair and blows into her ear, and Lena giggles and swats her away.

“You’re being an idiot,” she laughs, pulling back to catch the cheeky grin on Kara’s face. The bartender’s cheeks are flushed, strays of her hair askew and wispy around the sides, but her eyes are gleaming.

“Just around you.” Kara’s smile softens into a cute, dimpled smile that makes her look younger, and Lena’s heart melts. “What’s the question?”

Lena’s legs are growing sore and they fall to Kara’s sides but she still holds the woman close, dangles her arms over her shoulders and drops her gaze to Kara’s pink lips. “Were you going to kiss me at midnight? You told me to find you before the ball drops.”

Her already red cheeks only darken, and Kara’s mouth is pinched with sheepishness as she hesitates. “That would have been a really cool idea but no. I dunno, I was just gonna like, hug you or something.”

Lena bites her bottom lip, stares at Kara blankly, and sighs. “You really are so stupid.”

When Lena tugs Kara’s mouth back to hers, Kara smiles against her lips and Lena thinks this just might be sweeter than blue raspberry cotton candy.

They don’t actually get the chance to watch the clock tick midnight, and there’s the boom of celebrations and pounding music from outside and other apartments all throughout so there’s just a ten minute window they know it falls somewhere in. Otherwise, they’re completely wrapped in each other, all exploring hands and urgent, enthusiastic kisses. It ranges from Lena hopping off the counter so that Kara is just straight up carrying her, insisting that she wants to go to Kara’s bedroom right now, to Kara draping her softly over the couch with an affectionate laugh.

“Kara, this is the couch.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I said your bed.”

“Everyone’s gonna be back any second now.” Even as she says this, though, Kara’s hands are running under Lena’s dress, her cold fingers sloping over Lena’s sensitive, tingling skin and Lena rocks up into her touch, tugs Kara more tightly against her. But Kara remains elusive and firm, hovering, not quite giving in, and Lena groans.

“I don’t care , we’ll give them a fucking show then.”

“Lena I don’t think—”

When the front door bursts open, Lena shoves Kara off her in alarm and the blonde crashes onto the floor with a muffled shout.

“Oh hey guys,” Lena calls coolly as she rises from the couch as gracious as water, tugging down her dress and fixing her hair. “We didn’t miss the fireworks, did we?”

Lucy and Alex are at the front of the group, and they pause mid-laughter as they take in Lena’s nonchalant radiance and Kara slowly climbing to her feet, groaning in the living room.

They look at each other apprehensively. Lucy scratches her nose and Alex says, “Uh, yeah. You guys did.”

“You okay over there, Little Danvers?”

“Yep!” Kara calls back stiffly, stretching out her joints. “I was just, ah, getting some yoga in real quick.”

Everyone else is pouring into the apartment now and spreading out, mostly unaware of Lena and Kara’s erratic behavior, but Alex isn’t letting it go just yet. “Uh-huh… you hate yoga.”

Lena frowns and turns back to the blonde. “You told me you’d go to a yoga class with me next week.”

Wide-eyed, Kara glances between the three woman nervously. “Um. New Year’s resolution?”

Alex and Lucy share a knowing snicker, and Lena gives Kara a playfully stern look that implies they’ll talk about this later.

“Whatever, anyway, it got cold, so we’re moving down here. Come help me cut the cake,” Alex tells her sister, nodding at the fridge.

Kara gives Lena an adorably timid smile as she passes her by, and Lena struggles to suppress her own. Because honestly? She doesn’t care much at all about hiding this from their friends. She’s really only holding off from screaming out the window that she wants Kara to fuck her brains out because their nosiness would only stall off however long it’ll take for Lena to get Kara alone again.

She’s a woman with a mission, you see.

It doesn’t change the fact that Sam’s got a shit-eating grin as Lena approaches her in the kitchen.

Lena, plucking Sam’s champagne from her hands, manages to feign cool indifference for about thirty seconds.

“Yes, so, I might have taken your advice. Seized my happiness, all that.” 

“Mhm. I can see that.”

Lena gives Sam a questioning glance over the rim of the cup, and her friend gestures to her mouth. 

“Your lips look like you did that suction cup challenge.”

Lena snorts her champagne, the bubbling wine dribbling down her chin, and Sam cackles wickedly, patting Lena on the back. Nia checks over and asks what’s so funny, wants in on the joke, and when Lena just continues to be a stammering fool, much like Kara before, Sam only laughs harder.

The party shows no sign of dying down.

Two never-ending, unfathomably deep cups of champagne later, Lena expects to have cooled off some, less frantic in her resonating desire, but Sam comments more than once on her eye-fucking across the room and, well. The alcohol maybe only makes it worse, and if Kara’s not going to be taking her pants off anytime soon then she could at least have her hands on her.

After she catches Kara’s eye, who’s mid-conversation with Kelly across the room, and the blonde gives her a tiny wave and mouths I miss you, Lena loses her self-control.

This quickly transitions into Lena re-glueing herself to Kara’s side for the rest of the night, and all things considered, it’s not much different from how the evening started. Actually, it’s not different at all. Everyone still laughs and jokes with them like normal, no one bats an eye at the way Kara’s got her arm looped around Lena’s shoulders and how Lena’s hand is tucked into the back pocket of Kara’s jeans. Sam of course keeps up with the meaningful looks and wiggling eyebrows, but even she wanes off, gets distracted. 

Lena catches Sam more than few times chatting with Alex privately in a corner of the party over the next couple hours, and oh, she knows she’ll ask about that later. 

It feels cathartically different from hanging to Siobhan’s side at a party, being an A-list lesbian Hollywood couple that was a fan favorite and a sharply fabricated image. Before, Lena was an artifact, a demonstration. Now she’s just part of the moving tide.

Lena didn’t think someone like Kara could possibly know who Lena is and still care about her so much, didn’t think she could have a room of people like this want to spend their holiday with her, but here she is. There’s no scrabble for self-gain or a secondary agenda. There’s just Lena in Kara’s arms, as if it was imminent.

Lena does well to holster her other desires, aside from the relative groping and the occasional whisper into Kara’s ear. Actually, Lena’s even the one to win this game, because Kara eventually breaks around 2 a.m. and sneaks Lena away down the hall towards the bathroom when no one is paying attention.

Lena, giddy and gleeful, trots along as Kara pulls her by the hand away from the party, and when the door is finally closed, Lena immediately yanks Kara against her.

Kara gasps into Lena’s mouth, as if this is still unexpected, and Lena supposes it is in a way. She’s a little foggy now with the champagne in her system, and the night is starting to feel too dreamy and beautiful to be real. But if she is asleep, she will be sure to capitalize as much as she can on the chance to kiss Kara, because honestly there’s nothing else she should really be doing anyway.

“You need to—” Kara mumbles between kisses, her hands kneading Lena’s hips. “—stop saying stuff like—”

Lena drops from her tiptoes to kiss down the length of Kara’s neck, grazing her teeth over her soft Adam’s apple, and Kara sighs blithely under her attention.

Smiling, Lena kisses her way up to Kara’s jaw, licks the tip of her earlobe. “You really should feel how wet I am right now.” 

Kara’s entire body shivers before she’s pressing Lena more roughly back against the door.

“Yeah, that, stuff like that ,” Kara groans, grabbing Lena’s face with both hands and prying her lips apart with her own. Lena sinks into the kiss with a hum, and she’d sag down to the floor in a puddle of bliss if it weren’t for Kara’s delicious iron grip on her.

“I can deal with it myself later if you really want.” Lena hooks her fingers through the front belt loops of Kara’s jeans. She slacks a little with the coyness, hesitates. “I mean, if this is too much too fast, we don’t—”

“No,” Kara practically growls. “No, no, I definitely, um, want to be the one. To take care of that.”

Lena grins. “Okay, so. Get rid of everyone.”

“I can’t.” Kara exhales defeatedly, nudging her nose against Lena’s. “Do you have any idea how late these guys can stay up? Last year we stayed up until seven.”

“Kara. I am not waiting five hours.”

“Okay what exactly do you expect me to do?”

“So you’re telling me that you have no reservations about having sex, but I’m supposed to just be fine with you not fucking me tonight because our friends are partying? This isn’t adding up.”

A small whine slips from Kara’s throat at that, and she sighs dramatically, her forehead falling against Lena’s. But then the corner of her mouth twists up and she meets Lena’s eye. “Our friends?” she echoes.

“Your friends plus Sam, whatever.”

“No, no.” Kara shakes her head and strokes Lena’s hair behind her ear, her smile wide and tender. “Our friends. I like that.”

“You are such an idiot.” Lena tries to feign exasperation, her lips tightly pressed together and her nose scrunched, but she knows she fails because there is something rather sweet about it, isn’t there? 

“You know, you keep saying that but you also keep kissing me, so.”

Of course Lena kisses her again, deep and desperate and annoyed and smitten, and Kara laughs into her mouth. But Lena inevitably pulls away again, takes her hand and pulls the door back open. At Kara’s pout to the end of their makeout session, Lena squeezes her fingers.

“We’re going to my place.”

“But the party’s still going on,” Kara points out as she follows Lena through the hallway.

“Kara. Ask me if I care.”

“Do you care that the party is still—”

“No.”

No one seems all that surprised when they return and Lena announces they’re leaving, together. 

Before they can make a clean break, however, Lucy and Alex are quick to Kara on each side. 

“Oh, before you go,” Alex says, tapping her sister’s shoulder. “Buncha stuff left on the roof. Help us bring it down and I won’t kill you for leaving me alone to host.”

On Kara’s other side, Lucy gives a saccharine smile, and Kara sighs.

She looks back to Lena. “I’ll be right back, then we can go?”

“Sure, do your thing.”

She lingers with Sam, and her best friend opens her mouth but Lena swivels on her quickly. “Not. One. Word.” 

Sam mimes a zipper over her mouth and Lena elbows her.

They manage to get everything downstairs but the lights and tables in only two trips, deciding to get the rest tomorrow, and Kara comes back to Lena’s side with a tight-lipped smile. 

They’re both given shit for leaving. Sam does to Lena, for leaving a party she brought her to without her, and Lucy to Kara for bailing early on an event she’s a co-hosting in her own apartment, but it’s all sarcastic and playful. Kara starts to apologize, even gets the words out, and Lena can see her wavering in her decision to leave with Lena, but her grip on Kara’s hand is unyielding as they grab their coats and she rushes them through the door.

She knows Sam’s mostly kidding anyways, that she completely endorses this chaos. And Lena’s gotten to know Lucy fairly well, she knows she’s maybe rooting for them a little too. Lena doesn’t let herself feel guilty. They have Kara year-round, this is her night.

It’s not long before they’re in the back of a car and Lena is weighing the pros and cons of a poor Lyft rating on her profile in favor of climbing into Kara’s lap and sucking her tongue into her mouth.

Her knee bounces and she settles for curling into Kara’s side under her arm, pressing into her warmth, inhaling her sweet scent.

Kara’s quiet on the ride over. Because Kara’s not saying anything, Lena’s not sure if that means she should or shouldn’t be saying anything but there’s nothing really to say, so. The sparse, few glances they do share are bordering on shy and juvenile, like Lena hasn’t been whispering obscenities in her ear for the last two hours about where exactly she wants Kara’s mouth.

Okay, maybe that’s why she’s feeling a little timid right now. Too much?

In a moment of nervous hesitance, Lena reaches across Kara’s lap for her wrist and pulls gently, a soft tug, until Kara takes her hand from her pocket. Kara still doesn’t say anything, and Lena all of a sudden feels too small to look her in the eye so she keeps her face buried into her shoulder as she takes her hand. There’s something inexorably different now about lacing her fingers through Kara’s. It’s the same warmth pressed against her palm, the same brush of dry knuckles under her fingertips. It’s the same person underneath her touch, but there’s an overwhelming inflation in her chest now that she doesn’t know how to name, what to identify it as.

When they pull up to Lena’s apartment, Kara doesn’t let go of her hand.

On the elevator ride up, Kara’s thumb brushes over the thin, silver ring on Lena’s index finger.

As Lena digs through her purse single-handedly for her keys, and Kara squeezes her fingers, Lena’s not sure where this is going but she thinks that she’s ready for the drop.

Because even after everything, if being with Kara is just the beginning of the end, that might be okay, she might be able to live with that.

Everything ends, of course, no one’s pretending otherwise. But maybe if Kara is that endpoint, her final destination, if her life comes to an end where Kara exists, then surely it’s a privilege to have even come this far at all.

The door clicks behind them, Lena flicks on the light of the foyer, and Kara’s hand falls from Lena’s.

Chapter Text

They stare at each other.

“Hi,” Lena says softly.

The pale fluorescent glow sprinkling over Kara’s twist of hair as it falls down her shoulders, the pink prize of her cheeks, the sweet turn of her lips, Lena thinks the applied theory of Kara might just be infinite.

Kara swallows, her hands back into her pockets. “Hi.”

Neither of them move, neither of them look anywhere else but at the other.

“I really—”

“So I think—”

They both stop, and Lena feels a slip of heat over her cheeks as Kara ducks her head.

“Sorry,” Kara says dryly. “You go ahead.”

Lena’s feeling a lot less brave and gutsy than she was before, but she thinks she might be doing a decent job of keeping her blush from spreading any further down her face. She levels her voice to stay low, keeps her tone even. 

“I was just going to say that I… I need you to touch me.”

No her blush is definitely spreading.

Kara tilts her head, her features softening, and she adoringly, finally, steps back to Lena, takes her face in her hands. Her palm is soft against Lena’s jaw, her long fingers looping behind her ear, and Lena wonders if this is what absolute security feels like.

Her face inches from Lena’s and with eyes like twilight, Kara’s soft smile drops at the corners. “Like this?” she murmurs, the pad of her thumb swiping across Lena’s cheekbone.

Lena covers Kara’s hand with her own, gaze flickering over her face. “Not exactly.”

“Lena.” Kara’s lips press into a thin line, but her gaze is glued to Lena’s mouth. “I’m sorry, I — I don’t think this is a good idea anymore.”

Lena’s stomach drops like glass shattering against the hardwood floor.

But she keeps on a tough face, holds herself strong. “If this isn't something you're ready for, I can go. I didn't mean to... pressure you."

Kara looks like she wants that even less. “That’s not what I mean.”

“Then… what?”

The bartender’s eyes wobble like rain drops down the window pane, and Lena hates it. 

“This. You and me.”

Kara’s hands fall away from Lena’s face.

There’s an immediate humiliation, a gut-wrenching anxiety that floods over Lena’s entire being like a sticky smoke screen, and it would be reflexive to shut down right now, to run, to hide, to cry in an alley or bury herself in her work and pretend none of this happened, that this isn’t happening, that Kara isn’t saying this to her and Lena isn’t suffocating, because of course all good things must come to an end.

But after all this time, she’d like to think she’s stronger than that.

“If you’re about to tell me this is all in my head, that I was wrong about this, then please don’t even try because we both know that’s bullshit,” Lena says a rush, like they’re low on time, because she’s strong enough to puff up her chest but she doesn’t know how long she can hold it out for. 

“No, no, Lena that’s not what I’m saying at all.” Kara runs her hands back through her hair, turns back into Lena’s living room. “Of course I want this, it’s just, it’s complicated, okay?”

Lena huffs. “Uncomplicate it then.”

“It’s not that simple, I mean—” Kara drops onto Lena’s couch exhaustedly. “I’m complicated.”

Lena stays standing in front of her, arms crossed. She’s honestly just feeling childish at this point. 

Like, okay, there’s probably no perfect moment for Kara to tell Lena the truth, but Lena sure as hell knows it’s not right now. She’d do anything to be rid of the lingering omen of Kara’s secret by now, she absolutely wants Kara to be honest with her, but really she’d rather just deal with that in the morning. 

Because now that she knows what kissing Kara feels like, she doesn’t want to stop, go back.

“Kara, listen. I don’t care.” She sinks onto the couch beside her, takes Kara’s stiffly coiled hands in her own. “I know you have baggage, and I know that you know I do too. But I don’t care. I want it, I want your complicated secrets and I want to show you mine, but I promise you that all of it can wait.”

Kara looks both so pained and endeared when she lifts her gaze to Lena. “There’s things you don’t know, stuff I haven’t told you, we — we can’t do this, I can’t do this to you—”

I don’t care.” Lena climbs over onto Kara’s lap and takes her face in her hands, desperate to make her understand. “All relationships are complicated, that’s how they are, and that’s the whole point. You get through it together. You can tell me everything, later, whenever you want, whenever you can.”

Kara’s already shaking her head, her breath coming in short, fragile breaths against Lena’s chin. “No, you don’t get it, you won't, you need to—”

“Please.” Lena’s voice is only a whisper. “Not now, please let it wait. Tomorrow, I promise, we can talk about everything but right now, please, understand there is nothing I will hold against you.”

“Why?” Kara’s hands rise to grasp Lena’s wrists, both comforting and frightened. “Why won’t you just let me say this? I need to be honest with you because everything is changing and we can’t just go back after this, I can’t let this happen without you knowing the full picture, without giving you the chance to judge for yourself whether you can trust me or not.”

Lena has spent so much time overanalyzing everything, reading between the lines, shredding the book apart. She scoured the internet for intimate details on Kara’s life, she spent three days following her around, she spied on her and she practically forced Kara to open up for her, to let her into the deepest nooks of her life and introduce her to her sister. Lena dug until there was nowhere left to go, until she hit the metal slate of an empty crater’s floor and kept pounding relentlessly as if there was more to unearth.

But there wasn’t.

Nothing is as black and white as she’s been desperate to see. There is no story where Kara is perfect, but there’s not one where she’s wicked and vile either. It’s not fair for Lena to project an impossible ideal onto her, to put Kara so high up on a pedestal that she can barely see the floor anymore. Kara doesn’t have to be completely innocent or fault-free, because that’s not real life, no one is, least of all Lena and she should understand that better than anyone.

For once she just wants to let go of her suffocating paranoia, this debilitating need to understand everything to the fullest extent imaginable. She just wants to lean on this feeling in her gut, this pull to trust, this drive she didn’t think existed, this unyielding blind faith in Kara when Lena never thought she could possibly believe this much in someone simply because she wants to.

She just wants to cling to that, if only for one more night.

“Because, darling, I already trust you.” Lena brushes her fingers over Kara’s trembling mouth, along her chin and over her jaw. “Because I want you to know that no matter what you tell me, it’s going to be alright. Because right now I only want you, and if you want me too, if this is what you want, if you're okay, then... We've been fools waiting for far too long already, don’t you think?”

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Kara’s eyes are wet now, her voice cracked and choked, and it makes Lena’s chest ache that she has the capability to bring Kara to the brink like this. It’s astonishing, because of course she knows Kara cares, but to see her unsteady and just as terrified as Lena is breathtaking, it’s a medium of art all on its own.

Lena’s hands wind up Kara’s arms until their spread across her collarbones, curling around the edges of her neck, but Kara just shakes her head frantically. 

“No, Lena, you don’t understand. I don’t wanna mess this up, and if we do this then I will, this won’t end well for either of us and I’m just going to ruin everything.”

Lena licks her lips, pulls back just enough to raise Kara’s chin and hold her pale gaze. “So ruin me.”

There’s a moment of suspension, of Kara’s unshed tears glistening under the lights, switching back and forth across Lena’s face, something like giving up, something like hope.

Kara’s the one to kiss her this time. She leans forward, cranes her neck.

It’s soft, just the plump press of her warm, wet mouth to Lena’s, a sensual twist of lips fitting together as easy as holding her hand. 

There’s a dampness that’s slippery between their cheeks as she kisses her back, and she doesn’t open her eyes to check but she thinks it’s Kara who’s crying. Lena murmurs sweet nothings into her mouth, massages her hands over her broad shoulders, wanting more than anything to alleviate her of her tears but at the same time mesmerized by the beauty of how intricately interlaced yearning and heartache can be.

Lena’s spent so long drinking in Kara’s safe embraces, her powerful care, has made a safety net out of her affection these last few months. Kara has made her feel like there’s nowhere else in the world she could be safer, even while standing on the brink of a cliff edge like this. 

She wants to repay the favor, wants to give Kara back everything she’s given her. 

Everything, everything.

Lena always imagined their first time would be frantic, hungry, playful. She’s had countless fantasies floating around her mind since the day they met. Since she first saw Kara step over the threshold of her apartment, she’s dreamed incessantly of Kara fucking her on the dining room table, of their clothes being strewn about the kitchen and her moans echoing off the crisp white walls and shimmering tiled floors. She thought the curtains would be drawn open and the city on full view, that they’d only have a few minutes to make this count before one of them has to go, that Lena would be reduced to only a stammering, whining mess, begging Kara to make her come, begging for more, always more. It’d be stifling and hot and Lena’s imagined it plenty of times but she never really pictured it like this.

She didn’t imagine shuffling back off Kara’s lap to her feet and holding out her hand, she didn’t imagine Kara would have tear stains down her cheeks intermixed with leftover smears of gold glitter from her abandoned New Year’s glasses. Kara looks so small, gazing back up at Lena, her vulnerability so loud in the darkness of this three a.m. affair. 

Lena’s been so terrified of showing any part of herself that she wonders if this is just as hard for Kara as it is for her.

“Are you okay?” she asks, walking backwards and leading her to the bedroom, reaching behind her to pull down the zipper of her low-back dress.

"Yes."

“Are you okay?” she asks as she guides Kara’s hands to slip under neckline of the fabric, to push it down her shoulders and caress down the slope of her skin.

"Y-Yes."

“Are you okay?” she asks as she steps out of it, as Kara’s mouth parts open like rose petals.

Lena runs her hands down the frontside of Kara’s clothed torso, leans into her sturdy weight with a sigh as Kara’s squeezes her hips and — timidly, modestly — pulls Lena’s body against hers. Lena presses slow, papery kisses to Kara’s jawline, her cheek, the corner of her mouth, all the while pressing her hands under the collar of her sweater and soothing over tense muscles.

“Is this okay?” she whispers again, finally, their mouths not even millimeters apart, practically still touching as she digs her hands deeper under Kara’s shirt, spreading it open to reveal chiseled collarbones. 

"Are you?"

"Much, much more than okay."

Kara just sighs before she dives.

Her whole demeanor changes and she shifts forward with a fresh flare of confidence, her hands immediately scooping under Lena’s ass and lifting her into her arms. Lena gasps into her mouth, and it’s with a dizzying burst of pure want between her legs that she hooks her ankles around Kara’s back, the blonde’s hands deliciously firm under her thighs.

The bed is only a few feet away, mere steps, and so it’s intoxicating that Kara isn’t lifting her for any practical reason but simply to show that she can.

Lena knows Kara needs to take this slow, that this isn’t the quick and rough she was desperate to rub out in Kara’s living room. This is delicate, the meeting of their lips, it’s sweeter than a springtime, it’s warm like morning coffee.

But it doesn’t change the hungry, sloppy way she kisses Kara as she’s carried to bed, tongue dipping into her mouth, breath hot and short. She scrapes her nails over Kara’s scalp, her tangled mess of hair. As her hands splay lower, down over the sweet strain of muscular shoulders, it’s painfully evident how much clothing Kara’s still wearing. Lena huffs impatiently as she yanks at the collar of her sweater, hooking one arm around Kara’s neck for support while the other struggles to fit down between their bodies and pull free the hem of this useless thing.

Lena’s just barely gotten the sweater up around Kara’s middle before she feels the jostle of Kara’s knees hitting the bed, and where she expects to be dropped onto the mattress, she’s instead lowered, slowly laid back into the sheets, as delicate as dandelions. This tender care just leaves Lena more desperate, more eager for Kara’s touch, for her body, her worship, and she cants her hips upwards into Kara’s, fisting her hands into her top to pull her closer.

When Kara separates their mouths for only a second, to readjust her hold as she crawls over her, Lena only gets just a moment to tear the sweater off over Kara’s head. It catches her off guard, which is ridiculous, and Lena lets out an ecstatic laugh when Kara loses her balance, her elbow slipping, and she collapses on top of Lena with an adorable grunt.

“You are such a brat,” Kara grumbles, pushing herself back up to hover over Lena.

With a space finally between them, Lena’s already working at the buttons of Kara’s wrinkled shirt with a smirk. “This is old news, darling. And you’re still wearing too many clothes. Are you going to help me take this off, or what?”

Kara licks her lips as her gaze drags down to the rise and fall of Lena’s chest, the swell of flesh straining underneath black lace. 

“Huh. I hadn’t noticed, I was a little busy.”

“Well, I’m noticing.” Lena undoes her belt buckle once she finishes with the shirt, flicks open the button of her jeans. “Please learn to multitask and fix it.”

The side of Kara’s mouth lifts in a smirk. “You’re saying please already?”

Lena rolls her eyes, and tugs petulantly on her pants, struggling to get them down her hips. “Yes, and you won’t hear it again if you’re not naked in five seconds.”

Kara rushes to kick off her clothes rather quickly after that, though she does get tangled up in pulling her sports bra over her head and stumbles backwards, and it sends Lena rolling onto her side with laughter again. When Kara finally comes back down over her, pushing her onto her back and straddling her waist, her cheeks are red and she’s pouting.

“You’re being so mean to me right now.” Kara sits back up on Lena’s lap, refusing to bend back down for Lena’s wanting lips. “I feel like you’re supposed to be nicer than this.”

Kara looks ethereal like this, her bare chest, the crease of a toned stomach like a ribbon down her middle, her hair disheveled and chaotic. It’s dark in Lena’s room, neither of them had a thought to flick on the lights, but with the curtains drawn back, moonlight spills into the room and it leaves her skin glowing silver, her eyes glassy like stars.

Lena smiles, bringing her hands up to Kara’s bare waist and she rolls her hips up into the woman on top of her. She delights in the way Kara stutters, how her jaw drops open as her sensitive center rubs against the skin of Lena’s pelvis, she can feel the slick trail it leaves behind, and Lena’s grin widens. 

“I can do whatever I want, and you know you’re gonna let me,” she tells her.

Kara nods stiltedly, distractedly, hardly listening to her words as she grinds down onto Lena’s lower abdomen. “Uh-huh, yeah, probably.”

“You know, for someone who didn’t want to do this five minutes ago, you are already extremely wet for me.”

A moan like a hum growls in Kara’s throat, and she bites on her bottom lip. “That— that is so not what I said, I never said I didn’t want this.”

Lena watches the woman on top of her, someone both timid with her desire but unabashed in her sexuality, how she exposes and opens herself for Lena like this, her bare chest, her muscled stomach. Kara’s eyes flutter like she’s struggling to even keep them open, and Lena’s mesmerized in how she’s barely even touched her and Kara already seems to be unravelling, just getting herself off by rubbing herself against Lena’s body. 

Lena never knew that being used could be so fucking hot.

She squeezes the jutting corner of Kara’s hips, feeling a tight build up in her chest, and she doesn’t know if it has to do more with the erratic throbbing between her legs, the arousal like a flood of heat over her entire body, or it’s simply overwhelming adoration for this stupid , goofy, idiot blonde on top of her. All she knows is that there’s a well of something pressing behind her eyes, this unfolding exhilaration, the understanding that this is really happening.

Lena swallows, lifts her hips up to meet Kara’s slow, lazy rhythm, because they can take their time, they have all night. Sure, most the fantasies are about Kara nailing her to the wall and fucking her until she can’t walk, but this perhaps leaves her knees even weaker, this exploration of each other’s bodies like learning a new language, archiving and documenting every inch.

They can take their time. 

That takes a moment to sink in, to really register. Lena’s not running, there is no countdown, no impending doom around the corner. This is just her and Kara, the strokes of skin sloping against skin, a soft flurry of tender care and no one can take this from her.

“Kara.”

“Yeah, babe?” Kara’s head lolls forward, her hair cascading over her front as she meets Lena’s eyes.

The pet name falls so seamlessly, so easily from Kara’s mouth, and Lena preens under its glorious weight. 

 “Kiss me again,” Lena sighs, practically a whine.

Kara doesn’t even answer her, doesn’t hesitate to bend back down and immediately find Lena’s mouth, her breath coming in short, hot pants.

Lena winds her arms around Kara’s neck, pulls Kara’s bare body back up against her. Kara gasps when there’s the wet slip of her clit dragging down Lena’s midsection, the way it rubs over her skin, and Lena’s not even sure who’s moan she tastes in her mouth at this point, and suddenly it's not enough. Of course it’s sexy as hell for their bodies to work together like this without their hands, but out of nowhere bursts a primal need in Lena to know more, feel more. 

She’s painfully turned on, and Kara hasn’t even laid a hand on her. She keens into Kara’s body as she sucks on Kara’s bottom lip, wondering if she can translate through the heat of her tongue how badly she needs to be touched but also how eager she is to make this last as long as it can. Kara responds easily, her mouth opening for her and Lena wants to inhale all of her, to never breathe anything again but Kara’s steaming breath.

It starts with a nudge up against Kara’s shoulder with her own, and then she’s pushing the blonde onto her back and swinging herself over her. Kara’s too twisted in her desire and distracted by lust to stop her, she flops back against the mattress, and her dumbfounded gaze up at Lena is mesmerized.

“So, can I taste you now?” Lena asks coolly, her hands already rolling over Kara’s chest, gentle squeezes under the swells of her breasts, just a bare brush over her stiff nipples.

Kara sighs and squirms beneath her. “Why do you have to say stuff like that?”

“Because I want to see if it’s as good as I imagine. Please?”

Lena smiles at the strangled noise Kara makes, and she leans down into her neck, grazes her teeth over her pulse point. Kara’s throat bobs beneath her lips, her breaths growing shorter as Lena starts to suck in patches of her skin, not hard enough to bruise but far too light for how she really wants to paint her with an everlasting evidence of this night.

“You, um, you imagine this a lot?” Kara asks in a squeak, her hands sloping over Lena’s backside.

Lena nods even though Kara can’t exactly see her, and she slides down Kara’s body, leaving wet kisses down the center of her chest, over her soft breasts. Her hands wander up and down Kara’s sides, mapping out the muscles and tendons, figuring out where the goosebumps rise strongest, where Kara’s most sensitive, before settling again around Kara’s chest and skimming over hard, shivering nipples.

“Sometimes, now and then,” Lena murmurs as she presses gentle, soft kisses across her sternum. “But to be honest, usually I’m thinking about you going down on me.”

Kara groans as Lena closes her lips around a nipple, swirling her tongue slowly around it but never quite over it.

“Really?” Kara coughs, inhales sharply between her nose and Lena feels a hand tangle into her hair, cradling the back of her head and holding her against Kara’s chest.

Lena laughs and nods again. “Mhm. You have nice lips, seem like you’d be really good at it.”

“I would be. I mean, I am, I—”

Lena suddenly sucks her in hard, pinches the other between her fingers, and Kara jolts beneath her, gasps electrically, and Lena is beginning to wish that she’d had better foresight in taking her panties off first.

“Your tongue is also ridiculously long, if you haven’t noticed.” Lena trails lower over Kara’s abdomen, leaving her hands to massage over Kara’s deliciously hot skin as she kisses gently above Kara’s belly button. “I’ve thought about it inside me, how your face would look between my legs. How good you’d look on your knees for me.”

Kara’s hips are twitching by the time Lena makes it that low, just over the black elastic of her briefs, and Lena can smell her thick heat now, can feel the warmth of her wetness through the cloth.

Lena readjusts so she can slide down the bed and lie between Kara’s legs more easily, her hands dropping to roam over her muscular thighs, squeezing close to the crease of her pelvis before she hooks them loosely under the lip of her underwear.

“I also think about you touching me. Sometimes when I’m at work, or in a meeting, I’d imagine where your hands would be if you were there.”

“Where?” Kara immediately breathes out, and Lena glances up with a smirk only to find the blonde staring resolutely at the ceiling.

Lena bites down on her hip, hard, until Kara jerks and looks down, meets her eyes. Kara’s eyes are heavy and dark, no longer wet with pained reluctance but now shadowed with a sweltering greed.

“If it’s at work, just on my leg, my thigh under the table. Sometimes I’m wearing a dress, I’ll wonder how far you’d be willing to go, if you’d want to.” Lena pulls the waistband down, slowly, presses stray, soft kisses to every inch of new skin revealed.

“And if it’s not at work?” Kara breathes out, lifting her hips for Lena.

Lena smirks, pulling the undergarment down over her legs. “If we’re at Roulette, to be honest I usually just think about your hands on my ass, who would notice.” She sighs suddenly, presses her cheek to the inside of her thigh so that her breath laps against Kara’s bare center. “God, Kara, I seriously have dreams about you grabbing my ass.” 

She can feel the slight jostle of sheets as Kara digs her head back and groans, quiet, restrained, and all Lena wants is to push her over the edge.

“What if it’s just us?”

Lena lifts an eyebrow, her hands kneading the underside of Kara’s strong thighs, her thumbs straying just close to where Kara wants them — to where Lena herself wants to put them, but she holds out.

“If we’re alone.” Lena presses her lips to just the delicate, swollen edge of Kara’s folds, and Kara whimpers. “Everywhere, really. I want you to touch me everywhere.”

Just as she moves to press her mouth over her, to give her everything, all too suddenly Kara’s scrambling down and grabbing her arms, flipping Lena this time onto her backside with a startling display of strength.

Kara’s expression is hard, sharp as she climbs back over her. 

“What are you doing?” Lena asks breathlessly.

“I changed my mind.”

She swallows thickly, moves to sit up. “Oh, yeah th-that’s, that’s completely fine, we can stop, we can—”

“No, Lee.” Kara interrupts, pushing her back down, pinning her wrists over her head in a swift move that makes her shoulders stretch, leaves her dizzy with desire. Kara’s voice is deep like Lena’s never heard, gravelly and cocky just inches from her mouth. “I’m gonna fuck you first. Okay?”

The heat that splashes over Lena like hot water is riveting, like a blush soaking up her chest and over her face, Lena thinks she could come just from that dangerous tone alone, humid and crisp in her ear. And perhaps she realizes now that she loves how Kara never swears in regular conversation, because hearing it now for the first time, oh, it sends a thrill down her spine, and she keens into Kara’s coarse touch, the rough way she handles her. 

With one hand crawling between Lena’s legs, her fingers cupping over the damp center of her panties, the other still holding her wrists above her head, and Kara’s mouth close against Lena’s ear, she asks, her voice husky and hot and drowning , “So, these dreams of yours. How many of my fingers can you take?”

And Lena’s too far gone to think about much of anything else after that.

xx

Pale trickles of orange are seeping across the skyline by the time they’re finished, by the time Lena’s shed off the gasping aftermath of another orgasm and has steadied her spinning vision. The nerve endings of her skin still palpitate with sensitivity, almost aftershocks of pleasure, but her eyelids have never been so heavy in her life as she turns over onto Kara. Kara’s still a bit sticky with sweat, still starry eyed and staring blankly at the ceiling, but she doesn’t object as Lena curls under her arm and crawls into her side. She opens up her shoulder, urges Lena closer, and her arm wraps around Lena’s bare backside and cradles her tight. 

Lena hums contentedly as she nudges her head under Kara’s chin and tucks a leg over the bartender, knowing full well she’s probably cuddling way too much right now for how much sex they just had. But she also knows that Kara would push her off if she really wanted. Maybe.

“Hey.” Kara’s fingers skim tiredly over Lena’s lower back. “Remember when I said we had to wait to do that until everyone left?”

Lena giggles into Kara’s neck, a smile blooming over her face, and Kara laughs beneath her.

“Yes. I also remember kissing you with cheese still in your mouth.”

“Okay, that’s totally your fault. You could’ve given me a heads up.”

If Lena’s eyes were open she’d be rolling them, but she settles for squeezing Kara’s waist. “Don’t even pretend you were surprised.”

She feels Kara lift her head, and Lena tilts back her own to meet her incredulous gaze. 

“Are you kidding me? I’ve never been more caught off guard in my life. And that’s including the time I accidentally ate two of Lucy’s special brownies before work.”

Lena snorts this time, buries her grin and shakes her head. “You can’t be serious, you must have known this was coming. Do you think I’m just this affectionate with all my friends? Let them sleep in my bed, stay awake until four in the morning to let them in?”

“I mean, I dunno what you and Sam get up to.” Lena pinches her and Kara just laughs. “I don’t know what you want me to say! I just didn’t think you’d, I mean, like actually … you know.”

Lena shifts to see her face better, drags her fingers over Kara’s collarbones. “Actually what? Like you?”

Kara’s throat bobs with a swallow, and she chuckles dryly. “No, I mean, I hoped you did. But even if you did, I don’t know… I just, I wasn’t sure if you’d ever want this. Like, enough to do something about it.”

“Kara this is exactly why I’m always calling you an idiot.”

She laughs, loud and unweighted, and Lena feels the vibration through her entire body. It makes her impossibly warm, her glee is infectious, and she feels like she’s drunk with how happy she is right now.

“So you do, huh?” Kara’s eyes are round and whole, doting and endeared, as she finds Lena’s gaze as easily as one finds the sun. “You like me?”

Something quakes under Lena’s tongue, churns in her throat. Like it’s ready, like it’s broiling the roof of her mouth, like it’s desperate to come out. She’s been ready to say it for longer than she’d care to admit, and it’s still too suffocating to say. She wants to, she wants to, but— 

“Of course, you dork.” Lena smiles, laying her head back down to Kara’s chest. “Of course I like you.”

Kara’s hand is soothing in its strokes over her back, feather-light and gentle. “Cool. I like you too.”

Lena’s exhausted from the last three hours, a deep bone-tired she’s never known, but she’s also still too wired to sleep quite yet, and she thinks Kara might feel the same. They just drift into the quiet, Kara’s caresses languid and slow and Lena’s breath steady against the soft skin of Kara’s neck.

She can hear Kara’s heartbeat finally slowing, her breathing evening out as if she’s almost asleep, when something occurs to her.

“Kara?”

The blonde mumbles something incoherent. 

“What’s that drink called?”

“Mm. What drink?”

“The one you always make me.” Lena draws circles over Kara’s stomach with her finger, slow, tired.

“Oh, um… it’s kind of a twist on a Manhattan, I guess.”

“But what is it?”

Kara’s breath is soft against her forehead, dreamy. “It’s called a National Love Story.”

Enough light to fill a canyon swells in Lena’s throat. “And you don’t like it?”

“No, I never really liked whiskey. But I’ve always thought it was pretty. Elegant. I thought you might like it.”

Lena’s electric energy settles, finally, dissipates. “I do. I really do.”

She dreams of sun-drenched skies, of a fall that doesn’t hit the ground.

xx

It’s only mere hours late that Lena is stirred awake, and at first it’s not clear why she’s even groggily blinking her eyes open, what’s woken her. She twists around in the sheets and burrows into her pillow until she can make out the tell-tale vibrations of her phone, muffled but insistent.

By the time she finds it, stretching over the edge of the bed for her clutch on the floor, she’s less than pleased to see Sam’s blurry face on her screen.

“The fuck do you want?” she grumbles, rolling onto her back. Beside her, Kara makes a cute huff in her sleep, and she turns over so her tanned back is to Lena.

Sam’s booming voice in her ear is disorienting. “Oh my god, holy shit, you have to tell me everything, oh my god, please tell me you got laid. Did you get laid? Why are you so grumpy if you got laid? Oh my god, tell me everything.”

“Please, talk quieter, I’m begging you. What— what time is it?”

“It’s nine, I wanted to let you sleep in a little.”

“Christ Sam, can we talk later? I went to bed like three hours ago.”

“No, I have to pick up Ruby in less than two hours, and I don’t want her to hear all the filthy details. But I do. I want to hear all of them. So are you on your way yet?”

Lena huffs, pouting. She’s not going back to sleep, is she? 

“You have so much fucking energy for how much you drank last night,” she says quietly as she crawls out of bed, careful not to wake Kara. “What time did you even get home?”

“I just came in. I paid the babysitter to stay overnight.”

Lena pauses in the bathroom, midway to closing the door. “You mean… you stayed over?”

“I’m telling you, Luthor. We have a lot to talk about. What’s your ETA?”

Lena rubs at her crusted, bleary eyes, exhales defeatedly. “Give me half an hour. You better have coffee ready.”

“Of course, my sweet angel, anything for you.”

Lena rolls her eyes as she hangs up.

xx

The last thing she wants is to leave Kara behind in her bed, especially a naked, snoring one with a hickey under her jaw and deliciously pink, parted lips, but Lena does. She presses a kiss to Kara’s messy hair, and the blonde makes a soft sound under her touch but otherwise doesn’t stir again. 

She leaves a note on the nightstand beside her, along with a glass of water, and heads for Sam’s.

She’s later than she said she would be, and Sam texts her incessantly to hurry up in the car ride over, and Lena’s torn between fatigued irritation and fond amusement with her friend by the time she makes it to her house. Sam swings open the door before Lena’s even made it up to the porch, and she looks more radiant and excited than Lena’s seen her in years.

“I honestly don’t know whether I want to tell you about my night or hear about yours, they’re both pressing matters and I have a feeling I’m going to be thrilled either way.”

Lena winces as Sam crushes her in a hug, and she closes the door behind her. “How about you go first while I drink my coffee?”

“Deal.”

Sam guides Lena into the kitchen like she’s elderly, ushers her into a stool at the breakfast bar. Lena;s barely even blinked before a steaming cup of coffee is placed in front of her, and she inhales the bitter, roasted aroma eagerly, curling her fingers around the mug.

She expects Sam to sit with her, but Sam’s practically bouncing off the walls and she instead paces around the kitchen.

She waves flippantly. “Okay, go.”

“So, first of all, I’d like to preface that Alex is better with a strap-on than literally any person with a dick I’ve ever fucked in my life, oh my god I’m still sore.”

Lena snorts her hot coffee.

Sputtering, Lena wipes her chin and takes a proffered napkin thankfully. “Um, I think I need  you to back up. Like a lot.”

Sam bites on her lip like a pining teenager, her grin splitting across her face with childlike elation. She pours into the details of last night, starting with them arriving at the party and Lena immediately splitting off into Kara’s arms. In retrospect, Lena maybe should have done a better job at introducing Sam into the mix of Kara’s friends, but in her defense she had met Lucy and a couple others at Roulette the few times Lena had brought her already.

After the bobbing for apples mess, while Kara and Lena were doing god even knows what, Sam got to talking with Lucy, who got her talking to Kelly, who then introduced her to Alex. One thing led to another, and then Alex’s dry sense of humor and laid back demeanor had Sam enraptured (Sam’s words, not Lena’s). They bonded over Kara and Lena’s behaviors, how blind and foolish they both were being — at this, Lena raises an eyebrow but Sam ignores her — and somehow the conversation with Ruby eventually surfaced. And after the cornhole tournament, they spent nearly half an hour scrolling through photos on Sam’s phone, everything from Ruby’s infant days, a picture of Sam in her cap and gown with just a small, pudgy baby in her arms, all the way up to Ruby’s first soccer game and mud-tracked cheeks, grass-stained knees. Alex was entertained and charmed, completely endeared with the photos. The couple times that Sam apologized for going off on a tangent about her daughter, shaking her head and trying to steer the topic to something more interesting for the other woman, Alex balked and insisted keep going. And then, as the party went on, while Lena was probably jumping on Kara’s shoulders or dancing like she had any rhythm, Sam and Alex stayed in their corner of the roof, sharing stories of their lives, getting to know each other.

“Lena, I can’t remember the last time someone actually just… like,” Sam flounders, shaking her head. “Most people just ask this stuff because it’s what you do, right? You’re supposed to ask, it’s polite, but she just seemed like she really wanted to know me , you get what I’m saying?”

Lips pursed into an amused smile, chin in hand, Lena laughs. “Yeah, love, I do.”

“And then you came up, and we talked, and then you went all Cameron Díaz off to find your woman, and then—” Sam smirks, chuckles. “Alex actually kept asking me where you two went, and she almost went to go and find you before midnight, so you’re welcome, I talked her out of it.”

Lena widens her eyes mockingly. “Oh, my hero.”

“Yeah, you bet. Anyway, so I actually thought her and that girl Kelly were a thing, right? They seemed pretty friendly, but apparently they’re just exes and are good friends now, supposedly? I’m not sure what happened there. And I was like, cool, but secretly I was celebrating because, well, that’s awesome for me.”

“Really hit the jackpot there, huh.”

“So it hits midnight, and oh — you really missed a show actually, it was so beautiful Lena. There were fireworks over the city and that guy Winn, him and Lucy shot a confetti cannon and it just, it was a little surreal. Our connection was magical and there was all this color and music everywhere, and while everyone else was popping the champagne bottles, I was just standing with Alex, and I didn’t know what to say because there was no way I was kissing this girl, we just met. But then she — and I seriously cannot make this up, so don’t even try me — she caught a piece of the confetti, plucked it right out of the air, and she just smiled and handed it to me and was like, here, this is for you.” Sam sighs wistfully, finally stopping in her pacing and leaning against the breakfast bar. “It was so, so cute, you have no fucking idea.”

Lena actually does soften at that, and she laughs at how starry-eyed Sam is. “Okay, and what happened after I left?”

Sam wiggles her eyebrows, and Lena grimaces. “So the party was actually still going on until four, and honestly we just kept talking. She told me about her and Kara growing up and living together now, and she mentioned she’d been away for a few weeks, but when I asked where she went, she didn’t seem like she wanted to talk about it. But yeah, so, around four though, she started getting really sweet, like I’m talking smooth ass moves you couldn't even dream of. You should take note, Luthor.”

“My moves work fine, thanks.”

“Yeah, sure.” Sam takes a heaving breath, recenters herself. “And I was great at flirting back, obviously, I was doing fantastic. And then, seriously I was working myself up to just ask her for her number and maybe even a date, but then she just asked me, point blank — would it be out of line if I kissed you right now?

Lena purses her lips, thinking about how she approached Kara with a hundred questions, and shrugs. “Okay, maybe she is a little smoother than me.”

“Told you. And obviously I said no, it wouldn’t be at all, but I was like, all your friends are still here, and so she asked if I’d rather that they weren’t. I was like, what? And she just asked me if I wanted them to leave. And I asked her what we would do if they all left, and she was all, whatever you want, in this really fucking sexy voice, and so I said yeah, kick everybody out. So she did.”

Lena’s hand falls to the counter beside her coffee. “No she did not, you’re lying.”

Sam scoffs with an incredulous grin. “She did! I’m not kidding. She whistled, like fucking whistled, and told everyone the party was over and to go home. And so they did.”

“You know I told Kara to do that, and she said I was just going to have to wait?”

Sam cackles, claps her hands. “So, I definitely got the better one then.”

“Hey.” Lena holds out a finger. “Watch it.”

Sam holds her hands up defensively with a cocky smirk. “Alright, defend your girl, I get it.”

“Okay, so then what happened?”

“What do you think happened? We fucked, Lena. She fucked the life out of me. I’ve never been fucked like that in my life, I almost begged her this morning to do it again.”

Lena snickers. “What stopped you?”

Sam gives Lena a mischievous, droll sort of smile, and she crosses her arms. “Because someone else owes me some details. Also she was still sleeping when I left. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“For…?”

“Uh, hello, I’m the one that talked some sense into you. I am single-handedly responsible for keeping your love life afloat and moving.”

Lena raises an eyebrow, and Sam huffs.

“Okay, whatever, don’t thank me. So, how was the sex? What’s she like in bed? Did she do anything freaky?”

Lena finishes off the last sips of her coffee and rises to fetch more. “Yes, okay, we had sex. But I’m not telling you about it.”

Sam whines. “Oh come on, why not?”

“Because you are way too invested in my sex life, Sam, it’s concerning.”

Sam whacks her with a kitchen towel, and Lena just barely avoids spilling her fresh cup of coffee. She snatches the rag back and makes back to her seat. 

“Okay, look, it was wonderful. It was… amazing, honestly. Life-changing.” Lena sighs as she sinks into the chair, remembering the way Kara’s sturdy hands grabbed and worked at her skin, her hot, gasping moans into Lena’s mouth as she was three-knuckles deep into her, the red scratches she left down the blonde’s back.

“Do you need a cold shower or something?”

Lena blinks her eyes back down to Sam’s skeptical frown. “Oh, shut up. It was wonderful, yes, it was everything I’d imagined and more, but…”

Sam immediately looks concerned. “But? There’s a but? Why’s there a but? There shouldn’t be a but.”

“No no, not a bad but.” Lena bites the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. “I just, I spent so much time being afraid of how I felt for her, of what was going on in her head, whether she felt the same or whether this was all just a game to her.”

An article, a lie, the truth, was it all one in the same?

“I was torturing myself, refusing to let anything happen between us, delaying any possibility of it and ultimately existing in this miserable purgatory, because apparently that was easier than facing the chance that… that she…”

“That she didn’t like you back?”

That Kara was using her, that none of it meant anything from the start, that this was all a mistake and Lena never should have trusted her in the first place.

“Yeah, I suppose. That she didn’t care about me, not like how I care about her, and that maybe I wasn’t being paranoid in thinking I might not ever be deserving of someone like her. That maybe there was a catch. But now?” Lena laughs softly. “I don’t know. Maybe I can have it all.”

Sam smiles tenderly, and she reaches across the bar to take Lena’s hand. “Yeah, you big dummy, you really can. I’m glad she makes you happy, ‘cause I like her.”

Lena laughs wetly, her heart overflowing. “You do?”

“I mean, she’s a bit nerdy for my taste, but she’s hot. And most of all, she’s sweet.” Sam smiles, glancing up somewhere behind Lena. “I remember back in college, some of the girls you’d go out with, bring home. None of them lasted very long, you were too focused for anything serious. But then you brought Siobhan over, and she kept coming back, and you were happy. You seemed it, anyway. And I was happy for you, obviously, you’re my best friend. It was nice to see you doing something for yourself for once. But I never understood what you saw in her.”

Lena rolls her eyes. “Yes, yes, I know you don’t like her.”

“No, I mean — yes that’s true, but I didn’t like her for you. She was nice enough, pretty, talented, smart. She cared about you from what I could tell, she liked being around you. You two were cute together, you looked good on those magazine covers. But I just always had this vague idea in my head of who you’d end up with someday, of a person that actually deserved you. I didn’t think someone like that existed, I thought my standards were too high, nobody really measured up. You have the biggest heart in the world, Lena, and because of that I always thought that no matter who you chose, you’d be settling.”

Lena swallows thickly, forcing the sappy sting of tears behind her eyes away. “I really hope there’s a but coming.”

Sam chuckles. “Okay listen, I don’t know her super well, I’m definitely gonna need to suss-out the field a bit more, but if anyone could measure up to my insane bar, I don’t know, I think it’s her.”

Lena ducks her chin and laughs, embarrassed at the swell of emotion, and she wipes at her tired eyes. “Thank you, Sam. You don’t know how much that means to me.”

Sam shrugs, winks. “Think I have an idea. Wanna come with me to pick up Ruby? Told her we’d go see that new Dora movie.”

She can’t wait to crawl back into bed with Kara, it’s a palpable itch to poke back under her arm and snuggle into her chest and sleep the day away. But looking at her smiling best friend across from her, the circles under her eyes from a late night, well. 

Kara can wait, because she’s not going anywhere, and they can take their time.

xx

When she makes it out of the movie and they’re all climbing into Sam’s car, it’s just after one, and she goes to power her phone back only to realize it died after not being charged the night before.

“Hey, you mind if I plug my phone in?” 

“Sure.” Sam leans over the center console, reaches for the pocket behind Lena’s seat, and returns with a wire she hands over. “You want me to drive you home? I still can’t believe you left her like that.”

Plugging her phone in, Lena scoffs. “Oh, don’t even start with me, you should have heard yourself this morning. You were so excited to gossip you would have come over yourself if I didn’t leave.”

Before Sam can respond, Ruby pipes up from the backseat. “What gossip?”

Lena chuckles as Sam makes hesitant eye contact with her daughter in the rearview mirror. “Your Auntie Lena has a special new friend, and I needed to… um, make sure that she’s nice enough. For Auntie Lena.”

“Oh. Is she?”

Sam and Lena share a sweet, knowing smile, and Lena’s the one to turn back and answer. 

“Yes, darling, she’s very nice.” Lowering her voice conspiratorially, Lena covers her mouth as if to be hiding from Sam. “Her sister is really nice too, whole lot nicer than your mom.”

Sam smacks her on the shoulder, and Lena laughs as she squeezes back into her seat, but Ruby’s having none of it. 

“Hey! You said hitting was illegal.”

Lena snickers as Sam sighs exhaustedly, slumping over the steering wheel. “Yes, yes it is. Please don’t turn me in.”

Ruby huffs. “I’ll think about it.”

“Careful,” Lena remarks dryly as her phone boots back up. “Criminal mothers make perfect grounds for emancipation.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Once her phone’s back to life and she turns the sound on, notifications ping in rapid succession, and Lena smirks. Six missed calls from Kara, fourteen text messages. 

why’d u leave :(

i miss u

i was very comfy and now im not. are u returning anytime soon?

lena there is NO food here, this is not cool

not. cool.

hey, can u call me back when u get a chance?

when are u coming back?

sorry i know im spamming your phone right now but i really need to talk to you

you said we could talk later

it’s later

please please please please answer ur phone

lena this is really important please just call me 

please pick up

lena please call me back

“Jeez Louise, is that girl okay?” 

They’re at a red light and Sam’s leaning over to look at Lena’s phone screen. Lena raises an eyebrow at the PG expletive, but her friend just jabs her in the ribs and pulls back into her own seat.

“She’s fine. I told her last night we could talk about things today, so she probably just woke up and panicked that I was gone.” It’s cute, honestly, how panicked and eager Kara is to clear the air between them, and Lena’s a bit relieved that she found out already on her own. It feels safer, somehow. It makes last night seem so much more… real.

Lena types out a quick text to Kara.

Sorry darling my phone died. I’ll be home soon, are you still at mine?

Sam snorts. “To be fair, you do have a habit of bolting.”

“I do not!”

“Lena.”

“I have my avoidant tactics, yes. But I always come back.”

“Mhm, sure.”

Lena’s phone vibrates twice.

yes

how far are you?

Lena smiles at the idea of coming home to an insistent, needy Kara, of probably finding her kitchen turned upside down in her quest for food, of Kara wandering the empty apartment and texting Lena incessantly with boredom. What had once been a pipe-dream fantasy, Kara with bed head and half-naked, pantsless, is now a reality, and she bites down on her bottom lip as she texts back that she’s only twenty minutes away.

“You really are such a love-sick teenager,” Sam remarks in disgust, shaking her head. “Can’t believe I’ve been dealing with this for two months already. Three?”

It slams against her chest like a freight train.

Lena drops her phone into her lap, her jaw hanging. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“Oh my god.”

Sam swivels in her seat, looking at Lena in alarm. “Oh my god, what?” Even Ruby struggles against her seatbelt to lean forward. 

Lena just stares forward out the windshield breathlessly. “Sam, oh my god. I… I think I’m in love with her.”

There’s a moment of quiet, just Lena’s thumping heart and the syrupy relief of the admission flooding through her veins, the delirious spin of a euphoric revelation, of an unweighted truth, of blurting it out into Sam’s maroon Subaru Outback with a Winnie the Pooh pendant hanging from the rearview mirror and a seven-year-old in the back seat.

“Dude. You’re just figuring this out now?”

“Who does she love?”

“Her special friend, baby. Put your seat belt back on.”

“Mommy, you’re my special friend.”

“You’re my special friend too, sweetie, now put that seat belt back on or I’m stopping the car.”

“Oh my god.” Lena breaks into a grin as brilliant as the glow inside her. “Sam, I have to tell her.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll be there soon. Keep it in your pants.”

“What does she have in her pants?”

“Her wallet, monkey girl.”

It’s not soon enough, Lena feels as elated and antsy as she had been powering down Kara’s stairwell, she still has half a mind to dial Kara’s number and blurt it over the phone. But eventually the street signs they pass by are narrowing to her block, she knows they’re close, and this keeps her waiting, just barely, something slightly resemblant of patient.

Sam pulls into the driveway entrance of the building, and Lena barely manages a goodbye, throwing a kiss over her shoulder to Ruby as she scrambles out of the car and rushes into the lobby, waving off Sam’s call of good luck.

Because she doesn’t need luck, no, not at all. Not today.

When she makes it up to her apartment, slips her key in the lock, twists the metal and pushes the door open, Kara’s on the couch staring at her phone intently. She immediately jumps to her feet as Lena enters, and Lena’s heart is hammering, giddy with affection and joy and pure, utter respect for this incredible woman in front of her.

But Lena frowns. “You put your pants back on.”

Kara glances down at herself in confusion, and back at Lena. “What? Yeah, was I not supposed to? Look, never mind that, I—”

“Yes, actually, you were supposed to stay pantsless. This was all apart of my fantasy, I had it all mapped out, Kara, and you’ve ruined it.”

Kara sighs, steps closer to Lena. “Okay, I’m sorry, but listen—”

“You know what, it’s fine.” Lena drops her bag onto the counter unceremoniously, runs a hand through her hair. “I can live with the pants, I’ll improvise.”

Lena finally sees how stricken and on edge Kara looks, the tautness of her neck and the fret in her eyes. Lena softens, she breathes out serenely, and then laughs, because it is rather funny to think how twisted around this has all become.

At first, there was Lena, terrified in the face of Kara’s purity, that she’d hate her for her family, for who she is, how desperate she was to hide her secret for as long as she could. Then she found out Kara knew all along, and it never made a difference what her last name was, Kara cherished and cared for her all the same. She showed up at Lena’s door with brown paper bags of takeout, she let Lena inside her home with open arms, she made Lena beautiful amber drinks named after love and she built houses of cards on her dining table, she made Lena laugh when she thought she’d forgotten how. 

And now, Kara stands frozen in fear of telling Lena a truth she already knows.

Maybe there was always going to be a perfect moment.

Kara blinks bewilderedly, shakes her head. “Improvise… what? No, wait, stop, Lena, I really—”

“I know about the article.”

Kara, eyes ashen, delicate, exhales with wavering, breathless fragility. “You… you what?”

Is this what it feels like? To breathe again, clean crisp air, a freefall into clarity?

“I know you know who I am, and I know you’re the one who outed the truth about the Neoremedium, outed Lex for his crimes. I know everything.”

Kara stares back at Lena in staggered shock, skin pale like marble.

Lena shakes her head. “And at first I was… God, I was horrified when I found out. I was confused, terrified, and honestly I was angry. I thought I might’ve even hated you, maybe for a minute, I didn’t know what to feel at first. I was feeling everything, and nothing fit together in this insane, elaborate web I was trying to piece together. But it wasn’t until I stopped trying to make it all fit, when I looked at you and the way you’ve always been with me, honest and open and kind… it wasn’t until then that I finally understood. Because I get it now, I understand. It’s okay. 

“Kara, you made me feel normal and — and special, when I felt like the most disgraced, ostracized person in the world. And yes, you knew all along who I was and you didn’t tell me, and that was confusing and frustrating, it didn’t make any sense and I thought I would go insane. But you also gave me something else that was so, so priceless.” 

Lena licks her lips, and she’s smiling now, because everything she was so scared of seems like nothing now, like dust, like fragments of someone else’s torment, gone, yesterday. 

“Because I’m in love with you, Kara, of course I am. I’m stupidly and illogically in love with you, and I think maybe I have been for an embarrassing amount of time now. But that’s not even the point. Because while I was falling for you I — I was falling for myself too, I think. You forced me to see how I’m so much more than my family, more than just someone else’s shadow, how I’m someone all on my own without a title that was never mine. You didn’t just make me feel loved, you reminded me how to love myself too. When I’d forgotten how, when I didn’t think it was possible to anymore.”

Lena, beaming, laughs breathlessly because yes, Sam was right. It is laughable that she’s only just figuring this out, but now that she has, now that she’s opened the rusted vaults of her chest to let out this celestial sunshine Kara’s inspired in of her, she doesn’t want to put it back. 

“And Kara, I don’t know how I could ever possibly thank you enough for that, except to just love you in every way I can, for however long you’ll have me.”

A tear begins to roll down Kara’s cheek, first one, and then another across the other cheek, and Lena puffs another laugh, reaches out to brush them away. 

“Don’t cry, darling, I’m sorry, I know that was incredibly cheesy. But I needed you to know that it’s okay. I understand why you did what you did, and it’s okay.”

Kara flinches away from Lena’s touch.

And then she blurts it out like acid, like a sonic boom, like devastation.

“I wrote an article for CatCo.”

Lena blinks, hesitates. “I know? That’s what I just said, I —”

“No, Lena.” Kara shakes her head, her lower lip wobbling as she takes a staggering step backwards. “This one it’s not about your brother it’s… it’s about you.”

This is the ground of reality. Here, she’s found it.

Her blood runs cold, frosts over, a subarctic chill in her chest. 

The tears are coming faster now, leaking down Kara’s cheeks like drainage as she sputters out her words frantically, and Lena’s lips are tingling like they belong to someone else.

“Before — before you came to National City,” Kara starts in a rush of words that trip over one another, sloppy and uncoordinated. ”They asked me, and a bunch of other people, but they picked me and I-I wrote an article about you and everything you’ve done since coming here and about your life, CatCo asked me to find you and write the story and I wrote it and it’s going live in five days.”

There’s only static in her ears as Kara’s mouth moves, but the words fall out like air conditioning and Lena can barely hear it.

She just stares back at Kara, left only with a crumbling, volatile dread.

“But Lena you have to believe me, I — I changed my mind, I begged her not to do it, I tried to take it back, I didn’t know last night that she would still go through with it, and I’m gonna talk to her again but I had to tell you, I couldn’t keep lying to you and I’m so sorry, please, you have to understand, I changed my mind as soon as I realized that I—”

“Stop.” 

Lena’s breath falls into the stillness between them, faint, just a fragrance of quiet.

“Just… stop talking.”

Kara recoils as if Lena’s slapped her, she sucks in her quivering breath, her entire body is shaking. Kara’s eyes waver back and forth between hers, distraught, over her face and she makes no move to wipe away the messy scatter of tears, only a textbook figure of guilt and twisted shame as she watches Lena.

Look away. Please, look away.

There’s a freezer-burn taste left on her tongue, dry, just a stain, this is only an evanescent imprint of sorrow.

Lena expected more than this. Before, when she contemplated whether Kara had an angle in meeting her, in making her laugh, in getting to know her, in sharing her life, in— 

It’s not quite the catastrophe she imagined it to be.

She expected relentless fury too immense to hold, nothing a fortress could contain, Lena would collapse under the unyielding frenzy. She expected shouting, foul sobs hiccuping from her throat like a tea kettle screaming, she expected the gods to come crashing down and ask about all this damn noise.

She never thought it’d be this quiet, a succumbing to apathy.

Lena stands in the foyer, only the muffled churn of traffic outside, the high-frequency hum of the lights, and Kara’s panting breath to remind her this is real.

Lena closes her parted mouth, she blinks down to the floor.

“Get out,” she says.

This is heartbreak, and this is all.

Chapter Text

September 23rd, 2019

“I don’t — I don’t understand.” Kara shakes her head, sucks in her bottom lip. “You said if I brought you a front page story, the job was mine. What else is there to consider?”

Andrea Rojas’s smile is a sticky red, elastic thing across her face. “Kara, sweetheart. It’s a little more complicated than that. There’s just simply many other people who are much more qualified for this job. We’re not sure yet is all.”

Anxiety like a sharp lash of fire ripples through Kara’s chest, leaves her with clenched fists and unsteady panic. “Okay, so when will you be sure? I’ve been counting on this for months, I spent nearly a year researching this project, I never would have picked—”

“I would choose what you say next in this room very carefully, Miss Danvers.” 

Andrea’s unwavering, calculating stare slits across Kara’s bravado like a razor blade.

She clamps her jaw shut.

Andrea breaks back into a smile like liquid. “Good, that’s better. Because we do have a proposition for you.”

❛❛ ❜❜

When Kara shoulders into the apartment later that day with an armful of groceries, an exhaustion like taut rope holding her together, she finds her sister lounged across the couch, feet kicked up over the edge.

Alex gives her a quick glance over the back cushions before turning back to the TV. “Sup.”

“Hey,” she responds softly. Kara drops the paper bags onto the kitchen island carefully, but she still manages to knock over a few stray empty takeout cartons and a couple seltzer cans. When one clambers to the floor, the hollow aluminum pangs against the hardwood jarring and loud, and Kara flinches.

At the noise, Alex glances over again, and then she’s quickly stumbling off the couch and rushing over. 

“Fuck, shit, I’m sorry, I know I promised I was gonna take care of the mess, I’ll do it now.”

“It’s fine.” Kara waves her off flippantly, grabs the trash can and starts clearing the debris of the kitchen. “It’s my week to clean anyway.”

“No, last week was your week.” Alex follows along behind her, tries to take the bin from her hands. “And you did the one before that too. Please, just let me—”

A whiff, a smell, all it takes is the barest of a hint and it’s easy to put it together.

Kara whirls back on her sister. “Are you serious? Already? It’s barely even one in the afternoon.”

Light the flick of a light, Alex takes a step back and an impasse shadows over her face. “What are you talking about?”

But Kara’s already shaking it off, this anger in her bones, because she hates the bitter taste of it. She rolls her shoulders, tries to dispel its grip like a shiver and she goes back to clearing the trash again. 

“Nothing, I’m sorry, never mind.”

“No, come on, don’t hold back on my account.” Alex’s tone is sour and challenge drips from it like gasoline. “What is it now? Please, tell me what else I’m doing wrong.”

Kara shakes her head, moves around into the living room to scoop up candy wrappers and empty chip bags. “It’s nothing, okay? I’m sorry. You’re at home, you can do whatever you want.”

“Jesus Christ, Kara, what are you always apologizing for?”

These come in rounds.

There’s the initial fight, the unsteady arguing that quakes like a tremble under the earth, that threatens to erupt even this family, but it’s only the beginning. It’s not the second part, the point of no return, where things have escalated beyond either of their control and the damage is cumbersome and harder to ignore.

It doesn’t usually get that far, things will stay in a gray middle ground between one and two, varying gradients of fighting. Kara’s become something of an expert at rewinding the trajectory, she can steer things back around, even if every time she never knows which way it will go. 

Alex trips as she comes after Kara, following like a storm. “Seriously, what the hell do you have to be sorry for? I know, okay? I know, I can’t do anything right, you’re always fixing my mistakes, I’m a screw-up, I get it.”

Kara sets the bin down exasperatedly and turns back on her sister, takes her by the shoulders. “Please, Alex just stop — you’re not a screw-up, I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair of me. You have every right to be upset with me, but I didn’t mean anything by what I said.”

Alex shakes Kara off of her, immediately reels away back to the kitchen. “Can you stop talking to me like a child? Holy shit, you treat me like Mom did.”

Kara scrapes her hands back through her hair and rushes after her sister, tries to be appeasing but Alex is already opening the refrigerator door. “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to, but please just don’t have any more—”

“Stop fucking apologizing!” Alex slams the fridge door back shut, a beer in hand.

This jolts Kara back, she flinches away, and she feels her heart hiccup in her chest. 

This is the fifty-fifty precipice.

It’s just a second. She’s not—

She’d never be afraid of her sister, no, it’s nothing like that, it’s just a certain reflex anyone would have at a loud sound, Kara’s always been sensitive like that, it’s not like that.

But Alex notices immediately, and her face twists with pungent regret. She exhales sharply, and she quickly sets the drink down onto the countertop. Alex presses the heels of her palms hard against her eyes as she takes a deep, steadying breath. 

“Fuck. Okay. Okay, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to start a fight. It was — it was just a few drinks. I’m fine, I’m not really drunk, I’m good. I’m sorry.”

The cool down, the escape, Alex disarms and Kara welcomes it every time with a clean slate.

Kara swallows, nods dumbly. “I know, it’s okay.”

Alex doesn’t look like she’s anywhere near believing Kara, but she takes another deep breath. And then she frowns. “Wait. Didn’t you have the CatCo thing? Was that today?”

Disappointment like sand lodges at the back of Kara’s throat, threatens to pull her under. 

She nods. “Yeah. It was this morning.”

“And? How’d it go?”

“Not… great.”

As Kara moves to start putting groceries away, Alex hops onto a bar stool, and Kara doesn’t miss the way she sways to one side as she does. 

“Why? Did you get the check at least?”

“Yeah, they paid me for the story.”

“So what’s the issue?” 

Kara closes a cupboard slowly, sucks in her bottom lip. “When Cat and I talked back in March, she told me Andrea would make a spot for me on their team after this. If I gave them a good enough story, the job was mine. But Andrea gave me a new assignment first.”

Alex scowls. “Seriously? How many national scandals does she think you’ve got up your sleeve?”

Kara shakes her head. “I dunno. It’s not like, just another story. It’s more of a fluff thing.”

“What, you’re gonna report on a wedding or something?”

“No, it’s…” Kara sighs. “I honestly don’t get it, she just wants a scoop. But she’s putting it out to a bunch of people, anyone that can bring it to her, like a contest or something.”

“And the reward is what, the job?”

“Pretty much.”

Alex sucks on her front row of teeth, contemplative, while a sloppy pressure builds behind Kara’s eyes.

“Well, that’s fine,” Alex says dismissively. “We can just wait. We’ll figure it out.”

No, Alex.” Kara exhales shakily, runs her hands through her hair in frustration. “Gosh, no, it’s not fine, this isn’t fine at all. She all but promised me the job when I first came to her, and now this? It’s—”

“Kara.”

Her eyes flicker back up at Alex, she blinks through her wet eyelashes. Alex looks so still and serene, even with the circles under her eyes, the pale hollowness to her cheeks, the grimy glean of her unwashed hair. Even still, she looks so strong when Kara is supposed to be the stable one right now, supposed to be the one taking care of them.

“It’s okay ‘cause it’s all we’ve got, alright? Rehab’s not going anywhere.” Alex smiles softly at Kara, offers an unwavering condolence Kara’s not sure she’s earned. “It can wait a little longer. We’ll work this out. I believe in you.”

Kara digs her fingernails into her palm, clenches her jaw, but she nods. 

Because who else is gonna believe in her?

 

October 6th

They have a fight.

Kara’s not sure who starts it, if anyone really does. 

Normally these fizzle out like the rest, they end with Kara bowing out and Alex apologizing, or Kara will force them into a civil dinner until eventually someone caves and breaks the silence, admits they’re both being stupid. Or Alex will just sober up and they move past the thing like alcohol that passes through her bloodstream. Siblings fight, this is nothing new, they get over it.

Sometimes it’s instantaneous. One moment Alex is erupting and the next she’s completely fine, composed. That scares Kara more than anything, not always being able to tell when Alex has been drinking, the fact she can hide it so well when she wants to.

Normally Kara stays calm. Cool. Detached.

She has to, because she knows it’s not Alex snapping back at her, it’s not Alex with venom dripping from her teeth with every lashing retort, it’s not Alex slamming doors and snarling things at Kara.

Callous, spiteful things like: 

“You know, if you were really as fucking perfect as you think you are, maybe you would’ve actually started your career when you were supposed to, and then maybe Clark would still be here.”

They’re in the thick of it, their argument’s been going in circles for twenty minutes now, and Kara tries not to engage, she usually succeeds at that. There’s not a whole lot of logic behind the stuff she says anyway.

But it still shoves the air from her lungs, cracks the balance of her patient equilibrium.

It leaves her with something dark, ugly, writhing. A version of herself that she hates, a version she wants squash so far down it never sees the light of the sunrise.

But in this hour of twilight, it’s all she has.

“You’re gonna try and put that on me? ” Kara seethes down the hall as the blood rushes to her face. “That is so freaking rich. Why do you think I never did anything with my degree in the first place?”

Kara tears after Alex, follows her into her room to find her sister rummaging through dresser drawers. Pork Belly leaps off of Alex’s bed at the noise they’re making, scurries off between Kara’s legs and flees. Alex tosses her clothes onto the floor, her mouth curled down, unresponsive to Kara’s outburst, and that just fans Kara’s flames.

“You think I wanted to be a bartender for the rest of my life?” Kara’s entire frame quakes with the struggle to withhold her temper, to slow down the way her eyes are already stinging because she always cries when she’s angry and that just makes it so much worse. “I had the money, I had the savings and I had the opportunity to chase my dreams. But how could I, with you? You dropped out of school, Alex, you can’t hold a job to save your life, how was I supposed to leave you alone for even a second?”

“Yeah, we get it, you’re the God that could’ve saved the world if you didn’t have me as your baggage.” Alex shakes her head and scoffs, scoops out a small, plastic bottle of Jim Beam from the bottom drawer. “At least I have a life. Sure, maybe I ruin everything I touch, but at least I do shit, at least I’m living for something. What do you do all day, huh? Worry about me, pour some drinks? Yeah, real thrilling life you’ve got going on.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, which life is it that you’re referring to exactly?”

It spews out like the rotten heart in her chest.

“Is it the one where your fiancée left you at your rehearsal dinner because you were too wasted to say your vows? Or are we talking about the one where you lost Kelly? The professional psychiatrist with a degree in dealing with deadbeats but even she couldn’t stand to be around you anymore?”

She knows she hasn’t just touched a nerve, she’s torched its roots to ash. Alex levels her with a bristling look that rocks her to her core, but Kara’s past the point of breaking. They both are. 

She never knew her love for her sister could leave her so weak, so tired from the crippling rage, so busted .

Before Alex can respond, Kara notices the time all of a sudden, and she hisses under her breath, stalks off back down the hall. 

“I have to go to work.”

“Are you kidding me?” Alex yells after her. “Yeah, fine Kara, walk away! Little miss sunshine, always proving what a selfish jackass you are and then running off like it never happened.”

Kara wipes her red eyes before Alex can notice, presses against them to keep the tears away as she shrugs on her coat. 

“Look, I’m sorry,” she starts as Alex follows her into the foyer, but it’s feeble, weak, she doesn’t know how to make it sound like she means it. “I shouldn’t have said those—”

“Right, say you’re sorry, go ahead.” Alex waves her hands boisterously. “Apologize and tell me how much you fucking love me and pretend like you don’t wish every day that I was someone else’s problem to deal with, that I’d just OD already and be out of your hair.”

Kara grabs her keys from the dish, tugs open the door harder than she means but if she doesn’t leave now she’s only going to say something worse. She’s already feeling volatile in her cruelty, uncertain in who she’s letting herself become. 

But it’s already coming, they’re already at their peak of casualty.

“Yeah, well I guess I’m just stuck with you until that happens, so. Don’t wait up for me.”

She slams the door.

❛❛ ❜❜

Twelve hours later, the possibility that that might be the last thing she ever says to her sister crashes against her chest like a wrecking ball.

“Hello? Hello? Nicole, hey, hi — is Alex with you? No? Can you just give me a call if you hear from her please?”

“Jake, hi — yes I know it’s late, I’m so so sorry, but have you heard from Alex at all tonight?”

“Brett, hi, it’s Kara, have you seen my sister? Are you sure? Has she been with Sarah? Can you ask?”

Pacing in an empty apartment, anxiety like a torrential downpour rattling the walls and shattering the windows, Kara can barely breathe long enough to get the words out for every phone call, can’t keep her fingers still enough to tap names on a screen. 

She got home from work two hours ago to find Alex gone. 

Alex, who’s not answering her phone. 

Alex, who’s not at any of the bars within a ten-block radius. 

Alex, who’s not with any of her friends. 

Alex, her life, her home.

She does get a call, eventually. It’s not the one she wants.

It is actually raining outside now, an unyielding storm, so when Kara bursts through the ER doors she’s drenched. Her sneakers squelch across the linoleum floors and her hair hangs in heavy, dripping heaps down her shoulders.

It’s been over a year since they’ve been here, since Kara’s signed this paperwork and filled out these forms, acknowledgements that she understands they don’t have health insurance, already agreeing on payment plans she knows they won’t be able to keep up with, already being shown the bills, the paperwork, the forms it’s all—

Alex. She just wants to see Alex.

Kara stands at the foot of her hospital bed. Her foot bounces, her fingers tap against her palm restlessly, she clicks her jaw. Alex looks so pale on those baby blue sheets, her skin so frail with an IV pumping fluids into her porcelain skin, her lips so white.

“I’m sorry, what?” Kara shakes away the fog, turns to the doctor standing next to her. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t— can you repeat that?”

His thin mouth sets low on his face, flat. “Your sister’s in a lot of pain, Miss Danvers.”

“Yeah, I know.” Kara sniffles, rubs at her mouth. “She always said that tube you stick down her throat leaves her sore for days.”

The doctor sighs, drops his gaze for just a moment before looking Kara head on again. Resolute, unshakeable. “This is her eighth visit in five years. A history like that… well. I’ve shown you her numbers.”

Kara shakes off his impenetrable stare, focuses on her sister.

So peaceful, soft, serene, she really is just asleep.

“Can you just tell me what it means, then?” she asks, her voice brittle like frost. “Please?”

“I’ve seen a lot of folks like her over my time, and I’ve never seen someone so young with liver enzymes this bad. Her body just can’t keep sustaining this kind of lifestyle anymore. I must strongly urge you both again to consider the rehabilitative services we discussed the last time.”

Kara’s lower lip quivers, and she ducks her chin, wipes her nose. “I know. We know. We’ve talked about it, getting her into a good program. We just, we’ve… I haven’t…” Kara shakes her head sharply, sucks in a deep gulp of breath because she can feel the bulge of heat behind her eyes.

“Your sister is in pain,” the doctor repeats quietly, gently. “I’m not just speaking about her physical state, but her mental health, her emotional wellbeing. She’s hurting. And you must understand that she cannot go on like this.”

When he leaves, finally, Kara stands still at the foot of Alex’s bed for a little while longer.

She never wanted to be the hero, the one on top. Alex was always the biggest person in the world to her. Kara always thought the infinity of the universe ended as far as Alex could reach, she was the strongest, kindest, most confident person she’s ever known. Alex taught her the meaning of family by nurture, not by blood.

She taught her what it meant to not feel abandoned, alone, misunderstood.

The world is a horrible, daunting, scary old place, one that left Kara cowering in the dark corners full of terror when she first appeared on their doorstep. Alex pulled her from that, Alex held out a hand, Alex is the one who turned on the lights.

They don’t have anyone else, there’s nobody who cares, not enough, no one who still believes in her like Kara does.

As Kara crawls into the bed beside her sister, curls around her side, as her wet hair scrapes against the rough cotton of the hospital blanket, as she murmurs a cracked, “I’m so sorry for what I said, Alex, it was stupid, I didn’t mean it, I’m so so sorry,” it’s then that Kara decides.

They can’t wait for Kara to get the job, can’t wait for some magical, unforeseen financial stability that might never come. The money can be figured out later, there’ll always be more money, more jobs, more offers, but right now there’s just not enough time.

Kara would rip off the edges of the universe with her bare hands if it meant keeping her sister safe.

Safe, like she always kept Kara.

 

October 15th

Alex leaves on a Tuesday. 

Kara can’t go with her to the facility because she has to work, but. 

They say goodbye on the sidewalk outside their apartment. Kara deposits the suitcase into the trunk of the cab, she opens the door, she takes a deep breath. 

When she hugs her sister, Alex is motionless, eyes vacant like motel signs.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Kara mumbles into her hair. “I’ll take care of everything, and I’m gonna be here when you get back.”

Alex’s hands brush over Kara’s back, and she doesn’t say anything in return but she nods haltingly and holds Kara close.

They part, and Alex hides her face as she rubs at her red eyes, and she’s ducking into the cab and it’s pulling away from the curb and she’s leaving Kara alone.

Kara turns back inside to get ready for work.

❛❛ ❜❜

She plasters on a carefree, charming smile for work because there’s nothing else she can do. She needs the money now more than ever.

She doesn’t even know where to begin with Andrea’s assignment, doesn’t know how in the hell she could ever get it done. Discovering a false paper trail of the FDA verification for the Neoremedium treatment was one thing, because that was for Clark and she never would have looked in the first place if not for what happened to him, and of course she had help from people far more knowledgeable and skilled than her. But this? Kara’s nowhere near qualified for a story like this. She’s on the wrong side of the country, for one thing, she can’t investigate someone’s entire life with two thousand miles between them. And she studied scientific research, that was her specialty, she doesn’t know the first thing about gossip journalism. 

It’s not like Kara can just scoop up her entire life and run off to Metropolis to find someone who’s got no interest in being found. There has to be a half dozen other people Andrea’s pitted on this assignment, a half dozen other people who know sure of a lot better ways to get details on someone than she does. What is she other than a bartender with a dusty bachelor’s degree and a one-hit-wonder?

Kara sighs, shakes off the weighing, anxious dread as she wipes off a spill on the bar.

She told Alex she could do this, that she’d take care of it. She promised they could do this, and she can. She will. Even if it means getting in touch with old friends from Metropolis and opening yet another credit card line just to fly out every week, she’ll get what she needs.

Kara hears someone exhale loudly behind her, and so she wipes her hands with a rag, musters up her brilliant customer-service grin as she turns around. 

Her new patron is a younger woman, pretty, pale skin creamy like frosting. She’s wearing a black lace dress, and her eyes closed, her shoulders drooped with an exhaustion Kara knows intimately.

Kara smiles sympathetically. “There’s a spot out back that’s better for naps, if you want.”

The woman blinks open her eyes to meet Kara’s, just these faint, translucent irises that completely absorb the red glow of the bar lights, and everything in Kara’s vision comes rattling down into a narrowed, precise, laser-like focus.

It’s her.

The woman Andrea Rojas has asked her to write a feature on, the woman that is supposed to be on the other side of the country, the woman whose life has somehow become the answer to everything.

Lena Luthor.

Oh.

❛❛ ❜❜

Kara talks a lot when she’s nervous. Typically, she’ll talk about the weather and she’ll talk about her sister and she'll talk about bees and she’ll talk about merry-go rounds and she’ll talk about how insane it is that zero-point-nine repeating is equal to one.

And so then she tells jokes when she really doesn’t know what else to say, because jokes are safe, jokes are easy and friendly and so much more amicable than blurting something incorrigible like, Hi! I put your brother in prison, got time for an interview?

And Lena just laughs along like there’s no one else in the room.

Kara, admittedly, doesn’t know all that much about Lena Luthor. She knows bits and pieces — she’s an actress, she thinks? Or just dating one, Kara’s not really sure. But she’s part of the Hollywood conglomerate, never appeared very involved with LuthorCorp, which is exactly why Kara isn’t very familiar with who she is. She was just his sister, doing her own thing, minding her own business, making her own name. Kara didn’t think much of her.

Kara knows celebrities always look better in pictures, she won’t even recognize half of the ones she follows on Instagram when they’re sliding a heavy-plated credit card to her and she’s handing out a cocktail that sparkles red, only puts it together when she’s picking up the signed receipt. She knows they always look more glamorous in photos.

Lena Luthor is stunning, even in person, of course, but that's not the point. What Kara means is that… well, she’s never really thought twice about this woman, didn’t think her life was all that linked to her family’s. She didn’t have much of a secure mental image of this woman in the first place.

So throughout the night, if Kara notices a hanging weight to the way Lena holds her neck, a tired duel to her posture, it’s only because she sees the same sort of thing in the mirror. 

So like, yeah. Kara doesn’t really know what else to say, but also she seems like she could use the jokes. Kara’s pretty familiar with how many other people are out there right now on task to stuff a recorder under this woman’s nose, and maybe she’s already been approached.

It’s not an active choice Kara makes, in all honesty. It’s a habit she’s built up over time. Veronica’s super strict about this kind of stuff — she doesn’t care if it’s Neil Degrasse Tyson walking in that front door, Kara is by no means allowed to address a guest by their name. It’s forbidden, it’s asking for termination.

But there’s other routes to get where she needs to be. It’s not cheating, to let her words dangle, to fish for a name she already knows, an opportunity, an in.

“It was a pleasure to serve you, Miss…?” 

The look on Lena’s face, the slow velvet smile, makes Kara think she won’t tell her. It makes Kara wonder if this woman is going to walk right out the door and never come back, if Kara might never find her again, if this is it, if this was her one chance to ask what she needs to ask, the chance for a story to save her and her sister, because that’s what this is, it’s all or nothing, and what if— 

“Lena.”

Hot, bleeding relief spills over Kara, and she beams back at the celebrity. It’s not a full name, it’s not everything, but it’s a start. It’s something. 

“It was my pleasure, Lena. I’m Kara. Obviously.” 

Lena laughs again, this low sweet thing, and she nods with finality. “Have a good rest of your night, Kara.”

❛❛ ❜❜

Kara’s staring impassively at the hundred-dollar tip on the receipt when Lucy bounces up beside her.

“Damn, was that Lena Luthor?” Lucy leans an elbow on Kara’s shoulder even despite the awkward height difference, and she stares off into the crowd where Lena’s disappeared into.

Kara nods dumbly. “Yeah.”

“She’s so hot. Is she still dating that chick from the vampire movies?”

“No idea.”

“Hm. Too bad her brother’s a fucking psycho. Did she recognize you?”

“No.”

Lucy glances at Kara with a raised eyebrow, and then peaks over at the bill, and she laughs wickedly at the generous tip. “Nice work, Danvers. Now just try and get her number next time.”

Something twists in Kara’s mouth, an itch at the back of her throat, like she’s swallowed a pill wrong and it’s still lodged somewhere back there, but she can’t exactly name what it is. She stabs the receipt with the rest of the stack, and gives Lucy a thin-lipped smile. 

“Yeah, maybe I will.”

Kara stays awake until sunrise roaming the internet, learns anything and everything there is to know about the beautiful starlet. 

When she finally goes to sleep, it’s in an apartment as empty as the hole in her gut.

 

October 16th

When Lena comes back the next night, that hole starts to feel a little less cold.

Lena coming back into Roulette can be equated to Kara stepping one foot closer to fulfilling her promise to Alex.

“You came back.”

Lena smiles like she means to hide it, like she’s sucking on a tart candy. “I guess I have.”

The world is a horrible, daunting, scary old place without Alex, but maybe Lena’s smile shines a whole lot like a beacon of hope in this darkness.

When Kara goes back to serving other guests down the line of the bar, she overhears Leslie Willis prodding, her pointed, antagonizing questions. She’s busy putting together a row of martinis, she’s got two shakers going over her head, and she can see how the deeper Leslie’s droll smirk grows, the heavier Lena’s frown sinks. 

Kara panics, a tic in her stomach, because if Lena doesn’t feel comfortable here, if she can’t come here as a sanctuary than she’s not going to come back at all and Kara will never get the story.

As soon as she slides the drinks to their respectful owners, Kara ignores a few snapping fingers, waving hands beckoning her, and rushes back over. 

“Leslie!” Kara forces a look of delighted surprise, tries not to think about every high school play she never got a role in because of what a crappy actress she always was. “So funny I’m seeing you right now — didn’t you ask me to tell you if Cat Grant ever stopped in? Think I just saw her headed down to the floor, but she might be on her way out again.”

When Leslie finally leaves, it’s just them. 

Throughout their ensuing conversation, Kara doesn’t know how to wrap her mouth around the question she wants to ask, how to phrase what she needs. It should be simple, this should be easier, she’s enough of a familiar face by now that Lena might not just throw her drink in Kara’s face, but Kara can’t take a chance on that kind of risk, because her sister’s life and future is on the line and nothing is worth that kind of jeopardy. 

Risk, like Alex coming back to an ever stacking pile of bills and notices and a steady decline in Kara’s bank account with no prospects of catching up. Risk like the crush of financial instability unwinding whatever progress Alex might make in her time away, risk like this all being for nothing and Alex coming back only to hurt herself all over again.

For right now, this is her chance. She just needs to figure out how to get Lena to talk to her, maybe, without completely and totally ruining any future business relationship they could have, without sending Lena running in the opposite direction.

“Thank you for that, truly.” Lena clicks her tongue, turning back to her drink and nodding at Kara.

She nods curtly. “No problem. Saw you had that look on your face.”

“A look?”

Lena’s eyebrow raises adorably, just one, single and immaculate while the rest of her face is painted still with stunning amusement, and Kara rubs the back of her neck and makes a shaky, uncoordinated gesture. 

“Y’know like, SOS, someone’s talking to me . I see it a lot in here.” 

“Well, some people here I don’t mind talking to.” Lena’s smile is sly like silk, perfectly tailored appeal.

Kara’s mouth drops, and she struggles for a response. Talking? Like —  about herself? Is this an open, an invitation, is she sending a signal or is this straying far too close to wishful thinking?

Kara adjusts her glasses, clears her throat.

Eventually Lena is leaving all too soon, and it makes Kara start, hesitate, drop from her rocking toes to landing flat on the balls of her feet. It’s okay, it’s cool. She wouldn’t be able to ask Lena about stuff for the story anyways, not right now. She’s not — she’s not disappointed as she watches Lena leave, no, it’s just the antsy restlessness to get the story she needs. It’s not disappointment, not like that.

But it does taste a whole lot like it.

 

October 19th

She doesn’t understand how it happens, what leads to what, how this goes from Kara trying to figure out how to ask Lena if she might volunteer a few interviews, all the way to waffles and eggs at a diner.

The way Lena talks makes Kara feel like she’s got Pop Rocks in her stomach, her precise mannerisms, her syrupy laugh, how she turns the ring on her index finger over and over again, how her smiles are shy but her words are articulate and sure, how she doesn’t want to answer Kara’s pointed questions about her family or her life, how Kara somehow doesn’t mind all that much, how this leaves her breathlessly distracted from everything she swore she would find out about Lena Luthor tonight, until it finally brings her to one, slow, tranquil rest.

Kara’s not sure when things start to change.

At some point, she’s forgotten about the article, she’s instead entranced by the low rasp of a soft voice and the syllables it lulls over. Kara’s not thinking about anything except long eyelashes and the adorable curl of a mouth’s edge, that tongue-in-cheek smile when Kara asks Lena for her number.

A sidewalk, a street light, the first time Kara realizes that Lena’s eyes are green. 

Outside, in the open street under the hum of the city, it’s funny how the rest of the world is finally quiet.

She’s not asking Lex Luthor’s sister, she’s asking Lena, and this is also the first time that Kara understands there’s a distinction.

When a text doesn’t come through that night, Kara lies awake, restless in a cold bed that can’t seem to warm up. This keeps her squirming, flipping exhaustedly, a tired irritation with herself every time she checks her phone screen.

When a text doesn’t come through and the sun starts to creep over the horizon, Kara remembers.

She tosses aside the covers and grabs her laptop, opens a word document.

Her tongue weighs like lead when as she types.

 

October 25th

When Kara brings Lena home for game night, she’s not just toeing a fragile line, she’s sprinting across a tightrope.

Before she leaves Roulette with Lena, Kara ducks into the bathroom, pulls out her phone and dials James, presses it to her ear.

“Hey, you almost here?”

She double checks the door lock. “Yeah, yeah I’m leaving in a sec.”

“Great. Lucy ate all your gummy worms, by the way, but Winn said—”

“I’m bringing Lena Luthor and I need you to not freak out.”

She hears the inhale of his next words, but Kara rushes on.

“It’s just, well, I invited her. And I wanted you to know first because you lost Clark too and I know how you feel about — about their family. But I needed to make sure you know that she’s not like that, not at all.”

The other end of the line stays quiet.

Kara sighs. “This really important to me, okay? I need you to… to—”

“What?”  

Kara grimaces, clenches her fist to ward off the wave of nausea that washes over, this sickening rush of guilt clouded by a blind desperation. 

“I need you to pretend you don’t know who she is, who her family is. And I need you to tell everyone else.”

“You’re… you’re serious? And tell them what?”

“I don’t know, okay? Just say she’s my friend and that she’s shy about being recognized, tell them anything.”

“Kara, what? I mean, why? Why her?”

She blinks off the dizzying self hatred, tells herself this is the only way. “It’s for Alex, James.”

He goes quiet again, a different sort of silence, one that coils her composure and, for just a split second, she wonders if this all was a mistake.

And then, “ Yeah, okay, fine. Whatever.”

Kara heaves a sigh of relief, her shoulders drop forward.

“But you do know what you’re doing, right?”

Kara stares at the floor, bites her lip. “Of course,” she assures him. “Of course I do.”

Kara’s not sure when things started to change, when the axis began to shift to a different angle, when Lena was no longer the only person she was lying to.

❛❛ ❜❜

Lucy wastes no time and immediately pulls Kara to the side. 

“You brought her here?” she hisses, her wine-breath sticky against Kara’s face. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Okay, okay, I know.” Kara shimmies her elbow out of her friend’s grip, maneuvers around her into the kitchen as she rushes into an explanation. “She’s actually really, really sweet and really cool, and she’s really nice, and you guys would love her. And also we needed someone anyway because Alex isn’t here.”

Lucy wags a finger in her face. “Do not pull the Alex card on me right now.”

“She’s my sister and I miss her, I can use it whenever I want.”

Lucy growls in frustration as Kara pushes around her and goes into the fridge, digs for a juicebox. 

“Kara. Listen, I’m sure she’s all roses and dandelions or whatever, but like, dude. Does she even know you’re writing the article?”

Kara immediately spins around, tugs at Lucy’s waving, erratic hands to still them. “Gosh, please keep it down. No. She doesn’t.” Kara bites her lip, taps her foot. “...I’m actually pretty sure she thinks I have no idea who she is.”

“Kara.”

“What?”

“This is a fucking mess.”

Kara slumps back against the kitchen island, glances warily over her shoulder to see Lena taken up in conversation with James, distracted and occupied. She makes a mental note to thank him later. 

“I know, okay? I know, I’ll tell her soon. I will. But for now, just, please make her feel welcome. She’s so completely overwhelmed right now and trying to pretend she isn’t.”

Lucy retracts, pulls back in her intense urgency, but her stare remains just as full of steel. 

“I don’t have a problem with her, Kara. I’m worried about you. You usually think this stuff through, you’re the organized one that always has her shit together, but this is the type of chaotic wreck I’m usually responsible for.”

“I can’t just blurt it out!” Kara jams the straw into her juicebox frustratedly, and then she sighs, a long, drawn out, wistful exhale. “Lena is… amazing, she’s kind and she’s funny and for the first time in — in — I don’t even know how long, I just, I like the person I am when I’m with her. I can talk to her about stuff, about me, and it’s not about some stupid job I could never have or my sister who only likes me when she’s sober. With her I can just… I can be me, and I don’t have to worry about everything else.”

The ash that always clumps in her throat, every horrible and cruel thing she ever said to Alex that she chokes on when she’s alone with herself, that echoes like sirens in her ears — for once, it’s all quiet, dormant, Kara can hear her own thoughts.

Being with Lena brings out a version of herself that doesn’t leave her horrified.

Lucy, arms crossed, softens. But the corner of her mouth does lift in a half-hearted smirk. “What, and you don’t feel all that with me?”

“I’m going to tell her,” Kara says pointedly. “When the right moment comes along, I will. Because I really like hanging out with her, so — I’m gonna make this work. I’m going to get the article I need for me and Alex, and I’m not gonna mess this up this thing I’ve got going with her, and we’re going to stay friends. It’s fine.”

“Yeah, sure. Just friends, hanging out .”

“What?”

“Swear to God, Little Danvers. You’ve got such a thick fucking skull sometimes.”

Kara waves her hands dismissively. “Look, whatever. So will you, please? Back me up, play nice?”

Lucy levels her with a dry, unamused glare. “Of course I will. Someone’s gotta do damage control ‘till Alex gets back.”

“Thank you.” Kara presses a brisk kiss to her friend’s cheek before they head back to the group. 

“Mm, you owe me big time..”

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena weaves into Kara’s friend group seamlessly, trickles in through the crevices and nearly fills the void that Alex has left behind. It’s not perfect, no one could ever replace her sister, but it’s ice on a sore wound, lets Kara forget for a little bit. Lena is an elixir of charm, she has a smile juicy like crisp honeydew. Everyone loves her, how could they not? 

Lena fits in so beautifully, it all seems so customary to have her there, and Kara thinks this is a dynamic she could find herself getting used to, one she’d hate to see go.

She decides she’ll tell Lena once everyone leaves. She will. It’s time.

But then Lena asks her about Alex, and she freezes. Thinks it might already be over, that Lena’s found her out. Can already feel the bone-crunching frigidity of impossible failure.

A phone call, a hospital, a different kind of paperwork she doesn’t know how to fill out.

And as quickly as the panic had gushed over, it dissipates. She realizes Lena’s not asking because she knows something about the assignment, about Kara’s intentions. Someone must have just mentioned her sister in passing, or something, that’s all. She’s just curious.

But Kara is still left with this devastating imprint of dread, of ice-drenched terror.

She loses her nerve after that.

 

October 27th

Kara pokes her head into Veronica’s office, drums her fingers against the doorframe. “Hey, my cash-out’s in the box. You need anything before I head out?”

Veronica, her back to Kara, doesn’t look away from her computer screen. “Do you take me as a fool, Kara?”

Kara blinks. “Um. No. Did someone say I do? Was it Nia? Because she has a bet going with Lucy that—”

“Do you think that I don’t know about every single thing that happens in my club?”

A chill rushes down the back of her neck, she feels the small hairs stand on end.

Veronica’s leather chair spins around to face her. “I was incredibly tolerant when you came out with your side project last month, I continued to let you work here despite the… conflict of interest. I trust you didn’t take that lightly.”

Kara forces naive indifference even though everything in her wants to crumple to the polished hardwood floor. Because she can’t screw this up, not Roulette, not her one source of income, not the one backbone of her financial stability if everything else falls through.

“Of course not, you have no idea how much I appreciate you being so—”

“I have worked vigorously over the years for a certain reputation. My clientele expect a standard from me and I’ve done well to exceed it. And I’m not going to let a prying, juvenile, wannabe private eye jeopardize that. Do you understand me?”

Just the barest of hesitation, once that she’s not sure if Veronica picks up on. “Yes.”

“Then let me be abundantly clear. I will not show you the same leniency twice.”

A twitch. “I don’t… I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Lena Luthor has suffered copiously.” Mouth flat, Veronica raises an eyebrow. “You’ve put her through enough, wouldn’t you agree?”

Kara swallows.

“If you hurt her,” Veronica says slowly, enunciating every syllable with utmost precision, a stare like decimation. “You’re finished. Don’t bother to come back.”

Kara doesn’t know the first thing about redemption.

Veronica cocks her jaw, her eyes scanning Kara over. “You’re free to go.”

Haunting is an old friend of Kara’s, she’s intimately familiar with what that kind of delirium tastes like. When her past mistakes linger like omens, all of the horrible things she’s said, she knows all too well what it’s like to live with bitter regret.

Usually, she knows in the moment, at the time of committing whatever it is that’ll torment her like paranoia for years to come, she can recognize it for what it is. She knows when she’s gone too far, she knows when she’s about to.

Right now, Kara doesn’t know what the end looks like, what it might bring. 

She’s not sure which is more terrifying — the elusive, unknown, endless list of possible outcomes, or that it might be exactly what she expects.

 

October 28th

Kara calls Andrea, twirls a strand of her hair around her index finger.

“Hey! So I just wanted to check in, um… isn’t there like, anything else you’d rather me do? Something more science-related maybe? I could totally do a piece on Spheerical Industries as a whole, you know since she just started working there. They’ve actually done a whole lot this year, they recently released this line of advanced self-monitoring medical devices that are gonna be sold at a really affordable price, and—”

Andrea hangs up on her.

 

October 30th

She’s going to tell her. This has gone on long enough.

The mystifying look Lena gives her under the swimming strobe lights, how it feels to sweep her up in her arms in the middle of a bowling alley, Lena’s candied smile as her teeth sink into a slice of pizza — Kara knows it’s time. Lena deserves the truth.

Their ankles bump under the table, the noise alley around them dimming out, Kara opens her mouth.

But Lena speaks first.

“You know, I haven’t done this in so long.”

Kara swallows, wrinkles her nose as she shakes away the upcoming anxiety, scrounges back for the lighthearted humor she knows how to manage. 

“What, been bowling? Don’t even give me that crap, Lena, you have to practice at least on a weekly basis.”

As Lena puts herself bare, Kara stops breathing.

“Because I think, I mean it just feels like most people really do have ulterior motives, you know?”

She nods, her heartbeat far more deafening than anything around them.

“But when I’m with you, I feel like I can breathe. And — yes, the worries are still there, I’ll probably always be paranoid, but it’s easier to quiet them, put them aside. With you, it’s just, it’s this.” Lena gestures between them. “It’s just this, it doesn’t have to be anything else.”

There isn’t a beautiful way to put this, there’s nothing romantic about irony. 

What does it all add up to, what does any of this really contribute if she can’t be honest with the one person who’s given her only sincerity from the get go?

Kara always thought love was so scary because of how she would have to expose herself, how that leaves her vulnerable to being hurt by someone else. She thought the hard part was risking your own dignity, your routine, your heart.

She never imagined the scorching horror of hurting them instead.

How could she, after an admission so soft as that?

“Lena,” she complains. “You can’t make me cry onto my pizza, it’ll ruin the cheese.”

Kara never knew it was possible to be so broken in so many ways.

 

November 2nd

It’s Halloween weekend and Lena is in Kara’s bed, she pulls Kara by the wrists until she collapses onto the mattress beside her.

Her breath smells like Winn’s mystery punch bowl, her lipstick is smeared over her chin.

Is this what falling in love looks like? 

Kara wouldn’t know, she’s never been there. They say you’ll just know when it’s there, and yeah, maybe there have been people in Kara’s past, ones she thought she loved. It’s always easy to think so when you’re in the thick of it, isn’t it? It’s not until they were all over and gone that she realized. She cared for them, yes, but it wasn’t love, not that ethereal, fleeting ascension. 

When this is all over, Kara wonders if she’ll think differently about Lena. She can’t imagine she will, she can’t wrap her head around anything else, but that’s the whole point. Right?

As Lena burrows her way into Kara’s arms, face tucked into the pillows, she says, “‘M really sorry.”

Kara chuckles, drapes her arm over her back and brushes soothingly along her spine over her shirt. 

“It’s okay, boozy. Just try ‘n sleep.”

“No, no no no,” she mumbles. “I’m sorry ‘cause I‘m lying to you.”

Kara freezes, her mouth pinched small, a rush of heat immediately springing behind her eyes. She closes them, wills away the pressure. 

“It’s okay, Lee,” she says quietly, wonders if Lena can hear the way her heart splinters. “It’s okay because I… I’m lying to you too.”

“Mm. You can lie all you want, if it means you stay.”

When Lena’s arms twist around Kara’s waist and cuddle her close, a stray tear slips down Kara’s face.

There’s nothing beautiful about how she doesn’t want to do this anymore.

 

November 17th

Lena all but disappears for seventeen days.

 

December 4th

And then, a phone call.

There’s just some things I want to share with you. About me.”

Kara stares at nothing.

“Is that alright?”

If only Kara had Lena’s courage, then maybe the world could be a better place.

She clears her throat. “Yes, yes, I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

 

December 6th

When she gets a call from Andrea Rojas, she’s already reading the news.

“Kara, darling, sweetie. What the fuck is this?”

She plays dumb. “Um… could you be more specific?”

“When you sent me a preliminary draft last week, I cut the rest of my lineup. I gave you this story because you promised me an exclusive look. Now please explain to me why in the hell I’m hearing about this medical breakthrough from a TV broadcast that’s not my own?”

Kara sighs, pulls off her glasses and rubs her eyes. “I’m working on it. Trust me, there’s a better story than just that.”

“Oh, you better hope there is, because if you give me anything short of the excellence you promised then you will never have a job here or anywhere else in this industry, I will personally make sure of it.”

The dead of the line is the first echo of calamity.

 

December 12th

When Alex comes back, Kara feels like she’s the one who’s been away for too long.

She nearly crushes her sister in half when she meets her outside the wellness center, and for once Kara is not so overwhelmed by her emotions that she wants to cry, no, not like that. There’s no other way to describe it but coming home, and it feels like it’s been much longer than just six weeks.

But Kara wasn’t sure what to expect, didn’t knew who she’d find when she arrived at the facility. Even once they’re into the back of the cab, and there’s a moment where Kara just sighs and Alex looks hesitant, Kara doesn’t know if she’ll be able to recognize the woman across from her, if it’s too soon to .

But when they start talking, Alex has never felt so familiar.

There’s a color to Alex’s cheeks, a pink like the neighborhood park swing set in Midvale. Her carefree smile is unweighted by her demons, and she doesn’t slouch like she’s trying to make herself smaller, so small, small until she no longer exists. 

No, Alex takes up space. She takes up all of it, with her chin held high.

“Thank you, by the way,” Alex says once they’ve finished catching up on the pleasantries, as they cross the threshold of the entryway into the apartment. Her lazy warmth as she turns to look back washes over Kara like the crackling heat of a bonfire, and it makes Kara smile. “For not giving up on me.”

Kara is… absolutely terrified of what the world has in store, of the person she’s letting herself become. But seeing the lighthearted freedom manifested in every muscle of Alex’s body, this flicker of hope for their future, it maybe makes her think it might be worth all of damnation.

Kara smiles, forces past the emotional torment to focus on what’s right in front of her. “Of course. Told you we’d get where we needed to be.”

Alex laughs with an eye-crinkling cringe. “Yeah, but I didn’t make it easy for you, did I?”

As the two sisters settle onto the couch, Kara waves a hand dismissively. 

“I don’t wanna hear it, I’m just glad you’re back and feeling better. Besides, I could have handled certain things better.”

“You did the best you could with what we had.”

“Maybe, but I… I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.”

“Yeah, well.” Alex snorts. “The Kelly thing was a low blow, but it’s not like I didn’t say anything worse.”

They smile at each other, and Kara’s heart splits with overwhelming joy, bursts open with love and admiration in a way it hasn’t in years.

“I really missed you,” she says, punctuated with an embarrassingly loud sniffle.

Alex rolls her eyes and laughs. “Whatever, you big goof. Just c’mere.”

When Kara leans into her sister’s embrace, wraps her arms tightly around her and inhales the scent of home, she sighs. Lets go. Of what, she’s not really sure, and she knows this moment won’t last, that there’s more to come that she won’t even know how to face, but for now she can afford to give herself this at least.

Pork Belly reemerges sleepily from Kara’s room, pads slowly out with lazy, blinking eyes. Alex squeals as he slowly comes over and hops up between them, and she pushes her sister off to scoop him into her arms. 

“Oh my God, my handsome man, I fucking missed you.”

“So you’ll tell him that, but not me?”

“He’s the king of the house. It’d basically be treason not to.”

❛❛ ❜❜

The hole in her gut is healing, it’s filling, it’s becoming less prominent now that her sister is home. That night, Kara thinks she might be able to truly sleep alone in her bed for the first time in months, won’t lie awake with nothing but a hollow void to keep her company in the dark. 

But something still lingers, a dent, a crack. If Kara can’t fathom why it doesn’t disappear completely now that her sister is home, it’s only because her mind wanders to thoughts of Lena. 

Kara thinks she might be avoiding her, probably because of everything with her family. She can only imagine how traumatic it must be to relieve all of those horrors all over again. Kara saw on the cover of a tabloid magazine at the supermarket a small photo of Lena landing in Metropolis, hand covering her face as she ducked into a car, and then there was the news of her medical breakthrough only a few days later.

Maybe Kara should just… break the ice. Show Lena that everything is fine and okay with them. It has nothing to do with the assignment, Kara wanting to see her. She just misses her, as if she’s been skipping her regular morning caramel latte for two weeks now. A subtle but blatant space that wasn’t there before.

Yeah, cool, she’ll do that. Lena’s supposed to be pulling twelve-hour days at work all of this week, so she’ll just go pop in, say hi. Remind her that she’s still here. 

With her sister home and a plan set in place to go see Lena, Kara falls asleep a lot easier.

 

December 13th

When Lena cries in her arms, Kara wonders if she was always going to be a catalyst, no matter the choice she made.

 

December 20th

Lena’s pillows smell like gardenias, like the sweet purity of jumping off a bridge into the river in the thick, pulsating heat of a Midvale summer. 

Lena’s arm is draped across Kara’s waist, Kara’s curved back into Lena’s front side, and despite the fact that there’s nowhere else in the world she’d rather be, that in Lena’s arms is the one place lately where she can actually sleep, it just doesn’t come.

The article is mostly finished. It’s missing something essential, an essence of Lena that she so desperately wants to capture in prose, but she’s not sure if it’s possible. She can’t even put her finger on what it exactly is. She can talk about all the wonderful things Lena’s done, all about the harmony of her transcendent brilliance, she can catalogue all the ways Lena puts the stars to shame.

But how does she capture this?

The soft murmur Lena makes as she sleepily burrows into Kara’s back, her nose nudging into Kara’s hair, how she squeezes her close, how her leg inches over Kara’s and she envelops her like a koala. 

The electric enchantment of gentle fingertips that brush over Kara’s skin like the late afternoon breeze, how this makes Kara believe in celestiality.

The endless depth of a steady breath that ricochets within Kara’s chest, an echo of peace and serenity like she’s never known. 

Kara’s not a jealous person, she’s good about not envying others for having something she doesn’t. She thinks it’s too reductionistic to desire after someone else’s possessions, accomplishments, qualities, it’s not that simple to just transfer one thing to another person. For every noble greatness in someone, there’s also a dark, suffocating shadow right behind it because nothing comes without a price. 

But sometimes, when the sun’s set and even a whisper would be too loud, even Kara can feel small. 

She values Lena’s opinion more than anything, she thinks that in another universe, Lena would be an invaluable resource, a priceless asset with a wealth of knowledge and so much to offer, she thinks Lena is someone she could turn to for anything and she’d always have a solution.

Kara turns around in Lena’s arms. A sweet soft face, delicately parted lips, pink and so inviting Kara almost forgets what she wants to ask. The gentle puffs of her breath are as small as a child’s, her raven hair is swept back behind her, fans across the pillow. 

It’s not even an aesthetical, traditional beauty that blows Kara away, it’s not the symmetry of her face or her sharp jawline, it’s not the even curve of her mouth. 

It’s the harmony of her equilibrium, the rhythm of calm that washes over and wraps around Kara like the refuge she never knew she needed.

“Lee?” 

When she gets no response, she squeezes her hand up between them and prods at her cheek.

“Mm. Fuck off.”

Kara smiles. “Can I ask one of my questions now?”

“No.”

Lena lets her, of course. Kara tries to stomp down the giddy smile at that annoyed eye-roll Lena always does when she’s caving into something Kara wants. It’s thrilling because she knows it’s all for show, because Lena can never hide her own smile for very long.

She isn’t really looking for an ego boost, isn’t trying to get Lena to shower her with compliments because she wants to feel good about herself.

It’s just, Lena is astounding. Her grace, her insight, it’s an immortal sort of greatness, it’s the kind people will be talking about for decades to come. 

Kara? She’s just… a bartender. She’s a fraud of a friend, a liar, she wasn’t strong enough to give her sister what she needed in her darkest times, she can barely support herself, and in a month’s time Lena just might hate her.

When the sun sets, Kara’s left only with a childish wonder as to how someone so remarkable could care about someone as pathetic as her. 

“I like that you make me feel safe even if I’m scared to death,” Lena finishes quietly.

Kara’s eyes flicker over Lena’s face, the twitch of her eyelashes that grow more still the closer again she gets to sleep.

Even if Kara can’t exactly protect Lena from sorrow, she can’t forever avoid the truth, Kara will have to tell her eventually, even if Lena might not forgive her — even if she can’t stop that all from happening, at the very least, Kara will protect her image. 

Kara’s not so presumptuous as to think it’s her word that matters so much, that she has that much sway with one article. But it’s a nudge in the right direction, it’ll get people looking at Lena the way she does, give them a glimpse of what she sees. 

She may not be able to save Lena from heartbreak, but she will tell the world of her divinity.

She will protect her name, her legacy, even if it costs her everything. 

 

December 24th

It’s almost six, Lena’s already texted that she’s on her way, and Kara’s got a really bad habit of putting things off ‘till the last minute.

“I invited Lena,” she blurts out as Alex is pouring a bag of popcorn into a bowl.

Alex crumples the empty bag and tosses it in the trash like a basketball. 

“Who’s Lena?”

Kara takes a deep breath, counts to three in her head. “Uh, Lena Luthor? I want you to meet her.”

Alex laughs, hopping onto the kitchen island and digging her hand into the popcorn. “Okay, and why d’you want me to meet the girl you interviewed?”

Right.

“Well, you could say that um, we’ve gotten close, these last couple a months. While you’ve been gone.”

Alex smirks, talks through a full mouth. “Oh yeah? How close are we talking?”

“Not like — no, not like that.” Kara wipes her clammy hands on her thighs. “I mean, kind of, I don’t know, it’s really confusing, she’s confusing. But we’ve become really close and I want her to meet you.”

“Yeah sure, dork. Did you think I was gonna say no or something?”

Standing aimlessly on the threshold of the kitchen, Kara wrings her hands together, looks down at her looping fingers. “No, it’s just that… um… she doesn’t, like, really know.”

“Know what?”

Kara licks her lips. “Um, about the article? I maybe haven’t told her about it. And things kind of just… progressed from there.”

There’s a beat of silence at first, and Kara looks up nervously. Slowly, the glint of amusement fades from Alex’s eyes into something more skeptical.

“Okay,” she draws out uncertainly. “But I’m confused. I thought you said you were almost finished with the article, you said you’re submitting it this week.”

Kara swallows.

“...I am.”

Alex stares at her impassively. And then — it’s pitiful, like 2 a.m. loneliness. 

“Kara.”

“I know.”

Alex runs a hand through her short hair, setting the popcorn down beside her. “Jesus, okay, well. I mean, why not? If you’re so close, why haven’t you told her?”

“We need the money.” Kara’s mouth wobbles, she can’t meet Alex’s eye. “And at first I was scared that she’d say no, and all of a sudden this thing between us was just… more. And then it became less about asking for permission, and every time I try to tell her something comes up, there hasn’t been a good time. And now — I don’t know.”

“Are you serious?” Alex quickly hops off the island. “So you’ve just been gathering intel by making her think you’re friends? Is this even legal? Even if it is, Kara she could probably sue you for this.”

Her heart is palpitating as Alex’s questions pile up and Kara shakes her head quickly. “No, she wouldn’t do that, Lena’s not like that.”

“How much?”

“What?”

Alex’s nostrils flare, Kara sees her jaw ripple with tension. “How much are they paying you?”

Kara’s gaze knocks to the floor like boulders.

“Eight thousand for the story. And a contracted position on their tier-one journalism team with a starting salary of a hundred-ten thousand.”

Alex’s drops her chin, curses under her breath and starts pacing the length of the kitchen. Kara feels as if she’s fourteen again and being lectured on the house rules, head hanging low like a scolded child.

“So let me get this straight,” Alex starts, clearing her throat as she goes back and forth. “You’re writing an article on everything this woman has been up to since her brother was incarcerated for fraudulent medical certification and mass, second-degree manslaughter, because of an exposé you wrote, and this new article is getting published next week, and she has no idea?”

“Well, Andrea’s not publishing it until mid January. She just wanted another draft by New Year’s to make sure that I’m… doing my part. She’s going to give me her critiques and I’ll finish it next month.”

“Does she even know who you are?”

This slices through Kara like nothing else, leaves her fingertips cold, her chest colder.

Kara’s bottom lip twitches. “Look, this is as much for her as it is for me. I’m doing this for us, Alex, but also, it’s not like I’m not saying anything bad about her! I mean, this is a chance for the world to see how great she really is, to see the person she always has been—”

“Don’t you think that should be up to her to decide? Holy shit, Kara.”

Kara sucks in her breath, nods curtly. “I know.”

“How long has this been going on?”

She doesn’t think she can stop the tears, not this time, not anymore. She doesn’t know if the ground is shaking or it’s a trembling coming from within her, if this avalanche was always inevitable, if it was always going to come to this no matter what she did.

“I’m scared, Alex,” she whispers. “I’m really, really scared and I know I messed up and I should have told her right away but I—” She cuts herself up sharply as her chest starts convulsing, as the sharp hiccups crash over her, and she can’t see straight anymore. “Alex I don’t want to lose her. I can’t — I can’t.”

Alex has been steadfast since her return, unwavering, balanced. She’s held herself like the world holds meaning again, like she cares about herself again. But most noticeably, she’s the sister Kara’s always known. The nurturing, dry-humored, hopelessly loving sister that raised her, that held her through everything. 

It’s part of what hurt so much when Alex fell into her struggles, when she was slipping down the deep end without a safeguard. Selfishly, Kara wondered if she’d lost her for good, lost that beloved comfort, her backbone.

And now that it’s back, Kara half expects Alex to step forward and scoop her up, to tell her it’s going to be okay, to protect Kara from the shipwreck she steered herself to its demise.

But Alex’s mouth falls into a flat, stiff line. 

“If you really care about her, Kara, you’ll tell her. Before it’s too late.”

Alex turns her back and walks off down the hall, and Kara doesn’t understand when everything started to change.

Kara cleans herself up in the bathroom, wipes away the mess of tears and splashes cold water to dim the redness around her eyes. When there’s a knock at the door, Kara clears her throat and goes to answer it. 

She catches Alex’s eye before she opens the door, one last silent plea that she hopes translates across her heavy gaze.

Alex looks way, and Kara opens the door.

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena leaves, and Kara wonders when it was that she lost her soul.

It’s while she and Alex are picking up all the tissue paper that Alex sighs.

“She’s sweet.”

Kara nods, smiles softly. “Yeah, she is.”

“I can see why you like her.”

Kara rolls her eyes. “You’re just excited about the espresso machine.”

Her sister shrugs and smirks. “Yeah, maybe. Sue me.”

There’s more shuffling of papers, clearing of trash, polite maneuvering around each other as they clean up the kitchen and get ready for bed.

Kara lingers outside the archway of her room, tugs at her sleeves awkwardly while Alex pours a glass of water in the kitchen.

“Well, goodnight,” Kara offers lamely.

Alex looks at her over the rim of her glass. She lowers the cup, bites the inside of her cheek. “Night.”

Kara has just turned her back when— 

“Kara?”

She stops, looks back. “Yeah?”

Her sister sighs. “I’m sorry about earlier, giving you such a hard time. I could’ve handled that better. I know how hard it can be to do the right thing sometimes, and I shouldn’t have judged you for that.”

Kara shrugs half-heartedly. “It’s not like I don’t deserve it. Someone should probably hold me accountable, right?”

“Still, I’m the last person in the world that should be criticizing someone else’s choices, least of all yours. Not when you’re just…”

“What?”

“You really are doing all of this for me?”

Kara blinks, twists her fingers. She thought that was obvious. “Yeah, Alex, of course. I’d do anything for you.”

Alex looks tired, all of a sudden, much more tired than she’s seemed since coming home. “Do you even want this job?” 

“Of course I do.”

“Do you?”

“Yes,” Kara laughs.

“Really?”

The smile falls, and Kara stares back at her sister. She doesn’t know how else to answer, what else there could be for her. Of course she wants this job, it’s everything she’s ever worked for, all she’s ever wanted. It just happens to be the magical solution to their financial crisis, to the bills stacking up in the mail and the private loans accruing interest by the day, what’s going to keep her and her sister from living from couch to couch, homeless and lost like they were that first year the Danvers’ house wasn’t home anymore.

If she didn’t want this job, what would she be? What else is there to her?

“I love you to death, Kara, but I swear to God don’t let me be the one keeping you from living the life you actually want. Please, don’t do that to me, and don’t you dare do that to yourself.”

Kara, bewildered, shakes her head as takes a step forward to tell her wrong. “You’re the most important person in the world to me, nothing else even matters—”

“No, Kara, Alex snaps, and Kara halts in her tracks. But where, months ago, there was venom and hostile cruelty, now there’s just a frantic determination, one Kara doesn’t know how to process. “I’m not. I should not be the most important person in your world, nobody should be, not me, not Lena. That’s supposed to be you. You matter above anything else, and I need you to see that.”

Kara feels the paleness seep down face like a sheet of fog, she feels dizzy and as if her consciousness is stringing out somewhere intractably deep within her, she withdraws from the presence of her body as much as her mind knows how.

“I will support you no matter what you do, I will always be on your side. But I am begging you, for once in your life, put yourself first.”

Kara laughs like she means to brush off her sister’s dangerous, intense warning, flippant and worry-free, but she doesn’t know why it’s so hard to mean it. 

“Look, I promise you this is what I want. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.”

“Then tell me you’re not in love with her.”

Her stomach sinks, a cold like the arctic dunks her chest in. 

“I… What?”

Alex watches her carefully, scanning, searching, and Kara doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be hiding. 

And then Alex’s chin falls, and she shakes her head. “I really can’t spell this out for you.”

Kara has no smart retort, no comeback at the ready, and Alex takes the last word before she’s off to bed. She flicks off the lights, and Kara is suddenly left alone in a much different way than she was before when this apartment was empty.

When she’s in bed, staring at the black of the ceiling, she can think of a hundred and one reasons why Alex is wrong.

Kara can’t afford to be selfish right now. Yeah, okay, Alex is right, everyone being should always prioritize themselves above all else. But the world isn’t always that neatly organized and sometimes you have to set aside this contemporary sort of self-indulgence for the betterment of a greater pursuit. A quest that’s bigger than her feelings, her desires.

They literally cannot afford for Kara not to get this job, Kara’s credit is already shot to hell and they’re hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from hospital bills and the monthly rehab payments, not to mention they’re both still paying off their student loans. They’re living off one income now, the last thing Kara wants is to pressure her sister back into finding a job, not if she isn’t ready and the woes of the world are too much for her fragile recovery. The haunting linger of Alex, pale in that hospital bed, of Alex with the veins of her neck throbbing, screaming across the apartment, it suffocates her and she sees it every time she closes her eyes.

She can’t slow down for a silly thing like love, even if it’s everything she feels. 

 

December 27th

Lena’s taken Kara out to dinner and she’s asked Kara to go with her to Switzerland.

Just the two of them, a weekend, a getaway from this claustrophobic life.

Kara’s never wanted anything more badly in her life, never knew yearning could be so visceral an itch. Running away to an obsolete nowhere with Lena is a dangerous line of thinking because of how easily it looks like everything she’s ever wanted.

Lena, snowflakes in her hair like confectioner’s sugar, unladen of her burdens and spinning with her arms wide open.

Lena, a frostbite pink in her cheeks, a crackling in her cold, red lips around a smile like an inferno, never to fall.

Lena, eyes blinking back the cold, a laugh like chardonnay, Kara would give her everything.

Kara thinks, surely, there must be some way she can have it all. There has to be a solution that doesn’t involve breaking under the weight of crippling debt, an option other than telling Lena that she’s publishing a story about her, a way to get the job without crushing the one person who’s ever looked at Kara not like she is blocking the sun, but rather because she is the light.

Switzerland sounds like a dream. She would love to go.

But the article goes live January 22nd and Kara doesn’t know if Lena will still think a vacation is romantic if she’s travelling with a fraud.

Kara tells her yes if only to save her the grief of hearing a no.

 

December 31st

They’re on the rooftop surrounded by their friends, and Kara thinks this might be it. She thinks Lena might be far more human than she ever could be, far more beautiful and far more capable against the woes of the world than Kara could ever dream of.

Kara will always be in awe of the resilience of a broken woman who refuses to stay down.

Lena catches Kara staring. She laughs, her eyes crinkling. “What are you smiling at?”

Kara shrugs, her arm loose around Lena’s shoulders. “Nothing. I just think you’re pretty.”

Lena’s mouth falls open into a disbelieving grin, an adorable pink blush creeping around her cheeks, and she looks as if she’s trying to be coy and doesn’t realize it’s not working in the slightest. “Okay, well stop being an idiot in front of your friends, or they’re going to stop letting me bring you.”

Nia snorts, holds her first out to Lena. “Ha, good one. Bring it here.”

Lena looks incredibly goofy putting her small, cute little fist to Nia’s in a stilted bump, but she looks proud of herself and Kara’s not gonna be the one to tell her.

Brainy glances skeptically between the exchange, looks to Kara wearily and then back to Nia. “I would sooner throw myself into the sun than deem you anything short of brilliance,” he promises her.

Nia pouts and kisses him on the nose. “Aw, thanks babe. But how about you make me a drink instead?”

As the couple takes off for the drinks table, Lena hums, leans more heavily into Kara’s side.

“Bet you wouldn’t throw yourself into the sun for me,” Lena points out, mockingly glum.

Kara tosses her head back and laughs. “Oh so you’re comparing us to Brainy and Nia now?” 

“Yes, so what if I am?” Lena does that eyebrow raise thing that always makes Kara lose her train of thought. Kara’s not sure of much, but she knows that if this is a game, Lena’s winning. 

Kara sticks out her chin, looks around them, anywhere but at Lena’s toying gaze as she pulls them towards where the group is playing a game of beer pong baseball. “Then I would say you’re Brainy, ‘cause you’re the certified genius philanthropist and I’m the cool one with the better jokes.”

Lena smirks, her hand reaching up to tangle with the fingers dangling over her shoulder. “I’ll accept that answer.”

If Kara presses a chaste, short kiss to Lena’s temple before they join the game, well. No one else notices.

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena’s downstairs using the bathroom, and Kara is talking to Kelly about a recent study investigating a correlation between amygdala size and anxiety, or something along those lines, when the woman across from her sighs.

“Did Alex ever tell you why we broke up?”

Kara was busy scrolling through her phone, trying to find the link to the study, and she blinks back up at Kelly in confusion, furrows her eyebrows. “Uh, yeah? I mean, she just said the drinking got in the way, that you hated it. Why?”

Kelly nods, presses her lips together. “I did, yes. But that’s not why we broke up.”

Kara pockets her phone. “Then… why?”

She laughs dryly, loops her elbow around Kara’s and leans against the brick wall beside them so they’re facing the rest of the party. Alex is in the center currently being wrapped from both sides with purple and yellow streamers, Lucy and Sam working together simultaneously, while Winn and Nia egg them on in loud, excited chants. 

Kelly wraps her hands around the neck of her half-empty beer bottle. “I hated how consumed she was by it, not because of the way it took away from our time together, but how she couldn’t stand to be by herself in her own head for even an hour. She always needed something else to keep her distracted, some other fix to stop things from getting too quiet. I hated that she liked drinking more than she liked herself. I think she always thought I was upset because of how she’d always choose a drink over me when it came down to it but… I don’t think it was ever really about that.”

Kara tears her eyes away from the childish, gleeful scene before her, the beautiful laughter of Alex’s carefree, boundless energy, a spirit that she can’t believe she once thought was lost for good.

“What was it about, then?”

Kelly breathes in deeply through her nose. “I don’t regret being there for her, I would never do anything differently because I think I did everything in my power to help her. But somewhere along the line I wasn’t her girlfriend anymore, not really. I started being her therapist, because if I have the tools for helping someone rebuild a support network, a stable lifestyle, how could I not share that? It seemed silly not to. So I let her put her whole weight on me and that… that wasn’t fair.”

“You mean, ‘cause you couldn’t hold all of that alone?” 

“No. Because I made her feel like a patient, a statistic, when she just wanted to feel less alone. I scrutinized her and examined her like one of my books, held her up to a diagnostic standard. It wasn’t fair to either of us, and when I realized I was doing more harm than good… well. You know how it ends.”

“What about now?” Kara asks insistently. “Do you not love her anymore? Why not now?”

Kelly surprises her with a boisterous laugh, such an easygoing humor and Kara gawks at her.

“What is so funny about this?”

“Of course I still love her, Kara.” Kelly smiles like she’s telling her about her weekend plans. “I’ll always love her. But we’re in a different chapter now, and I think that might be for the best.”

Kara hates the sinking feeling that she knows where Kelly is going with all of this. “Why are you telling me this?”

Kelly casts her with a look of smart compassion, like Kara should already know the answer but it’s amusing that she doesn’t. She doesn’t get the joke, doesn’t know why the hole in her chest isn’t healing over but only digging itself deeper, burrowing further into her until she’s sure it’s about to burst through the other side. 

“Because sometimes doing everything you can to protect someone from the pain — it does more harm than good. Sometimes you just have to let them feel what they’re going to feel and trust that they will pull through.”

Kara turns her gaze away forcefully, stares off into the skyline to quell the rush of heat in her eyes. “Alex told you everything, then.”

She bumps her shoulder against Kara’s. “I am a professional analytic, you know. I could figure out what was going on for myself. But yes… and also James gave me a heads-up at game night.”

Kara laughs wryly. “Yeah, okay. But since you’re already butting in, and I know you have an opinion… you really think I should tell her, no matter how much it’s going to hurt her?”

Kelly shrugs. “Probably. I mean, definitely tell her before that all comes out. But I was trying to imply something more along the lines of, say, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. Whatever it is you’re holding back from, not letting come to fruition because you’re scared of hurting her, well. How you feel matters too. There doesn’t have to be a hierarchy.”

Kara watches Lucy tackle Winn to the ground. She’s not sure what he did, why this is suddenly turning into a pile-up and why everyone is yelling, but their silly brawl, the chaos of all of it, it brings Kara to a moment of serenity.

“You are not selfish for wanting,” Kelly says.

Kara doesn’t get the chance to respond, nothing much more than a heavy weighted look between them, Kelly’s encouraging soft smile and Kara’s stricken fear, a first taste of hope.

Lena comes out from the roof door beside them and immediately beams when she sees Kara as if they hadn’t just been separated for only a few minutes. She rushes up to them, bouncing on her heels and nudges back into her rightful spot under Kara’s arm.

Lena’s cheeks are rosy as she smiles at the two of them. “Hey you, what’d I miss?”

When Kara opens her mouth, nothing comes out, because for the first time she might actually be wondering if there is a happy ending to all of this, if it’s in the cards for them.

Kelly saves her. “Kara was just telling me about the new amygdaloid study you showed her, but she couldn’t find it.”

“Oh!” Lena pulls away from Kara just enough to wiggle her phone out of her pocket, scrolls through her Safari tabs. “Yes, it was a small lab at Harvard investigating different treatment options for anxiety. Hold on, I have it right here.”

Kara shoots Kelly a thankful look, and the other woman winks.

As Lena hands her phone over to Kelly, Kara presses her nose into Lena’s hair, inhales that milk and honey sweetness. 

Maybe she does feel things, and maybe the things she feels aren’t these tragic, villainous betrayals, maybe they don’t have to be so haunting. 

Lena smiles up at her, a brief, fleeting thing across her face, and the arm that’s wrapped around her waist squeezes briefly, framing the private moment between them that makes Kara’s ankles weak. 

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena kisses her like they are the beginning of the universe, like everything is only just beginning.

Kara kisses her like the world ends tomorrow.

 

January 1st, 2020

Kara’s still wiping off Lena’s lipstick from their makeout in the bathroom when the door shuts behind her, and she rushes up the stairs but Alex and Lucy are hot behind her.

“So did you fuck her?”

“Dude, I’m right here.”

“C’mon, you know you want to know.”

“Okay yeah, obviously, but please like, spare me the details.”

“Did it sound like I was asking for a play-by-play?”

“No but—”

Kara whirls around on the sixth floor, her chest pounding and not from the climb. “Is there even anything left on the roof or are you two just being crazy?”

Lucy backpedals to avoid running into Kara, and this leaves her stumbling back into Alex who yelps indignantly as she catches the brunette.

Kara rolls her eyes and continues her trek on up.

“Okay,” Lucy pants, and Kara thinks she hears her push Alex aside and rush after her. “Okay okay okay. Listen.”

Kara doesn’t stop though, reaches the top floor, bursts into the frigid night-time air. The glare of the flickering string lights swallows the nighttime darkness, and it takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the city lights and distant fireworks still flowering in the distance.

This city is her home. It has been for a few years now. And it is both impeccably brighter, glittering more than ever, and also just suddenly pale in contrast to the gleam of Lena’s dreamy smile, when her eyes are closed and mouth still wet from Kara’s kiss.

It still is her city, Alex is still her home, all her friends are still her family. That hasn’t changed.

But kissing Lena reminds her how long it’s been since she’s found sanctuary. A safe haven she didn’t know she needed, know was missing.

Kara hears a crash behind her and turns to find Alex and Lucy shoving each other in their haste to squeeze out the door first, and they stumble out onto the rooftop.

A frown sinking the corners of her mouth, she turns back to the city.

Alex comes up beside her with a dramatic huff, sweeping the wrinkles from her loose jeans. “Okay, my turn now.”

Lucy appears on Kara’s other side. “Your turn? The fuck did I do yet? My turn’s not over.”

“Not my fault you wasted your time stammering like a—”

“Can both of you please just shut up?” Kara snaps.

Alex and Lucy look at each other in alarm, and Lucy laughs awkwardly but Kara is already pacing over to the folding tables, running her hands back through her hair.

This is all so—

She can’t even articulate how nauseating it is to navigate all these overlapping thoughts and twisted, conflicting threads of responsibility and desire, it leaves her temples throbbing and her mouth dry. Because how is she supposed to navigate through two overlapping storms when neither have an end in sight?

She snatches out a crate from underneath the table and stacks the bottles inside stiltedly, and she hears the soft pad of footsteps coming up beside her.

Lucy appears in her peripheral with pursed lips. “You okay, kid?”

“I’m fine.” The bottles in the crate rattle with how forcefully she sticks them in.

Alex, arms crossed, leans against the brick wall beside the table, watching Kara pointedly. “You know, I thought yoga was supposed to take the edge off.”

Kara shoots her a glare, and stuffs the crate into her sister’s arms wordlessly.

Alex does take the box, but she immediately sets it back down and raises her eyebrows in challenge. Lucy glances back and forth between the two sisters nervously, a stare-off that is either endearingly playful and sarcastic or might break out into one of the classic Danvers blow-outs.

It’s neither. Kara deflates. 

“I can’t do this,” she confesses brokenly. “I can’t do this with her, can I?”

Alex purses her lips, lifts her shoulder in a half shrug. “That’s up to you.”

“Can’t you just make this easy for me? Just tell me what I’m supposed to do, because all of this vague, mysterious mumbo-jumbo you and Kelly have been throwing at me is making my head hurt and I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

“Hold up a sec.” Lucy comes between them, hand outstretched haltingly. “You talked to Kelly about this before me?”

Kara rolls her eyes and shuffles off again from the two of them, needing the physical distance like it might alleviate the way she can’t bear the shape of her own sins.

“Look, I’ve spent enough of these last few years dictating your life choices.” Alex’s tone implies that she’s not open for Kara to counter this statement. “I’m not doing that shit to you anymore.”

“Oh yeah, super convenient timing with that, thanks.”

“You can totally ask me what to do.”

“No,” Alex hisses, flicking Lucy in the ear. “She can’t.”

As Lucy rubs the side of her head sorely, grumbling, Kara shakes her head as the turmoil of indecision only snowballs deeper within her.

“I can, on the other hand,” Alex starts. “Tell you again that you do have a choice.”

Kara looks back. “A choice in what?”

“You feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, which, yeah, of course it’s a tough decision, a huge, impossible one that I never meant to put on you in the first place. But look… I’m just reminding you that there is a choice. You don’t have to take the job if you don’t want to. You don’t have to post the story.”

Kara’s not sure she can distinguish between a breeze of hope and the cold rush of crippling doubt, thinks they might be one in the same, wonders if hope ever really can come without the uncertainty. Maybe that’s what it means to hope, knowing it might be misplaced, aware of the odds that everything could go wrong, understanding the fact that it’s all based on nothing concrete. Maybe hope is trusting it anyway, even if she’s never been more unsure of anything in her life.

“Like, yes, we’ll be eating microwaved ramen and working in the service industry for the next forty years,” Alex goes on with a dry smile. “But whatever you do, we’ll figure something out. Might not be glamorous, not really the life we always wanted, but we’ve got each other. And listen, I’m not gonna pretend any of it will be easy, that I’m just instantly better and that hanging around all of you guys drinking isn’t the hardest test of self-control I’ve ever had to go through, but I’m doing it. I’m getting there, even if it’s a battle I’ll have to face every day.”

It starts slow, a chill that creeps around the base of Kara’s neck, leaves her tongue frozen.

Alex licks her lips, cocks her jaw. “I thought there was gonna be this magical fix, that I was broken and I just needed the right kind of love or a certain amount of money and it was going to take care of all of my problems. But it’s not. There isn’t some grand answer because going to rehab wasn’t about fixing me, it was just about learning how to believe in myself again. 

“But Kara, I’m not someone that needs to be saved. And it’s not your responsibility to keep trying. I don’t know when I let you take that weight on, when I made you think that you had to, and I am so sorry for that, because all the things I love about you are because of who you are, not whatever job you have or how much you make a year. I know you mean well, I know you’re just trying to do this for us, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice who you are. If this is what you want, truly, then okay. I got your back. You just need to figure out what kind of person you want to be. But whatever happens, whatever you choose, you’ll always have me, because all I ever needed was my sister beside me.”

And it finally slams her in the chest like a ricocheting blast of clarity, knocks over the unfounded, precarious dichotomy of choosing between two devastating outcomes impossible to cope with.

“And maybe you could have her too.” 

Alex smiles, and Kara might actually believe her.

She never really took a second to consider that not running the story was even an option. Like, of course she did, of course everyone tried to tell her that she needed to do this right, but she was so recklessly blinded by the fear of losing her sister that this story seemed inevitable, an unmistakable given.

There were other maps she attempted to draw, strategies for how she might both land the job and keep Lena, how to save her sister and not lose this love. She’s been looking at this entire thing as if they’re two options that she must either choose between or find some otherworldly solution to weld them into one. It was like preventing an unstoppable force against an immovable object without ridding one from the equation entirely. 

She thought her proofs were sound, the conclusion logical, that to save her sister she had to publish the story, but if she published the story then she would lose the only other person she ever wanted to fight for. The argument was valid, it followed accordingly, and every attempt she made to come to a new conclusion was thwarted by reality. Kara never thought to wonder if the first premise might be refutable, that maybe passing up on the job didn’t equate surrendering her sister.

Maybe it’s naive, maybe it’s insane and far too childish to count on all the love in her life as being all she needs in order to make it through this world and that the money will work out later, but… 

Kara was never much good at pragmatics, anyway. 

“Hey, you know what?” Lucy elbows Kara teasingly, and to be honest she almost forgot she was there. “If you marry her, she’d totally pay everything off.”

Alex smacks Lucy on the back of the head before Kara has to, and they all break into unrestrained laughter, it blossoms in tendrils and Kara’s never felt so deliciously unweighted and free.

Once the laughter has died down, Kara looks off at the skyline as a crinkle sets in her brow. 

“Being a journalist has always been my dream I thought this was gonna be my one shot at it, that I had to take the first chance or I’d never make it. It all seemed so perfect, you know? The offer, the money, the position, it looked like everything I’ve ever worked for, and I think I just thought that it was the right thing to do. It’d be selfish not to, it’d be crossing this line between being realistic and flat out wishful thinking. But, I mean, working for a billion dollar company that’s trying to invade someone's privacy because it’s what sells, I guess…  maybe that’s going too far. Isn’t it? Someday, you know, if it’s what I’m meant to do, I’ll get there. There’s always going to be another job but…” 

“You won’t be able to get rid of me that easily,” Alex finishes for her with a wry smile. “And I don’t think Lena’s going anywhere either.”

Kara laughs, shakes her head. “Gosh, we’re really going to be in debt for the rest of our lives, aren’t we?”

“Eh, we’ve already got a tab going with the government, this is nothing new. Okay, but so now that I’ve actually gotten you to agree to drop this, I should probably tell you we got an eviction notice, and we have until the 6th to pay it.”

Kara’s head jerks up to her sister in alarm. “You’re just telling me this now?”

But.” Alex holds up a finger, her mouth splitting into a grin. “You are also looking at the newest hire at Spheerical Industries, so. If you work every night until then and pay it, then I can cover the next Medi-Cal bill when I get my first paycheck.”

Kara blinks rapidly in surprise and her jaw drops. “You— I’m sorry, you what? Alex, that’s amazing!” 

As Kara tugs her sister into an enthusiastic hug, breathless and tight, Lucy quickly follows but not before a quiet, muttered, “Why does nobody tell me anything?”

Laughing, Alex pries them both off her. “It’s really not a huge deal, I’m just a low-ranking bio technician in the downstairs labs, I’ll mostly just be transcribing data and writing reports. Kelly knows someone who works in the labs and she got me an interview last week.”

“It is completely a huge deal, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Alex shrugs. “I only found out yesterday, and I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Sputtering, Kara’s nearly speechless as she stares at her sister in awe. “Alex, I… I am seriously so proud of you, this is incredible.”

Alex rolls her eyes with pursed lips, but her cheeks are glowing with pride, and it’s more well-deserved than ever.

Lucy waves between them. “Okay, ditto, and we’re going to celebrate this later. But first of all, you two are not losing this apartment. It has been years since any of us have had rooftop access and over my dead body would I let that go without a fight.” She huffs an exasperated sigh and turns to Kara. “Secondly — this is seriously so last minute for you to be fixing your mess, but I don’t even care. Can you please just tell me whether y’all fucked or not?”

A blush snakes up Kara’s cheeks and she laughs bashfully, fidgets with her glasses. “When did you guys become so invested in my love life?”

“According to Winn, you haven’t so much as had a crush on anyone since college, so. Basically since you started to actually have one.”

Kara gapes. “Do you all just get together and talk about me when I’m not around? Is that what happens?”

Alex nods leniently. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Their good-natured teasing fizzles out, and Kara’s left staring at the dark screen of her phone, twisting her cold fingers around it.

Kara laughs wetly, sucking in her bottom lip between her teeth. “Am I insane if I email a powerful billionaire CEO at two in the morning that I quit?”

“Better late than never?” Alex offers half-heartedly.

“Personally, I think it’s hot.” Lucy plucks an open bag of Twizzlers from one of the crates, gnaws off the end of it. “Very big-dick energy of you Danvers.”

Alex and Kara give her an incredulous look, both of them choking back baffled laughs. But Kara doesn’t let their banter distract her again, and she unlocks her phone.

There’s this intangible relief, not just in having Alex’s blessing but realizing this is what her sister actively wants for her. 

Alex always supported her, of course, she’s only ever wanted the best for her, but that was more along the lines of chasing her dreams, continuing her studies, working her blood and sweat into unveiling the truth behind her cousin’s mysterious death when he was supposed to be getting better. Alex wasn’t always herself, there were the horrible, heart wrenching arguments that left them both winded with remorse. But there were good days and bad days, always. Some mornings, Alex was smiling. Some days, they’d research together side-by-side, like they did back in high school, and Kara used to glance across the cafe table at her sister and wonder if maybe things would turn out okay in the end. And then she found the truth, and she was getting published for the first time since a student-run college print, and then Alex was coming home from rehab and her skin wasn’t thrumming with finely coiled tension anymore.

There’s still hard days, of course, Kara won’t pretend. She had this one, obsessive and unyielding focus to guard and protect her sister because she always knew rehab wasn’t the fairytale endpoint. Alex’s struggles are something much more complex and intricately woven through Alex than just a flu, she knew that a facility wasn’t going to end it all. Some days, Kara still has to pull the blinds open in her sister’s room, has to coerce her out of bed because even though she has nothing else to do, it’s two in the afternoon. Some mornings, Alex will, she’ll get up if only to just shower and go for a walk. Some days she doesn’t. Sometimes she looks at Kara with a bone-tired exhaustion deeper than drowsiness, ask to have this one day of self-indulgence, ask Kara to just leave her alone. 

Sometimes, Kara wonders if she should. 

But if she’s learned anything about the last six months, it’s that turning around and pretending there’s nothing going on behind her isn’t any way to live her life. Kara can’t just walk out the door, can’t entertain Alex’s self-tormenting behavior because she’s worried of a snap.

But it doesn’t mean Kara can’t pull the blinds back shut and crawl into bed with her sister and queue up something on Netflix. Because a day of indulging one’s woes is fine, it’s healthy. It’s okay to recognize the darkness that caresses her cheek, lean into it and face its repentance.

It doesn’t mean she has to do it alone.

This feels like far too simple an answer to her problems, it feels naive and selfish and unfathomably ignorant of the troubles to come. But there’s a smidge of truth to Alex’s words, to her promise that Kara doesn’t have to do this if she doesn’t want to.

It’s just—

Coming home to Alex disappeared, not even for the first time, and wondering if the last thing Kara would ever say to her sister was a snarling retort that she’s just waiting for her time to run out, seeing Alex in that hospital bed pale and still… there seemed no other way out. 

When her universe was about to implode, and someone offered her a deal that looked like the key to the gates of heaven, it was only human that she took a deal with the devil.

Wasn’t it?

Alex is remind her she doesn’t have to anymore, Kelly is telling her it’s okay to give in to her desires, Lucy is begging her to get laid, and Lena is just asking for Kara to tell her she wants her too.

It’s unrealistic, it’s not a sustainable choice that makes much sense for her future financial stability, but in that moment, Kara knew.

There was never a choice to begin with.

Kara unlocks her phone and pulls up her email.

❛❛ ❜❜

Dear Ms. Rojas,

I would like to thank you for the incredible opportunity you gave given me, and the immeasurable trust you have bestowed on me with this assignment. I understand completely that it is the chance of a lifetime, and I am extremely grateful.

However, I unfortunately must withdraw myself from your consideration. I am aware of the opportunity I am passing up, and I cannot thank you enough, but, regretfully, I have changed my mind. I hope you understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this imposes on you and your team.

Sincerely,

Kara Danvers

❛❛ ❜❜

“Hey, it’s about time.” A pair of arms slip around Kara’s waist from behind, a chin nuzzles into her shoulder, and Kara sets down the last of crates in the kitchen. “You ready to get out of here?”

Deciding to pull the article was the first step, but this is all far from over. 

“Yeah,” Kara answers with a small smile, the best she can manage, knowing what’s to come, as she turns around in Lena’s arms and brushes her raven hair back from her face. “We can go.”

“Good.” Lena’s red lips press into a sweet smirk, and she presses a delicate kiss to the corner of Kara’s mouth, innocent enough to not draw anyone’s attention but electric all the same. “Then take me home, Supergirl.”

❛❛ ❜❜

Kara will still tell her, of course. 

This isn’t a secret she can keep forever. She knows that. She knows Lena still deserves to know the truth about the nature of how they met. 

This hangs about and around her thoughts like fireflies flickering in the dark as Lena takes her hand. She leads her into the hallway as she calls them a Lyft, her touch blindingly sweet and all Kara can do is follow her down the stairwell, because she would probably turn down every job in the universe if it meant keeping that beautiful, shy, elegant smile on her face.

She’s dizzy with adoration as she’s pulled along, her fingers intertwined with long, pale ones.  The smile she flashes behind her at Kara, it makes her giddy and light-headed, feels like the first time Lucy gave her a pot brownie. It’s not until Lena leads them outside, as they leave the hot confines of the building and the cool air outside slaps against Kara’s face, the gravity sinks in.

Lena will forgive her, won’t she?

Yes, she’s gone over it a dozen times in the last twenty minutes, there’s other jobs, other companies Kara would rather work for, other bosses, other opportunities, other things she and Alex can do, other futures she can manage.

There’s not another Lena.

Silly isn’t really the right word, but it feels — irresponsible, climatically insufferable, a disservice not only to Lena but to all the hope she’s brought and all the good in her, it just feels so dangerously wrong of Kara to have come so far as this. To have had such tunnel vision for this long, held back by misguided fears and to have let this get so out of hand. There’s nothing she can do about it now, she can’t go back and redo the first night they ever met.

Briefly, cautiously, she wonders. 

If Kara had never been given the assignment, if Lena Luthor had still walked into the bar that night and Kara never had an ulterior motive, would she still have tried? To know the woman with whole worlds on her shoulders?

So Kara holds Lena’s hand in the car, keeps her tucked under her arm and presses her chin to the crown of her dark hair. She doesn’t know what to say, how to articulate anything, because she’s always known Lena was going to hate her when this all was over, of course she would. But even now that she’s shaping a different sort of ending, one where she’s made the right choice, even if she’s changed her mind just in time, it still is going to crush her. 

It feels sticky, the idea of taking this night that Lena’s offering to her. It’s gruesome and wicked, it’s not anything Kara deserves and it feels like a nefarious line of deception she can’t come back from. It comes out of nowhere, it slams her backwards and Kara can’t do this.

So, cradling her face like it might keep her heart from breaking, she tells her.

“I’m sorry, I — I don’t think this is a good idea anymore.”

Lena’s entire face falls, it’s not cute and there’s nothing poetic about it, it’s a kick to Kara’s stomach and she doesn’t know how to explain that this is the best thing she can do by Lena, because — they can’t, no, not until they talk, Kara has to tell her, she has to do this.

Lena puts on a brave face, a droll smile that twitches in the corner like she’s really trying not to cry. And oh, she puts up on hell of a fight.

The idea that Kara would try and say there isn’t truly anything between them, gosh it’s laughable. There’s nothing funny about it, and Kara wishes she had the words, she’s a writer, this should be so much easier but Lena is fighting for Kara to admit something that she already knows.

“No, no, Lena, that’s not what I’m saying at all.” Kara paces away, runs her shaking hands through her hair. “Of course I want this, it’s just, it’s complicated, okay?”

“Uncomplicate it then.”

Where would she even begin? With Clark? With Lex? With Alex? Would it be selfish to start with the day Lena stole the last dumpling from Kara’s plate and she realized she didn’t really mind all that much and that was the day she knew that she didn’t want her place in Lena’s life to just be temporary? Would it be selfish to start with the night she found out Lena’s ticklish at her elbows, or what about the night she learned Lena hates it when Kara blows raspberries in her neck? 

Would it be cruel to start with the part where she loves her?

Kara shakes her head. She’s scared, her chest hurts with a terror as black as the darkness under the bed, she wants to blurt out the truth and be finally rid of this burden but she can’t face the fact it might mean the end.

Because even if it’s an ending she always knew was coming, she still isn’t ready for it.

 “It’s not that simple,” she tries feebly, her voice cracking. “I mean, I’m complicated.”

“Kara, listen.” Lena’s pout is adorable, and it makes Kara’s chest clench tighter. “I don’t care.” 

Lena joins her on the couch, earnest and brave in a way Kara’s never seen in her. That’s not to say that she doesn’t consider Lena as courageous, no. She’s one of the bravest people Kara’s ever known, it’s not like that. But Kara has seen — she thinks, maybe — Lena is just as terrified of the plunge as Kara, of turning on the light in a room stuffed with every bottled thought, every suppressed feeling from the last three months.

It’s natural, to be scared. Kara would maybe be concerned if she wasn’t. 

Lena glows like starlight when she fights against fear, and not just for herself but perhaps, for the both of them. 

Lena is curious by nature, she probes and asks questions, she digs deep and most of the time Kara isn’t sure what she’s looking for, wonders if it’s insane to think that Lena has known this entire time. Kara feels frail under a trusting gaze like that, isn’t sure how her meager, freshly molded hope could possibly measure up to that sort of boundless faith.

She should tell her, now might be the perfect time if there ever was one. It claws her apart inside, this promise, this lie, what even is the truth anymore except how it’s going to break Lena’s heart?

Kara knows it’s imminent, can imagine the recoil of betrayal, the sick grief of Lena’s downturned mouth when she finds out. 

The thing is, Kara would wait forever if it meant delaying the inevitable break.

What is the truth except this? Except Lena, who only ever wanted someone to care, except Kara, who only cares about the one person she wasn’t supposed to?

Kara can’t understand why Lena won’t let her say what she has to say, it again makes her wonder if Lena already knows and has already forgiven her, but there’s never been a more selfish and painful possibility than that. 

As Lena’s hand brushes over her lips, caresses her skin tenderly and full of so much love that it brims over the edges like sunlight dribbling over the floor, Kara sighs. 

“I don’t wanna hurt you,” Kara confesses wetly, because her resolve is weakening, and it starts tumbling out of her mouth like marbles she can’t keep a hold of. “No, Lena, you don’t understand. I don’t wanna mess this up, and if we do this then I will, this won’t end well for either of us and I’m just going to ruin everything.”

It’s maybe the most honest she’s ever been with Lena, the most upfront about what it means to be with her, it’s the disclaimer Lena should have been given from the get-go. It’s laying herself bare, as much as she knows how, it’s a confession she’s not sure she’ll be pardoned for.

Lena’s breath is hot, it’s wet and Kara can already taste it.

“So ruin me.”

Kara probably hates herself more than Lena ever will, maybe that’s all the consolation she needs. Or maybe it’s the way Lena’s eyes flash with trust, with the knowledge that all the pain is worth the prize if Lena is still waiting for her on the other side.

Kara kisses her, wonders if the world doesn’t have to end for a star to be born.

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena is soft.

Under Kara’s hands, the sweet murmurs in Kara’s ear, the gentle care of Lena’s slow touch. 

Kara knows she’s shaking, can’t really remember the last time she had sex like this, with all this feeling, so much love.

It’s overwhelming, it’s devastating, it’s right.

❛❛ ❜❜

“Hey, do you remember — oh, oh my god.” Lena keens, her hips buck into Kara’s mouth, jostling her glasses, and Kara scrambles to toss an arm over her and hold her down while also subtly trying to take these stupid things off her face. Lena rolls into her mouth, a full-body shudder, and it makes the throb between Kara’s own legs almost painful. 

“Fuck,” Lena gasps. “Yes right there, that’s fucking brilliant, oh my God, please keep doing that — um, okay, no so do you remember the time that we — we — oh.” Kara can feel the ripple of pleasure that shakes Lena down to her ankles. “Oh, Kara, fuck.”

Lena grabs a stray pillow, smacks it over her face, and cries into when she comes.

She moves her through it, slow, languid strokes across her center, delicate kisses to her as Lena catches her breath. But then, with a huff, Kara crawls up from between Lena’s legs and snatches the pillow away. 

“I told you to quit doing that. I wanna hear you.”

Lena’s tired exhale is more of a guttural wine, her eyes closed. “Darling, we’d wake the neighbors.”

Kara her cheek below Lena’s chest, can hear the hammering of her erratic heartbeat, is comforted by it. 

She hums. “So wake ‘em up, this is more important.”

Lena laughs, deep and husky, and Kara curls her arms around her more tightly.

“What were you trying to say?”

“No idea, I don’t think I’m ever going to remember anything ever again.”

Kara smiles and kisses a freckle on her ribs. “That’s okay.”

Lena’s hand lazily trails up along Kara’s back, brushes along the bare of her skin and Kara hums.

“I was going to ask if you remember the time when, at that game night a few months ago, you told me all the secrets and tricks to beat out your friends. You told me all their weak points, the things they weren’t good at. Do you remember that?”

Kara twists so she can see Lena looking down fondly at her. “Yeah, why?”

“Do you remember, later, when you all were playing Jenga, and you knocked the tower over on purpose?”

“I would never lose on purpose.”

“Sweetheart, you did.” Lena laughs. “You and Lucy were playing against Brainy and Nia, I think, and I saw you trying to show Brainy in the few games before how to play, but he was frustrated with it so you tipped it over when it was Lucy’s turn.”

“Oh. That part. Yeah, I totally did that.”

Lena reaches out to pinch Kara’s nose and Kara scrunches it in response. When Lena’s hand falls flat against her chest, Kara picks her hand up and replaces it back onto her head. 

Lena abides mindlessly, her long fingers grazing across Kara’s scalp. “In any case, I was thinking about it earlier and…”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I just thought it was sweet, is all.” Then Lena laughs. “You worked so hard to win, and then you just helped your friend when no one was looking.”

 Kara swallows, unsure why the sticky mold of nausea like playdough is rolling up her throat. She watches Lena with wide, attentive eyes, and Lena angles her chin down to meet her gaze.

“I think you’re very noble, is all. Being with you tonight, it just… it reminded me of that.”

A flare like a hiccup, a stutter of dread, Kara wonders if it’s possible that Lena knows. If she knows Kara would sacrifice anything for those closest to her, even if it’s her morals, even if it’s love, would go to great lengths to protect someone dear to her. She wonders if Lena knows that Kara is a hypocrite, that she’s insincere and will go back on her word and play for two teams at once. It rises in her the way you lurch forward after your chair’s been tipped too far back, like bile and rotten shame.

And then Lena smiles, soft, lips sweet like cream. 

Because it’s okay, it’s alright, they’ve been through this.

Lena doesn’t know, not really, not everything, but she all but promised Kara that everything would be okay. Lena knows Kara’s got skeletons in her closet, and maybe she even has an inkling that she herself has something to do with it, is connected to Kara’s woes. Maybe, in an abstract sense. 

But it’s nothing that can’t wait until morning. They have time. 

The article is pulled, and Kara would rather spend the beginning of the year worshipping for love than apologizing for it.

It can wait.

Lena heaves a sigh, taps at her shoulders. “Alright, get off me. Can I please go down on you now? This is getting rude.”

Kara’s chest hiccups in a much different way, and her stomach swoops for a very different reason.

❛❛ ❜❜

Kara remembers one night back in November, before everything.

She’s not sure why this night in particular stood out, why it mattered so much more than all the others, but it feels essential.

They were at Kara’s apartment, watching a movie. This was the night Lena disappeared, three days before Spheerical Industries held a press conference discussing a new viral infection as a result  of the Neoremedium. 

They were on Kara’s couch, the movie was over, and Lena had her head in Kara’s lap and Kara was tracing circles on Lena’s forehead, slow, deliberate.

Lena, eyes closed, had asked Kara, “Do you have any regrets?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, in your life, your past. Do you have anything that you wish you could go back to do differently?”

“Oh.” Kara brushed Lena’s hair back over her scalp, roaming. Kara remembers the way her chest had clenched, how the guilt had whispered in her ear. She thought about the early warning signs of Alex’s struggles, everything she’d kept hidden for so long, all the times Kara shouldn’t have believed her when Alex told her she was fine. Kara thought about meeting Lena, the nature of it, wondered if she should have asked from the beginning, wondered what might be different if she had followed up on a thread of curiosity when she published her first article. Because she had considered it, had thought about getting in touch with Lex Luthor’s family for a comment, for a perspective. Kara’s still not really sure why she didn’t, why she changed her mind.

She thought about the way she always knew when she was about to say something that she’ll want to take back, when she was doing something she was going to hate herself for. She thought about Veronica’s warning, about all that Lena had already been through before they ever even met, if Lena would be better off never having known her or if this was the way it was always supposed to be.

“I don’t know,” she confesses. “I don’t think so, not really. I think there’s things I would handle differently, if they were to happen to me now but… I’m not sure I’d be smart enough to go back and know what changes I would need to make. Does that make sense? Like, who am I to say changing one thing I did would affect today the way I want it too, would give me the results I’m looking for.”

Lena had blinked her eyes open languidly, regarded Kara with kind understanding, thoughtful purity.

“What about you?” Kara asked. “Anything you’d go back for?”

Lena’s smile was liquid like syrup, slow across her face. “I thought I did. Now I’m not so sure I mind all that much where today has taken me.”

Kara could be oblivious sometimes, blind to underlying implications. But she knew what Lena was suggesting. 

And maybe she was looking into places she shouldn’t, only finding these kinds of overtones because she selfishly hoped they were there. Maybe if she had stronger morals, this relationship never would have developed this way.

But it did. And Kara doesn’t trust the universe enough to imagine she would have come this close to touching the stars any other way.

“But anyway.” Lena wiggled around to further herself into Kara’s lap. “Why do you have such horrible taste in movies?”

❛❛ ❜❜

Today, there’s just the blood-curdling impact of a prophecy she didn’t see coming, the one she herself envisioned but never believed.

“I don’t understand, you said you got my email, what do you mean — the original date wasn’t even until late January, what do you mean it’s going out in a few days?”

This is heartbreak, and this is everything.

“It’s nothing personal, Kara. Or, I suppose it is. You have a wonderful talent with words, has anyone ever told you that? This was rather beautiful. Honestly makes me miss all the Luthor drama a little bit.” 

“Ms. Rojas, please. I’m sorry, I know what I promised and that you took a huge bet on me, but I’m begging you. Do not publish that story.”

“Sweetie, it’s already in the works for next week’s print, it’ll be out first thing Monday morning. You know, it’s been years since anyone has turned something in so polished, the rest of my staff should take note. Tweaked a couple things here and there, few surface edits, surely you won’t mind, but otherwise it was all good to go, so thank you for making my job that much easier. This was really only a draft?”

Kara paces Lena’s room in nothing but a ratty T-shirt and a single sock, rubs at her forehead as a violent swell of panic chokes her from the inside out. This can’t be happening, she thinks the walls are closing, she thinks this is the first sound of a breakdown. Minutes ago, she was rummaging Lena’s cabinets for food and texting her to come back, to come home, and now this teetering tower of bliss is crumbling.

“I’ll do anything you want, I swear,” Kara chokes out, pressing her fist so hard to her forehead she’s sure it’s about to bruise. “I can get you a one-on-one interview with her, or — or, I can get you in touch with her family, just please—”

“Listen, this is all getting a little too emotional for my tastes, so I’ll cut to the chase. The analytics came back today, and with the holiday season this year, the Monday morning after the holiday is projected to get us the biggest number of clicks, so. Gonna move that date right on up. On the bright side, you’re getting an advance, and you can swing by later this week to talk shop about your new position. How does that sound?”

Kara spins to the window, clenches her eyes shut. “Is there anything I can say or do that will change your mind on this? Whatever it is you want, whatever it takes, I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.”

There’s a sigh, spiritless and bored, the eradicating trademark of a fatal close.

“No, Miss Danvers. There was only thing I wanted, and you’ve already given it to me.”

❛❛ ❜❜

Lena walks in the door, and Kara finally understands that she was never meant for this.

Not the bubbling stardom in Lena’s eyes, not the loving infinity in her smile. 

She thought there was a way to fit this together, that there would be a perfect configuration in which everything came together, where she could come into this life and meet Lena Luthor and not break her heart.

She was starting to think that, maybe, their end wasn’t inevitable.

It’s when Lena loves her that she realizes how wrong she was.

There’s the muffled blare of angry traffic outside and blood pounding through Kara’s ears, but Lena’s silence is louder than any of it. An incomprehensible supernova sucking the air from her lungs, Kara’s hands fall to her sides, and Lena’s misty-eyed smile crumples from transcendent adoration to a sick, low finish.

Lena’s gaze drops to the floor, and it’s over.

Chapter Text

When Lena was young, hell of a lot younger, maybe fourteen or so, she had her first real crush. It was on a girl who learned earlier than everyone else how to wear eyeliner, who bit her nails, who wore Converse with duct tape wrapped around the holes and who wasn’t afraid of the imposing regime the Luthor name implied.

No, if anything, this girl relished in it. Loved the thrill of Lillian’s sharp edges, how she’d try to pry the two of them apart with grimacing disapproval. She loved the way Lena was just as terrified of the physical yearning to hold her hand as she was of being caught doing it.

She was the one who helped Lena jimmy open her sealed bedroom window and she was the one who taught Lena to sit on the handlebars of her bike when they went to get McFlurries at one in the morning. This girl is the one who was sucking on frozen M&Ms, with a smile far too devilish for how young they were, when she asked, so have you ever fucked anyone?

Lena had laughed at the time, probably with a blush, said something along the lines of — oh god no, have you?

She’s not sure how it all went down, what happened next, what led to what but she knows where the dice ended. 

Lena was never even the sort of person to put weight on something so ambiguous a social construct as virginity, it never held much meaning to her, and she’s never cared all that much about how she lost it — whatever this intangible it was. 

The part she does remember is the next week at school, the part where she learned how much other people care about it when it’s not their own. The part she remembers is this girl lacing up a brand new pair of Converse after gym class in the locker room, wearing the same cheshire cat smile as she told the other girls about Lena and a night at a sleepover. The part she remembers is catching trails of things like desperate and creepy and oh my god she just like, came on to me while I was sleeping and—

Lillian had no qualms about admitting to what she’d done, the offer she made. Lena thinks she actually was a little eager to tell her. Like she was just waiting for her to ask, begging her to bring it up. It was a perfect segway to a boarding school pamphlet and the packing up of an emerald green suitcase.

The part she remembers is crying herself to sleep, face-down in her bed and burying her tears into her pillow, swearing on her mother’s grave that she’d never so blindly trust someone again. 

Not because of their courage, not because of their smile, and most definitely not because they promised her that she could.

xx

Lena’s eyes are dry like stones.

It’s a simple affair from here.

“Get out.”

With Lena’s eyes glued to the floor, Kara is blurry in her peripheral as she rushes forward, hands outstretched in a desperate plea, and it’s all too much.

“Lena, please, if you’d just let me explain—”

“Don’t fucking touch me.”

This is the part she remembers.

Kara immediately steps back, cringing as if being in Lena’s vicinity alone is suddenly scathing. She thinks Kara might object, her mouth opens as if she’s about to spill excuses over the floor until there’s nothing left in her. 

But her chin drops, her eyes crunch together similarly to how they always did when Lena would ask too many questions and she didn’t know which to address first. She takes another step back, away. She breaks Lena’s gaze as she sucks in her tears, scrubs away the mess of her face with the rough sleeve of her sweater, and it leaves an angry red mark in its wake.

Lena remembers a story, once, months back. And she thinks — vaguely, distantly — that Kara was right all that time ago.

She really is an ugly crier.

Lena’s never stood so still in her life as she does when Kara steps passed her, slowly toes around like Lena might change her mind and tell her to stay.

She doesn’t. The door latches shut.

Lena stands there for only a minute, sixty seconds of a vacant stare at the opposite wall of the empty living room, a stare that drops down to an ugly green sofa, to the computer on the coffee table, to the black zip-up hoodie crumpled on the floor.

She has five days.

She takes off her shoes and opens her laptop.

xx

When Lena’s alarm goes off the next morning, she’s already awake to shut it off.

She brushes her teeth, brews coffee, takes it black in a thermos.

On her ride to work, she scrolls through the morning news on her phone. Her gaze flits up to the rearview mirror, catches the eye of her Lyft driver for just a moment before he looks away.

She sends an email to a town car service company.

She rides the elevator up to the forty-second floor, watches the red digits above the doors tick by.

It’s just a day like any other.

Jess hands her a yogurt as she greets her, Lena gives her a stack of the data analyses she wrote up the night before, and they pick up where they left off before the new year.

She doesn’t see Sam until her lunch break, not that she properly takes one.

Lena’s in the lab recording figures from a fluorometer for a protein analysis, scribbling into a yellow legal pad, when she hears the hiss of the entry doors sliding open.

“Jesus, you are a hard woman to find.” Sam drops down onto a chair backwards and rolls it up beside Lena, draping her arms over the backrest. “So, fill me in, how’d it go?”

Lena frowns at the number she reads off the screen, double-checks one of her calculations and goes back to the keyboard to restart the trial.

Sam flicks her on the back of her head and Lena drops her pencil. 

“Ow, what? The fuck do you want?”

“Are you going to tell me or do I have to slap it out of you?”

“What are you even on about?”

“I swear you weren’t always this dense in college.” Sam shakes her head exasperatedly. “Kara? The whole undying love confession thing. How’d it go? Lesbians usually move really fast, right? How soon should I start planning the engagement party?”

Lena doesn’t turn away or cower from Sam’s eager gaze, she only traces the curve of her sarcastic smile, notes the hitch of her laughing intonation. 

This is the tensely coiled restraint she’s spent years mastering, a polished vantage point of stable indifference. This is her ammunition, this is the safeguard that’s never let her down, the secure backbone she can always count on in a world so cold.

This is preservation.

“No. I didn’t tell her, I decided to wait.” 

“Wait? For what? Lena, that girl is madly in—”

“I just want to give it some more time,” Lena interrupts. “I mean, it’s not like there’s any rush. I just think we should take it slow.”

Sam’s brow furrows, her eyes flit over Lena carefully. “But everything’s okay with you guys, right?”

Lena smiles — sweet, confident, apathetic. “Yes, of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”

xx

The first thing Lena does when she walks into her apartment that night just after 10 p.m., before she even takes off her coat, is open the cupboard beneath the coffee maker and pull out an unopened bottle of Macallan.

She unscrews the cap, pours two fingers into a rocks glass.

Lena sips at the searing scotch as she pries off her heels with her opposite hand, tosses them off in the corner.

She checks her phone, a quick scroll through her notifications. There’s nothing that isn’t business related, nothing about her circulating in the tabloids, no new texts, no missed calls.

She’s not sure if it’s just an obsessive paranoia or her sheets really do still smell like apple cider and sweat. Either way, she falls asleep that night on the couch with her computer still in her lap, glass still in hand, and it tumbles onto the carpet when she finally nods off, leaving an ugly brown stain she won’t be able to get out.

xx

Friday, she gets an office of her own.

Jack steps into the lab and immediately greets her with a beaming smile, announces that he cleared a space for her on the floor, apologizes for the long time coming. He cautions her to steer clear of Jacob from geneticity for the next couple weeks.

It’s nothing glamorous, smaller than Sam’s, on the opposite end of the building with only one narrow window in the corner, partly occluded by a bookshelf, but it’s hers.

Most of the things she’s gathered over the few months since she started at SI have accrued up in Sam’s office, stray equipment parts she plans to eventually put together, paperwork from the few trials she’s been apart of, old research she brought up from storage. Sam’s held up in a meeting with the finance department downstairs, and so Jack is the one to help her carry all the cardboard boxes of her things to her new office.

It only takes two trips with his help, and as they set the last of the boxes down, Jack gives a sigh of reprieve and rubs his hands together.

“Again, I know it’s not much, and I’m sorry I couldn’t have set you up somewhere sooner.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s perfect.” Her sincere smile paints itself easily across her face.

“I just want to make sure you know how much we all appreciate having you here,” Jack goes on, leaning back against the edge of Lena’s desk. “I know it was a bit of a squeeze to fit you in at the start, but hiring you is easily the smartest decision I’ve made in ages.”

“Jack, I would have invested in SI’s stocks whether you gave me the job or not, it was an obvious choice. You don’t have to keep thanking me.”

He chuckles, crossing his arms. “I’m talking about you, Lena. Yes, with your contributions I’ve been able to expand the scope of our research and I’m thrilled, but I wouldn’t make room here for just anyone willing to write me a check. Observing your work and progress has been a great pleasure, however short your time here has been. It’s even more brilliant than I could have imagined.”

“Hm. We did always talk about working together down the line eventually, didn’t we?” Lena asks with a wry smile, and Jack laughs.

“I’m just grateful it all came together, however long it took us to get here. You’re going to do great things here, Lena, of that I’m certain.”

Lena waves him off with a light laugh. “Alright, get out of here before your favoritism starts to show through.”

He holds his hands up in mock defense as he rises from the desk’s edge. “Yes, yes, let the genius work, I get it. I’ll leave you to it.”

Before he exits out, his hand falls onto the doorframe, and he turns back. “Lena, I want to make sure you know that while your work here is invaluable and you have my utmost respect on a professional level… you can still always talk to me. About anything.”

The soft smile cracks, if only for a moment. She feels the corners slip, the stuttering of a heartbeat, she wonders how he could possibly know. But then it just as quickly passes.

She has three days. For now, this is still her secret to keep.

“Thank you, Jack. I’ll keep that in mind.”

xx

Lena is sitting at her desk browsing Amazon for a new chair, as the one she’s in now as stiff and misshapen from wear, when her desk phone rings, and after a quick tap, Eve’s voice comes through crisp and clear.

“Lena, hi. Um, there’s a Ms. Danvers here to see you.”

A poisonous dread seeps through her veins, she can palpably feel the blood drain from her face.

She shakes it off, clenches her jaw.

“Tell her I’m busy, please. Thank you Eve.”

Lena goes to hang up, but the receptionist’s voice squeaks back through.

“Well, you see, the thing is, she’s already on her way up.”

Lena’s heart stops. “I’m sorry, you already let her in?”

“I couldn’t stop her! She has a pass for the building, and I only knew to call you because she asked me what floor your office is and—”

“So you just told her?” 

“Well, she does work here. That’s sort of my job.”

Lena blinks, and her hand hovers over the end-call button, still as midnight.

She swallows.

“Okay. Thank you, Eve.”

xx

Some time later, at least ten minutes, there’s a knock at the door and Lena looks up as Alex steps confidently into the room. It stirs something almost bitter in Lena, this brave audacity of a woman who shows no reservations or timidity in front of her. For as long as Lena’s been running from the looming shadow of her family name, she can’t help but miss the implicit intimidation it carried.

“Hi. Sorry.” Her tone gives the impression that she’s anything but. “I know I should have called ahead, but I—  wait, are you leaving?”

Lena blinks in confusion, but then she realizes Alex is looking around the room at all the boxes she hasn’t taken the time to unpack, the clutter, and she rolls her eyes.

“No, I just moved in. What can I do for you, Ms. Danvers?” 

If Lena thinks that the name doesn’t taste fermented and spoiled on her tongue, she’s only lying to herself.

Alex stuffs her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket, and Lena raises an eyebrow in waiting.

“Kara doesn’t know I’m here.”

Lena bites her tongue before she answers, counts to three. “If that’s what you’re here to talk about, then save your breath because I’m not interested.”

“Okay look, I’m not here to make excuses for her. That’s not my place.” Alex looks around as if for a place to sit, but there’s no other furniture, just the boxes, and she looks at Lena in question. “Can I sit on this? I’ve been on my feet running errands all day.”

She gives a slight inclination of her chin, and Alex drops carefully onto a box filled with old CAR-T paperwork, scooting around so as not to crush it. 

“Please, enlighten me then.” Lena waves a hand dismissively, turning back to her Amazon cart to at least give the appearance of being too busy for this. “What could possibly be so important for you to tell me that you found it acceptable to show up at my office unannounced.” 

Alex chuckles dryly. “Yeah, fair enough. But would you have agreed to see me if I’d called first?”

“No.”

“There you go then.”

“So you thought that using an element of surprise to pressure me into compliance was the better choice? You and your sister really do have more in common than I thought.”

She doesn’t mean for the comment to slip out, for the lace of bitter resentment to soak her words and drip from the consonants like a sour, broken-hearted schoolgirl, but Alex looks far from surprised. If anything, she looks like this was the sort of attitude she’d been expecting.

“How much do you make a year?”

She looks back up from her screen. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry, I don’t know exactly what you do here but, ballpark. How much you make?”

Lena wouldn’t even know how to answer that question, the salary she and Jack came to an agreement on with SI was more on the conservative side, not even six figures, but it’s not like she needed anything more. She’s been set up with an incremental inheritance since she was twenty, one that’s given to her in chunks every five years until she’s forty. It was something Lionel had done, for both her and Lex, in an effort to spread out what he was leaving behind. She had no idea what happened to Lex’s share of things, where that goes now, and she hasn’t cared enough yet to call Lillian and ask. Then there’s her accountant back in Metropolis who helps her remotely manage her other stock holdings. And since she owns no property or estate, and is still renting her apartment — because when she’d come to this city, she had no idea how long she would stay, if she would want to —  her best shot at rebuilding her networth has been just investments and accrued interest rates on her savings account.

So, her income was a tricky question, not exactly the answer Alex is looking for, but irregardless: “That’s a rather rude thing to ask someone.”

God, does she sound like her mother.

“Have you ever been homeless?”

Lena blinks, furrows her brow.

“Have you ever had the government seize over half your paycheck because of a longtime outstanding debt, had to skip most meals just so you could make rent? You ever had an eviction notice on your door giving you a few days to pay before they take you to court?”

“I’m sorry, how is this at all relevant?” Lena asks lowly, warningly, because there’s a dangerous rise in her throat, telling her that she does in fact know exactly where this is going.

“You don’t forget that kind of trauma.” Alex’s tone is unwavering, gentle, not like she’s performing a lecture but admitting an intimate secret. “No matter how much money you ever make, no matter where you go, you don’t ever forget the anxiety, the desperation. It haunts you.”

Lena closes her laptop abruptly. “Look, if you’re trying to appeal to my guilt by reminding me of the privilege I come from to justify something, I can assure you I am painfully aware of the blood in my family’s ledger. I’m trying to change that, and use this wealth to help people now.”

“No, okay I’m not trying to justify anything.” Alex folds her arms over her knees, takes a deep breath. “Dude, I don’t care that you’re rich, you can do whatever you want with your money. It’s not about that.”

Lena clenches her jaw.

“I’m not about to tell you what an amazing person my sister is, all the great qualities she has and all the reasons she did what she did, she can do that herself if you decide to hear her out. I’m not trying to give you a score on how all the good outweighs the bad. I’m not going to tell you to forgive her just because I know what kind of person she really is, because I don’t think I could even actually convey that to you, not really.”

“You’re right. You can’t.”

Alex quickly comes to her feet again with a shake of her head. “I’m just trying to say that there’s certain things you will never understand about us. About her.” 

“Okay, yes, there’s a dangerous socioeconomic division in this country, and I know people like me can’t speak on how the other half truly lives, but—”

“No, see that’s the thing, there’s no but. You can memorize all these statistics and you can study the system, and honestly you can even fight for change, make donations, help people in need, whatever it is you do. But you will never know what it’s like . You can read about it, I can tell you about it, and maybe you can even empathize. But you need to know that she carries a burden you will never understand.”

Lena leans back into her chair tiredly. “What’s your point, Alex?”

She comes to a stop at the edge of Lena’s desk, picks up a clear, lucite paperweight with a black scorpion embedded inside, a gift Sam had dropped off between her meetings for the new office, and Alex turns it around in her fingertips. Sam thought it was amusing, Lena finds it ironic.

“I know don’t know you, not really. I won’t pretend I know your life or what you’ve been through over the last year.”

“Oh? Why don’t you ask your sister then, she’s quite the expert.”

Alex rolls her eyes and sets the weight back down. “You’ve been through a lot, okay. I get that. You’ve suffered too, in ways I’m never gonna get and that’s your weight to bear. What I’m trying to tell you is so has she.”

Lena lets out a droll, sour laugh. “Wonderful, let’s just all sign up for a group therapy session, is that what you suggest?”

For the first time since she’s come up, since Lena has met her actually, Alex turns on Lena with a sharp gaze. It’s not angry, not a simmering blade of contempt that Lena is so adept at delivering, but it’s hard, ragged. It’s fierce like devotion, and inexplicably it reminds Lena of Lex, if only for a moment.

“I’m not asking you to forgive her because she has a good reason for what she did.”

“Yes, you keep telling me all the things you’re not doing, but when do we get to the part where I find out what you’re actually here for?”

“When someone hurts you, you know right away whether you’ll ever be able to forgive them,” Alex says forcefully, holding Lena’s eye with a determined resolution.

Lena raises an eyebrow, as if to say, really? 

“Tell me I’m wrong, tell me you don’t feel in your gut whether or not this is something you can ever move past. Maybe it’ll take a week, or hell it’ll probably take months, but when shit like this happens, you know what you’re capable of.”

It’s instinctive. “Fine, I do know. I won’t forgive her.”

Alex runs her hands through her hair, almost impatient. “Look, we live in a society that tells us this shit is unforgivable, betrayal is a line you don’t cross, I know. Someone cheats, that’s it, it’s over. Your friend stabs you in the back, you cut them out, you move on, whatever.”

“So you understand me perfectly, then.”

“Yeah, honestly I really do.” Alex grimaces, and she breaks Lena’s stoney gaze. “I hold grudges like it’s my job, I always have. There’s never been any of this second chance bullshit, I don’t care if I even came one day to peace with it. Hell, I usually forget what even happened years later, but I’m still not gonna let it go.”

“You should really talk to someone about that.”

Aside from a quick, pointed glare, Alex ignores the comment. “But then I became the person that was the one apologizing, the one doing the unforgivable.”

Lena presses her lips into a thin, pale line. Her heart rate is fleeting in her ears, like wind racing down a tunnel, but she’s as stable and unmoving as ever.

“I put everyone in my life through hell for a really long time,” Alex says quietly. “I lost a lot of people I really cared about because of it. And I don’t blame them, I’m glad they walked away when they did because I was just destroying everything I could touch.

“But the one person I hurt the most, the person that I belittled and attacked over and over, day after day, for goddamn years, she’s the person who fought hardest for me.” Alex laughs, loud and devastating, and Lena struggles to meet her eye. “If there was ever a person who had every right to never speak to me again and cut me out, it was Kara. There’s not one good, sound reason I can think of for her to forgive me for the things I said, the things I did.”

“Yes, well, that’s what family’s for, right?”

Alex levels her with a flat look. “You know better than anyone that’s not enough.”

“Then what is enough?” Lena retorts hotly. “Congratulations, she’s a saint. Are you trying to pin this on me now? Say that I’m the monster here for not wanting to forgive Mother Teresa?”

“Kara didn’t forgive me because she had a reason to,” Alex says restlessly, the twist of her mouth desperate. “She didn’t forgive me because she trusted I wouldn’t do it again. That was a choice she made every single day, with every single apology, wholeheartedly knowing I was just going to fuck up again. And you want to know why?”

“Oh, because she loves you,” Lena answers dryly.

“No, she did it because forgiveness isn’t something you do for someone else, it’s a gift you give yourself.”

Lena stares back at Alex impassively. “How poetic.”

“Kara taught me that. It’s not about the logic, it’s not about whatever excuse or explanation she has and whether the end justifies the means. It’s not about whether she deserves it. You just… you forgive her because you want to. Even if you don’t totally understand why.”

Lena keeps herself well organized, she has an impeccable filing system of her emotions, sentiments, it’s all well catalogued and neatly aligned. This is her reprieve, what gets her up in the morning, the balanced compartmentalization.

This moment rocks that foundation like entropy.

Lena’s eyes drop to somewhere just over Alex’s shoulder, and she stands. “I think you should go. I have a lot of work to get back to.”

If it’s pity that paints Alex face like slime, Lena refuses to see it. 

Alex bites her lip, like she might preach some more about virtues and love, but then she ducks her chin and nods with finality. 

As she walks her to the elevator, distrusting both of her to find her way on her own and that she might not go snooping around in the rest of Lena’s life, one last thing occurs to her.

Her tone is even, calculated. “Did Sam know?”

Alex stops in front of the elevator, hesitating over the call button. “Your Sam? No, no of course not. I didn’t even know until a week ago.” 

Lena resists the recoil, nods minutely.

Alex’s shoulders drop forlornly, her face grossly sympathetic, and Lena jabs at the call button. 

Alex clears her throat. “I’m assuming you haven’t told her then?”

Lena scoffs darkly. “No, I don’t plan on telling anyone that I’m the biggest idiot of the decade, thanks.”

“Oh. Um, so you’re probably sick of hearing my opinion at this point, but—”

“Yes, I am.” She presses the button again impatiently.

“Just, look, don’t shut everyone out. It sucks, trying to deal with all this weight on your own. And I think it usually just makes it all worse.”

The elevator doors part open, and Lena turns back to Alex.

“Thank you for interrupting my very busy day for some completely unsolicited advice, Ms. Danvers. Have a good afternoon.”

She’s barely made it three steps away before Alex calls back to her, far too loud in the middle of the office for her liking. 

“She’s not going to reach out first, you know.” Alex is half-in, half-out the elevator, her hand against the sensor to keep the doors open.

Lena gives Alex a cautious, quizzical look. “Good. I don’t want her to.”

“She thinks you hate her.”

“I do.”

“Do you? Or do you just wish you did?”

“Are you going to leave? Because I don’t care that you work here, I will call security,” Lena snaps finally, waving to the doors that are still attempting to close. “You don’t know the first thing about me, and I swear to god if you break my elevator—”

“Every time her phone lights up, she jumps on it. She keeps it on full volume while she sleeps, it’s always in her hand and she’s not even doing anything with it. She’s been back and forth with CatCo nonstop for days trying to pull the plug on this thing, dude do you have any idea how in lo—”

“You’re a wise woman, Alex,” Lena interrupts sharply, taking a dangerous step forward so that her biting, hushed tone can be heard. “You are incredibly intelligent, and you have a profound understanding of the world that few others do.”

Alex stubbornly doesn’t back down from Lena despite the mere inches which separate them.

“But you’re a fool if you think I give even a damn about her now.”

Lena doesn’t wait this time for Alex to leave, her skin thrums all over and she can barely suppress the shiver that runs down her spine as she turns her back on this woman with a harsh finality that Alex would be mad to challenge again.

Heels clicking down the hall, Lena hears the faint ding of the elevator doors alas closing, and she all but slams her office door shut. She is quick to send Eve a message that if anyone else comes asking then she’s out of the office, all stilted, halting movements and barely clenched refrain as she flips back open her computer. She exits out of her shopping window because right now she needs something more stimulating, something that’ll consume every neuronal pathway and leave no space for wandering thoughts, and she opens up the latest lab report from the new project she’s started with Jess.

She barely registers it at first, it’s only the first waves of an itchy discomfort. But it grows, it spreads like a thick-clouded fog, her heavy, panting breaths, the cold trickle of sweat at the base of her skull, her muscles so rigidly contracted that not only is her whole body shaking but her laptop screen is wobbling back and forth with her harsh jabs across the keyboard. She has to push away from her desk abruptly to calm herself, she sucks in sharp lungfuls of air as she runs her hands up and down her arms.

Lena doesn’t know how long she sits there, bent over in her cheap desk chair, gasping like she’s run a marathon, a whirling lightheadedness swaying her balance and palpitations so violent she feels as if she might vomit.

But then her breathing steadies out, her hands still again. Time, it just takes time.

This is healing.

xx

Saturday morning, Lena sits at her dining table in jeans a cashmere sweater with a black mug of coffee beside her, tendrils of steam swirling from its surface. She gets so far as to pull up the number of her old publicist, her finger about ready to tap the call button on the screen, when she hesitates. 

Lena never had a publicist for very long. It was the same one who handled Lex’s relations in the public eye when their parents first started bringing him out for events, showing him the long winding carpets. She’d been nice enough, just a rather forgettable face, and she was good at damage control whenever Lex said the wrong thing here or there, when he stumbled in an interview and said something of their family in poor taste.

She had been from an agency that Lionel used when he first went on a book tour before Lena was born, and from what she understands, that was how he’d met her mother. Her birth mother. Somewhere in Europe, signing autographs and giving presentations on his proposals for making angiogenesis inhibitors a reality. One day in a cafe he met an Irish woman who had a soft spot for travellers, and that was it.

It’s nothing Lena remembers herself, just whispers of it over the years. She knows there were deals behind closed doors of keeping someone quiet, pay-offs for discretion, a rather simple plan all orchestrated by said family publicist, who then worked for Lex. 

And then soon after, she was working for Lena. Lena hadn’t used her much, she was more a safeguard Lillian sent after her when she ran off with Siobhan to keep things as respectable as possible. But after a certain point, Lena and Siobhan had made out in too many public restaurants and Lena had walked into too many busy tourist areas with one too many hickeys, and it was mostly a lost cause by that point.

She almost calls this same publicist because, well, it’s who Lena knows. She’s been with the family for nearly three decades at this point, she follows orders and, for the most part, she stayed out of the limelight. Lena forgot she was even there most of the time. She was efficient, Lena supposes. 

But now, she hesitates.

She works her bottom lip between her teeth, sets her phone down, and the barest of a frown settles in her brow.

She’s not hiring someone just to help maintain her public image, to help the media get the proper perspective on her, no, she’s not concerned with paparazzi and gossip. When she first moved to this city, sure, it was always on her mind but it’s less essential now, even with what’s to come, the damage control she’ll likely have to do in only a few days time.

No, Lena needs a different sort of precise management, someone with a sharper eye, someone who she can always count on to tell her the truth, even in a world where no one can be trusted. 

She picks back up the phone.

xx

She doesn’t mean to drink so much.

Lena only brought so much work home for the weekend, and by nine p.m. on Sunday she’s gone through everything, and then done it all again. She considers going back into SI to print out more reports from her office computer, work in the lab for a few hours, but it’s already too late on a weekend night even for her, and the lab will likely be locked if no one stayed.

It starts as her nights have been going all week — a generous helping of expensive scotch that normally would take her over a month to go through but is now nearly finished, curse the small bottles. But then “mostly finished” becomes “totally finished” and the ceiling light fixtures seem to flicker and sway even as she sits completely still. The drone of the television is too elusive for her to focus on, the 4K definition makes her blink her eyes away and none of it holds her attention. 

Instead of curling onto her side, putting her back to the screen and hiding under a throw until she falls asleep — because she can deal with the headache and dry-mouth in the morning, that’s Future Lena’s issue to deal with — she stands. 

It’s not that she’s that drunk, per se. She’s not stumbling to the elevator, she has no issue calling a Lyft and she manages clean, crisp responses to the driver in their stilted small talk. The brisk night air is sobering in itself, smacks her in the face, and it’s enough to make her ask herself if this is still a good idea.

Of course it’s not, it never was.

She still gets out of the car.

The man in the alley that leans against the brick wall with his nose buried in his phone nods her inside with barely a glance up, he recognizes her easily enough by now. It’s the same red-lit, dark and narrow hallway leading up to two security personnel standing on either side of the nondescript elevator. It’s the same keypad inside, just a ground floor and a nameless other, it’s the same straight shot up that makes her stomach swoop, reminds her how little she’s had to eat today. It’s as she pulls uncomfortably at the stifling collar of her sweater that Lena realizes she’s still only in jeans, has a bare sheet of makeup. She suddenly feels naked without her traditional swipe of lipstick, without a safety net of concealer, and as the elevator doors slide open in a quiet hiss, her stomach is twisting heatedly and she’s not sure that it's only because of the alcohol.

She rounds the bend of the shadowy lobby room to find the same tall, unsuspecting hostess stand and the elegant woman behind it.

Veronica’s dressed modestly tonight, a sleek black gown with long sleeves extending down her arms, fitted to her like paint. It dips dangerously low down her chest, a sliver of skin all the way to her abdomen, and the peak  peak of Veronica’s leg around the edge of the podium reveals a long slit up to her midthigh.

“Hey sweetie,” the club owner says in a low tone with a daring smile, her eyes crinkling. “It’s been a hot minute, I’ve missed that grumpy face.”

Lena remembers her first time here, the irritating smirk on Veronica’s flaming red lips, her imposing questions and pointed reminders of her recent breakup and family turmoil. She remembers how she almost turned around and left, how she almost never even went inside. But she was so unbearably lonely in this smothering city that even someone as infuriating as Veronica was worth the company.

She was so close to walking away, to never having come even near this end.

They never got along in boarding school and not in the brief overlaps of their lives since then, but they weren’t mortal enemies or anything. They were almost friends once, even. A party, a loose-lipped conversation and a few things Lena shouldn’t have said aloud, Veronica was the first person that didn’t drop her gaze in second-hand shame when Lena confessed she liked girls, her tongue slurred from one too many beers.

Mind you, Veronica was also the person who told the entire field hockey team, but still.

“What can I say? Guess I just couldn’t stay away,” Lena answers coolly, entertaining Veronica’s senseless flirtations. Normally she’s already into the club by now, she gives Veronica barely a cheeky wave and a half-assed thank you because she’s in such a rush to get to the bar. 

Now, she doesn’t know what she’s itching for, what she’s rushing towards, but it’s not whatever waits for her behind those doors now.

“And that’s what I like to hear.”

“Yes, I don’t know if you know this, but you’re very predictable.”

Veronica grins, her eyebrows raising with intrigue. “Coy’s never really been my thing. Waste of time, if you ask me. I’ve always preferred to get to the point.”

“Funny, looks like we do have something in common after all.”

“See, this is the Luthor I love and miss.” Veronica flicks her hand in a vague gesture over Lena’s frame. “When you’ve gotten over blowing smoke up my bartender’s ass, just know I’ll be waiting for your call.”

Her throat stiffens, feels tight like it does when it’s too cold out to even breathe.

“Maybe I will,” Lena responds as she forces her tone steady.

But it must fall flat, because the stretch of Veronica’s sultry smile begins to soften. It drops at the edges the longer Lena stands there aimlessly, and it’s not until the other woman’s gaze lowers to Lena’s hands that she even notices she’s fidgeting with them of her sweater mindlessly, her fingers shaking.

Lena knows she’s lingered too long, but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.

“Okay, not to be a drag but… are you alright?” 

A twinge of nausea spikes in Lena’s gut, one that has nothing to do with the toxins in her blood, and it takes her a beat too long to scrounge up a smile.

It’s a pitiful, synthetic thing across her face, it feels entirely out of place and they both know it.

“Yeah.” Lena’s tone is far stronger than her face can manage. Quickly, Lena gathers herself, gestures to the door behind Veronica. “Well, I better head in then. Nice to see you as always, Veronica.”

But Veronica doesn’t move. She doesn’t immediately open the door for Lena, she holds steadfast in her patience. She eyes Lena carefully, up and down, and Lena wonders if she can smell the truth on her breath as easily as the alcohol.

She must find nothing, she pulls back the red rope, and with far more sincerity than Lena’s ever heard from her, Veronica nods her in. “I hope you have a good rest of your night, Lena.”

“Sure. You too.”

What a joke.

xx

It almost feels like a dream as Lena drifts down aisle between lounge tables and low, leather couches, as she passes the thumping dance floor, it feels like she’s floating as she ascends the short, spiralled staircase.

It’s when she sees the bar that the nightmare of reality sinks in. .

While it is Sunday, it’s still the weekend, and so Lena’s not surprised to see that the bar is full. She considers making her way down to the end, where she’s lingered so many times just to be close to the workers’ entryway for behind the bar. She would stand there with Sam on nights like this, when they wanted a drink, nursing it until a space cleared, making smiles at the girl on the other side. 

A courageous girl, a girl with a smile of promise.

For now, Lena waits by an empty table tucked away from the bar. She leans against it for balance as she arches on her toes to catch a glimpse of the fleeting form rushing back and forth behind the bar, craning her neck. And finally she finds— 

It’s Lucy.

Lena blinks, falls back to the balls of her feet. 

No, she works Sunday nights. Doesn’t she? Sure, a few times she had it off, would spend them with Lena, but that was usually when she actively got rid of her shift to spend time with her, it was always on her regular shift, she has to be here, it’s the last day, she can’t—

The back door to the stock room swings open, and a figure with a stack of crates full of bottles emerges, their face obscured.

Lena really did expect broiling nausea, through all of this. She expected the floor to teeter beneath her feet like a circus ride that doesn’t stop, to fall to her knees and feel the ugly gravity of this mountain bearing down on her in this final hour.

Kara sets the crates down behind the bar, disappears for a second, and Lucy seamlessly squeezes around her to keep working.

Lena just watches with stilted apathy as Kara restocks. She absently picks at a hangnail on her thumb, hiding in the shadows and once again acknowledging that she’s not completely sure what she’s doing here. It certainly doesn’t feel right, but everywhere else feels wrong, and something about that doesn’t sit well with her.

She just… she really expected more than this.

Lena doesn’t know how long she stands there, watching. It feels like it could be hours, but she knows that’s her foolish, tipsy brain fueling her emotions, and she finally makes to a newly opened seat. It can’t have been more than a few minutes because the thumping in her temples is the first tell that she’s still drunk.

No, tipsy. She’s not that drunk.

When Lena hops onto the barstool, her foot slips on the rest and she nearly falls off the chair entirely, and there’s an embarrassingly loud screech as its legs scrape against the floor. She quickly rights herself of course, but Kara and Lucy had been talking quietly behind the bar by the  computer, and both bartenders’ heads swivel towards her at the noise, and Lena feels the flush crawl up her neck.

Well, at least the lights are red.

It’s not that she particularly wants to, honestly she’d rather stare pointedly at the bar top and keep her pristine air of indifference, but in a sudden spark of bitter, spiteful distaste, she looks up to meet Kara’s eyes.

Look me in the eye, she thinks. Look me in the eye when it sinks in.

Kara’s mouth parts in surprise, slow, her face frozen like dusk. 

“Lena,” she says breathlessly, her face twisted like shipwreck.

This is immunity.

“So,” Lena drawls, loud enough to be heard over the gap between them, dropping her chin into her palm as she slouches over the bar. “What’s it take for a girl to get a drink around here?”

Lena almost doesn’t notice the way Lucy glances between them, her furrowed, concerned frown at Kara. But then the blonde gives the slightest shake of her head and quickly sidesteps her, coming down the bar to stand in front of Lena.

Kara’s throat bobs with a thick swallow, and Lena wonders if the hickey is still there, if she could still see it were they under better lighting, she remembers the way Kara gasped in her ear when she planted it, the jolt of her hips, the dexterity of rough fingers, she remembers—

Kara’s mouth bobs open helplessly, like she’s trying to say three different things at once but can’t settle on one, fiddling with the bar rag in her hand but her eyes never wavering from Lena’s.

She forgets.

Finally, Kara drops her chin low to her chest. Wordlessly, she reaches for something out of Lena’s eyesight, and a second later she’s placing a glass of water in front of her, tentative, as if Lena might lash out and throw it at her. 

She does consider it, to be fair.

But as Kara pulls her hand away and makes no other move, Lena realizes what she’s implying, and she rolls her eyes.

“Not exactly the drink I had in mind.”

Lena can make out the way the blonde clenches her jaw, the strain of tendons under her skin, for a moment she thinks Kara would actually argue with her.

But Kara’s shoulders sag, and her tone is soft compared to the barely muffled pounding of music in the club. 

“Okay. Your usual?”

Lena’s eyes flare with bitter amusement. 

“I’ll take a Glenlivet, neat.”

The first drink goes down rather quickly, Lena needing to rebuild that safe buzz that brought her here in the first place. Because if she sobers up for even an instant, she’ll lose her nerve and the crushing weight of sensibility will set in. This won’t feel like just a reverie anymore, some twisted fantasy where she faces her woes like she needs to in order to move on.

No, if she sobers up then she’ll realize she’s just a pathetic, naive girl who let a broken heart get the better of her.

Her stare scrapes over Kara like nails, she drags it all over her face and form, digging into the tightly-wound anxiety of her shoulders, the clench of her lips tightly pressed together. It’s too dark to see anything substantial, anyone looks pale in this sort of ambiance with the way shadows slip under her cheekbones or smear under her eyes, but it’s not real. It’s just the lighting, of course it is.

It’s funny, really. Lena didn’t know what she was looking for before back then, when the unmistakable truth was glaring her in the face. At least she thought she didn’t. It just turns out that Lena was too much of a coward to realize it was painfully obvious all along what she was looking for.

And she found it, she did, the answer was always there, but she chose not to see it.

It’s truly laughable because now, watching Kara’s stiff mannerisms and her awkward, barely-there smile when she’s summoned away to attend to someone else, Lena can’t see anything else. Kara looks like someone else entirely, only a stench of a person she once thought she knew. It’s not that Lena wonders why she didn’t notice it sooner, no not that. She just wants to know why she so eagerly let herself be played a fool.

It’s too busy for Kara to talk to her much at all, except the couple times she comes around to try and inch forward Lena’s water like she’s being subtle. But Lena will just down the bottom of her scotch and push the empty glass back towards her. Kara hesitates every time. She just levels Lena with a pitiful reluctance that reminds Lena of sour milk. But something in Lena’s unwavering glare, even despite her unfocused, drunken haze, always prompts her to pour another.

Not much later, it sinks in how long it’s been since Lena sat here like this, since she last came into Roulette just to see Kara. Idly waiting for Kara to deal with her other patrons at the bar, patient to be showered with attention, she always thought it meant something more. She thought Kara singled her out because she was interested in her, that she was different from everyone. She thought Kara always shaved off a few extra seconds for her wherever she could because she was special.

Well. She was special, apparently. Just not like that.

Each drink seems smaller than the first, but she takes it. She can’t even feel the burn of the scalding drink anymore, it dribbles down her throat like water and the warmth in her gut isn’t exactly pleasant but it doesn’t feel like nausea anymore either.

It’s more stifling than anything, all-consuming, and inexplicably it only makes Lena want to fan its flames even more.

By the time she finishes her fourth drink, waiting for Kara to come back down and serve her another, it’s getting late and the numbers are finally dwindling. It’s pushing on midnight, maybe it’s later, she’s not sure, doesn’t care enough to check. Despite the heavy weight of her eyelids and the fact that if she tries to stand in the next few minutes she might land on her ass, despite all that — she’s never seen the world more clearly.

This sort of conflict, the messy glances Kara shoots her and Lena’s resolute stare back, it’s all just a glitch in their timeline. There’s not a greater point to all of this. There’s no grand purpose for them meeting like there was an essential, valuable lesson for Lena to learn in her journey. 

There’s just the one essential truth it all narrows down to.

Kara reappears in front of her, and instead of refilling the glass again, she pulls it away.

Lena sits up straighter. “No, I’ll take another.”

Kara’s mouth twists into a grimace, and Lena can’t make sense of the pitiful look she casts at Lena with such concern, as if there’s any use still pretending Lena ever mattered to her.

“Look, Lena, I… I don’t think—”

“It’s your job, right?” Lena spits. “You literally have one damn job, and it’s to pour me a drink.”

This is survival.

Kara flinches at the harsh tone, her nose wrinkling, and if Lena didn’t know any better she’d say that she was about to cry. 

“Well, two jobs, I suppose.” Lena leans back with crossed arms. “But you’ve already done enough for me with the other one, don’t you think?”

Kara sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, glancing down at her hands. After a moment, she pours one last drink. As she sets the bottle back on the shelf behind her, she looks over to her side, calls out softly to Lucy. When the other bartender catches her eye with a raised eyebrow, Kara nods vaguely at Lena. There’s an unspoken understanding between the two of them. It makes Lena chuckle under her breath when she realizes what exactly it is, when Lucy starts checking on the guests in Kara’s half of the bar. 

Kara leans forward, propping her hands against the bar edge so that she can lower her voice but not close enough to set Lena on edge.

She opens her mouth, but Lena beats her to it.

“So they all knew, then?” 

At Kara’s confused look, Lena inclines her head back down towards Lucy, and the blonde’s expression darkens.

Clenching her jaw, Kara only just barely meets her eye. “Not everyone. Just, um… Lucy and Alex. Kelly knew a little bit. James sort of knew something was going on but… not everything. Don’t be mad at them. I mean, when they found out, they all tried to talk me out of it, you shouldn’t — it was all me.”

Lena laughs, sudden and sharp. “I’m sorry, is that supposed to make me feel better? That it wasn’t obvious to you from the beginning, that you needed someone to spell it out for you?”

Kara flinches, but she quickly masks it over and nods, her voice small. “Right. Um, you have every right to be upset, I understand, I’m not going to—”

“Upset?” Lena sits forward abruptly, the spin of the red lights making the room tilt. “You think I’m upset, that this is a one-time lapse in judgement I’ll get over in a week?”

“No, no of course not, Lena I don’t expect you to forgive me.”

Lena scoffs. “Oh darling, no. This is not about forgiving you, it’s about realizing I never should have trusted you in the first place.”

Kara’s mouth crumples, if only for a second before it clears again. “You’re right, okay? I know. I should have told you sooner, I shouldn’t have taken it so far, and that’s my fault.” 

“No you shouldn’t have fucking done it. You never should have come to me in the first place, you never should have let me believe you didn’t know who I was, you never should have given me this false sense of security like it wasn’t all a lie and you never should have pretended to care about me.”

“Okay, that is not true, I always—”

“Everything I did I only did because of you!” Lena fractures as the suffocating rush of anger crashes down on her, her voice cracking like glass.

A few heads down the bar turn down towards them at her raised tone, but Lena barely notices them, only watches the confusion slowly drip down Kara’s face.

“You… you what?”

But she can’t stop this broiling fury inside her rearing its ugly head, the lash of anger so potent that she only sees red. The only endurance Lena knows, the only armor that’s never let her down, is this. 

“I moved to this city because you’re the one who discovered Lex’s crimes, I only even thought to call Sam about a job because I actually wanted to impress you instead of admitting I had no idea what I was doing in my life, the cure I discovered never would have happened if you hadn’t brought me here, and the only reason I had even an ounce of faith in myself was because I thought you believed in me too. Every actual good thing I’ve tried to do has just been a consequence of you.”

Lena’s bottom lip trembles, and she digs her nails into her palm to will it away.

“I came here so that for once, just once in my life, I’d prove I could do something on my own, I would make my own name for myself. Not because I was filling in some sort of predetermined plan laid out for me, and not because someone else thought I couldn’t do it.” 

“Lena, that’s not… that’s not true.” Lena looks up to see Kara’s eyes damp and swelling. “It doesn’t matter what I’ve done. All of this, all your work, the person you are, that’s you. It’s nothing to do with me.”

“Yeah,” Lena drawls, deflating exhaustedly with a grim smile. “Except what’s really fucked up is that I probably wouldn’t have done any of it if it weren’t for you. So where does that leave me?”

Kara regards her carefully, and something she sees in Lena’s face must assuage her because she strides down the end of the bar, lifts up the divider. Lena finds herself laughing as Kara comes up beside her, the ridiculousness of this entire situation, and it’s only that much funnier when Kara settles on a chair one down from her. She laughs because on the one hand, she wants to scream at her, tell her to stay away from her and she wants to storm out of here and save her dignity and her pride, but.

But.

Kara runs her hands over the knees of her dark, liquor-splashed pants, and she struggles to hold Lena’s gaze like the coward she is.

“I think you would have,” Kara says carefully. “Maybe I… I made you realize what you wanted to do a little quicker, but all you’ve done, that wasn’t me. All you ever wanted was to do good, you would’ve done that some way or another, with or without me. I never doubted that for a second.”

“I wish that were true. Because then it’d be less selfish for me to wish that I’d never met you.”

A beat, a silence, Lena’s not sure she wants to see Kara’s face this time.

She clears her throat when Kara doesn’t answer. “CatCo is still posting the story, I presume?”

“Yeah. As far as I know.” The blonde scratches her nose, and Lena watches her peripheral how Kara kicks her feet absently at the air. 

There was a time Lena would find this cute, endearing. Now it just grinds on her nerves like a heel to the gravel.

“But it’s not—” Kara starts, her head lifting sharply. “It’s not anything bad, I want to make sure you know that.”

“You really think I care what it says?” Lena laughs. “The point is you wrote it.”

“I know.”

Lena goes for another sip at the drink, but it’s finally dawning that drunk doesn’t feel good anymore, how denial isn’t as cute as its cracked up to be, and she can already taste the sharp migraine of humiliation she’s going to feel tomorrow. With surprisingly steady hands, Lena finally pulls her black credit card and sets it on the hard surface.

“You can close me out.”

Kara sighs, already shaking her head. “You really don’t—”

“Just run the damn card,” Lena mutters, rubbing her eyes blearily as she slides it over.

After a fat, dreadfully long silence, Kara eventually takes the card, and makes back behind the bar to run it. When she returns, she comes back beside Lena, but this time she takes the seat closest to her, and Lena doesn’t know what to make of that. There’s only the solace of how she at least trusts herself to not make the same mistake again, no matter how many drinks are in her, no matter how Kara thinks she can manipulate her.

She holds the card back out to her, and Lena stares at it blankly. Taking the hint, Kara sets it down on the bar, and Lena waits a beat after Kara’s hand has retracted before scooping it back up. She’s offered no merchant receipt to sign and leave a tip, and honestly Lena’s not sure what she would even leave, so she ignores it. But maybe she’s just too drunk to care at this point, and her skin is itching for a cab home and her own bed, to sleep this stupid night away, pretend she won’t regret this tomorrow as much as she knows she will.

As she wobbles to her feet, careful to scoot her seat back first so as to avoid Kara’s knees, the blonde sighs.

“Why did you come?”

Lena only blinks her at, head spinning with a headrush.

“If you hate me so much, why did you come?”

Lena laughs, far more tired now than she’s ever remembered feeling. “Think I thought it’d make me feel better, to say this all to your face. That if I could make you hurt even a fraction as much as I have, it’d be worth it.”

“Was it?”

“I don’t know. Was the paycheck worth it?”

“What can I do?” Kara blurts out, suddenly painted with a frantic desperation that makes Lena flinch, because that face will forever be tainted for her now, that raw emotion, it’s like plunging into a snapshot of everything she’d rather forget. 

“What can I do to prove to you that, that I...”

At Lena’s dangerous, scathing glare, Kara hesitates.

“Lee, I’ll do anything. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, I’ll show you everything, I’ll give you everything I have. And I — I won’t take this job, if that’s what it takes, if that’s what I have to do.”

It’s not beautiful or loving, this supposed devotion to make things right, to turn this trajectory back around. It’s just a reminder of how Lena was let down, how at the end of the day Lena was just the one who betrayed herself.

“Because I won’t choose this stupid job over you. Not you, Lena.”

“You already did.”

Lena turns to leave, to leave Kara behind her forever, to let go of this and move on for good, but she stops, suddenly, at the look on her face.

It’s not quite hope —  or well, maybe it is, because Lena doesn’t dare think she knows her well enough to read her anymore. But it’s expectant, longing, waiting for an impossible.

“I don’t know if this isn’t already obvious, but in case it’s not,” Lena says thickly, her chest suddenly hot and constricted. “Don’t contact me. Don’t call me, don’t send your sister, don’t show up at my work. There isn’t an exception or a loophole to this, I don’t want a grand gesture. I just never want to see you again.”

She makes it to the door this time, without looking back.

Tomorrow’s broadcast is set to bring clear skies and sunshine.

She has less than twenty-four hours.

Chapter Text

eighteen months later

As the camera lights flash, endless like the smattering of stars haunting the sky, Lena pulls the blonde quickly along. She’s milking up the attention, her date is, waving jovially to the crowd with a slow gait down the concrete steps of the theater. It’s almost cute, Lena thinks, how she adores being adored, how she’s friendly enough to the paparazzi for the both of them, and no one will notice how Lena tugs on her elbow to usher them more hurriedly to the waiting car. 

Almost cute.

They’re coming from a movie premiere, one Lena never even wanted to go to, not with the mountain of work she has left to do gathering dust in her office. But, begrudgingly, she does have to admit she’s having a good time, that the blonde on her arm doesn’t have an infectious laugh, that her low, sarcastic remarks throughout the film to Lena aren’t a bit amusing.

Lena tells her as much, once they make into the back of the limo. The door clips shut behind the actress, who runs her hand back through her carefully made-up hair, jostling the hairspray and the bobby pins, and the vehicle pulls away from the curb.

“I don’t know how you did it,” Lena starts, settling back into the leather as the shadowed scape of city through the car windows begins to race by. “But I did somehow manage to enjoy myself tonight.”

“Yeah?” The corners of the blondes’ eyes crinkle, in a distantly familiar way, and she laughs. “Told you I can be fun.”

The other woman scoots across the seat, slipping her arm along the curved backrest behind Lena’s head, and Lena’s smile begins to falter. Before she can think twice about it, her vision is going cross-eyed and the woman’s face is dizzyingly close to hers. And then it dips, a delicate mouth pressing just an echo of a kiss along her jaw.

“Is this okay?” she asks, her warm breath puffing against Lena’s skin and causing a scatter of goosebumps down her neck, colder than the ice in her gut.

Lena doesn’t stop her, and she certainly doesn’t remember.

Just as the blonde’s hand inches from her own lap onto Lena’s, over her knee, the car pulls to an abrupt stop and the side door is being yanked open.

Before the woman can object to the driver or demand an answer for their stop, a figure appears at the car door, only visible from the waist down.

“Oh please,” a low-pitched, feminine voice drawls. “This is not what we paid you for.”

Lena’s publicist, sharp cheekbones and dangerous, flat eyes, ducks into the vehicle to slide across the seat opposite the couple.

The blonde actress, who Lena started the night knowing her name but now it distractedly escapes her, naturally looks confused. But when she glances to Lena for support, all she finds is an apologetic smile.

“I thought I made myself clear up front,” the older woman continues. “This is a business arrangement. You can get out here, we have another driver on the corner that will take you wherever it is that you go when you’re not drooling over executives with twice the IQ you could only ever dream of having.”

Lena pinches the bridge of her nose.

All too quickly, the blonde is ushered out of the car, and the only words Lena can make out is a rushed, “Call me!” before the door is inevitably slammed shut.

The driver wastes no time in pulling off into traffic once again, and Lena sighs. “There’s a thing called decorum, you know.”

Across the wide, lusciously carpeted divide of the limo, the older woman makes no effort to hide her flagrant apathy as she rolls her eyes.

“I’m sorry, should I beckon her back? Were you going to take her home with you, have her cook you breakfast in the morning?”

“I could have.”

“Yes, but we both know you wouldn’t.”

Scoffing, Lena reaches into the mini-fridge and pulls out a mini liquor bottle at random, unscrews the small top. “I didn’t realize I hired you to also manage my sex-life.”

“You agreed to this, Lena. You said it yourself, you’re too focused to be having any actual intimate relationships, but you’re also too young not to be. The last thing we need is for the public to assume you’re undateable.”

“Undateable?” Lena huffs a laugh. “Is that really the media’s biggest concern for me now? Whether someone wants to sleep with me?”

“To be frank, yes. They want to know that despite all your brilliance, you’re still a normal, young woman with the same hopes and dreams to make the world a better place as everyone else. They want to know that you have good intentions, that you’re not like every other arrogant bureaucrat in the industry more concerned with making money than with paving a better future.”

“Not like Lex, you mean.”

Lillian narrows her eyes.

Lena just shakes her head as she pours back the clear liquor in a clean swoop, stifling her grimace. Neither woman says anything to that, and a sticky silence weighs upon them like humidity.

And then a smirk crawls up Lena’s face. “Did you just call me brilliant?”

Her mother doesn’t smile, and Lena reaches for another bottle.

xx

To say that Lena doesn’t have time to date, or even for casual flings, is putting it nicely.

Pushing open the door to her penthouse, Lena has barely hung up her keys on the hook before the lights above her automatically flood the foyer.

“Welcome home, Ms. Luthor,” an invisible voice greets her, cool as silk. “Did you enjoy the movie?”

Sweeping her hair back over her shoulder, Lena leans down to pull off her heels. “It was fine, Hope. Any messages?”

“You have eleven missed calls and six voicemails. Would you like me to play them?”

“Who are they from?” Lena asks as she struts up the marble steps ahead of her, the walls of the entryway spanning out to reveal a much larger, more open living space. More lights automatically come on over her path, revealing the generous layout of expansive, travertine floors, dark and sleek. As Lena strides by the windows, there’s a quiet click, and the shutters slowly rise, withdrawing into a panel above and revealing a staggering wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. 

“One voicemail from Mr. Edge, two voicemails from Mrs. Luthor, one voicemail from Ms. Graves, one voicemail from Ms. Arias, and one voicemail from a Ms. Strayd.”

“Who’s that last one?”

“Miss Lyra Strayd. She accompanied you home last Friday.”

Right, Lyra, that’s her name. The girl Lena actually managed to bring over the threshold of her doorway, came so far as dangerously wandering hands and an unzipped dress before she panicked and sent her off. 

No, Lena has plenty of time for these things, surprisingly. Despite the avalanche of work she’s had to get done in the last year, how often she’s gone running back and forth across the city to make meetings and business lunches with prospective partners who never had any interest in investing, no matter how many hours she spends at her desk, the load has lightened these last few months since the latest deal, and she’s loathe to admit how much is thanks to Lillian. 

If Lena is the brilliance leading this company, Lillian has become the stable foundation. She keeps Lena focused on her goals and organized in her sanity — which is ironic, considering how much her mother drives her up the walls. But the truth is that with Lillian standing beside her to help shoulder the impossible weight of running an organization, Lena can breathe, and she can have nights off like tonight. Mind you, Lillian ensured this to help foster a very particular, precise image in the public eye, but it’s her doing nonetheless.

So yes, Lena has time for dating, for sleeping around. But she doesn’t, and it’s humiliatingly unbearable that her mother knows it. 

She’s not scared of intimacy, that’s ridiculous, she’s not about to see a psychologist or anything. She just doesn’t know how to explain that this isn’t what she wants, that she’s not interested in sex or dating, that that arena of her life no longer seems necessary.

With a sigh, Lena takes a moment to regard the view out her window, the stretch of the major urban center  that still catches her off guard every time she sees it. It’s not because of how high up she is, this birds-eye view of the city that few others experience on a regular basis. It’s not the mesmerizing splash of lights laid out before her, the breathtaking cityscape. 

Metropolis is home, more so than any other city ever was at least. She’s been living here for over a year, in this very apartment on top of the world, and it’s still as unrecognizable and novel to her as the first day she moved in.

Lena turns away from the window. “Remind me to call Sam back tomorrow. Play Morgan’s message and delete the rest.”

xx

Sam lets out a long, impressed whistle as her heels clack across the hard tiled floors, hands on her hips and posing a powerful image in front of the large windows.

“Okay, if I had a place like this waiting for me across the country, I’d totally abandon you too.”

Lena rolls her eyes. “We’ve been over this. I’m not abandoning you, I’m just—”

“Chasing greater prospects, trying to save the world, rebuilding an empire. Yeah, I got it. Still, I’m allowed to be salty for at least another six months.”

Hands in the pockets of her jeans, she joins her best friend in front of the window. She looks out at the view, the sunny city day, the barest glimpse of the river in the distance. 

Lena quickly looks away, and laughs.

“Well there’s far too many rooms here, so. You’re welcome to move in anytime, I could certainly use around.”

“Please, Jack nearly popped a vessel letting you go, I think he’d lose his mind if you took me with you.”

“Okay, Jack himself all but begged me to leave. And besides, you spent far more time nagging me into gossiping with you most days than any actual work, he wouldn’t even notice you’re gone.”

Sam’s laugh echoes across the vaulted ceilings.

“Always the flatterer.” Sam turns around to take in the gaudy architecture before her, the high walls, the spiraling iron staircase, and she fixates on the indoor balcony with a smirk. “You really took a one-eighty from your last place. You finally get tired of living on the other side of the tracks?”

Lena grimaces. “God, no. I wanted to rent an apartment a quarter this size downtown, it was Lillian who decided I should buy a penthouse fit for a family of four.”

“Ah yes, because Lena Luthor always lets her mother make decisions for her, right?”

Lena turns sharply. “Don’t.”

Sam doesn’t look surprised by her short temper, the sensitivity of the subject. 

There’s a total of three things that are off limits for discussion with Lena these days, ones that ignite an outburst in her like a match striking across sandpaper. Everything else is fair game, everything else Lena can handle and entertain in full stride. But Lena’s decision to work with Lillian is one of them, and Sam knows better by now than to try playing this game.

Sam’s somber, accusing look melts away and she acquiesces with a droll smile. “Well. I’ll definitely be visiting every weekend with Ruby that I can. Someone has to make sure you don’t run off into the sunset with a pretty starlet this time, right?”

xx

“I’m sorry, you want me to what ?”

Lillian rolls her eyes, the same way she always did when she would take Lena’s headstrong opinions as adolescent dramatics, and Lena hates the way it sparks that same youthful rebellion in her. It’s an urge to prove her wrong, and not even because she believes in herself but because of an immature desperation to challenge her mother that she thought she’d long since buried.

Lena rolls her shoulders. No, she’s not a teenager anymore, she knows how to keep a level head.

Lillian helps herself to the bar at the corner of their shared office, only a conservative pour, and Lena raises an eyebrow in surprise before Lillian crosses back over and drops the glass unceremoniously in front of Lena. 

“It would only be temporary,” she elaborates with an uncharacteristically soft tone.

Lena scoffs. “We’ve only just barely settled our roots here, finally established a rapport with our local investors, won over the community’s trust. It’d look ridiculously irresponsible if I left our center of operations so soon.”

“Let me handle the PR, Lena. You don’t exactly have the best track record with publicity, do you?”

Lena grits her teeth, her glare searing, but Lillian is unphased. Although she’s reluctant to ever prove her mother right in thinking she knows Lena, she caves, and she swipes up the drink in front of her, throws it back quickly.

“Fine. Explain to me then how in the hell this even remotely makes sense.”

“The contract proceedings with Edge Global begin in two weeks, and you still haven’t settled on any of the qualified candidates I’ve shown you to represent us and start up the National City branch.”

“Because they’re all greedy, narrow-minded business sharks more concerned with their salaries than fulfilling our mission statement.”

“Or perhaps you’re too stubborn and naive to have ever learned when to delegate.”

“What’s your point, Lillian?”

With an exasperated sigh, her mother settles herself into one of the chairs in front of Lena’s desk as if she’s bored and considers this all menial. Lena refuses to let it under her skin.

“There are a total of two people in this world you trust with this organization, and they’re both in this very room.”

Lena raises an eyebrow. “That’s a bold assumption.”

“You said it yourself, we’ve established our footing here in Metropolis and the next step is expansion, and we agreed to start in National City because of the partnership with Spheerical Industries’ and to ensure sustainable funding. We’ve reached stability in record time. I stay here and maintain our current projects and relations, and you go there to get the new branch off the ground and iron out the contract agreement.”

“And why don’t you go? This is my organization, I brought it up from the ashes you left it in, I should be the one to stay.”

Lillian rolls her eyes again. “Yes dear, congratulations you’re the messiah of LuthorCorp. But you wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without me.”

“L-Corp.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s L-Corp now,” Lena repeats sharply. “And that may be so, but you would certainly still be hiding in a dark coffin somewhere if it weren’t for me. Coffin? Cemetery? Where do vampires hang out these days?”

Lillian’s mouth purses with contempt. “Wonderful, we’ve established we need each other. With that said, you’re the head of this association, and you won’t trust anyone but the best to ensure this partnership runs smoothly. Arguably, it is a much more important affair to see this through than it is to run the ship here — the future of this organization depends on how we do in National City this next year. Who better than yourself?”

Lena laughs dryly. “Careful, it almost sounds like you’re proud.”

“I am proud of you, Lena.”

Lena holds her mother’s eye, regards the flat affect of an unamused boredom, analyzing.

Lillian quickly returns them to the subject at hand, and Lena wonders when she started holding her breath.

“You should be the one to go because you know the city. You have a personal relationship with Jack Spheer and you have established connections with other local, powerful business moguls like Maxwell Lord, Cat Grant, Andrea Rojas. They care about you, you’re the face of this organization.”

Lena grits her teeth at the mention of CatCo’s CEO, refuses to acknowledge the underlying bite to Lillian’s sarcasm in mentioning her name. 

“Moreover,” her mother continues. “You were going to have to go back by the end of the summer regardless.”

Lena fixates her with a quick, warning scowl, a clear demand to not continue that line of discussion, but Lillian ignores it.

“You have the award ceremony, and it’ll do us well for you to re-immerse yourself—”

“I told you I’m not going.”

There are a total of three things that are off limits with Lena. The award is one of them.

Lillian exhales slowly, impatience dripping from her breath like acid. “I will not argue with you about this again. There’s no greater display of arrogant thanklessness than not attending a service thrown in your honor, raising money for your nonprofit, and we don’t even have to drop a dime for the preparation expenses.”

“There’s a dozen other people just as necessary to the finding of that cure, where’s their recognition?” Lena counters hotly.

“So I’ll write a thank-you note into your speech about all of the nobodies that helped you, I don’t care. Quit being a child and stop pretending this is about nobility.”

There’s nothing more sour than the burning humiliation of acknowledging that Lillian is right.

Lena shakes her head bitterly. “Finding someone to run operations in National City was supposed to be a permanent position, it will take at least a year if not longer to establish a groundwork there. I’d hardly call that temporary.”

“So you stay as long as it takes, and you can come back when you’ve found someone to replace you.”

Lena digs her chin into her fist, wishing for a single rebuttal that would force Lillian to drop her hand but knowing there isn’t one. There isn’t another option, nothing that makes better sense than this. And it’s true, there’s only two people she would even remotely trust to make this transition work, and she can’t imagine Lillian existing in National City, much less conducting business with Jack and being the face on display for press conferences. That’s always Lena, she’s the one in the public eye, she’s on the forefront, even if Lillian has a nauseating amount of sway in the words that comes out of her mouth.

She clears her throat “When do I leave?”

“Ideally, someone would’ve been there a month ago. Morgan Edge is known for many things, and patience is not one of them.”

“So I’m going to take a wild guess that you’ve already booked my itinerary, then.”

Lillian’s slow grin is wryly pleased. “I always knew you were smart, Lena, despite what you may think. Your flight leaves in the morning.”

xx

Sam greets her at the airport of course, with an obnoxious display of balloons and holding a hand-painted banner with Ruby that reads welcome home!

Lena levels them both with a dry look as she approaches, her suitcases wheeling behind her. “You know this isn’t permanent.”

Sam is already tugging her into a bone-crushing hug. “Not if I have anything to do about it.”

She gave up her apartment here when she left, obviously. While Sam was more than happy to house Lena in her time here, and even Lena herself was partial to agreeing, Lillian had adamantly gone ahead and booked Lena up in a long-term suite in a hotel uptown. To be fair, the national chain was one of L-Corp’s newest investors, and so there was a considerable discount on her extended stay, offering luxury amenities at a generous price. Lena was honestly a little impressed that Lillian for once wasn’t being her usual extravagant self, because it was a sensible deal. So she didn’t put up much of a fight and relented with only a vague wave of her hand.

But of course when she saw the room, she realized it was still the same old Lillian.

“God, I wish I were you sometimes,” Sam sighs as the private elevator doors part open to the interior of a fully-furnished suite, revealing renaissance-gold tarnishings and Greek-inspired frameworks. They step off onto the gleaming tiled floors, slowly coming down the long hallway, and the living room opens into a round, elegant room seeming more fit for the set of a 16th century period piece than a suite for one person who will spend more time on the outside of it than in.

Ruby immediately takes off at a full sprint, skipping through a pair of double white doors that swing in her wake, the pattering of quick feet the only indication as to where she’s gone off to. Sam shouts after her as she struggles to set down the bags in her arms, and Lena laughs.

It’s still far too flashy for Lena’s tastes, despite how similar it is to how she once lived years ago. God, it’s almost ridiculous to imagine the places she and Siobhan used to live in, the pompous hotels in celebration of her girlfriend getting better roles and Lena becoming more indulgent with her own unfathomable, useless wealth. It feels like another lifetime ago, living on the road with the actress and drinking champagne that cost in the upper hundreds of dollars simply because they could. 

Maybe some things never really change.

xx

“Well. Can’t say this doesn’t come as a surprise.”

Lena swallows passed the thickness of her dry mouth, the sticky peel of whiskey-coated lips as she stands outside Siobhan’s door, stone-faced.

Siobhan’s lips are pressed into a wicked, amused smile as her eyes rake over Lena slowly, and she can only imagine how horrid she looks. Disheveled, misshapen hair that desperately needed a cut two months ago is ridden with split ends and grown out layers. The bags under her eyes are always prominent these days, impossible to forget with Lillian constantly nagging her about appearances, and Lena has half a mind to wonder if the exhaustion is incurable at this point. Smudged mascara, lipstick rubbed off on the rims of too many drinks, and smelling like a dive bar, Lena wonders when she gave up on her dignity.

The thing is — she has a theory, a hypothesis, one that she desperately needs to prove wrong. 

“Are you going to invite me in?” Lena asks flatly. “Or did you just let me up for the theatrics of closing the door in my face?”

Siobhan grins, leaning against the doorframe with crossed arms. “Oh I missed that Luthor snark, glad all this fame hasn’t squashed that out.”

Lena clenches her jaw. “Is she here?” 

Siobhan’s eyes widen, coy and sarcastic. “Is who here?” 

“You know who.”

“Aw, don’t be jealous Lena, not now. You know how hard I’d always try to get your attention like that?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Mm, better late than never I guess.” 

As Siobhan continues to just smile at Lena like she’s the same moldable plaything from years ago, ready to abide blindly by any of her games, Lena drops her chin and shakes her head.

“Whatever, forget it, this was a bad—”

“Sophie’s away at a festival this weekend.” The actress steps aside, and props the door further open. “You want a drink?”

She doesn’t, and she shouldn’t, but of course she takes the offer. 

They’re lounged across a couch Lena doesn’t recognize — it must be new, all white leather and untouched immaculacy — talking softly over crudely thrown-together rum and diet cokes. Lena’s never liked rum, and Siobhan knows this, she used to be better about ordering or making drinks for Lena, and she can’t help but wonder if it’s intentional.

After a dull catch-up of useless small-talk discussing the weather, the city, Siobhan’s latest project, the other woman smiles softly. She reaches out to brush a lock of hair behind her ear, and Lena revels in how she doesn’t immediately want  to shrug her off, the glimmer of something stirring low in her stomach.

“How are you, babe? Really.”

Lena swallows thickly under that gaze, that same spark of gentle affection that attracted her to Siobhan when they met as the actress runs her thumb slowly across her bottom lip. “I’m great, haven’t you heard?” she asks sarcastically. “I’m the ‘nation’s overlooked saving grace for healthcare.’”

“Yeah, did hear about that story. Sorry, I mostly just skimmed it.”

“Oh no, that’s just the latest pitch Lillian is trying to sell. Don’t— Don’t worry about it, I couldn’t care less about that thing.”

The soft hand on her mouth stills before it falls away. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, whatever, I didn’t read it either.” Lena looks away and down at her drink, cursing her loose tongue and kicking herself for bringing this up at all when it’s the last thing in the world she wants to talk about. 

Siobhan laughs, sitting up straighter. “Hold on, people said that thing was a practical tribute of worship  for you, it basically painted Jesus as a cheap tourist shop souvenir next you, and you’re telling me you didn’t even read it?”

“No, I don’t waste my time reading clickbait, thanks.”

Siobhan bursts out with an even harder laugh. “Fuck, Luthor, you really are something else. I never thought you were vain, but this just takes modesty to a whole new level. You know I made an actual Tumblr account just to track what people are saying about me?”

“Is that supposed to surprise me?”

The actress playfully swats her thigh, and Lena is both delighted and dreadful to find she doesn’t mind her touch.

This is it, the evidence she needs.

Lena sets her drink down on the glass coffee table before she slides closer to Siobhan, crossing her legs so that her calf rests against hers in unmistakable demonstration of her intentions.

Siobhan’s smile bleeds with the thrill. This time, when she pushes Lena’s hair from her face, her hand lingers at the edge of her jaw, and her skinny fingers press into the tendons of her neck. It’s not rough, but it’s not soft, and it’s not like—

It’s not particularly remarkable. Siobhan leans in and kisses her, and Lena kisses her back. She tastes like diet cola and expensive liquor, and her hands quickly drop to Lena’s waist, pulling in obvious request.

This is her scientific method, this is how she proves she’s not broken, this is where the lust and passion glow inside of her and burst out of her chest like unadulterated want. That feeling, that desire, the interest, it’s not dead and Lena’s not scarred. Whatever it is that’s gone —  she can find it again. The inability to connect with women at parties or the dates Lillian hires for events, it’s not because there’s something wrong with her, no, there was just never the right click. Siobhan was the love of her life at some point, something that looked like it at least. Lena would have done anything for her. This elusive thing she can’t seem to find with anyone else, no matter how hard she tries, it’s not because she’s broken or lost. 

And kissing Siobhan is the chance to prove that to these greater mocking skies. 

But then it dawns on her that the warmth in her stomach isn’t butterflies but only sticky old nausea, and the sensitivity of her skin isn’t infatuation but just the tingling restlessness of anxiety.

Lena rips her mouth away and scrambles off her lap. “I’m sorry, I — I can’t do this.”

Siobhan doesn’t follow her, and it’s humiliating that she doesn’t even look surprised. The actress only wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly slumps forward, reaching for her drink. As quickly as her excitement to see Lena had perked up, Siobhan sinks back into boredom and takes a thick gulp.

“Look, if that’s not what we’re gonna do, then you should probably…”

Mid-fumbling for her jacket, Lena whirls back on her. “Then what? Get lost? You really only let me in just because you thought I wanted a quick fuck?”

“Isn’t it?” Siobhan laughs darkly. “Don’t tell me you came just to reminisce about the good old days and catch up, baby you’ve always been a shitty liar.”

With a hammering chest and shaking hands, Lena haphazardly manages to button up her peacoat, and much later when she tredges home she’ll realize that the buttons aren’t properly aligned and she does indeed look as stupid as she feels. But for now, she only flounders down at her ex-girlfriend, struggling to explain herself.

Because it’s true, she did only come for something like that, even if only to prove a theory. It just ended up not being the result she was looking for.

“Did you ever cheat on me?” Lena blurts out instead, a muffled sense of guilt for the woman who put the shining ring on Siobhan’s finger.

Siobhan shakes her head and stands, swiping up Lena’s unfinished drink and downing it herself. Lena thinks she won’t answer her, she’s already stalking to her small kitchen to dump the glassware, but the woman stops and turns around, her eyes flat and bored.

“Didn’t you?” she asks tiredly.

Lena doesn’t cry until she’s back over the threshold of her large, echoing, dark penthouse with a view of the city unlike any other, she doesn’t cry until the loneliness of a home that was never hers swallows the last of her resilience.

Maybe it is gone, and maybe it isn’t something that comes back.

xx

Working her red, bottom lip between her teeth mindlessly, Lena scrolls slowly through an email on her dimmed phone screen. She follows the man in front of her blindly, taking distracted steps forward as the line inches on.

Normally, Lena’s not one for buying her coffee premade. She’s gotten used to grinding her own beans, the soothing churn of the whirring machine that swallows her kitchen with its delicious, roasty aroma, and spooning it herself into a glass french press while the kettle on the stove hisses up to a whistle. It started when she lived in National City before, of course. Walking into coffee shops in the middle of the day was always begging for disaster, and so Lena quickly became accustomed to drip coffee and store-bought grounds. But when she moved back to Metropolis, she tinkered. 

She tried an espresso machine of her own, because she’s always loved a good cortado, but managing the cleanup of all the equipment pieces was unnecessarily tedious, and she found it was more nit-picky than she wanted to be so early in the morning before her first shot of caffeine. She then went into an equally extravagant but quite opposite direction of brewing, and she invested in a siphon brewer. Supposedly the appeal was that the water never boiled, stayed just a few degrees shy of it, and this somehow would lend to a more satisfying, richer taste. It also was just pleasing to look at, reminded her of her days in the lab that had been so recent yet never felt further away, because she’d traded in all the lab analyses and experiments for financial reports and investment deals. And while the coffee was delicious, Lena couldn’t taste much of a difference, and so the siphon just a remembrance of something she’d left behind.

French presses always seemed lazy. An easy route for someone too cheap to invest in a drip machine but wanting the modern air of hipster rusticity in their favor. But Lena was on a mission, and she tried it out one morning, and found that it… tasted about the same as the rest. But it was easy, and quick, and there was an inexplicable satisfaction to plunging the lever so that the filter slowly sunk over the dark mesh of coffee grinds, it was mesmerizing in a way that sometimes Lena would stand there for minutes on end just staring at the tendrils of steam curling from the indented spout of the glass, inhaling the earthy, bitter scent. Something about the quiet ease of it, the way there were no outlets and it was just a simple glass jar with a precise filter, it spoke to Lena. It’s a bit cheesy, she knows. But soon scooping a cup of beans into the grinder and shuffling them into the glass beaker became one of her favorite routines, something hers alone, something Lena loved for herself. It wasn’t a habit someone else inspired, a copy of another person’s interests because she had none of her own.

These days, there’s not much Lena has just for herself. Not the future of her organization, not the deals they make, not any of the decisions about who she sees and what she wears. 

Her morning coffee, freshly prepared by her, was one of them, and she held it very dear to her.

But this morning she’d woken up late, and she’d had to scramble out of bed and into the first ironed pantsuit her fingers could grab if she wanted to make her early meeting with Jack even remotely on time. He’d understand if she was late, hardly hold it against her. He’d certainly been late more than a few times for these things, always rushing in and out with a fortress of a company to run, one that’s only grown exponentially since Lena left.

Still, it’s in the principle of the thing, and so Lena raced past her french press this morning, sparing only a brief, wistful look on her way out the door. Which is how she ends up here, at a coffee shop down the block from SI, catching up on as many emails as she can.

Currently she’s stuck reviewing Morgan Edge’s comments on the latest contract drawn up between Lena, Jack, and his own legal team, and Edge has riddled it with critiques and blackouts. Points where the delegation of accountability is too vague, an adjustment to this arbitration requirement would save them both more money, a confidentiality clause here would only be a liability further down the line.

Apparently explaining to her thick-headed lawyer that Jack Spheer is an old and dear, trusted friend of hers was only a greater cause for concern in this business deal. She can already feel the first licks of a migraine creeping up behind her eyes, and as she thankfully comes up next in line to order, she pockets her phone.

“Almond cortado, please.” 

She gives her first name for the order and the young woman hands her back her credit card, and after Lena drops a green bill into the tip jar, as she starts to turn away, there’s a light gasp from behind the counter.

Lena glances up, an instinctual ice-cold dread clenching her heart as the barista’s eyes flare with recognition.

“Wait, are you — oh my god, are you Lena Luthor?”

She considers lying, but the shock of sweeping light-headedness makes it harder to think.

“I— Yes. Yes, I am.” 

To her surprise, the younger woman’s face splits into a beaming smile, and she heaves an excited breath, immediately fumbling for something beyond Lena’s sight. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, this is probably so annoying but, could I— do you mind if—?” 

A sharpie and scratch piece of paper are being held out to her, and Lena blinks.

“Can I have your autograph?”

Lena stares dumbly at the objects for only a moment before she gathers herself and takes the pen.

“Oh god, thank you, my sister’s gonna flip — she’s like your number one fan, seriously. Ever since you brought L-Corp to life she’s been obsessed with like, going out and volunteering for stuff, she makes our parents drive her all over the city trying to get involved in whatever drive or event is going on. She literally never shuts up about you, says she wants to be just like you someday.”

The teenager laughs nervously, and Lena looks up at her in astonished disbelief. She can’t put a finger to the elixir of relief that seeps through her, this subtle but poignant elation, and Lena can barely manage a response.

She’s used to being recognized, to reporters asking for a quote on the organization, people asking her for a photo when she’s on the hip of an actress and walking a red carpet out of a premiere. 

This? This is new.

“What’s your sister’s name?” Lena manages, her throat dry.

“Oh, it’s Cara.”

The girl laughs, and Lena’s hand freezes over the paper.

“She’s nine, by the way, she’s not like, insane or anything.”

Lena clears her throat and softens her smile. “With a ‘K’?”

“No, a ‘C.’ Wow, she’s seriously gonna lose her mind, thank you so much, I’m really sorry to bother you, I know you probably have a million better things to be doing right now.”

With a quick scribble of her signature, Lena hands the slip back and smiles gently. “Don’t apologize at all, it’s my pleasure. Tell your sister that if she’s still looking for a job in ten years, she can shoot me a message.”

She laughs. “Right, you’ll remember that one obnoxious barista’s dork of a sister?”

Dropping her eye to the nametag on the girl’s black apron, Lena’s lips spread into a soft smile, and she adjusts the strap of her purse. “Cara and Hayley, yes, I’ll remember. I look forward to our future business endeavors.” With a small wink, Lena finally turns away from the counter.

She ends up being late anyways but Jack doesn’t mind, and Lena finds that she doesn’t either.

xx

The business side of their meeting doesn’t take too long, it never does when it’s just the two of them. They’ve long since ironed out the adjustments Edge hounded on them to make to the contract, and just finished up scheduling yet another meeting with both of their lawyers to go over everything once again.

“What do they say? Sixth time's the charm?” Jack asks dryly once he hangs up the phone and rises from his chair. “Hey, you fancy a drink?”

Lena leans back in the soft cushioned seat across from his desk, crossing her legs, and the corner of her mouth tilts upward. “At nine in the morning? Bit early, even for you. Is this what your life has come to?”

“Please, you should’ve seen me when one of my best scientists abandoned me for saving the world. Went through nearly a bottle a day.”

“Okay, honestly, you and Sam really have got to work on these abandonment issues of yours.”

Jack laughs deeply with a shake of his head, unplugging the decanter at the corner of his office, and it’s amusing to note how similar they are. He inclines it towards her again in question. 

She should probably pretend she’s grown over the course of her time in Metropolis, that she’s no longer the kind of person to drink in the middle of the day, that she’s a responsible businesswoman and the sort of mentally stable person who doesn’t need a buzz to get through her morning. She should be that person, but well, it’s Jack. They’ve talked more these last nine weeks than they ever did in the few months she worked for him, and certainly more than in their years apart after college.

Lena waves a hand. “Alright, go ahead, be a horrible influence.”

He laughs again, grinning as he palms two low-ball glasses in one large hand, swiftly pouring two thick streams of the amber liquid before he returns and hands one over. Rather than taking back his seat behind the desk, he comes beside her and sinks into the other client seat, unbuttoning his stiff blazer.

“But yes, in regards to your question, this is exactly what it’s been like lately.” He takes a quick sip at the drink and clears his throat. “The market’s been a vicious pit lately, and it’s getting ridiculously harder to keep up with all the demands, so, been having a fair share of long board meetings and late nights.”

Lena raises an eyebrow. “Almost sounds like you’re the CEO of a major research company.”

“Oh don’t start with me.” He flicks his hand with theatrical irritation, and Lena laughs, kicking off her shoes and tucking her feet beneath her. She cleared an hour for her morning meeting with him, knowing full well they’d be finished halfway through, so she might as well relax.

“You know how it is,” he goes on. “Suddenly there’s a new fresh-faced entrepreneur straight out of their undergrad with the next best tech idea every week. It’s a bitch to keep up with competition like that, no matter how small their trust-fund start ups are.”

“Jack, you know we can delay this partnership as long as you need. I wouldn’t want to be another added stress if the company’s struggling.”

He waves her off. “No, this partnership is exactly what I need right now. The whole struggle is with keeping up the promise I made to keep our new devices affordable and accessible.”

Lena smiles. “And that’s exactly what my organization is all about? Got it, two birds. And here I thought it was my charming personality that persuaded you.”

“Oh yes, I forgot to mention, Lillian promised me one of those famous date nights I hear so much about. Think we’d make the front page?”

Lena groans, pitching her head low and back behind her. “God, don’t remind me. That woman has me being seen with a new date every other week, it’s exhausting.”

“Both men and women, I’ve noticed.”

“Yes, yes, she’s a changed woman now with advanced liberal beliefs. No, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly for the press following my personal politics than any actual personal growth.”

Jack laughs along with her, and they mockingly cheers to her mother. But all too soon, his face softens and his line of sight trails along slowly to somewhere just over Lena’s shoulder. She regards him curiously, waiting for whatever it is he wants to say and unsure what could make him hesitate.

“Forgive me if this is…” He pauses, licks his lips and tugs at his tie as he sits up straighter. “Are you happy?”

Lena can’t help the sharp laugh, the wide stretch of her smile, even if it’s only at the surprise. “I’m sorry?”

“I just sometimes wonder if it was right of me to push you to leave, encourage you to move on. It seemed like the right idea at the time, you know?” He scratches at his jaw, the rough scruff of his bear. “You were getting new job offers left and right, the company’s stocks were hitting an all time high with all the attention on you. I didn’t want to keep you here as a barely paid secondary researcher when you were receiving offers to run entire labs.”

Lena nods now that she understands where he’s going, and she smiles softly, even if it’s in a direction she’s reluctant to follow. “Yes, you really did fight me on it. Think if I had tried any harder to stay you were about ready to fire me yourself.”

“You’re certainly not wrong.” They both laugh, and Jack’s smile softens further. “You’ve a brilliant mind, Lena, and the world was only just starting to see it. I couldn’t live with myself if I were to hold you back from greater things. But now that you’re back, and we’re here discussing terms for a partnership, I just… I can’t help but wonder.”

“It wasn’t just you, you know. Lillian would’ve had a cow if I’d stayed.” Lena chuckles wryly at the memory, the discussions with her mother that edged closer on arguments and lectures than actual debates. “She all but got down on her knees and begged me to do something, anything with LuthorCorp.”

“A perfect time if there ever was any.”

Lena bites her lip, thinks of a time that was so rich and fruitful for her career, and yet she’s never known darker days. “Yes, I suppose it was. It was ridiculously cheap to take back over, and with all the attention on the Luthors, investments were easy enough to acquire.”

“Well, not the Luthor name exactly.”

She raises her eyebrows in question, and he continues. “I mean, no one was talking about your family, they were talking about you, and that was the basis of your popularity. People realized you were something different, somebody new.”

Lena swallows thickly, barely idles over his words that have been the signature motto of the last eighteen months of her life. It was a catchy dichotomy, this trademark of being recognized as someone outside of her family, a dream that was all she ever wanted but at the price it cost. The press jumped on it immediately, it was a fun concept to headline with and drop in interviews like they had coined it themselves. 

“So I only mean to ask, was it the right choice?” Jack rests his now empty glass against his knee with a contemplative, tender expression. “Are you happy now? Because, forgive me if I’m overstepping, but I know you weren’t then.”

Lena narrows her eyes, corner of her mouth quirking up. “Has Sam been talking to you? Is this part of a master plan to keep me in National City? Because you know this is temporary.”

Jack chuckles, leaning forward to set the glass on the edge of his desk. “Yes, that does seem to be the word on the street. But no, this has nothing to do with that. You just seem… different, and I can’t quite put my finger on whether it’s a change for the best, but I’m not sure that’s my place anyway. So again, I only ask because your assessment is the one that matters.”

“You sure about that? Lillian has a laundry-list of opinions on my life that she’d be more than happy to share with you.”

The look Jack levels her with isn’t quite pitying, it’s distant, evasive, doesn’t land anywhere concrete in it’s fluttering search over Lena’s face. Just when she thinks she might be about to pinpoint his thoughts, can find meaning in the slope of his downward cast eyes, they flick away, and Jack sighs. He stands and takes Lena’s empty glass from her loose grip.

“Don’t worry, I can take a hint, I’ll hang up the psychoanalysis.” Setting her glass beside his on the desk, he crosses around back to his own office chair, and Lena has only a moment to feel a twinge of guilt at her roundabout sarcasm before he continues. “Not that I don’t love these cheery morning meetings of ours, but hopefully this will actually be our last. ‘Till Wednesday, then?”

She could tell him that it was the right decision, leaving National City. She could tell him that taking over the family company and turning what was once a multibillion dollar cesspool of pride and greed into the force for good that it is today was the right decision. She could tell him that she loves Metropolis, that she loves feeling important and she loves not being harassed by strangers on the street and she loves being idolized by the press, that she loves feeling like she’s making a difference, that she’s helping people, that it was always the right choice and it was never a question to begin with.

There’s a million things she could tell him about her choice to leave. She could tell him that she’s worried she never learned what it means to have a home, that she was deluded anytime she thought she might have it. She could tell him that she’s not sure if it’s something she’s meant for, that in order to make a truly meaningful difference in the world she’ll have to make sacrifices, and how she worries if that includes a life of her own. 

She could tell him that heroes don’t save themselves, they save someone else.

Once she’s hooked her heels back on her feet, Lena stands and fixes Jack with a placid smile. “Yes, I’ll see you Wednesday.”

xx

The day before she and Jack have their scheduled press conference for the official announcement on their partnership, Lena is settled up on the top floor of the new L-Corp building making phone calls to new local donors. Despite the stable line of investors she has secured back in Metropolis, and the financial benefit of partnering with a company for cheaper acquisition of their front-line technology, there's never a time to slow down and Lena is nothing if not prepared.

So, if that means waking up at five a.m. to answer all her emails so that she can dedicate three hours of her day to solely making calls, so be it.

Lena has just hung up the phone with National City Bank, and is pencilling down a reminder for her assistant to call back and set up a meeting with their CFO next week, when her front door opens.

“Most people knock, you know,” Lena says dryly, not looking up from her legal pad.

Sam laughs as she drops unceremoniously on the seat across from her desk. “Yeah, well I’m not most people. You ever think about adding some color to this place?”

Lena glances around them, takes in the new white leather couch, the white marble floors, the white shelves, her gleaming white desk, and finally lands on Sam’s amused, raised eyebrows. 

“You do realize I just moved in, right?”

“Moved, huh? That implies an air of permanence, doesn’t it?”

Dropping her pen, Lena scoffs. “Are you ever going to quit with that? You never used to recycle your jokes this much.”

“I don’t know, are you ever going to own up and accept that you’re just gonna cave?”

“Not likely.”

“Ah, well, you’ve never been good at predicting the future anyway.”

Lena sighs. “What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were showing around the engineer I sent over to the labs.”

Her best friend nods slowly and purses her lips. “Yep, that I was. But I’ve been summoned to remind you not to blow off your two o’clock today.”

Lena raises an eyebrow, and immediately clicks open her calendar on her computer monitor. “Making sure I keep my meetings? Isn’t what I hired an assistant for?”

“It is, but apparently she’s terrified of you, and she called me.”

Lena laughs, trying to declutter her screen and find the docket for today. “What kind of assistant is too scared of her own boss that she thinks to call my best friend instead of just—”

She cuts off sharply when she comes across the right event in her calendar, the one that had been scheduled the day before, one that she has the vaguest memory of flippantly approving. She’d been on a conference call with Lillian and Edge, listening to the two of them bicker to no end, when her assistant had poked her head in and quietly asked if she’d be okay with squeezing in an interview today. Lena had waved her off with a quick yes, too busy trying to jump back into the conversation with her mother and lawyer while they talked over her about what was best for her organization in a partnership that was her idea.

And now, it sinks in, what she’s agreed to.

CatCo Interview, two p.m.

The footnote reads it’s about the press conference tomorrow, of course, looking for any hint on the announcement. Of course everyone in the media knows at this point that L-Corp and Spheerical Industries are collaborating on something, and with the acquisition of an entire building under L-Corp’s name in the heart of National City, the rumors have been rampant. Lillian said that Lena had to partake in at least one interview before then, and she hadn’t given a second thought to it until now.

Sam clicks her tongue. “So, yeah, you get it then. I’d be a little scared to remind you too.”

“Yet here you are,” Lena mutters, staring at her screen blankly. 

“She just wanted to make sure it wasn’t catching you off guard.” Sam rises to her feet, brushing the wrinkles from her slacks. “If you need me, I’ll be back at SI. Or you know, if you need an expensive bottle of scotch, I can come back with one of those too.”

“You’re really giving my assistant a run for her money.”

“She’s still new, give her a sec. You’ve got a lot of rules, Luthor, it’s hard to keep up.”

“Yes, but no one seems very keen on following them, do they?” she asks pointedly, and Same only grins in response. She quickly says her goodbyes before she leaves finally, leaving Lena alone with the rest of her to-do list of calls to make and meetings to schedule, with nowhere near enough time before two.

They’re being ridiculous, she wouldn’t blow off an interview because of some childish, stubborn candor. She knows how to be an adult and she can be mature about this, because she’s done it before.

xx

“Alright, your flight is scheduled for tomorrow night at nine, I’ve finished your speech for the morning press conference, I’m handling the IRS representative that’s coming by this afternoon, and your accountant is dropping off the rest of the paperwork by six.”

Lena smirks around the lip of her to-go coffee and leans back in her leather seat, raises an eyebrow at her mother. “Did you book us a spa day, too?”

It’s her last day in her Spheerical Industries office, most everything is packed away by now, not that she spent much time here in the first place. All that’s left is the furniture from when she first moved in, the shelves are bare and the floor clean. She’d been planning on spending it with a couple hours of quiet, a whisper of a private goodbye with her phone turned off, when Lillian had tapped on the door. 

Her mother rolls her eyes. “Don’t be ungrateful. I’ve taken care of all that because there’s one thing I can’t do myself, and I need you focused.”

“Oh and what’s that? Wash my hair?”

“A CatCo reporter will be here in an hour, and you’re going to sit down with her.”

Lena’s blood runs cold. “I thought I told you I’m not doing any interviews.”

“You did.”

“So then why—”

“I’ve let you go nearly four months without a single interview,” Lillian says slowly. “I understand your reservations, but it’s time to grow up and move on.”

“You can forget it,” Lena laughs, dropping her coffee onto her desk and staring down at it resolutely. “I’m not doing it.”

“Can you retain the dramatics for just one day? I don’t have time to have this discussion again. All the reporter wants to know is about what you plan to do with the company, it’s no secret you bought it and the whole country knows you’re returning to Metropolis.”

“So Andrea can tune into the conference like everyone else tomorrow, why should I talk to anyone?”

“Lena. This is good publicity she’s offering.”

“You really trust her to say anything good about me?” The paper of her coffee cup indents within her clenching fist. “That woman is conniving, two-faced, arrogant sociopath who’s had a personal vendetta against me for over a decade.”

“And that sociopath is the one you have to thank for more than half the investors we have now. If you’d have actually read the article like I asked you to, then you might understand—”

“I’m not reading the fucking article!” Lena explodes, slamming her drink onto the desk so abruptly that the lid pops off and coffee sloshes over. The whole floor of Spheerical industries can probably hear her at this point, but Lena’s fuming and too blinded by her crumbling defenses to realize, much less even care. “I don’t care what it says, I don’t care what it’s done for me, and I don’t care about the doors it opens. I bought the company because I agreed with you when you said it was my chance to do what I’ve always wanted, but I never agreed to kiss the ass of the woman who ruined my life.”

“Ruined your life?” Lillian echoes with a patronizing bite. She crosses her arms, eyes narrowed as her heels pad across the carpet in slow, stilted thumps like the hammering of Lena’s heart in her ears as she approaches the edge of her desk. “Ingratitude is not a flattering color on you, Lena. I’m going to pretend this whole diva attitude is just an act for this time of the month, and I’m going to call Andrea and give her the go-ahead for the interview. The reporter is coming here. Do us both a favor, and pretend you’re not this much of a spoiled brat when they arrive.”

Lillian leaves, and Lena has one hour.

She’s been operating on the premise of this expectation that—

Well. There is no ulterior meaning. Lena’s lipstick leaves a stain on the crumpled coffee cup, and this doesn’t represent any greater dynamic, there’s nothing scripted about this, and, certainly, Kara is not relevant here.

She’s making something of herself, you see. There’s no implosion of passion, not any fat bubbling promises of grandiosity, there’s not a boom of all her aspirations coming true. There’s just the quiet of moving on with her life, without anyone else’s storm.

Surely the universe wouldn’t be so sick and twisted as to send her. There’s no way, even Andrea fucking Rojas wouldn’t be that derganged.

Fine, okay, Lena understands the purchase of LuthorCorp is a big deal, as is leaving National City, it’s the only actual, public thing she’s done since… well, just since. And she wasn’t foolish enough to think that it could be done without the spotlight catching her, without the critical eye of the country analyzing her every move. Despite all the good press she’s gotten, along with it comes the more judgemental and narrow-minded critiques of everything she does. Wonderful, no one assumes the worst of her because of her last name now, fantastic. But they’re still waiting with cameras pointed at the ready for the first slip.

Growling under her breath, Lena rushes from her seat to the narrow window. It’s ridiculous — she just moved into this office, she hasn’t even been with SI for half a year, and she’s already leaving. Clicking her jaw to the side, she stares sightlessly at the city scape before her, the industrial concrete and chrome-lined buildings. 

For god’s sake, she came to this city to hide, to bury herself from the world and start over. Who would have thought this was exactly where she would step into the limelight?

Well, not step. More like dragged.

It’s fine, they won’t send her. They wouldn’t send her to interview Lena, this unfathomable “they” would know better than to do that because Lena would have no qualms about slamming the door in her face. Because she would — of that, Lena is certain.

It’s fine. Yes. If Kara Danvers dared to show her face in Lena Luthor’s office, she has the utmost confidence in herself that she’d politely and calmly tell her to shove it, to hell with whatever Lillian says. 

As the clock ticks on, and the hour both slowly and hurriedly inches to an end, Lena chews over the possibilities.

It wouldn’t even be interesting to read, if Kara interviewed her, it’d be redundant and flat. Whatever it is that Kara has to say about her was already done with her gossip-column article, the world already knows what a fool Lena is and how she opened her entire life up for the scrutiny of this amateur reporter. What the hell else would they want to hear from her? A round two? Do they want to see if Lena could be so much of an idiot as to trust her again for the third time? Fool me twice, they say, but there’s no profound line for a round three.

Her own reasoning sounds ridiculous even to her, and as Eve calls up to her office to alert her that the reporter is here and riding up the elevator, Lena knows it. The truth is that an interview with Lena on the cusp of reinventing LuthorCorp, conducted by the same reporter who reignited her career, would be another front-page story for CatCo and rack up an obscene number of clicks. Because that’s what CatCo was about, not it’s hard-hitting journalism but about making a paycheck off whatever life it can suck the scandal out of.

It certainly knows how to hire people with similar enough interests.

So, it probably is Kara on her way up, all things considered. Lena’s a businesswoman now, and so is Andrea, and Lena would send Kara herself if it was her call. So when there’s a knock at her door, and Lena clears her throat to invite Kara inside, Lena raises her chin.

Because she can do this, she’s Lena Luthor. She’s leaving in a day. In twenty-four hours, she’ll be on a flight across the country, and she won’t be looking back. 

So if Kara thinks she can march into Lena’s office and beg her to stay, she’s mistaken. 

Oh, how rich that would be, honestly. Lena would kill to see the look on her face when she spits on her feet and curses her for having no shame. The sheer audacity she must have to have to come in here, expecting an interview and hoping to change Lena’s mind about leaving, not only assuming that she has any right at all to ask Lena to stay but also expecting that it would make anything of a difference, that Lena would even hear her out, that Lena would care about how sorry she is and all that she could do to change her mind — the presumptuous arrogance it will show, it will be out of this world.

And Lena can’t wait to prove how wrong she is.

The door cracks open, and a face peaks in. 

“Hi! I’m Alice Peng from CatCo. You’re Lena Luthor, right?”

xx

When another reporter who Lena doesn’t recognize steps through the doorway fifteen months later, into an office three times as big as the one she had at SI, she’s a different person.

Because she is, Jack was right. She’s not the same pathetic drunk girl with a broken heart that left with red-rimmed eyes and lofty fantasies of saving the world out of some naive mentality of self-righteousness. She’s the woman who did what she said she would and she’s the woman who’s come back to do more. She doesn’t have a misplaced sense of self-indulgent pity, she’s not so self-centered as to think that her life is ruined or that she’s living anything short of her dream just because someone lied to her once upon a time. 

No, this girl is gone, and that chapter is over.

So maybe Lena wasn’t appropriately prepared fifteen months ago when a reporter she’d never met stepped into her small, poorly ventilated office that was still yet to even have her name on the door. Maybe she used to entertain some perverted run-through-an-airport kind of fantasy. But today she’s at the top of a building she owns, and her expectations about who is to interview her today are perfectly in check. There’s no time for reminiscing or looking back, and Lena has a future to seize, even if there are three still three things off limits for discussion.

Because one is what it took to survive. 

Chapter Text

“Hey, you’re out of milk.”

Sitting at her desk with her phone tucked into her shoulder, Lena scribbles her signature across the bottom of a performance review before she flips the page.

Slowly registering Sam’s words, she pauses. “…I never had any to begin with.”

“Well you’re still out. What time you think you’ll be home? Can you pick some up? I’m making pancakes.”

A smirk touches her mouth’s edge, and Lena fills in another report almost mindlessly. “Shouldn’t you be at home, I don’t know, taking care of your daughter?” 

“Oh she’s here too, don’t worry.”

“Don’t you have a house? It’s very cute and cozy, last I remember. Probably has milk too.”

“Yeah, but your bathtub has a jacuzzi. You know, I thought NGO directors weren’t supposed to live this lavisciously. Do your donors know they’re paying for your ‘Lena Luthor’ monogrammed bathrobes and custom-scented hand lotions?”

“That’s all Lillian’s doing, it’s just the Luthor money.” Lena tuts dryly, and then her hand pauses over the page. “I have a monogrammed bathrobe?”

“Well you did. I took it awhile ago. So, you almost done?”

Lena looks down at the three inch-thick pile of progress reports she is still yet to go through, and then a glance at her computer screen of eighty-seven new emails — forget the fact that she just cleared her inbox an hour ago. A sigh falls from her lips again when her eye drops to the clock, and it’s a quarter after nine. 

Normally, this would be nothing. Some days in Metropolis she would be at the office with Lillian until one in the morning, but something about this city tugs at her strings. She grows tired earlier, stiffer sooner, her eyes began to sting from the glare of her computer monitor only a couple hours after sunset.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, she gives one last glance over the work scattered over her desk. And then, resolutely, she tucks the documents into their folder and stands, reaching across to flick off her desk lamp.

“Yeah, I’ll be home soon.”

xx

Her suite kitchen isn’t all that large to begin with, so it’s not very surprising to find that the explosion of flour and egg shells carpets out into the dark hallway that the elevator doors open into. A stretch of light from the kitchen illuminates the mess, and as the door clicks shut behind her, a nine-year-old’s head pokes quickly around the corner ahead.

“Hi Aunt Lena! Before you say anything, it wasn’t me.” 

With a squeak, Ruby just as hastily disappears, and Lena can hear the hushed giggles and frantic whispers of their arguing as she unclips her heels.

When she comes around the corner to find Sam with a cheeky, shameless grin and Ruby hiding behind the breakfast bar, only the top of her head and a pair of brown eyes visible, all Lena has in response is the raise of a single eyebrow.

It’s a game to see who breaks first, and Ruby’s small eyes flit back and forth between her mother and Lena nervously as the silence stretches on.

And then Sam purses her lips. “So… you got the milk, right?”

Lena rolls her eyes as she drops the carton on the counter, and with a huff she turns back out of the kitchen. 

“I’m taking a shower. I want strawberries in mine or I’m kicking both of you out.”

xx

She does end up getting her strawberry pancakes, as does Ruby, before the kid ends up passed out on her couch, stomach-down and drooling into the pale gold linen. Of course, not before the the forty-minute sugar rush of sprinting around the suite, jumping on Lena’s king-sized mattress, unravelling every single one of Lena’s freshly rolled bath towels, and inexplicably losing the TV remote somewhere on the balcony. 

“Aren’t you supposed to provide her with a routine or something?” Lena asks from the breakfast bar where she nurses a glass of wine, watching the child snore on her couch. “Like, give her vegetables, enforce a bedtime, put her in her actual bed?”

Sam shrugs indifferently. “It’s fine, I’ll just make her spend all of tomorrow doing chores to put her back in her place. She wanted to hang out with you, and who am I to deny her her favorite aunt?”

“You’re an only child, and I’m your only friend.”

“Oh that’s right, you’re the popular one now.” Sam grins, narrowing her eyes. “Are all your girlfriends just begging for you to come back?”

Lena scoffs. “Please, it’s already been two months. Pretty sure they’ve forgotten all about me.”

“Two months? No it hasn’t.”

“Darling it’s August.”

“Since when? You’re saying I have to go back to school shopping already?”

Lena pats her friend on the thigh placatingly. “You’ll get through it, I promise.”

With a disgusted sigh, Sam takes a heftier gulp of her wine. 

They catch up more on how things at L-Corp are progressing. With Lillian’s strategic advertising back in Metropolis, capitalizing on the media’s adoring interest on Lena and how eager they are to know why she left, the press conference back in June was an incredible success. After announcing the general partnership, Lena and Jack had together given a ten-year blueprint on how they plan to change the game of healthcare nationwide, putting Spheerical Industries’ leading technology in public hospitals across the country, based entirely on L-Corp’s funding and outreach. With the foundation of investors L-Corp has built up the last year, they can now take off the ground and begin the long road of providing accessible healthcare to clinics, hospitals, and whole communities. Their initiative with SI’s tech begins in National City for the first year, and then to Metropolis the second, and the next eight years will be spent tackling their vision of integrating essential needs interventions into care all across the country.

Suffice to say, Lena’s exhausted.

“Yeah, I bet. But do you have any idea how proud I am of you?”

Lena rolls her eyes. “Yes, you just about remind me every week.”

“I mean it. You’ve done in a year what takes most people nearly half a decade, forget the partnership deal alone.”

“Yes, well, it helps that you, me, and Jack all did Jell-O shots back in the day. Made it a lot easier to coax him to my side. Not to mention there was actually something resemblant of a company left to LuthorCorp when I bought it, so. I had help.”

A warm hand covers her own, and Lena looks up to see the serious weight of Sam’s gaze.

“Just because you had help doesn’t mean you aren’t the one to thank. You’re doing great things, and you deserve the recognition.”

With a sharp look, Lena smiles wryly. “Funny. Almost sounds like you might be talking about something else.”

“Of course I am, but you have too many fucking rules so I have to jump through hoops to say what I want to say.”

Lena drags her index finger slowly across the lip of her glass, biting the tip of her tongue.

She was nominated for a Lasker Debakey back in September of last year, for the work she and her team did at SI in finding a cure for the demyelinating disease that backlashed from the Neoremedium.

Forget the fact that neither Sam or Jack were nominated, despite how Sam was the one who discovered anything was wrong and Jack was the head of the damn project. Forget that it was thanks to Imra’s advanced and cutting-edge CAR-T system that Lena was even able to bring any of her theories to fruition, forget that Jess was by her side every single day from sunrise to sunset for weeks, forget that Lena only knew what to do because Lex spelled it out for her, forget the fact that she was only working at Spheerical Industries at precisely the right time to even become involved in the research because of her.

Forget the fact that Lena doesn’t know how to make it any clearer how she doesn’t deserve it.

But, bitterly, Lena knows Lillian is right. It doesn’t matter, it’s as inane as pointing fingers in the dark at this point, because the foundation isn’t going to change their mind just because she’s having a morality crisis. She was selected early this year, and along with an entirely unnecessary ceremony dedicated in her honor, is a fundraiser for L-Corp, completely backed by the Lasker foundation. She just has to show up, say a few words, and that’s it. About eighty percent of the proceedings will go directly to her organization, on top of a personal honorarium of two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Lena’s never dreaded anything more.

She catches Sam’s eye softly. “You can say it, if you want. I’ll give you a freebie.”

Her friend’s eyes narrow, the corner of her mouth draws into a tight smirk. “You feeling okay? You eat anything fishy these last couple days?”

When Sam raises the back of her hand to Lena’s forehead, she swats her away laughing. “It’s in two weeks anyway, but fine. I take it back, never speak to me again.”

“Okay, look, I won’t say anything about the award. But I will say that it’s reassuring you’re finally starting to come around to it. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

Lena chuckles. “Honestly, think I’m just too tired to care right now.”

“Mm, lucky for you that’s an easy fix. C’mon, go to bed, I’ll clean this up.”

With a grateful hug, Lena easily agrees, and she loosely pulls away before she pads off to her room. Despite the mess and the surprise of unexpected visitors, a disruption to Lena’s polished routine, she can’t say she minds. She’s not lonely in Metropolis, not like that, but she will admit that it’s nice to come home to a kitchen light on and the sweet music of unweighted laugher. Sam makes it easy for her — Lena’s not blind, she knows when she’s being treated carefully, when someone is going out of their way for her, and from anyone else she’d probably bite off the hand reaching to feed her, slap away these cheap scraps of pity they offer. 

After lazily brushing her teeth and slipping under her velvet duvet, Lena relaxes. With Sam it’s different, it’s easy to lean on her for an hour or two with something like peace of mind, because if there’s anyone she can let herself close her eyes for just a blink of reprieve, it’s her.

xx 

The distant sound of the front door clicking shut jolts her from her stunned trance, and they’re alone once more.

“So you’re talking to her again?” Lena asks grimly, a scowl darkening her face. “Since when?”

Sam’s hands clench at her sides as she takes a deep breath, and she meets Lena’s eye like she’d rather be looking anywhere else. 

“It’s been a couple weeks.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?”

“No, because I don’t know where it’s going, and I knew you’d freak out exactly like you are right now.”

“Oh, this is not me freaking out,” Lena laughs with a wicked, dark grin. “You should be fucking grateful I’m this calm.”

“Look I didn’t tell you because it’s still fresh. We’re just talking, there’s nothing else to it.”

“About what? What the hell do you two have to talk about?”

“Believe it or not, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” Sam mutters tiredly, and she turns her back on Lena and drags herself across the living room. Unlike Lena, where an argument leaves her volatile and so restless that she has to pace right through the floor, it just wears Sam out, and the other woman sinks despondently onto the edge of the couch. Her tone has no bite to it, no resentment, just a fatigue that stretches far beyond this room. “We both have lives that don’t involve you or her sister, okay? We have other things in common.”

“Right.” Lena, on the other hand, turns for the kitchen and rummages through the fridge for a drink, and she calls back into the living like they’re a married couple having their nightly ritual spat. “You expect me to believe that she hasn’t tried to talk to you about me? That you two are just catching up on your fucking hobbies? I know that woman, Sam, she’s relentless and she’s used to getting what she wants.”

When Lena returns with a half-empty bottle of riesling, Sam is sitting forward with her hands rubbing her temples.

“Okay, yeah, we talked about you. But it’s only because you’re one of the most important people in my life, and Kara is for her, so of course we’re going to talk about it.”

“How can you even trust her?” Lena exclaims. “She knew, Sam! She knew her sister was only talking to me for a story and she just let us waltz into their lives, treated us as if they both actually cared, knowing full well that it was all a lie.”

Sam closes her eyes, ignoring Lena’s heated gaze, as if this is all just an inconvenience for her to have to explain. “She didn’t know the whole time.”

“Oh and is that supposed to make it better? What exactly is the processing period on owning up to being a two-faced lying bitch? Has it bumped up to two weeks now?”

“You make it sound like I wanted to talk to her, I didn’t. I wouldn’t even talk to her at first, but we work together and I couldn’t just ignore a coworker forever. All she wanted was to come clean and so she told me everything, okay?”

Lena’s resolve crumbles, this cracked and unstable foundation that she keeps together with the cheap clay of denial and the fine, finishing touches of evasion. It happens every few weeks, a fractured mess that spills onto the floor too fast for Lena to pick it all back up, no she can’t immediately, and it always takes a retreat to the darkness of her apartment alone to put it back together. But every time, each time that she breaks, it always takes less time than the last to mend.

“You don’t know the full story,” Sam continues grimly. “Kara actually has a pretty—”

“I don’t want to know the full story,” Lena snaps darkly. “It doesn’t matter, and you shouldn’t care either.”

With an aggravated groan, Sam rushes off the couch, putting a distance between them. “Of course I care about what happened, because I care about you! You don’t want to face what happened, you want to drink it away and pretend it’s all okay, fine. But she came to me, and I wasn’t even going to think about not slamming the door in her face until she explained her side of things.”

“So you’re on their side, then?” Lena’s mouth curls into a bitter grimace, and she pulls a swig from the flat wine.

“No, dammit, I’m not picking a side, that’s the point. All I mean is that this is more complicated than Kara lying to you and Alex covering for her.”

“But that is exactly what it comes down to.”

“If you’d just let me tell you why she did it, then—”

“Don’t you fucking dare.” Lena wipes her mouth with the sleeve of her sweater, and this time she’s the one to storm away, as if the space between them might bury the sour taste of this disarray.

“What are you so scared of?” Sam doesn’t follow after her, but her voice carrying across the expanse of the room haunts Lena’s ears all the same. “I’m not saying you should forgive her — honestly, I don’t even think that you should — I’m just saying there’s another side to this and I decided to hear it out. Because, I’m sorry, okay? At the end of the day, Kara lied to you and that sucks, I get that you don’t want to hear her out. But Alex is not responsible for her sister’s actions.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake—”

“And at least she was willing to talk to me.”

Lena whirls back around from the archway of the kitchen, her eyebrows skyrocketing. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Sam gives her an incredulous look, her shoulders deflating with the more this fight takes out of her while it only just fuels Lena like gasoline.

“Lena, you didn’t even tell me.” Sam’s hands fall to her side weakly. “I found out when the story was already out, and I almost had a heart attack wondering what you were gonna do when you saw it, because not even for a second did I think you’d already know. And then, when I come to make sure you’re okay, your phone’s buried in the freezer and you’re busy cooking a casserole? Because little did I know, you already knew, and apparently you think nearly burning your apartment down was a better use of your time.”

Lena shakes her head. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“Yeah, you don’t. But you didn’t have to lie to me either.”

She turns back sharply. “I did not lie.”

“But you did, I asked you, over and over again, I knew something was wrong with you and Kara, I’m not an idiot. You’re a terrible liar, you always have been. I just figured if it got bad enough that you’d actually come and talk to me.”

“Oh my god,” Lena groans, her fist tightening around the neck of the bottle. “So I didn’t want to talk about it, is that such a crime?”

“No, it’s not. I just thought we’d moved passed this.”

“Passed what?”

“This, right here.” Sam waves forcefully between them. “The part where you push everyone away because you still don’t trust me.”

“Don’t talk to me about trust, I trusted her with everything , and where the fuck did that get me?”

“But I’m not her!” Sam yells, the rise of her voice making Lena flinch. “I’m me, Sam, your best friend, the person you’ve known for ten years who’s been standing here waiting for you every time you run away, waiting for it to be the last time that you doubt how much I care about you. I trust you with my freaking kid, and you can’t even give me the time of day when something goes wrong in your life.”

“You want me to trust you?” Lena slams the bottle down on the coffee table and waves to the room. “You were here, with Alex, talking about me and my personal life, and you didn’t tell me. How the fuck is that for being so trustworthy?”

Exhaustion seeping from her pores, Sam drags her hands down her face. “It wasn’t like that. I didn’t tell her anything about you, I said what’s between you and Kara stays that way, and I’m just here to have your back.”

“If you had my back, you wouldn’t see her.”

Sam’s shoulders fall, the last drain of energy left in her dwindling away. “What?”

“You want me to trust you? Then prove it. Stop seeing her.”

“Is that… are you serious?”

“Yes.”

Sam’s mouth flattens and her eyes blink away the doubt. “Okay. If that's what you need, okay.”

Taken aback by the ease of it, the simplicity, how Sam gives in without anything of a fight, Lena frowns. “Just like that?”

“Yeah, Lena. Just like that.”

xx

The morning of the ceremony, the first thing Lena does is go for a run. It’s a quarter to six when she laces up her sneakers and tightens her ponytail, when she presses the call button for her private elevator.

It’s not that Lena doesn’t like exercising, she does. She likes the soreness that comes the next day, a reminder of how she pushed herself, like the aftertaste of a long day at work and seeing the stack of paperwork she got through. She likes the way it makes her feel, the confidence and newfound energy. It helps to dispel the pent-up restlessness she’s felt for the last year and a half, an unshakable shadow of agitated fervor that followed her around throughout the end of winter and into the oppressive heat of summer.

Lena’s almost loathe to admit that it was Lillian’s doing, her working out again. It had been the most ridiculous of arguments between the two, and Lena felt like she was thirteen again being lectured on her weight and scolded for her calorie consumption. Lillian, of course, only strong-armed her into an Equinox membership because of the press. The fact that her mother only wanted her in good shape so she would look a certain way for the media had actually just made Lena want to do it less. Why should she conform to a style of unhealthy beauty standards for the very group of people that, two years ago, villainized her for her brother’s mistakes? For an industry that sent a reporter in the disguise of a friend to dig up all her dirty secrets and splay them out for the world to read?

Lena’s never been one to win a lot of arguments with her mother, she’s probably the only person in the world who knows how to get her compliant.

But what started out as a ridiculous venture to look a certain way in tabloid pictures and marketing photoshoots quickly became a release Lena didn’t know she needed. It was an escape of sorts. She could plug in her headphones and slowly drown out the noise of the world, she works her legs up from a leisurely stroll to a quick jog like the accelerating onset of panic. But where before there was palpitations and dread, coming into a run was like letting it all go, leaving it behind in her wake as her feet slap at the rubbery floor of the treadmill racing beneath her. 

She probably would have quit this whole ordeal months ago if it hadn’t felt so good. While she started in the privacy of an expensive gym, Lena quickly grew tired of clanging atmosphere and the nagging encouragement of professional trainers. No, Lena wanted to run , she didn’t want to be moving in place like a cog in a wheel, she wanted to leave something behind her. Lillian thought it was a terrible idea, running outside in public where anyone could see and bother her, but Lena was fast, and if she was going to be forced into upkeeping a body standard for the sharks then she’d do it her way.

She was too quick for anyone to recognize her anyway, running down the sidewalks. If she hit a red crosslight, she just turned down the next block. Sometimes she went in circles, sometimes she ended up two miles from her building. Going so early in the morning of course helped, not many are out at this time of day, except for the early morning workers and the city cleaning crew. 

Unfortunately it’s not early enough, because when she crosses the threshold of the elevator doors back into her suite, her music mutes out and the ringing starts.

Steeling herself with a deep breath, she answers. “Morning, mother.”

“What have I said about calling me mother? You sound like a poor, dreadful damsel whose parents sold her for a cheap dowry.”

“That is… so very specific, I’m not even going to warrant that with a response.” Lena puts her phone on speaker and sets it down on the bathroom’s marble sink edge, tugging her sweaty hair loose from its tie. “What do you want?”

“To make sure you’re not planning a hasty exit of the country.”

“And you say I’m the dramatic one.”

“As if you haven’t done it before.”

Gritting her teeth, Lena presses her lips together into a fine line. “For the last time, I already had tickets for a conference in Lausanne.”

“A conference that lasted three weeks?”

Lena changes the subject. “I’m going, okay? I’ll show up and give the speech you wrote, I’ll play nice, you don’t have to worry.”

“Oh, I’m not worried you won’t be there.”

Mid-unzipping her track jacket, Lena pauses at the suspicious lilt to her tone. “And why’s that?”

“Because you’re predictably noble, Lena.  I know you’d never stand anyone up in good conscience.”

Lena shuts her eyes. “Lillian, tell me you didn’t. Please, not tonight, let me just have this one night to myself.”

“Gayle Marsh will be downstairs in the limo at six, don’t be late.”

“The doors open at five.”

“Yes, and you’ll be there no later than six-thirty. I’ll get there early to help with the press, and I’ll come find you after. Your dress will be dropped off around noon. Please do try not to spill any of that horribly cheap wine you drink on this one.”

With clenched fists, Lena hisses, “I told you a hundred times, that wasn’t my—”

The line clicks dead.

“…fault.”

xx

Gayle is nice enough. Not too eager, which is refreshing. If anything, she seems like she wants to be here even less than Lena does.

“This thing come with a bar?” the blonde asks across from her, laying down on the opposite leather bench of the limo with an arm tiredly draped over her eyes.

Lena’s reviewing the script for her speech on her phone, and she looks up at the question with a raised eyebrow. Leaning forward, she pulls the door to the mini fridge open and the rush of crisp, cold air wafts against the bare of her ankles. 

“There’s vodka or champagne.”

“Vodka, always vodka.”

Lena snags two of the little bottles and tosses one to the other woman. Immediately, Gayle sits up, and she eyes the other one in Lena’s hand as she makes an impatient gesture. Rolling her eyes, Lena gives her the other one as well and plucks another out of the fridge.

Gayle downs the first quickly, and clears her throat before she hurries onto the second.

Lena watches her skeptically. “You could do worse than me, you know.”

“Oh please.” Gayle drops the empty bottles onto the carpeted car floor and slumps back against the leather. “I know that, I don’t give a shit about you. But if I’m being forced to go to this thing, over my dead body am I doing it sober.”

The blunt honesty catches Lena off guard, and in place of the offense she’s expecting, Lena finds it rather entertaining instead. She doesn’t really know much about who Gayle is, not really, just that she’s the only child of some major bank CEO, probably as rich an heiress as Lena was. 

“If it makes you feel better, I didn’t want you to be here either.”

Gayle’s mouth perks up into a wry smile. “Really? Your mom said you all but begged for me.”

Scoffing, Lena shakes her head. “Of course she did.  

With intrigue in her eyes, the blonde crosses her arms and regards Lena carefully. “You seem pretty uptight about this thing for someone who’s getting such a payday out of it.”

“Funny, I could tell you the same thing.”

“What, you think I’m an escort or something?” Gayle lets out a sharp, loud laugh. “That’s rich, but I can’t be bought sweetheart.”

“Then, what are you doing here?”

The blonde scowls, and hunches across the space to fish out another liquor bottle. This time, she slumps onto the seat beside Lena, and she kicks off her Louibuitons, tucking her feet beneath her.

“Here’s the deal,” she huffs, breaking the seal of the bottle with a small crack. “Seems like your mom’s a conniving bitch, and my dad’s an impressionable coward.”

Lena raises her eyebrows with a smirk. “And what does that have to do with you?”

“Means my family’s not a fan of the four-finger discount, and it was either this or community service.”

“Shoplifting?” Lena laughs. “Bit ironic of a choice for my date tonight, don’t you think?”

“Baby,” Gayle drawls boredly, throwing back the drink, this time with a slight wince. “Buy me dinner first, then we’ll talk about what this is.”

Lena rolls her eyes. “Just smile at the cameras, I’ll do the talking, and then we’ll head for the bar.”

“Don’t you have to like, mingle? This is a fundraiser, right? Kiss some ass or whatever.”

“Mm, the one perk of tonight is that it’s not my fundraiser.” She motions for Gayle to pass her another drink as well, and the blonde has far too pleased of a smile when she hands it over. “So, I let them come to me. Otherwise I have no plans on speaking with anyone I don’t have to.”

“Wow.” 

Lena glances up. “What?”

“You are… so not what I expected.”

“What were you expecting? Desperately throwing myself at you and overzealous for attention?”

Gayle tilts her head thoughtfully, the amused smile on her mouth trickling to a flatter line, and before she even opens her mouth Lena already wishes she hadn’t asked.

“I just never pegged you as somebody who’d be bitter. Hard-headed maybe, but not bitter. It’s comforting though.”

Gulping the vodka down swiftly, Lena grimaces. “Why’s that?”

“Hm, I dunno. Guess it’s nice to know you’re not as perfect as you seem.”

God, Lena can’t wait for this night to be over.

xx

When the limo pulls up at the base of the orchestra hall, Lena impatiently waits for Gayle to get her heels back on before their driver opens the door for them. The contrast of the glaring camera flashes against the dark, moonless sky is immediately blinding, but Lena forces a smile through it as they both step out. It’s a long trek up the carpeted marble steps, two impenetrable walls of reporters on either side despite how most all the notable guests have already arrived and are inside, and Lena resists the bitter scoff. 

Seriously, it’s one award, for one person, for something she did nearly two years ago.

But both Lillian and Gayle’s words echo in her ear, and Lena swallows the resentment down. She is being a brat, and she needs to appreciate this more. She’ll probably make the goal she’d projected in January for the entire year tonight alone without having to even scratch anyone’s back. Although to be fair, Lillian gave her strict orders to not talk money with anyone tonight, not make any attempt at coaxing a donation or investor for her cause, something about the tackiness of how the only people who ask for money are the ones who need it, and how people want more than anything to throw their money at powerful figures who couldn’t care less.

It’s these sort of nauseating politics that make Lena wonder what the hell is so different about this than how she lived two years ago.

Since leaving National City, she’s been focused, she’s found her drive, something that finally feels like a purpose. Sure, her dreams piggyback on the failed legacy of her family, she might never have a future completely unladen with the Luthor name, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe her dreams all along were about turning something ugly and corrupt into a force for good.

Maybe it’s naive, maybe it’s wishful thinking, but that’s why she’s doing this, that’s why she left, that’s what she sculpted her dream out of.

Stepping into the frame of countless cameras, the silk of an overpriced gown cinched tight around her waist, a practical stranger smiling on her arm? No, Lena’s not sure when she signed up for this, but apparently to have one is to take a deal for the other.

A fleeting trace of a memory trickles through the noise, an errant line of thought that Lena hasn’t entertained since coming back. It blinks under her poise, wavers Lena’s smile like a particularly strong gust of wind. What was usually just an odd aftermath of an older ideation is more… pronounced, now. It lurks from the back of her mind, creeps from the dusty cracks of a paranoia long since buried.

She wonders if she’s here, somewhere, behind the screen of glimmering lights and microphones, if CatCo picked her to cover this story.

“I heard this was gonna be a big event,” Gayle mutters. “But I didn’t realize half the city cared about your ass.”

Lena’s smile is both angelic and infernal. “You and me both.”

They stop and dawdle for questions, most directed at Lena while Gayle just remains at her side with a loose arm politely draped around her lower back. The only time they ever address Gayle is to comment on her sleek, matte blue dress that plunges low down her chest, or a keen question into the nature of their relationship, but they both wave these remarks off flippantly and Lena leads them further on.

After a last round of posing for pictures, Lena can finally give a mental fuck you to her mother and finish with this circus-like performance. As she turns to pull Gayle inside, a reporter from the end of the line shouts out her name, calls for a question, and Lena halts on the marble steps.

Gayle stumbles in front of her, her hand caught around Lena’s hip, but Lena is turned towards the reporter and the cameraman beside her quickly narrows in on Lena’s face.

“Ms. Luthor, you’ve been deemed quite the influencer for young girls, a great role model for the younger generation. Any words of encouragement for your new admirers?”

It lurks, after all this time, even still.

“I… I would say that, um…”

She can feel Gayle’s stare, the curious regard, and for just a moment, Lena falters. The reporter’s eyes flicker in confusion to Gayle’s and then back to her before Lena shakes her head, scrounging back her catered starlet smile.

“I would tell them that… this world is full of people who want something from you, who will try and take what it is that they want. People are going to tell you what you should want, and how you should want it.” Lena tilts her head softly. “I’d tell them to remember that, at the end of the day, you can never trust anyone but yourself.”

The arm around her waist tightens for just a moment before Gayle’s leaning into the mic, laughing. “I think that Lena means to say is, never give up, and always have faith in yourself! Thank you so much, have a great night.”

Gayle is the one to usher them inside this time, and she’s mumbling something like you’re welcome, you fucking psycho, but Lena isn’t listening. After they cross the domed marble lobby, the fifteen-foot tall doors at the end of the gleaming hall part open, and the flood of music and chatter spills out and sucks them in like magma.

The baronial room they enter into is massive, with arched gold ceilings and ionic pillars spread throughout. It’s practically a gala, tuxedoed caterers roaming the floors and high-end gowns everywhere she looks. The music is both tastefully elegant and modern, strong-tempoed scores that make for a smooth, lively background to the lavish atmosphere. It’s a scene straight from her childhood, but where before it was Lex being led through in a newly fitted tux on his lanky frame, the doors closing behind him, it’s now Lena’s standing on the inside. It’s the beautiful flowing dresses that pass around them, the manicured laughter in the wake of a joke no one seems to hear.

It’s expensive, is what it is.

“Okay, I changed my mind.” Gayle’s grip loosens on her hip, and her hand falls to her side. “I am so cool to be your date any time you need.”

Lena plucks a glass of champagne off the first tray that passes her, and Gayle only just manages to snag one of her own before the waiter disappears, and Lena downs her drink quickly. 

“Okay, so that’s how we’re playing it tonight, got it.”

But Lena ignores her still, and she fishes her phone out of her clutch, pulls up her conversation with Sam.

Not a minute later, her phone vibrates in her hands and she eagerly answers it, ducking to the side behind a pillar and hurrying off to the outskirts of the room where she can hear better.

“Hey,” she greets, dropping her empty champagne glass on a table of flowers. “I just got in, and I seriously could use a drink with my best friend right now. Meet me at the bar?”

“Okay, so… don’t hate me.”

Her stomach sinks. “You’re not coming.”

“Lena I am so, so sorry, Ruby has food poisoning and has been throwing up for hours, I’m at the hospital now.”

She straightens up immediately. “What? Where? Which hospital?” 

“No, oh no, don’t do that, stop it. You’re not getting out of this ceremony,” Sam chastises, the scolding tone she uses for her daughter crisp and clear over the phone. “Ruby’s gonna be fine, I just couldn’t keep her hydrated enough, it’s nothing to worry about. You stay there, don’t you dare use me as an excuse to bail now.”

Lena sighs, cocking her jaw. “Whatever, fine, but I want updates, okay?” 

“Yes, I promise I’ll keep you posted.” There’s a slight pause, almost too brief to catch. “How is it so far?”

She laughs dryly. “You’re not missing much, don’t worry. My mother set me up with a delinquent thief for a date, and this place is decked out like I’m a fucking celebrity.”

“You are a celebrity.”

“No, I’m the director of a nonprofit and a scientist. The money that went into preparing this alone could probably have covered all the donations I’ll need.” Lena cranes her neck slightly. “I think I see an acrobat hanging from the ceiling.” 

“Honestly sounds like a night to remember, send me pictures. Listen, I have to go, but I’ll come over in the morning, okay? I love you, you’ll do great.”

Lena bids her goodbye with soft wishes for Ruby before they hang up, and she tucks the phone back into her purse. 

Great. Now she gets to parade through this foolish evening with pompous bigwigs and she doesn’t even have anyone she cares about with her. Mind you, there’s a very short list of people to satisfy that demand, but still. Although, she’s sure that Jack is around here somewhere, perhaps Jess and Imra too. Gayle’s right, most the damn city is here tonight, though Lena supposes the elite society will always sniff out a good party.

Sighing, she resolves to go find someone who doesn’t make her ears want to bleed, but first? Definitely the bar.

xx

“Okay, I want you to call me every day, and if I go forty-eight hours without hearing from you then I’m calling the authorities.”

Lena, leaning back against the door of the town car, smirks at her friend. “I’ve survived pretty fine so far, I think I’ll be okay.”

“Oh it’s not you I’m worried about, it’s Lillian. I wish I could put my money on you killing her first, but I don’t trust that snake for a second.”

Laughing, Lena pushes off from the car and stands up straighter. “Alright, I’ll keep an eye out. Thank you for helping me settle in to the new place, but you have a plane to catch, so get a move on, because if you miss your flight one more time your babysitter will quit on you.”

Huffing, Sam tugs Lena into a quick embrace. “Can you blame me? I feel like you just came back in my life and you’re already leaving again.”

Patting her on the back lightly, Lena sighs. “I know, but we’ll stay in touch. We’ll make it work.”

Sam pulls back with a shove at Lena’s shoulder. “Yeah you better. I’m not above dragging you back.”

Lena’s never been very good at goodbyes, she realizes, not really. It sinks in as Sam’s joyous smile drifts to something softer, as her eyes trail over Lena slowly like she’s trying to memorize something. Lena’s about to open her mouth to stop her, to prevent whatever emotional or sappy speech she has planned, because they’re not about to make a bigger deal of this than they need to, when something twinges in her chest.

It’s been bothering her for a couple months now, a nagging regret, the kind that keeps her awake some nights. She’ll clench her eyes at the embarrassment, her abrasiveness, she’ll pretend that willing it away and  ignoring it will put it behind her and that, with time, it won’t dig under her skin anymore.

But she’s tired, she’s so fucking tired.

So it’s Lena who opens her mouth with a forlorn gaze. “Hey, um… Before you go, I just.”

Sam’s eyebrows twitch with concern, and she tilts her head to the side. “What is it?”

“I’m… I’m sorry.”

Whatever Sam thought she was going to say, it clearly wasn’t that, because she shakes her head in surprise and laughs.

“For what, babe?”

“For telling you to stop seeing Alex.”

Sam’s smile drops, the briefest flicker of remorse crossing her face, but it disappears just as quickly. “Ah, it’s alright, don’t worry about it.”

Lena swallows and drops her head. “It’s not, that actually wasn’t okay at all. I’m not sure you know how much I love you for doing it, but I…” She takes a deep breath. “It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t kind. I shouldn’t have tried to control you like that, and I’m sorry. So I just wanted to say that, if you wanted to see her, and not that you need it, but… you have my blessing. To go after it, or whatever.”

Sam smiles, and she reaches out to rub Lena’s arm softly. “Thanks, and I appreciate that, but it’s fine. It’s been a while, I’m over it.”

Lena winces apologetically. “Really?” 

“Yeah, it doesn’t matter anymore. It was better off as a one-night thing, anyway.” Sam shrugs loosely. “I’ve got Ruby and work, I don’t have time for that rom-com deal anyway. I’m sure I didn’t miss anything.”

Nodding, Lena licks her lips. “Right. Either way, I truly am sorry. For whatever it’s worth now.”

Smiling, Sam opens her arms and pulls Lena in for another hug, this one much more intimate than the last as she burrows into her. Lena squeezes her back, winding her arms tightly around her best friend, and she can’t help the pinpricks of stinging, unshed tears behind her eyes. She’ll never let them fall, of course, but Lena’s heart clenches all the same.

“It’s worth everything.”

xx

She’s starting to feel the alcohol, it thrums under her skin like the warm wash of a bath, and Lena relishes in it. Making through the crowd in search of the bar is far more difficult than it needs to be, she gets pulled over nearly a dozen times by passing donors and business execs. She even catches a few old friends from her days in Metropolis with Siobhan, other actors she worked with or just the general people who used to hang around that scene of living in front of the all-seeing eye. They greet her like the old friends they are, full of delight and excited well wishes for Lena’s work, enthusiasm for tonight’s ceremony. But Lena can’t help how she struggles to smile passed the pleasantries, bites back the question of asking where they were two years ago when Lex went to jail, when she was disgraced and alone. It’s not just the people she knew once upon a time, it’s every eager grin and firm handshake, every person who gushes how lovely it is to meet her — she wants to know if they remember the pariah they made of her.

But Lillian is infuriatingly right as always, and nothing is uglier than someone with a grudge.

It still does nothing to appease the cynicism rotting her core.

Eventually she makes it to the bar, and she scratches at the stiff, tightly crafted updo of her braided hair, only just barely refrains from ripping the hundred bobby-pins out. A corner at the end, just near the bathrooms, reveals a few empty seats, and Lena eagerly snags the furthest one down. The bartender is far down the other end handling another rush of guests, but Lena finds she doesn’t mind all that much waiting, and she savors the brief moment of solitude as she sinks down into the brass-rimmed barstool.

She glances around, takes in the crowded floor from her private vantage point, the mass of elegantly dressed guests. There are a few reporters with dignitary tags around their neck, and she catches sight of a couple CatCo insignias, Lena’s jaw clenching inadvertently upon sight. It’s like a Russian roulette, how her eyes drift across each unassuming figure, how she antsily seeks out every face she can and eliminates them like confirming a chamber without a bullet. 

She doesn’t want to find her, she doesn’t want to care, she doesn’t even want to be thinking about this anymore, not after all this time, but it’s addictive and she can’t seem to stop.

Her reprieve doesn’t last long, because all too quickly a flash of blonde approaches in her blurry peripheral, and she closes her eyes. “I thought I made it clear that you’re not getting paid to babysit me.”

There’s the creak of someone taking the stool beside her, and Lena sighs.

“And I told you, I’m not getting paid at all. But if you’re offering to buy my drinks, I so wouldn’t turn that down.”

Lena opens her eyes, and Gayle’s giving her a cheeky smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

“It’s an open bar.”

“Really?” Gayle’s entire face lights up, and she twirls around in her seat, craning her neck to catch the bartender’s attention, but she’s still caught up at the other end. “Fuck, there’s at least two-hundred people here and one bartender? That’s just incompetent.”

Leaning onto the black granite of the counter, Lena rubs her temple tiredly. “Again, it’s an open bar. Some patience would do you good.”

Gayle faces her again with a laugh. “C’mon princess, I leave you for twenty mintes and you’re even bitchier than before. What’s up? You need me to hold your hand?”

Irritably, Lena’s hand falls to the bartop with a slap. “Okay, seriously? What is your problem?”

“My problem?”

“Yes, you. Most people would kill for an invite to an event like this, and you’re acting like a punk teenager that’s been sent to boot camp.”

The stronger Lena comes out with her harsh candor, the more fun Gayle seems to be having, and inexplicably it thrums an appeasing cord in Lena. For just a moment she considers that maybe she isn’t as annoying as she seems.

“Okay, fine.” Pursing her lips, Gayle drapes her arm across the backrest of the barstool, and she looks around them pointedly. 

Lena is just starting to think of retracting her assessment, for that bitter acid reflux of annoyance flares quickly in her throat these days, when Gayle speaks again. She leans in close, face only inches away, and before Lena can pull back, Gayle’s hand is winding up between them and she points towards the floor.

“You see her?” Gayle asks, sour despite the lazy smirk on her face. “That’s my ex.” 

Blinking, Lena turns to follow her lead, fishing out the people in the crowd to find who she’s singling out. “Yeah, you’ll have to be more specific.”

Huffing, Gayle hops off her seat and meanders around Lena until she’s standing immediately behind her, the barest brush of her front against Lena’s back. She stiffens at the proximity, but something in her leaves her reluctant to show her discomfort. A hand softly, politely, presses against the side of her jaw, turning her head for her, and Gayle’s other hand reaches on her other side to point out again, this time much more in line with Lena’s gaze.

Lena narrows her eyes, and she blinks rapidly when she takes in the figure straight ahead of them, the woman standing tall and poised in a beautiful, graceful white gown.

Her ?” Lena asks incredulously.

Gayle hums in her ear. “Ah, you know her.”

Lena’s jaw drops, and she immediately spins around in her seat, completely unperturbed by the closeness of their faces. 

“Oh my god,” she hisses. “No she isn’t.”

Chuckling, Gayle nods, and Lena can practically taste the waft of vodka still on her breath. “I mean, from back in college, but yeah. Imra and I dated for like, four years? Give or take.”

For the first time that night, a genuine smile lights up Lena’s face, and the hard laugh that bubbles out from her throat is as genuine as it’s ever been.

Gayle rolls her eyes despite the small purse of her lips. “Yeah, sure, laugh it up, it’s hilarious.”

“I’m sorry, but it kind of really is.” Lena laughs again, watching as a blush creeps up the blonde’s neck. “So you knew she would be here and you came anyway?”

“Please, I wouldn’t be caught dead doing community service.”

“Again, why Lillian chose you is completely beyond me.”

Gayle’s eye drops down to Lena’s, and once more she realizes how close they are, how Gayle is practically standing between her legs, arm loosely draped across the backrest of Lena’s stool, and leaning so close that she can feel the soft swells of her warm breath against her forehead, and — for just this moment, just tonight, just right now —  Lena finds that she doesn’t mind the intimacy of it all that much.

“Because I’m hotter than your last date, and I know how to keep you from saying stupid shit on camera.”

Lena laughs again, and the naturalness of it thrums through her much like the warmth of the alcohol, refreshing and fun. “Okay you’re overreacting, I was not that bad.”

“You encouraged children across America to be paranoid skeptics, you could have said literally anything else.”

Lena opens her mouth to respond, feeling a petulant need to defend herself but Gayle perks up at something just behind Lena. The hand that’s wrapped around her shoulders taps the bare skin of her back, and Gayle juts her chin out pointedly.

“Alright baby, first round’s on me.”

Lena scoffs at the pet name. “For the last time, it’s an open bar,” she laughs, and Gayle rolls her eyes but the stiff line of her mouth twitches like she’s stifling just as vibrant a smile as Lena wears.

It occurs to her that, for the first time tonight, she’s not feeling quite so dreadful about this evening. Of course, everything it stands for still digs under her skin like sharp cutlery across fine china, it's all almost enough to spark a migraine, but maybe she can concede to just one celebratory drink. She still has her reservations, she still isn’t sure that she should be the one going up on that stage, she still doesn’t know what she’s doing trying to appease a crowd like this. 

But maybe for just one drink, she doesn’t have to make it a pit to drown her sorrows, and she can actually learn to enjoy it. 

She turns around. “I’ll take a scotch, neat please.”

And behind the bar, wearing a skinny black tie and a fitted vest, with pale pink lips parted in surprise, is Kara.

Chapter Text

Kara stares back at her, unmoving, her affect flat and bare of anything but a crisp, polished apprehension, the kind of rehearsed surprise for something that was always inevitable.

Lena knows the feeling.

There’s the shuffle of movement beside beside her as Gayle leans forward, and all of a sudden the touch of her arm around isn’t comforting or pleasant anymore. It’s not unwanted, it’s not that she doesn’t like it, it’s that it makes the three drinks she’s had so far — four? — simmer in her gut and threaten to come scraping out of her mouth. It’s just suddenly scathing, her touch, it makes air difficult to come by and Lena’s forgotten how to ask her to move away.

Gayle snaps her fingers in front of her, and with a jolt Lena blinks away her dismay, scrabbles back for her grounded presence.

“Hey, the lady asked for a scotch.” Gayle raises her eyes at Kara, impatient.

Lena instinctually drops her hand onto the blonde’s forearm, dropping her voice sharply. “Stop, it’s fine.”

Kara’s gaze shifts back between the two of them, slow, and an unexpected twinge of shame cracks in Lena as the bartender’s eyes drop to where Lena’s hand touches Gayle’s skin. Lena swipes it away, both her hands leaping into her own lap, and she hates how calmly Kara follows the movement.

As nauseating as Gayle’s touch is, the realization that this is something like guilt dousing her head under is even more so, and Lena can only watch the way Kara’s mouth pinches small as she looks back and forth between them. It’s a slap of a recall, that one look, that tiny press of Kara’s lips, the look she always gave when she was holding something in. How easily the familiarity comes back is violent like harsh ocean waves crashing down on her, and it’s like she has a death wish because Lena finds she quickly drinks in every other micro-expression she can find in her, if only just to see what else she remembers.

She traces the tense coil of her jaw, catalogues the blotch of cheap mascara clumping her eyelashes.

“Sorry, no scotch.” Kara licks her lips. “I’ve got uh, regular whiskey? Bourbon, rye.”

Lena waits for her to say something else, something more, to acknowledge what is happening here. Even if Lena would hate it, even if she might lose it if Kara tried to pretend like they were all friends, she still waits for it like the final rain of the summer. 

Her eyes feel much too round and dryer than they should, and Gayle shifts beside her boredly. 

Lena clears her throat.“Anything Irish?” 

Kara tilts her head, and Lena recognizes instantly the annoying crinkle between her eyes, the one that says she’s seeing right through her. It’s like she’s shining a flashlight all the way down to the damp depths of Lena’s gravity, a forgotten tomb of woes.

Kara bites her lip, and Lena refrains the pull of her gaze.

“No. Sorry.”

She means to ask what she’s apologizing for, but Gayle scoffs and they both immediately turn to her.

Gayle flips her hair over her shoulder. “You’d think that if somebody’s gonna throw you a party, they’d actually get your drink of choice.”

Where the blunt attitude before had been amusing, it grates now on Lena’s ears like an errant fly, one she wants to swat away if only for a moment alone. But just as much as she wishes she would leave them alone, that she could escape the blonde’s prying eyes to talk to Kara about something other than whatever alcohol she can get her hands on, she’s just as washed over with gratitude for her presence. Gayle’s a buffer, one that Lena wishes she didn’t need but knows she shouldn’t do without.

Kara looks to Gayle expectantly. “There’s a liquor store down the street. Go knock yourself out if it’s that important to you.”

Gayle’s eyebrows raise, her surprise dangerous and cold, but before she can incinerate Kara on the spot with just the burn of her glare, Lena surprises all three of them with the loud burst of laughter from her own mouth.

Gayle looks at Lena as if she’s lost her damn mind — which, honestly?

She sold that thing away years ago.

She’s still laughing, and to be entirely frank she’s not even sure what about this is so funny, because everything about this dynamic should be sending her to the same pedestal of apathetic malice as Gayle, especially where Kara’s concerned, but just — the absurdity of this trio, the impossible jeopardy of finding herself in this insane interaction, after all this time, of all the places in the world, with all the possible people Lillian could have set her up with and of all the people she could have hired — it is fucking hilarious.

The corner of Kara’s mouth curls into the barest of a smile, pale amusement in her eyes like it’s a secret between them. But the surprise is still evident, her taken-aback timidity, and Lena once more is floored by how well she reads her.

“You know what?” Lena inclines her head towards Gayle with a droll, sarcastic smile. “That’s not such a bad idea.”

She misses the joke, and if Gayle thought Lena had lost her mind before, she thinks she’s clinically insane now. “Seriously? You want to go to the store, right now?”

Another laugh under her breath, Lena turns back to Kara to find her both just as confused as Gayle and as amused as Lena, and they share another weighted moment of understanding. It doesn’t leave Lena as breathless as she expects, her heart isn’t stricken or drowned, and something about it feels far simpler than anything else Lena has to face tonight.

“I’ll just have the rye, then, thank you.”  

Kara nods curtly and looks to Gayle. “And for you?”

Gayle just glances between them incredulously, seeming to realize that she’s being left out of some inside joke but not knowing how it could have come so far.

“She’ll have a martini,” Lena says. “Vodka, extra dry.”

Kara nods again, and turns back to her well of drinks without preamble or any other hesitation and leaves them alone.

Lena watches her go, and Gayle’s irritation comes off in waves beside her.

“Okay, actually, who the fuck hired her?”

Lena smirks, tearing her eyes away from Kara’s fluid motions as she tosses together Gayle’s drink. “And what’s the matter now?”

“Are you joking? She had such an attitude.”

“Oh stop, just leave it alone.”

“What? Maybe I’ll take the bitchiness from you, but you can actually afford it. Coming from someone like her? That’s totally unacceptable, I’m not gonna put up with it.”

“Gayle.” She drops her hand onto the crook of the blonde’s elbow, the humor slowly dissipating. “Drop it, I mean it.”

“Okay, and what’s your issue now? You think that was funny or something? Maybe you’re used to letting the help talk to you like that, but I’m—”

“I know her,” Lena snaps. “Alright?” 

Gayle stops, her mouth twisting into a skeptical frown. “Seriously?”

“Yes. And she was just joking, so calm down.”

“What, like… she’s worked an event for you before?”

Lena sighs, cocking her jaw. “No, just... like how you and Imra know each other,” Lena says flatly as Kara returns in front of them, sliding their drinks across the bar with a carefully composed expression, and Lena returns the stare straight on. “She’s my ex.”

Kara’s mouth snaps shut at the conversation she’s walked in on, her throat bobbing with a swallow, and she holds Lena’s eye this time.

“Gayle, meet Kara.”

Neither of the blondes look even remotely close to exchanging handshakes or pleasantries.

Kara doesn’t linger, she’s quickly called away down the bar, and she hastily takes the exit with only a last, quick glance to Lena.

“I’m sorry, but you dated a bartender?”

Lena sucks in her bottom lip and gives a spiritless laugh. “Does your resumé advertise you as this much of a snob? Or is that a perk reserved just for me to deal with?”

With the rearing head of Lena’s hostility, Gayle’s mouth quickly stretches into a grin. “Ooh, touchy subject, is it? Don’t tell me someone actually managed to break your heart.”

Maybe it’s how harmless she knows Gayle to really be, or maybe Lena just doesn’t know what to fucking care about anymore, but her own anger falls away just as fast and she leans back in her seat.

“Yeah. Maybe she did.”

Somehow, this is the easiest admission she’s given all night.

Gayle sits back on the stool next to her. “Okay, details princess, when was all of this? I feel like this is something I would’ve heard about.”

She hesitates, takes a moment, like she doesn’t know the exact number of days. “About two years ago.”

“I thought you were dating that vampire chick then.”

Lena laughs. “So much for not giving a shit about me.”

“Okay your face was everywhere, it was kind of hard to ignore.”

With a droll smile, Lena reaches out for her drink, the weight of the cool glass comforting in her hand. “No, this was after Siobhan, when I first moved here.”

“Yeah, I heard you went a little off the deep end after all that shit with your brother. But this seems a little much, even for you.”

“You really are very pretentious, has anyone told you that?”

“And you’re more pathetic than I realized, anyone ever tell you that?”

It’s not said with animosity, Gayle’s smirking like this is their thing now, and for reasons Lena can’t fathom, it makes her smile, it makes her feel an abstract sense of safety she hasn’t had in so long.

“No, I think most people are too scared to tell me, actually.”

“Really, scared of you? What are you gonna do, mope them to death?”

Shaking her head with a grin, Lena takes the first sip of her drink, and she savors the peppery bite of it. Maybe she was right, maybe she’s not in such a rush to drown herself in the liquid escape tonight, she might actually take the time to enjoy it.

“Well, since you’re so well versed in my life,” Lena drawls, crossing her legs. “You remember that story from the beginning of last year, the one about me?”

“Oh, the one that talked like you’ve got the sun shining out of your ass? Yeah, actually. Didn’t read it, but my dad wouldn’t shut up about it. Why?”

“Do you remember who wrote it?”

“Okay, seriously, I’m not obsessed with you.”

Lena runs her index finger along the lip of the glass, a slow smile crossing her mouth. “Her name was Kara Danvers.”

Gayle stares at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue, but Lena gives her a second. Then the blonde starts to blink, her eyebrows knitting together. “Wait, Kara Danvers, like… that Kara?” She jabs a thumb over her shoulder to the blonde behind the bar.

Again, despite the absolute absurdity of the situation, despite how a year ago Lena would already be jumping behind the bar and funneling liquor down her throat, despite how just a few months ago Lena would be collapsing, she can’t help but smile.

“One and the same.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

Laughing, Lena shakes her head. “Mm, I wish I was.”

“First of all, that is so cheap, having your girlfriend write good press for you. Secondly, why in the hell did you date a journalist, and third, what is she doing bartending here now?”

It comes easy out of her, and Lena shrugs languidly, tilting the dark drink around. “I didn’t actually know she worked for CatCo, supposedly she was hired to write the piece before we even met, and as far as I knew she was just a bartender then. Have you heard of a place called Roulette?”

“That weird speakeasy? I thought that was a front for an illegal boxing ring.”

Lena snorts. “God, I wish that were true. No, Kara used to work there.”

“You’ve seriously lost me.”

“Forget the details. The point is, I didn’t know she was writing a feature on me, it ended when I found out, and I haven’t seen her since.”

“So like, what is she doing here now?”

Sipping at the whiskey, Lena shrugs. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Gayle has a comically serious frown, so when Lena laughs again, Gayle huffs, and it’s actually rather cute. 

“Okay, pretending for a second that I actually believe this is true… why are you telling me? This doesn’t exactly sound like public knowledge.”

“Because it’s not. You’re about one of… I think, six people who know.”

Gayle waves her on impatiently. “Yeah, again, why are you telling me? I could seriously go up to just about anyone in this room and it’d be leaked in a second, and I’ve got a feeling you don’t want Forbes to catch wind of this.”

Smirking, Lena looks back again behind the bar, and this time she catches Kara watching her. She expects her to look away, to blush or something at being caught staring, but Kara simply meets her gaze, even and still. This time, Lena finds she can’t quite read her, doesn’t recognize the flat line of her mouth or the looseness of her jaw, the strange paleness of her eyes. 

“You know how long I’ve thought about this moment?” Lena asks in lieu of answering, holding Kara’s eye despite knowing she couldn’t possibly hear her. “I fantasized about it, dreaded it, sometimes even hoped for it. I used to think it would change everything, some way or another. I thought it would be my chance to finally prove something.” 

“Is it?”

Kara finally looks away as she sets a glass of champagne in front of someone else down the bar, some man in a suit that Lena can’t really see, but she can tell that he’s talking, chatting animatedly with a number of gestures, and Kara gets taken by his excessive talking. She nods placidly, her smile dead and such a poor mask of her disinterest that it makes Lena frown. 

Lena turns back to Gayle quickly. “You know that feeling you get when you’re reading a book, or watching a movie, and it has this incredible plot and buildup, the characterizations are excellent, the suspense is perfect, and then it just ends with the simplest resolution possible? It ties it all up with a solution that is so plain and obvious, you realize you should have seen it coming all along?”

“Uh, like you’re disappointed?”

Lena eyes the last half of her drink, the dark transparence, the sizable gulp that’s left. She sets it back down.

“Like you could have saved yourself a fair amount of time and money if you’d just skipped to the last twenty pages, and you wouldn’t have missed a thing.”

“I literally have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Lena steps off the stool, bending over to pull down the hem of her dress and straighten out the wrinkles. Bending back up, she gives Gayle a dry smile. “I’m telling you because I know you couldn’t care less. Would you like to dance?”

Gayle eyes her wearily. “Yeah… sure. But uh, are you good? If you need to take a second or something, go to the bathroom or whatever, you can. I’ve had the last thirty-six hours to prep for Imra, and I know this Kara chick must have caught you off guard, so—” 

“Darling, I like you far more when you’re being yourself than pretending to be somebody you’re not. So you can either dance with me now, or I can find someone else and you can stay here at the bar by yourself longing after a girl who doesn’t want you. It’s your choice.”

Gawking like she can’t decide if Lena’s crossed a line or not, Gayle stares at her for a few seconds more but tossing back the last of her martini, and she scrambles to her feet after Lena, who is already retreating into the thick of the crowd.

xx

She starts in her living room.

“Hope, what day is it?”

“It is New Year’s Eve, Ms. Luthor.”

“And what are my plans for tonight?”

“You have no events scheduled for this evening.”

“That’s right.” Lena dips her pinky into the tepid surface of her drink, swirling it around. She retracts her finger and points it upward, watching the golden drop of scotch trail leisurely passed the slope of her knuckle until it curls around the base, slipping down into her palm before it inevitably loses itself and flattens into just a small, wet smear.

“I have absolutely nothing planned for tonight,” she murmurs.

She tries playing the television for a while, watches the broadcast of all the couples, friends, and families gathered in the park square to watch the ball drop. They smile like they’re posing for a photograph to be hung in a dentist’s office, they scramble over each other in the background behind the newscasters, just fighting to be in even just one frame of the shot, as if anyone is going to remember the bouncing teenager with a blurry grin who made a two-second long appearance.

Lena finishes her drink.

Her socked feet are kicked up onto her glass coffee table, the one she never uses for anything but the sad centerpiece of drooping white lilies in the middle. They should have been replaced days ago at least, if not a week, the green leaves wrinkled and yellowing like tarnished brass, the petals shriveled and sour. She doesn’t even remember where they came from, if Sam put them there or if the housekeeper that Lillan hired did. No, yes, it must be the cleaner, Carrie is her name. Lena gave her the holiday weeks off, since at days before Christmas, which would explain why they’re still here. She’s not even sure if Carrie celebrates the holiday, but she was all too happy for the time off, and the slow settling of dust throughout the penthouse is a fragrant imitation of how Lena feels now, slumped back into the French, black satin of her sectional. She feels like the unused surfaces that make up this apartment, the cold marble countertops and pristine lacquered shelves. She feels like the cool expanse of the windows looking out over the vibrant city, stillborn and resilient while the rest of the world moves.

She stares at the lilies.

Lena clicks off the television and climbs to her feet, groaning at the crack of her joints as her back settles into a straighter posture and her legs unbend. She drops the empty rocks glass onto the counter, the clatter echoing throughout the immensity of open space, and she rubs her eyes blearily, the sting of staring at a screen for too long leaving them dry and sticky.

“Hope, what time is it?”

“It is eleven twenty-six.”

Lena scoops her jacket off the hook.

The first place she finds herself is a bar down the street. It’s an upscale spot, the menu cocktails are twice the amount they should be and half the quality of anywhere else, but its name is notorious and acclaimed, and it’s packed. She squeezes her way inside, pressing through the squirm of bodies dancing and laughing, the mass of thrumming music and cacophonous chatter almost deafening. She slips out through the pack at last, finds the barest patch of breathing room by the end of the bar where the cocktail waitresses pick up their drinks, a line of garnishes along the edge of a black mat, containers of orange slices, maraschino cherries and green olives. The two barkeeps are held up in the middle, working around each other in a dance-like rhythm that Lena watches for a few minutes, mindless.

She turns away to watch the bar floor, the pairs of dancing couples and groups of friends, laughing and screaming to be heard over the noise in a picturesque capture of stock cards. There are people sitting along the length of the bar, leaning in close to one another’s ears, lips moving wordlessly under the drunken haze of celebrations, smiling like any secret that comes alive tonight gets to stay in the year they leave behind.

When a bartender finally makes it down to her with an expectant look, she can only stare back. Her mouth parts open, ready to relay her simple scotch neat, her easy usual order, one that leaves no room for anything else, the only drink she’s ever been ordering for a year now, but it dies in her throat.

“I’ll give you another minute,” he shouts, rushing away impatiently to help someone else.

Lena leaves.

She left her phone back in the penthouse, and so she’s not sure what time it is as she meanders down a sidewalk running along a bike path at the edge of the beach. In the middle of the night in the dead of winter, especially so close to the ocean, the wind is biting and grim, it pushes back the lapels of her coat and slices under her collar, whipping her hair around like needles cracking into her dry skin.

Despite the cold, there are still plenty out on the beach, running campfires with packs of beer dug into the sand, stereos blasting top-charts music. People race down the street, whisking passed her on the sidewalk with the unabashed youth of summertime freedom.

They’re all with someone, they all have somebody at their side.

The only indication she has as to when the clock ticks oer is the eruption of fireworks, booming all around her like the base of club speakers far too close to her ears. Shouts and yells can be heard all around, coming from the beach, leaking out of the bars, raining down from the rooftops, everyone welcomes the new year like an old friend they trust not to let them down.

It’s not for another hour until she makes it back inside, the numbness to her extremities almost painful with the wash of electric heat rushing down on her, and her teeth clatter as she pries open the buttons of her jacket with trembling fingers. She makes through her thorough, nightly routine, she showers until the boiling hot water blasts away every last speck of the outside world from her body, she scrubs her face clean of isolation, she brushes and flosses for so long that Lillian will be proud of how she never has to hassle Lena into teeth-whitening strips. She sleeps in long, silk pants and a matching top, slipping under the cool covers of her bed, and she tells Hope to turn off the lights.

She doesn’t dream, and she absolutely does not wonder.

xx

She spends the night chatting with local business kingpins, ones Lillian prospected months ago to become investors of L-Corp before she even left Metropolis and have already written sizable checks for tonight’s fundraiser alone. They all fish for the same thing, they search her face for a sweet, feminine gratitude, they drop pet names like they’re entitled to it and they touch the bare skin of her elbow or the small of her back like her body was part of the sale. She brushes them off each time, not with a timid side-step but by pairing a dangerous rise of an eyebrow with a perfectly tailored jest asking where their wives are tonight, an appropriately polished reminder of her last name.

Lena doesn’t usually use her last name to get where she needs, she hates to rely on it for much of anything. But the crack of a greedy smirk when she drops a small quip about just how much havoc her brother wreaked, about just how resourceful her mother is, about just how close she is with the city mayor — it’s too pleasing to watch, too delicious an opportunity to pass up.

It should be annoying, Gayle’s flagrant disregard for these conversations every time Lena gets swept up by someone, but it’s almost the most entertaining thing about tonight, more so than any other type of festivity the Lasker foundation has put on for tonight. Gayle will look around them boredly while Lena talks about her organization for two minutes, while a balding man in cloudy gray suit talks for eight about how he considered starting a nonprofit of his own once upon a time, but found he didn’t find it quite so satisfying as running a true business.

“Read: he couldn’t make enough money off of it,” Gayle mutters in her ear, but carelessly not quiet enough so that the other man does still hear it, if the pink flush in the tips of his ears is any indication, but he continues on as if he hadn’t.

Gayle is almost the most entertaining part.

The part that Lena is most eager to pick apart is wearing white button up and pouring drinks without a tip jar.

Lena’s leaning against a white pillar a short, safe distance from the bar when Gayle returns from the bathroom, and she finds the executive director with pursed lips and crossed arms. 

“Hey, where’s your mom, by the way? I thought she was gonna be here.”

“Don’t know, don’t care. Will you get me another drink?” 

Following Lena’s line of sight, she huffs. “You go get it. You clearly want to talk to her.”

“Mm, not really, no.”

Gayle rolls her eyes and takes off for the bar.

She wasn’t lying before, there is something unexpectedly anticlimactic about seeing Kara again. It’s nothing to do with how much time has passed. It’s not the indifference she’d been hoping for, but it’s also not the resentment and horror she might have dreaded. It’s not a lack of anything at all, like the frozen denial of someone burying everything so far down it can never be seen again. It’s not heartbreak.

It’s just… curious. Careful intrigue. Fascination is too strong a word but there’s an interest that’s beyond simply understanding how this is a woman she was once in love with. It makes something click into place, something she didn’t want to acknowledge because of how broken and busted it would leave her, but she’s surprised to realize she only finds peace.

Not rest, not the ease of a story finally coming to a close, but the prospect of an end in sight.

Gayle trails along after her as the night goes on, and it’s all just more of the same until they wind down for the main event, the reason they’re all here.

Someone from the foundation announces her award onstage, there’s applause, hors d'oeuvres are served quietly throughout the room to keep people sated while a brief precis is given on why Lena Luthor, why not someone more deserving.

She tunes most of it out and looks over her shoulder, but there are too many people between them for her to make out anyone behind the bar. 

And then Gayle is elbowing her side and jerking her head towards the stage, all eyes are on her, and Lena blinks quickly when she realizes it’s time.

As she climbs up the steps on the side of the stage, hiking up her dress as she emerges into the simmering heat of the bright stage lights, she wonders. 

Of course there are cameras, of course her speech will be transcribed and posted in some journal by tomorrow, and of course Lillian is somewhere around here and would immediately find out if Lena doesn’t stick to her script. But for a minute, she wonders, she thinks about all that she could say. Lena blinks through the haze of the blinding lights, struggling to focus on any of the faces before her, and it’s a lost cause trying to pick out Kara from the bar, all the way on the opposite side of the orchestra hall. It’s senseless, impossible, but she looks out in that direction all the same as she approaches the microphone, as the bronze painted pewter of a headless angel is handed to her and everyone else waits.

She wonders.

She wonders about trust, about the truth, about lies, about culpability. She chews over the notion of forgiveness, of what it looks like, of the taste it leaves behind, if the point is that it tastes like nothing and instead takes away the bitter lace of resentment under her tongue. She considers how it is that someone proves they are worthy, how someone measures up to the award of fortitude. 

The speech Lillian wrote her, she memorized the night before, murmured over in the shower this morning, skimmed through in the limo before she arrived. She knows it well, she knows the pauses and intonations Lillian went so far as to note down, she knows where she smiles and where she must look serious, she knows it all the way down to its punctuation.

She wonders if Kara is listening, if that would make a difference.

Looking out at the crowd, Lena gives a sweet, close-lipped smile, and she recites.

xx

After it’s over, people start leaving. Not most, not all, but a good amount. Most people head for the bar, and while that’s also her first instinct on where to go next, both literally and metaphysically in some sense of the word, she refrains. She can only imagine how quickly Kara must be racing back behind the bar, and she supposes now that the somewhat limited inventory of drinks makes sense when serving a crowd this large for free.

She chats with other investors, another endless crowd of high scale employers and barons, and there’s starting to feel like far more than two hundred people because just when she thinks she’s spoken to everyone, another appears, eager for her ear. Forget the fact that most of them spend twice as much talking as she does, their main goal being to share their thoughts on her organization rather than any actual questions. She speaks with a couple reporters, entertains their brief interviews, and as soon as she’s in front of the camera, Gayle magically appears by her side. 

“Can’t trust you to handle them alone, can I?” the blonde murmurs in her ear, and Lena makes no effort to stifle her smirk. It’s not that she puts any actual weight to the idea, and she couldn’t care less if Gayle is being sarcastic or not, because Lillian has molded her into the perfect subject for the press by now. She can handle a few surface dialogues, answer questions about her speech, discuss it all, even if she thinks it’s bullshit. It’s just, it’s nice having someone beside her. It’s not that Gayle really knows her, or even understands her that well, but she’s refreshing and makes the knot between Lena’s shoulder blades just that much looser.

“I'ma talk to her.”

Lena’s ducked out of the last interview, hitting the quota her mother had requested from her, and the area around the bar has cleared enough for them to squeeze in. It’s just as Lena is leaning into a seat, half-on half-off a stool, that Gayle drops this confession.

She raises her eyebrows. “Imra?”

“Yeah.”

Lena looks around, catching sight of the oncology specialist in conversation with someone else on the floor. “What happened between you two anyway?”

Gayle shrugs. “Like I said, we met in college. Dated for a couple years after but then it just… I dunno. Died. Nothing happened, to be honest. I knew something was different, but I just thought the honeymoon phase was over, you know? And then one day I was brushing my teeth, and she told me she wasn’t happy anymore.”

“And that was it?”

Gayle hums, working her bottom lip between her teeth. “Yep. She left an hour later.”

Lena looks back to Imra again, glancing between the two of them. She’s been in a sour mood most the night, everything about this setting grinds on her nerves, and when she met Gayle in the car, she was sure that nothing would make this night bearable except for a stiff, deep drink. The last thing she expected was for a petty shoplifter with a highbrow attitude to get her through it.

“How long’s it been?”

“Four years.”

Lena chuckles under her breath, sitting back further into the stool. “You’d be surprised what a little time does for someone.” She tilts her head in Imra’s direction, smiling. “So yes, I think talking to her might be a good idea.”

Gayle tucks her clutch under her arm, and she nods towards the bar. “What about you? You gonna grow some balls?”

Lena raises an eyebrow. “Well you see, unlike you, I never lost them.”

“Oh ouch,” Gayle laughs, grimacing. “So there’s the infamous Luthor bite.”

Lena pushes her off in the opposite direction, smiling. “Please, that’s nothing. So get out of my sight before I actually show you.”

“Okay, okay, fine. Should I just meet you at the party then?”

Lena furrows her brow. “The party?”

“The afterparty? Your mom said I was going to both.”

Lillian, of course. Scoffing, Lena ducks her chin with a quick shake of her head. Pressing down the irritation, she clears her throat. “Yes, that’s fine, I’ll meet you there.”

Gayle quickly disappears with a lazy wave over her shoulder, and Lena is left alone at the bar at last. There’s still a fair number of guests remaining inside, but most mingle out still on the floor. Lena can’t fathom what the hell they still have to talk about, they’ve all been here for at least three hours now, surely it’s all out of their system. But with drinks in hand and checkbooks in their pockets, she supposes they can go all night.

“Hey.”

Lena turns her head from the dwindling crowd to the voice, a voice she once knew, a voice that once was lively and candid. Her gaze falling onto Kara, she can’t help but notice there’s something far different about her than just the stale timidity of her tone, and she wonders if it’s something worth figuring out.

Lena smiles politely, painted like crystal glassware. “Hi.”

“Another whiskey?”

“Sure. Let’s try the bourbon this time.”

When Kara returns with her drink, the blonde looks over her own shoulder, up and down the line of the bar, almost as if she’s looking for an excuse to be pulled away, and strangely Lena finds it amusing.

“You know, the irony of this doesn’t escape me,” she points out. “The girl at a bar and the girl behind it.”

Kara looks back to her, her lips pursing into a frown like she’s calculating something. She looks once more behind her, and she must not find what she’s looking for, because she slowly toes up closer to the corner where Lena sits.

“I’m sorry,” Kara starts, and Lena raises her eyebrows, wondering if they’re jumping right back to where it left off. But Kara continues, “I tried to get this shift covered because I knew you wouldn’t want me here, and— I just, I’ve already called out too many times and I really couldn’t blow it off, so—”

“Okay, breathe.” Lena laughs gently, plucking up her glass. “It’s fine. You don’t have to explain.”

Kara stares blankly at her, nods. “Okay. Is the drink okay?”

“Mm, yes, tastes just like a bourbon. Did you pour this yourself?”

Kara looks like Lena’s given her a complex algorithm sequence to decode, she seems at a loss to handle a Lena that makes jokes. If she’s being honest, the light humor surprises even herself. Approaching the bar, she knew she was okay, but sitting here talking to the last woman she ever trusted is far more comfortable than it should be.

Lena tilts her head to the side, carefully regarding Kara’s unnervingly still hands, the weighted focus of her gaze that seems to be looking at both nothing and everything.

“What are you doing here, Kara?”

“Um… working?”

Lena eyes the embroidering stitched to the breast of Kara’s shirt. “For National City Catering and Co.? What happened to Roulette?”

She can’t be sure what Kara expected for Lena to say, because it wasn’t the lighthearted ease, nor is it these questions, and Kara seems about as nervous as Lena had imagined herself to be, once upon a time.

“Well, Veronica wasn’t very happy with me after… everything that happened, so that fell through pretty fast.”

“And CatCo?”

“Ah, yeah, I quit there. A bit over a year ago now, I think.”

“Oh.” This stumbles her logic more than anything else. She’s considered dozens of possibilities, that Kara had taken her promise to Lena too seriously and never took the job out of a late sense of nobility, that the bartending here was just part-time, hell she’d think that Kara was fired for trying to sabotage her own story far sooner than she’d anticipate her quitting. “Why’s that?”

“Just, conflicting interests, I guess.”

Lena chuckles. “Right. So you were on board with their interests before that, then?”

“What do you— oh.” Kara blinks, and the fall of her shoulders makes it seem like this was more the type of grilling she’d expected from Lena. She should feel a gripe of satisfaction at how this still irks Kara, how she still cares what Lena thinks, but again that same twinge of guilt she’d felt when Gayle had her arm around her resurfaces, and Lena can’t understand why, because aside from the pinch of Kara’s mouth she shows no other indication of even taking offense.

Lena waits for the correction, for Kara to tell her again that she never wanted to do it, or some excuse about how she changed her mind. She waits for her to remind her of what it said, perhaps to point out the soaring flight Lena’s career has taken since then.

But she doesn’t.

Kara just looks somewhere over her shoulder Lena’s left with something far colder than guilt.

“Oh, there you are.”

Lena snaps away as someone appears at her side, and suddenly Lillian is squeezing between the chairs and pushing one aside with a look of disdain.

“I should have known I would find you at the bar.” She brushes her hair back over her shoulder and addresses Kara. “Get her a water, would you?” When she turns back to Lena, she’s not quite sure what her mother sees but she eyes Lena quizzically and frowns. “Are you alright?”

Lena ignores the question and takes a generous sip of her drink if only to steel herself for the headache to come. “Glad to see you finally decided to make an appearance.” 

“I’ve been here this whole time, Lena, and don’t think I didn’t notice how you forgot to thank Alexander in your speech.”

“I didn’t think it was appropriate.”

Kara sets a tall glass of water in front of her.

“Then don’t think next time,” Lillian says with an acid upturn of her mouth, something meant to look like a smile but it’s about as genuine as Lena’s tolerance of this ceremony. “He was pivotal to your discovery, and openly thanking him demonstrates an altruistic humility that you clearly do not have.”

Lena opens her mouth to answer, but Lillian pointedly looks to Kara, who still lingers behind the bar in front of them, watching with an awkward sort of unease. “What? She’s not doing any autographs tonight, run along.”

To her credit, Kara doesn’t look like Lillian bothers her all that much, just confused, and she remains a beat too long, watching Lena for… something. But she turns back around with the same mask of indifference as before, and Lena runs a hand down her face tiredly.

“Seriously, why do you have to speak to people like that?” Lena groans. “You write my speeches to portray me like I’m a fucking saint, but as soon as you open your mouth it’s as if you’ve completely forgotten even the basic concept of manners.”

Lillian regards her boredly. “Are you finished?”

“When were you going to tell me about the party?”

“Right now. It’s at the Carlton hotel, and you may head over in twenty minutes.”

“Oh, I may?” Lena laughs. “How generous of you to allow me such a privilege.”

Lillian nudges forward her water with the back of her hand, unperturbed by Lena’s hostility. “If I told you beforehand, you would conveniently fall ill halfway through the evening and be gone the second you finished your speech. There’s a photographer there, and it would do you well to be seen celebrating.”

Lena grits her teeth and, ignoring the water, she reaches for the bourbon instead. “Fine.”

“You do understand that Goddard will tell me if you’re dropped off anywhere but at that hotel?”

“I said fine, didn’t I?”

With an amused huff, her mother acquiesces, and she nods curtly, stepping out from between the barstools. “Alright then. I’m catching the next flight back to Metropolis, and we have a conference call with an accountant from Goldman Sachs on Monday, and this is a big opportunity for us that I won’t let you sabotage, so I’ll be in touch the morning of.”

Lena only nods to show her comprehension, and Lillian seems to accept this. She takes only a step away before Lena lifts her head.

“Do me a favor, Lillian?” She looks over shoulder, catching her mother’s frigid eye. “Don’t forget that you work for me.”

“Of course, dear.” Lillian smiles, and then it widens to show her teeth. “You really are so much more like me than you realize.”

Lillian leaves, and Lena downs her drink.

When Kara returns, she carries the bottle of bourbon in hand, and she only holds it up in silent question before Lena waves her on.

“Thanks,” Lena mutters, already wrapping her fingers around the glass before Kara’s even finished pouring.

“Yeah. Looked like you could use it.”

Lena laughs dryly, not looking up from her drink. As fucked up as it is, there’s some truth to her mother’s words. Part of the appeal of working with Lillian was the same, unwavering drive for a single goal: success, prosperity. Without Lillian, maybe she wouldn’t be nothing , but she would still be in National City working for Jack, conducting research, she never would have even considered buying the family company, much less known where to begin in restoring it to what it is today. She’s dabbled in the business side of things before, she grew up learning how to buy stocks before riding a bicycle, but that’s hardly the building blocks compared to what it’s taken to get where they are now. Without Lillian, maybe she would be fine, staying at SI, running experiments and writing lab reports.  It reminds her of how one-dimensional she was then, when Lillian found her. 

She was just the shell of someone who thought she was smarter.

“Was that your mom?”

Lena glances up. 

She wonders what Kara is still doing here.

“Yes.”

Kara just hums, this time playing with a black rag in her hands, and her tongue peaks out from between her lips. “Um, so I know it’s none of my business but—”

“You’re right. It’s not.”

There are three things.

She catches the flash of a cringe across Kara’s face, the stunned waver like she should have known better, and for fuck’s sake why does it make Lena drop her head with shame?

“I’m sorry, it’s just— it’s complicated,” she tries weakly. 

Kara shakes her head, waves off the apology. “Don’t be, I shouldn’t have asked.”

This night, this award, it represents a time of her life that is so far out of reach Lena almost thinks it happened to someone else, that these memories are only false implants. It would certainly explain why Kara can be both so familiar and foreign, why Lena knows almost each and every tic and expression like she knows the registrar to her organization, and it would explain the blurry shadow of a face she’s looking into now.

“When did you leave?” 

Kara tilts her head, her hands stilling. “What?”

“CatCo, when did you quit?”

Kara looks down at Lena’s drink with an odd sort of longing, and she’d almost think that she wants it for herself if Lena didn’t know she doesn’t drink, before she answers.

“April. Last year.”

Around the time Lena left, then. She stares at Kara blankly like it’ll occur to her, the correlation, if there even is one, but nothing immediately comes to mind, and Lena wonders — not for the first time — if she’s looking for meaning in places where there is none.

Lena rubs her face, in all likeliness smudging her eyeliner, and Lillian will throw a tantrum when the photos come out tomorrow. 

She feels  — 

Oh god Lena is so fucking sick of piecing together what it is that she feels, of finding a precise manner of articulating what this throbbing dizziness that just barely escapes out of reach feels like, she’s tired of trying to understand what her heart is trying to tell her every time it hammers in her chest and every time it stills and quiets in a way it hasnt in nearly two years. She doesn’t want to dig for the profound answer underneath all these layers of resentment and guilt and anger and hurt because she’s not sure where to even find it all anymore, she’s not sure those are names she can answer to, because then she’ll worry that her hypothesis has been right all along, and if it was, then what has been the point of all this time?

Kara catches her eye. “Listen, I just wanted to make sure you know that—”

“I have to go.” Lena throws back again the rest of her drink, and oh she’s long since lost count on how many into the night she is, but part of proving her resilience this last year means growing a thicker tolerance. So Lena is nothing if not the perfect picture of poise and apathy as she stands, brushing her hair behind her ear. 

“Thank you for the drink, and it was nice to see you again.”

To her surprise, Kara laughs. “It’s okay, I know it wasn’t.”

Lena stares at her. 

She was prepared for many things, many outcomes and many fallouts. This Kara, the one who has no patience for talkative men in suits, the one who talks back to Gayle with the sort of snide quip Lena would have made herself, the one who can find the joke in how Lena wishes she were anywhere but here — it’s as refreshing as it is terrifying.

“Goodbye, Kara,” she says slowly, cautiously.

Kara smiles like her face belongs to someone else.

She’s a few steps away, and she thinks she isn’t meant to hear it, she’s not even sure if she actually does, but Lena doesn’t stop or turn back.

“Congratulations, Lee.”

xx

She and Gayle don’t last long at the party.

“How’d it go?” the blonde asks, coming up beside her in the kitchen of a suite twice the size as Lena’s, nudging her elbow.

Lena sips at her champagne, wonders what kind of celebratory party doesn’t carry liquor, and inexplicably she finds that she doesn’t have the stomach for this. She sets the half-full glass down on the counter behind her and sighs.

“She met Lillian.”

Gayle snorts her champagne, coughs. “Okay, y’know under normal circumstances meeting the parents is usually a good sign, but I really think you should save your mom for when you’re trying to get rid of the girl.”

Lena turns to Gayle, raises her eyebrows. “And how about you? Imra forgive you?”

Gayle huffs. “I didn’t do anything to warrant needing forgiveness.”

“Then…?”

“No, fuck you, she didn’t forgive me. Said I should’ve stayed in the grave I crawled out of.”

“So it went well then?”

“Better than you by the sound of it.”

Lena doesn’t laugh, and Gayle doesn’t smile. The blonde sips at her champagne mindlessly, but after a moment even she grimaces at the sparkling wine and sets it aside. Together they regard the party of A-listers and practical strangers they don’t know, the joints being rolled, the red-carpet laughter.

“I know an exit out the back of the hotel,” Gayle points out eventually.

“I’m right behind you.”

xx

Lena wakes with a migraine that has nothing to do with a hangover.

She rolls over tiredly, the quiet rumble of a groan only just barely escaping her lips as she runs her hands down over her face. 

“Morning, sweetie.”

Lena jolts from the bed, scrambling off the edge and stumbling over the floor. “Holy fuck ,” she snaps, only just barely managing to keep her balance as she staggers back into the wall. “What is the matter with you?”

“What?” Sam stands in the entryway of Lena’s bedroom with a breakfast tray in hand. “I made eggs in a basket.”

Hand over her chest and still heaving back her collected composure, she stares back at Sam incredulously. “You made what?”

“Why are you yelling?”

“Oh my god,” Lena groans, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Sam, what the fuck are you doing here? What time is it?”

Sam trots over to the bed and sets the tray down at the end, gesturing for Lena to join her. “It’s seven. I told you I was coming by, and as an apology for missing the ceremony, I made you breakfast.”

Sighing over the lost notion that she’d get anymore sleep, Lena drops herself opposite Sam on the bed, landing on her stomach, and Sam tuts when it jostles the glassware.

“Was it that bad?”

“Worse,” Lena mumbles into the duvet. “I think I actually had a good time.”

Sam runs a soothing hand down over the mess of Lena’s hair. “What’s wrong with that?”

Lena tells her.

Sitting up now, legs crossed and picking at a bowl of halved strawberries, Lena watches her best friend carefully.

“I’m sorry, but you just told Gayle Marsh everything? Really? Of all people, her?”

“That’s the part you want to focus on?”

“Listen I love you, but when I said you should open up more, this so not— You really have to go for one extreme or the other, don’t you? A year ago, I could barely get you to shelve your paranoia long enough to hire an assistant, and now you’ve just shared all your deepest and darkest secrets with a spoiled trust fund baby?”

Lena frowns. “I’m a trust fund baby.”

“Oh my god, that’s different.

Lena drops her eye and tugs off a corner of the golden toast, scraping it into the orange yolk on the plate while Sam gathers herself. She hears her soft sigh of deflation, the kind of patient centering only a mother knows how to master. 

“Are you okay?”

Smiling grimly, Lena pops the bite of egg-soaked bread into her mouth. “I really wish everyone would stop asking me that.”

“You don’t have to be okay, if you don’t want to. It’s not gonna kill you.”

“What ever happened to that guy you were seeing?” Lena asks suddenly, her head popping up.

“What? What guy?”

“I don’t know, that guy from like two years ago. Cheated on his ex-wife, dad of one of the kids on Ruby’s soccer team. I just realized, you talked about him so much and then you never mentioned him again.”

Blinking quickly at the abrupt change of conversation, Sam’s eyebrows dig into a frown. “Oh, Nick? Um, it didn’t last. You were right, he was sleeping with like two other moms on the team. Why?”

Lena can’t help the snort of laughter, and Sam slaps her on the elbow, both affronted and amused as a laugh escapes her own mouth. 

“Why is that funny?”

Lena washes her mouth with a gulp of black coffee, trying to smother her laughter. “It’s just — god, you probably won’t but, do you remember when I came back from Metropolis from visiting Lex, and you were yelling at me for avoiding Kara?”

Sam’s eyes float around as if trying to place the memory, and she shakes her head. “Like, vaguely, sure. Why?”

“You told me to stop sabotaging my happiness,” Lena reminds her wryly. “And I was avoiding her because I found out she was the reporter that figured out Lex. I knew, months before the article came out, I knew she’d written for CatCo before, and I almost ended it right then and there. But then you started talking about this guy, about trusting someone on their actions today instead of judging them for their past and I just… it’s funny. It’s fucking funny, isn’t it? We were both idiots.”

Sam stares at her with her mouth hanging open in muted concern. “I would ask if you want me to call someone, but I think I’m your only emergency contact.”

“Mm, you want to call Lillian?”

“Oh my god, does Lillian know too?” Sam exclaims, her voice rising comically high. 

“Christ, no.” Lena flicks the crumbs over the tray. “She knew a little when I hired her, sure, I told her the basics. But she had no idea who Kara was, thought she was waiting for my autograph.”

Sam buries her face in her hands. “Please tell me I’m being punked.”

Lena laughs, wiping her hands on a napkin and climbing to her feet. “Don’t think so, unfortunately. I’m going for a run, you want to come?”

Sputtering still, Sam flounders. “Hold on, just hold on a second — how are you so calm about this? Aren’t you worried she’s going to reach out now? Wasn’t this exactly why you didn’t want to come back in the first place, you didn’t want to run into her?”

Lena shrugs, already stepping out of her sleep shorts and pulling her shirt over her head. Rummaging through her dresser for her athletic wear, she laughs again. “No, I’m not worried. I’m not scared of the woman.”

“Okay, but why ?”

“Because.” Lena squeezes into a sports bra and a clean pair of underwear before she turns back around, hands falling to her hips and giving Sam a pointed look like it should be obvious. “I already know how this is going to go.”

xx

It’s embarrassing, is what it is.

She knows.

It’s mortifying that she’s kept it for this long, that she even travels with it, and if it weren’t so humiliating she probably would have shown Sam herself.

Lena meant to throw them all out, and she nearly did. Of the forty-four unopened, she threw nearly all of them away, not even bothering to read them, not so much as batting an eye at tossing away the letters. They meant nothing to her when she got rid of them and they mean nothing to her now, she doesn’t care that she’ll never know what Kara wanted to say to her when she was “angry at the world” or when she’s “sick in bed,” when she “gets a promotion at work” or she’s “struggling to make a big decision.” It was as revolting to look at the messy scrawl on the envelopes as it is to suffer a weekend-long hangover, back then, and she doesn’t regret it now.

She recycled them, she succeeded at that much, didn’t feel a single impulse to know what was inside.

All but one.

Open if you forgive me.

It’s the if, that fucking if that made her hesitate. Of course she hadn’t noticed before, in the few times she’d sifted through the box of envelopes Kara gifted her for Christmas, it had just seemed like another token of comfort among the rest, a potential letter to a potential Lena in a potential situation where she would potentially crave Kara’s words. She hadn’t thought that any of them were pointed, that they’d be specific, that the answer was under her nose all along.

How stupid is that? Lena could have opened this letter at any point before she found out, before New Year’s, she could have read this before Kara told her or before the article aired, the truth would have been inside of this envelope and Kara would have sabotaged herself from the start.

It makes her wonder, then, if Kara wanted her to figure it out all along, what other signs there were that she had never seen.

She didn’t know what meant back then, and she certainly doesn’t now.

It’s been six days since the ceremony, since Lena dug the letter out from the bottom of a suitcase, since she rolled out the wrinkles of the envelope. She feels like she’s spent the entire seventy-two hours just staring at it, like she hasn’t been in and out of the office, like she hasn’t been in and out of SI, like she hasn’t been touring the labs and observing all the new technology and settling out which equipment will be used in her initiative and which will have to be left out. She feels like she’s been sitting in this quiet, shining hotel suite on the orianne gold antique couch, just watching the crumpled envelope laying face-up on the mirrored coffee table before her.

Of course she hasn’t forgiven her, that hasn’t changed, and a stupid letter isn’t going to change that, she knows.

She still glares it down like a petulant child having a staring contest.

It’s just a stupid letter. It doesn’t mean anything, and it doesn’t change what she has to do, what she’s going to do. It doesn’t make a difference, whatever is on the other side.

She picks it up, and, on a whim, before she can talk herself out of it — she rips it open.

The paper inside is stiffly flattened and only slightly less wrinkled than its exterior counterpart. She tucks her index finger under the lip of it, it’s folded twice over like a brochure, and it gives easily with the barest of pressure on her part.

She immediately drops it back on the table, because — no. 

No less than a minute later, she returns with a glass of scotch in hand and she plops back onto the linen couch. But when she takes the first, bracing sip, it burns in her throat and she only just manages not to cough. Glancing at it in disgust, suddenly the idea of a drink makes her queasy, and Lena huffs exasperatedly as she sets this too back on the table. It’s eight in the evening and somehow it still feels too early for a drink.

Her phone rings, and she snatches it up immediately. “What?”

“Hello to you too,” a deep, feminine voice drawls. “You always answer your phone like that, or am I just that special?”

Lena sighs, sinking back into the cushions and closing her eyes. “Gayle. Where did you get my number?”

There’s an amused hum on the other line. “I think your mom really hates you or something, she was way too fucking pleased when I asked for it.”

“What do you want?”

“You really gotta stop assuming the worst of me. What makes you think I’m calling because I want something?”

“Oh right, sorry, let me guess — you’re calling because you miss me and want to see if I’m free tonight.” Lena rubs her forehead, considers trying for her drink again.

“Well, yeah. Not the ‘miss you’ part, but I did want to see what you were up to.”

Blinking open her eyes, Lena sits up. “You’re not serious.”

“Uh, yeah? I had fun the other night, and I’ve got a bottle of Goose in the freezer and no one to share it with, so… do you want to come over?”

Lena’s immediate instinct is to say no, to go for the quick rejection and return to the matter at hand, her eye catching on the letter on the table. She gets so far as for her lips to form the words, but it dies on her tongue.

It’s not that insane of an idea, and she did admit to herself that Gayle played a significant part in her not losing her mind that night. She didn’t just make it bearable, she sort of made Lena… have fun. Like, really enjoy herself, even if they were just fleeting moments of a genuine laugh or a reprieve of forgetting. There’s a dozen factors that played into that night, and Lena struggles to untangle how they all weave together, and she’s not totally sure how she feels about everything that happened, there’s a lot to unpack, Lena herself is beginning to question the premises she always thought were given facts.

But Gayle? Calling her on Friday night, asking her to come to her apartment?

She hasn’t felt like this in… a while, hasn’t so much as had the inkling of an interest since an embarrassing, drunken night at Siobhan’s over a year ago.

“Okay, yeah, got it, fuck me, right?” Gayle clears her throat. “Forget I asked.”

“No.” Lena bites her lip, picking up the folded letter in front of her. She can make out the faintest shadow of writing through the slight translucence of the paper, just spots of dark pen scratches. She runs her finger along it, feels out the imprints in the page, wonders if Kara had written this with a firm grip or if she had just been using a shitty pen. 

Lena shakes her head. “What’s your address?”

xx

She tugs at the collar of her cashmere sweater, swallowing thickly. It’s fine, this isn’t a horrible idea, and deep down she knew this was coming anyway. She knew she was going to end up here, she knew all along, it’s been a lingering understanding since the ceremony, of course it would eventually come to this. Of course she wouldn’t be able to bury this, no, not now.

Lena understands.

Raising her hand, she knocks on the familiar door she knows so well.

Fourteen seconds later, it opens, and Kara’s bewildered, lackluster gaze bears down on Lena like the final note of a ballad Lena never managed to pay attention to.

Chapter Text

“You’re… not my Postmates.”

Lena blinks, her eyes dropping down to Kara’s loose sweatpants and the ratty, food-stained NCU hoodie and back up to an unfamiliar foggy-eyed stare.

“No, I’m not.” Lena lowers her shoulders. “Is this a bad time?”

Kara regards her for a moment, both curious and apprehensive, and for a horrifying second Lena wonders if this was all a mistake, if Kara’s given up on anything where Lena’s irrelevant existence is concerned, if she’ll close the door and Lena will feel like even stickier of a fool than she ever did before.

But Kara bites her lip. “Not at all. Do you wanna come in?”

This is how Lena ends up sitting in the same cushioned chair she sat in all that time ago, a night she once cherished so dearly because of the wonderfully kind people she had met, but now it stains the heels of her memories like old gum on the sole of her shoe. Across from her, Kara sits on the same wide green couch Lena used to lay down across. Kara’s fingers are locked together loosely, one knee slowly swaying back and forth as if to some unheard, gentle rhythm, while Lena simply watches her with just the nervous anticipation for something she knows she has to do.

It doesn’t mean she can’t stall.

Lena gives a bare, half-assed look around the room. “Everything looks the same.”

“Yeah.” Kara rubs her hands together, nods. “Your hair’s shorter, it looks nice.”

She self-consciously touches at the soft ends. “I’ve been growing it out, actually.”

“Oh.”

Before Lena can say anything else, there’s a knock at the door and Kara rushes up to answer it, probably for her takeout. Lena just stares down at her hands, inhaling evenly in order to smother the hammering in her chest to anything slower at all, any more bearable of a beat but not knowing where to even begin with it. 

This is okay, she knew it wouldn’t be so simple as coming in here and making an announcement. She can’t just blurt it out, she can’t just expect that nothing’s different, that it’ll be easy to come back and look her in the eye like there isn’t a sopping wet two-year-long trench dividing them.

When Kara retakes her spot on the couch, it’s with a pint glass in hand instead of the food takeout Lena had been expecting, and it’s— 

She starts, shakes her head. “Is that wine ?”

“Um.” Kara looks back and forth between Lena and her drink. “Yeah?”

“I thought you didn’t drink.”

“Oh yeah.” Kara laughs abruptly, startling Lena before she goes in for a hefty gulp. “No, well, I mean shit changes, right?”

Lena only just barely refrains from gawking as the swear falls so seamlessly from Kara’s lips, the effortless manner in which it escapes her like she’s been doing it all her life. The clear pint glass filled three quarters of the way with a deep, blood-red liquid tilts around slowly in Kara’s loose grip, it sits in her hand as fluidly as water, and not for the first time Lena wonders what else Kara has lied about, she begins to wonder if she was right all along in the immediate, first-day assumption that none of it was ever real to begin with.

Kara sets her drink down on the coffee table, quickly rising back to her feet. “Sorry, I’m— it’s just, it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone—” Kara huffs a sigh, rubbing the heel of her palm blearily against her eye before she hastily drops it. “Would you like some?”

Lena still doesn’t understand how someone can both be so unrecognizable to her and also seemingly haven’t changed a bit.

“I’m good… Thank you.”

With a steady nod, Kara slowly falls back onto the couch.

“So,” the blonde starts stiffly, crossing her legs and hunching forward as if she’s only trying to put on a face of indifference and not like it comes naturally. “I’m trying to think of something to say to fill this awkward silence part, but I don’t want to say the wrong thing, and I also don’t want to rush you to say anything just because you feel like you have to, so I’m starting to lean towards just shutting up until you tell me why you’re here, and I’m telling you this because I didn’t want you to think I’m being quiet because I don’t want you here, so.” Kara clears her throat. “Take your time.”

Lena just raises her eyebrows.

“Right, well.” She licks her lips, looking down at the drink in Kara’s hands. “I’ve been thinking.” She looks up just in time to catch the bob of Kara’s throat when she swallows. 

“About what?”

Taking a sharp breath, Lena pulls a folded piece of paper from her coat pocket and sets it on the table between them.

Kara’s polite formalities, her placid patience, it all slips quickly away like a poorly construed mask, and finally there’s a fracture in her composure. Her mouth opens, but she quickly closes it again, and Lena watches her carefully.

“Why do you have that?”

“You gave it to me.”

“No, I know that, I mean—” Kara winces like something physically yanks her back, and in lieu of answering the question, she pulls another long gulp of her drink. “I mean, why do you still have it?”

Despite herself, Lena laughs. “Well, I haven’t forgiven you yet, have I?”

“Yet?”

This is the part she doesn’t want to remember.

“Why did you do it?”

Kara looks like the kind of person Lena wishes she’d known before. “Do what?”

“I’ve been told you have a good reason.” Lena sighs, cocking her jaw. “What is it, then? Why did you write the story? Why did you lie to me?”

Kara stands to refill her glass. Lena watches the stiff coil of her frame, takes note of her thin, wiry figure, and she refuses to think that the weight lost has anything to do with her because that is both far too conceited a thought to entertain as well as it is horrifyingly dangerous.

Kara swirls the red wine around her glass, standing next to the kitchen island while Lena remains unmoving still in the living room chair. “Does it really matter? After all this time, does it honestly make a difference?”

“I don’t know.” Lena almost wishes she’d taken the drink if only to have something to do with her hands. “I know it was about the money, but according to Alex I’d really never get that, so—”

“Wait, you talked to Alex? When?”

Lena glances up, frowning. “Yes, a couple days before. She came to my office.”

“And said what?” Kara’s entire demeanor has shifted yet again, she’s defensive and impatient, she paces back into the living room and hovers just a few feet away. “What did she tell you?”

Lena blinks herself back into the past, as if it’s a struggle to remember a conversation that hasn’t haunted her all this time, even if it’s made up of nothing she can comprehend. 

“Nothing, really,” Lena says evasively. “She told me you both were struggling for rent money, but that I was too privileged to understand.”

“She said that to you?” 

“I mean, not in so many words, but—” Lena sighs briskly, trying to decipher the manic look in Kara’s eyes. “Well, she’s not exactly wrong, is she?”

“Is that all she said?”

“What does it even matter what she said?” Lena scoffs, coming to her feet as well, and she brushes passed Kara. Yes, okay? She will take that drink, because she doesn’t know how she ever expected to get through this without it, and she hates how familiarly she flips open the right cupboard for a glass. “She didn’t say anything. She said you’re an angel walking the earth and she asked me to forgive you, and I threatened to call security on her.”

“…Did you?” 

Lena sets the bottle down with a harsh thud before she turns back around. “Yes, Kara, I absolutely called security on another employee in the building.” After taking a swift mouthful of the painfully cheap wine, Lena grimaces. “Did you really not send her to talk to me for you?”

“No.” Kara’s jaw ripples with tension. “I didn’t even know she went.”

“Were you going to?”

“Going to what?”

“To find me?” Lena hates the way her voice wavers, and it begins to rush out of her like steam. “To explain why you lied? If I hadn’t told you that I never wanted to see you again, would you have tried to stop me from leaving?”

This is the part she wishes she’d forget.

Kara softens. “Is there a right answer to that?”

Probably not. “Yes.”

“No.” Kara shrugs, drumming her fingers against the tilted slope of her glass, not meeting Lena’s eye. “No, I didn’t think it mattered anymore. You uh, you asked me for one thing, just this one simple, essential thing and I couldn’t even give you that. So, what was the point?”

“So it was all for nothing, then?” Lena can’t tell the difference between a smile and a grimace, not when her mouth twists like this. “That’s what you’re saying, right? I really meant so little to you that you could just walk away like it was nothing?”

Kara leans forward over the kitchen island, rubbing her face tiredly as if trying to wipe off a fog, and for the first time Lena wonders if this isn’t Kara’s first drink.

“No,” Kara mutters, her face half-concealed by the fist braced into her cheek. “No, Lena, it wasn’t something I could just walk away from, believe me. But how was I supposed to— I mean, how sick would I have to be to ask you to forgive me when I know I’ll never deserve it?”

Lena pulls back, reigns back in her hot temper long enough to regard Kara, the way her mouth droops with detached stoicism, the slouched posture, the kind of greasy hair like she’s just gotten out of a long shift.

“You should throw that thing out.” Kara lifts her head, rubbing her eyes. “You’re not gonna like it.”

Lena looks across to the living room where the letter remains untouched on the table. “Why?”

“Because it’s crap,” Kara laughs, humorless and hollow. “It was stupid to even fantasize that what I did would ever be okay, that writing that letter served a purpose and that there would ever come a day you’d actually open it. It’s— It’s unfair, and frankly it’s insulting. To you, I mean. So, yeah.” Kara shrugs again, reaching back for her wine. “You should throw it out.”

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for someone else.

Lena firmly sets her jaw. “You don’t seem surprised to see me. Why?”

“I figured it was a matter of time after the other night. I know I caught you off guard, my being there. I really am sorry for that, by the way.”

“Stop apologizing for that.”

Kara looks up wearily, pausing. “Okay. I just, I figured you’d reach out eventually, now that you’re back.”

“Why?” Lena asks forcefully, her heart rate picking up its pace in her ears like a sisyphean crescendo.

“To remind me to leave you alone, stay out of your way? I get it, it’s fine, I’ll make sure it won’t happen again.” 

“That’s why you think I’m here?”

“Isn’t it?” Kara’s voice dips, just the barest indent on its fallout, and the glimpse of remorse doesn’t disappear, it paints itself shamelessly across her face. “I mean, I know you’re not here because you forgive me, so, what else is there?”

“You’re right, I haven’t.” Lena’s eye drops to Kara’s pale hands, the barest tremble in her knuckles. “And you absolutely don’t deserve it.” 

“Yeah, exactly, so.”

It’s a gift you give yourself.

“But maybe I’m going to anyway.”

Kara’s eyes snap up like a crack of thunder, and there’s a burning perplexity murmuring behind her cloudy irises, both faint and sharp.

“Going to… what?”

“Here’s how this will go.” Lena goes to take another steadying drink, but as soon as the sour aroma of it hits her nose, she grimaces and she sets it back down with a shake of her head. “Your sister said this stupid thing that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for nearly two years now, and honestly even if I might actually hate her for it, I think she was right.”

The steady vacancy of Kara’s stare makes Lena dizzy, it makes her already regret this, because there’s a very explicit definition of insanity and oh, what a field day that psychologist would have with Lena.

“Because I am finally in a good place, I finally have everything I’ve ever wanted and I have everyone I’ll ever need already in my life.”

If her throat feels tight, if her voice starts to choke up like there’s some subconscious part trying to hold her back from saying this, neither of them acknowledge it.

“But, for god knows what reason, you are the one thing I can’t get over. Everywhere I go, everything I do, you’re always just there. ” Lena sighs, dropping her hands to the edge of the kitchen island, her grip loose and tired. “I thought I could manage it on my own, that I didn’t need anyone else, especially not you. But I can’t keep doing this. I… I need to get over you if I’m going to move on, so I can start truly living my life again.”

Kara’s mouth pinches small, and the quiet is stifling enough to make Lena consider downing the rest of this horrid wine because right now the room is so unbearably still, the floor has never felt so flat beneath her feet, and this cold moment of suspension where Kara just stares back her with nothing in her gaze, it is exactly why survival leaves so bitter of an aftertaste.

And then—

She’s laughing.

Sharp, sudden, deep rumbling laughs, Kara is laughing so hard she has to sit down on one of the island stools, slumping over the fake granite, her shoulders shaking. 

If she weren’t so painfully sober, she’d think she was dreaming.

“I’m sorry,” Lena says flatly. “But what the fuck is so funny about this?”

Kara’s hands fall from her face to the counter in a smack, her giggles wet and clouded. “It’s just— It’s, it’s funny because—” Kara snorts, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand before she runs it messily through her oily hair. It only dishevels it further, makes the shiny glean more prominent under the fluorescent glow, and Lena’s never recognized anyone less. 

“It’s funny because I started living my life the day that I met you.” Kara tilts her head, and the smile bleeds away from her face, leaving her eyes as empty as Lena’s thoughts. “And I’ve known since the day you left that I probably wouldn’t ever be able to again, not like that. Like, trust me, I’ve long since accepted that I brought this on myself and I’ve dealt with that, but c’mon you have to admit it’s kind of funny. You can’t live with me, I can’t live without you? I swear that’s the plot to a dozen different Hollywood blockbusters.”

A tension Lena hadn’t realized she’d been holding deflates, suddenly, it escapes her like the taut length of a pulled spring falling compact. 

Lena spent so long running from this, she buried herself in every outlet she could find, for a million different reasons. Part of it was about proving she never needed or cared all that much about Kara, and then it was about proving she was better off alone anyway. Who was she proving this to, really? Because it’s become painfully clear no one else cares, that it makes no difference to Sam or Lillian or Jack or Gayle or whoever at all whether she’s still hung up on this or not. 

The point is that the rest of the world has moved on, and she needs to too. 

Seeing Kara like this, this pasty-skinned mirror of someone else, when all Lena’s ever wanted was to hate her, it’s exhausting to face the truth of the matter that she doesn’t hate her, not even in the slightest, she never did. She wants to vomit because it’s horrifying how she still cares for Kara, that how she’s doing even matters to Lena, and god, it makes her wonder.

Wonder for all this time she spent working to prove a lie, for all this time she wasted trying to make sense of something that had none, when all she needed was to come back here. Running from it hasn’t gotten her anywhere, it’s only put distance between herself and her body and all that it’s rid her of is the chance of finding a home again in herself.

She spent two years off in search of a peace that could only be found by facing the very thing she was running from, it was right here all along. 

“What happened to you?” Lena’s eyes scrape over her. “Kara, that’s bullshit, what? Since when did you become the kind of person that needs someone else to be happy?” 

“That’s not what I said.” Kara shakes her head, her lips pursing like she doesn’t expect Lena to understand. She gestures to Lena’s drink. “Are you gonna finish that?”

Lena pulls it out of her reach. “No, seriously, Kara what the fuck? Is this a joke?” 

Kara doesn’t answer her, but she does meet Lena’s gaze pointedly, not looking sheepish in the slightest, only as if she’s proving something. Lena’s hand stays resolutely over her drink, and Kara just sighs, rising from her seat to make for the opened bottle left in front of the cupboards behind Lena. Lena doesn’t stop her. She doesn’t turn around, just listens to the slow shuffling of Kara’s socked feet over the hardwood floor, the pour of the wine sloshing into the glass. Kara doesn’t immediately return, she stays behind Lena sipping her drink, and Lena’s knuckles grow white around her own.

“This should make me feel better,” Lena mutters.

“What should?”

Lena’s mouth twists. “You know, I used to wish I’d never met you.”

Kara laughs, and Lena doesn’t get the joke. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

“I think it should be the other way around.” Lena spins to face Kara, her arms crossing. “I think you should be the one wishing you’d never met me.”

Kara tilts her head to the side, searching. “I’m still not really sure I get why you’re here.”

Is it selfish to heal? Is it a possible thing to do without relinquishing nobility, or does it by definition require a certain level of self-indulgence?

“I’m here to get us passed this, however it is that we do that,” Lena says simply, clearing her throat and putting on a far stronger face than she feels. “And then I’m leaving. I’m hiring someone to run the National City base of L-Corp and I’m going back to Metropolis by the end of the year. 

“And I think this will be good for you, too. You’ll get over it. Me.” Lena digs her nails into her palm. “I promise. So, we have four months.”

Kara stares at her like she was never really there at all. 

“Four months for… what, exactly?”

“To make me forgive you. And then I’m gone.”

xx

“Lena, I don’t know if you know this, but just because my professional title is ‘doctor,’ that does not mean I’m certified to handle all of your breakdowns.”

Across the white linen of the restaurant table, Lena raises her eyebrows. “This isn’t a breakdown.”

“Where’s our waiter?” Sam looks around them, desperate. “I need a drink.”

“It’s nine in the morning.”

“So I’ll order a damn mimosa.” Not finding him anywhere, Sam turns back to Lena. “Have you lost your freaking mind? Seriously, just tell me now how worried I have to be, scale of impulsive-online-shopping-spree to mass-egomaniac-manslaughter?”

“You don’t have to be worried at all.”

“That attitude, that right there?” Sam points an accusing finger in her face, and Lena raises her eyebrows bemusedly. “That is exactly why I’m nervous.”

She brushes her hand away. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you? Because the last time you spoke to this woman you almost—”

“I swear if you mention the casserole one more time, you will have something to worry about.”

Sam’s elbows drop to the table, and she huffs, shaking her head. “You know what? I think I might be the one who needs therapy after all of this is finished.”

“I can recommend you someone,” Lena offers. “I have actually spoken with some of the most renowned psychologists in the country.”

Sam sits up agitatedly. “How, Lena? How? When do you have time for all of this shit you get up to?”

Lena catches the eye of their waiter with a smile, and he quickly stops by. “We will actually take that mimosa pitcher after all, please,” she tells him, and with a note of affirmation he takes off again.

“It’s, fine, alright?” Lena sits forward. “I have a plan. I took notes from the best couples’ therapists nation-wide and—”

Couples’ therapy? ” Sam exclaims, the high creaking pitch of her voice drawing the attention of a few tables around them. “Lena, I’m begging you, tell me you’re not going to start seeing her again.”

“Oh, fuck no.” Lena grimaces like she’s just had something sour. “We aren’t going to a shrink, and we’re not jumping right back into whatever that was before. I was just doing… research.”

“Research,” Sam echoes weakly. 

“Yes. Like I said, I have a plan.”

“Don’t couples’ therapists work on like, actually rebuilding relationships, helping bring two people back together? Not helping you forget about an old ex.”

“I know, but. Their main goal is usually to improve communication and reestablish a broken trust of some kind, whether it’s literal, figurative, emotional, whatever. I don’t need to trust her again, just forgive her, but most often it’s the same path. I know it all sounds a bit silly, but I have it figured out. And it’ll be good for the both of us, anyway.” Lena sighs, pursing her lips as her eyes cloud over. “You should have seen her, Sam, she was…”

“Miserable?” 

Lena tuts quietly, shaking her head. “Mm, no, not really, just… different. Maybe she is but, she just… One second she seems like the person I thought I always knew, and the next she’s a stranger.”

The waiter returns with a fat, round-bottomed pitcher of the orange bubbling cocktail, and he swiftly pours them both a glass. Lena’s only just thanking him by the time Sam’s already halfway through her flute, and Lena rolls her eyes. 

Clearing her throat of the champagne, Sam sits forward. “Could be both, you know. It’s been two years, you’re both completely different people. And I mean, I know you don’t really want to hear this, but at the very least I think she was the person you got to know back then, that wasn’t a lie.” At Lena’s penetrating frown, Sam quickly goes on. “Obviously I didn’t get to know her as much as you, and of course you would know best, I just mean—”

“It’s okay,” Lena gently  interrupts. “I’m not going to freak out. Surprisingly, I really am okay with this. Frankly I think you’re right.”

Her glass halfway to her mouth, Sam stops short. “Really?”

Lena hums her agreement, eyeing her own glass but making no move for it. “It was a little too melodramatic to think someone is truly that deceptive, wasn’t it? That she’s that much of a villain, that it was all just a sham. That was never… I don’t think that was what scared me.”

Sam shakes her head bewilderedly, sitting forward again. “Okay you lost me again. If you believe that she was being genuine with you, that the feelings weren’t fake, then what’s the problem? You sound like you’ve already forgiven her.”

Lena opens her mouth to answer, but nothing comes out, and she finds she doesn’t actually have the words for it, she isn’t quite sure how to explain herself, not in a way Sam would understand. She doesn’t know how to articulate the tranquility she’s spent so long chasing that now rests within her, and she’s not quite sure herself why that isn’t enough. Maybe it’s the acknowledgment to herself, accepting that she hasn’t moved on, recognizing what she still has to work through that’s brought her this peace, but fuck, it’s not so easy to forgive as simply choosing to. There’s still things to work on, the roots of issues she can hardly wrap her brain around, there is more to uncover, and she’s not sure what that is but she knows it’s there. And the eloquence to explain this to Sam now, it escapes her, and Lena drops her gaze.

“It’s complicated,” she says quietly. “I haven’t, I can’t — I need to do this, that much I know.”

“That’s okay,” Sam is quick to assure. “You don’t have to explain all the details, I just — you know me, I worry, alright? But I do trust you know what you’re doing, Lena. And thank you for telling me, by the way.” Sam reaches across the table to tap at Lena’s hand, just a soft reminder of affection and nothing heavier than this moment warrants. “It means a lot.”

“Apparently I can only go to the extremes.” Lena shrugs, echoing Sam’s words from the week before. “Willing to blurt it all out to anyone that listens now, or something.”

Sam tosses her napkin at her indignantly. “Oh shut up. I swear, if you tell that Marsh girl any of this, then we’re all going to have something to worry about.”

She does chuckle good-naturedly, but Lena winces through her smile, because she very blatantly blew off Gayle the other night. The blonde hadn’t reached out to her when Lena never showed up the other night because she had gone to Kara’s instead, and Lena hadn’t thought to even say anything until the next night, and by then it’d be silly to. Still, she feels guilty, enough so to reach out at some point in the near future and apologize. Because she likes Gayle, really, for whatever reason, and Lena is feeling notably open-minded about putting herself out on a limb for something as terrifying as a prospective friendship.

Halfway through the pitcher (on Sam’s part, Lena doesn’t touch her own glass) and a few appetizers later, Sam asks if Lena’s ready to call for the bill when Lena waves her off.

“It’s alright, I’m not leaving just yet, I’ll take care of it.”

Sam’s eyebrows knit together. “You’re not leaving?”

Lena refuses to be self-conscious about this, because they’re both adults, and she just spent the better part of their brunch hour rationalizing it all to Sam anyway. 

“No,” she draws out slowly, picking at her cuticles absently. “Kara’s meeting me here in a bit, actually.”

Sam’s mouth drops open again. “What, seriously? I thought you were going to give her some time to decide.”

“I have, it’s been two days.”

“Oh, it’s barely been thirty-six hours.”

Lena huffs, waving her off. “Yes, thank you, but she’ll be here any minute so, get out of here.”

Sam does, but not with more grumbling and teasing, and Lena stands to hug her goodbye. Once she’s left alone, Lena fiddles with the gold band of her watch, running her fingers softly over its face, and she considers texting Kara to ask if she’s on her way before thinking better of it. While there’s the chance she has changed her phone number since Lena last knew her, it probably isn’t likely considering Kara never moved. Although Lena did delete her contact, it’s a string of digits that she’s never managed to actually forget. It was probably because of how long she spent forcefully thinking about how she would hate to remember the number that made it stick in her memory, and so Lena can easily pick up the phone and contact her, but she refrains. It feels… inappropriate, and even though Lena is the one here with tense boundaries to set, she feels as if she should touch base with Kara first before re-opening that method of communication. 

“Hey, sorry.” Kara breathlessly comes rushing up to the table, patting down her loose, clean white tee-shirt as she takes the seat across from Lena. “Trains were a bitch, there was a delay on the B-line, sorry if you were waiting long.” And then, taking in the half-empty mimosa pitcher and the used glass that Sam had left behind, she frowns. “You get started without me?”

Instead of answering, Lena just passes over her untouched drink, setting it down in front of Kara, who just looks up at her expectantly.

Lena sits back. “You swear now.”

“What?”

“You never used to swear. I actually tried to trick you into it dozens of times, but you never did.”

“Oh.” Kara seems to not know how to answer the unspoken question, and her eyeline drops to the flat champagne in front of her now but she holds back from taking it. “Uh, yeah, I dunno. Probably just Alex’s influence, I guess.”

It’s not an answer that means anything, because as far as Lena knows, Alex has been one to swear like a sailor all her life, so nothing about that should be any different now, but she doesn’t remark on it.

“And how is she? Your sister.”

“She’s good, yeah, she’s really good, thanks.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah.” 

Kara takes the drink, and Lena watches her. She wants to find amusement in how, just like Sam, she swallows down half of it in one go, she honestly wants to be endeared by the flat, awkward smile Kara gives her when she sets it back down and finds Lena watching her, but it just leaves her far more uncertain about this than she was half an hour ago with Sam.

“So,” Kara breaks the silence. “I thought about what you said.”

“And?”

“And… sure, I guess.”

Lena raises an eyebrow, skeptical. “You guess?”

Kara picks the drink back up again, but she doesn’t immediately go in for it. “I mean, yeah, okay. Yes, whatever you need, I’m happy to… to…”

“Help?” Lena asks wryly.

Kara winces. “Kinda sounds bad when you put it like that, doesn’t it?”

“That’s essentially what I’m asking for.” Lena shrugs, and Kara takes a deep breath before she finally drinks again, quickly finishing the small glass. “Might as well call it what it is.”

“Right.” Kara rubs her mouth with the back of her hand and goes to refill her glass. “Okay, well like I said, I’m happy to either way, but I’ve gotta admit I still don’t get what I’m agreeing to.”

“It’s not as complicated as it sounds.”

“I don’t know if it’s as simple as you think, either.”

The underlying challenge to Kara’s tone, the brisk honesty, it reminds Lena of Gayle for a moment, and while it was amusing on the rich blonde heiress, on Kara it’s just… confusing. 

Lena sighs, the elasticity of a strained rubber band pulling her in all directions again, a tension she thought she’d gotten rid of sucking her back to stillness.

“There’s just one thing I want to be clear on,” Lena explains delicately. “And I know this might be difficult but—”

“I know we’re not getting back together, you don’t have to spell that one out,” Kara interjects with a surprising tongue-in-cheek smile, like a young child eager to prove they’ve gotten a problem right, and Lena can’t explain what about it causes such a sharp, sudden throb in her chest.

“That assumes we were ever actually together to begin with, doesn’t it?”

The humor sinks immediately from Kara’s eyes, falls back inextricably within her out of Lena’s sight, and Lena has no time to feel anything about that.

“No, I wasn’t going to ‘spell that one out’ for you because I know it’s not anything I need to clarify.” Lena loosens her jaw, taking small, subtle breaths to still her erratic heart. “No, I just have one rule.”

Kara’s brow twitches with a frown, the way she tilts her head is something Lena used to find cute, but they are so far from anything as naive as a misunderstanding here.

“What is it?” Kara asks, the kind of soft for someone who already knows.

It feels almost redundant to say. “Don’t lie to me, about anything. Ever.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“I mean it. I don’t care if you think it’s something I don’t want to know. If I ask, you have to tell me.”

A nod. “Okay.”

“And I’ll do the same.” Lena is probably just assuring no one except her own conscience at this point. “Not like I have anything to hide, but I will. If this is going to work, this is how it has to be.”

“I don’t have anything to hide,” Kara says, not as if she’s pointing something out in her defense, but like this is her first order of honesty.

“Not anymore, you mean.”

Kara’s gaze falls to somewhere lower, and she scoots her seat forward before she takes another sip of the mimosa. “So, how does this work, then?”

Lena twists around, reaching into the purse hanging on the back of her chair, and she pulls out a piece of paper. Kara stiffens at first, but when Lena flattens out a sheet composed exclusively of Lena’s own neat writing, the blonde’s shoulders loosen.

“What’s that?”

“A list.”

“Of?”

“Exercises, activities, things that are going to help us speed this along.”

Kara laughs, but when Lena’s face remains mute and calm, her smile falls away and she looks back and forth between Lena and the paper. “Wait, like actually?”

Lena drops her hand over the note. “By no means am I trying to force you into this, so if you’re not going to take it seriously then you might as well go now.”

“No! No.” Kara sits up immediately, running her hand back through her hair before she clasps her fingers together on the table. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” She sighs, and the brief, patient look she gives Lena is reminiscent like deja-vu. “What’s on it?”

Lena’s not sure if it’s the glimpse into the person she used to know, or if it’s the way it disappears that reassures her, she’s not sure which is the comfort and which is the omen.

“This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I can’t just choose to forgive you and call it a day. Believe me, I’ve tried.” Lena picks up the paper and holds it out to Kara like this is a business meeting, in no mood to go through the items verbally. “I’ve compiled this list of exercises meant to promote and foster the process of forgiving. Most all professionals in the field agree that these all aid in stomping out any lingering resentment or anger in either party.”

Kara eyes the page with an unreadable expression, and she flips it over to find more words on the backside as well. She looks up at Lena wearily. “Are you quoting a manual or something?”

“Don’t start.”

Kara hums, looking over the tasks once more, before she pauses again. “What field?”

Lena blinks. “What?”

“You said professionals in the field. I’m asking — what field?”

Lena can only hope that the flush under her collar doesn’t spread any further, that it’s not noticeable underneath the stupid tan Lillian made her get before she left Metropolis. Without thinking too much about it, she reaches across to take back her mimosa glass. When she looks back up, Kara’s smile is far softer than it should be, and not in a tender or nurturing way, but rather the faint shadow of something brighter, and again Lena can’t shake the distinct feeling that Kara is deliberately holding back something she thinks Lena wouldn’t understand.

“You know, professionals,” Lena finally answers, evasive, but Kara just raises her eyebrows in response and the corner of her mouth perks up.

“I mean, if we’re being honest with each other now, then you should probably—”

“I was always honest with you.”

Kara’s playful smile once more falls away, but Lena refuses the guilt over this one, she locks it out with a firm slam from her skull.

Lena finishes the drink and hands back the empty glass.

She takes a deep breath. “Look, I just spoke with some counselors who specialize in mending defective relationships, that’s all.”

“I thought this wasn’t a relationship.” There’s no witty quip to Kara’s tone, and Lena knows she shouldn’t meet her eye, she knows it gleans with an unshed, unbearable nothing that she would never want to see, but she looks. Of course she does.

Kara doesn’t even mean it as a joke, and perhaps that’s the worst part.

“Please don’t do that,” Lena says quietly. 

Kara only moves to refill the glass from the pitcher. “So, I still feel like I’m missing something. I’m not trying to be difficult,” she quickly adds, but Lena’s eye is caught on the ripple of tendons in Kara’s forearm, the easy flex of the muscle, how fluid the motion is, the unwavering grip on the glass handle. 

“I just want to make sure I know what your expectations are,” Kara continues. “Because I don’t want to disappoint you.”

She averts her gaze. “Right, because you do that so well already.”

She of course doesn’t mean for it to slip out, she doesn’t mean to be so passive aggressive to everything that Kara says, because each and every biting, snide remark is just an indication of how Lena can’t maintain her composure for even two minutes, and it’s more embarrassing than it is satisfying. But Kara doesn’t seem offended by this one, she inclines back in her chair languidly and smiles like she’s encouraging Lena to keep going, like she’s impressed, like she’s proud, and Lena doesn’t know what to make of that.

“Again, it’s not so complicated as you’re making it out to be.” Lena leans forward to refer to the paper again. “We work through these, together, and there’s more than enough time to finish them all by the holidays, even with my hectic schedule.”

“And these?” Kara flips it over and runs her finger along the midline. “What are the ‘tips’ for?”

“Exactly that.” Lena plucks up the mimosa glass, and she’s not quite sure when they started sharing one because she hadn’t had the stomach for a drink before, but Kara is unphased as Lena takes a sip. “Just general notes of advice on our approach, things to keep in mind.”

Lena watches Kara carefully, how her jaw is tense when she looks back up, and not with the apathy Lena’s become accustomed to dealing with these last couple of days, but rather a peek of concern, tentative like snowfall.

“You’re sure about this?” Kara asks gently, but her prying eyes only make Lena want to hide even more.

“Yes.” Lena snatches the paper back. “If you have any better ideas, I’m happy to hear them. Otherwise this is how it’s going to be, so you can either stay or you can go now and I’ll figure this out on my own. It’s your choice.” 

Kara looks as if there’s a joke she wants to make, like she’s biting back a laugh, but whatever it is, she doesn’t say it and simply takes the mimosa back again from Lena. 

“Of course I’ll stay, Lena.” Kara smiles, a tender replica of one that Lena used to recognize, the curve of her pink mouth only slightly visible behind the small flute glass. 

She wonders if it’s too childish and impractical to add a second rule stating that Kara’s no longer allowed to say Lena’s name, not in any shape or form.

She asks for the check.

xx

Lena doesn’t get the chance to see Kara again for another week and a half.

Things are picking up at L-Corp, and with the latest bout of donations from the Lasker fundraiser, she was right, they’re far ahead of schedule on the financial side of things, but this means that the technological aspect with SI is nowhere near ready for moving forward. Rather than push Jack to rush developments on his end, Lena’s been conference-calling in with the board of directors back in Metropolis to determine their next steps. Expansion has been their main drive, it’s an essential component of their mission — reach as many people in need of care as possible. Every program and every dime spent has been set in motion with a single goal in mind of taking them closer to the step after that, to following their ten-year plan for L-Corp and SI’s partnership.

But now that they’re ahead schedule and overshot for funds, there’s wiggle-room, there’s time to have these conversations about programs that had been previously shelved for a magical later time, visions Lena had had when they first began but no space to make them happen. It would either be Lillian insisting that her proposal did nothing to move this organization forward in the long-run, that it was a dead-end of charity, or it was her board advising her that she was trying to take on too much at once, too soon.

The program Lena felt strongest about was an initiative to provide better mental health care in at-risk youth programs. While the primary mission of the organization is to provide accessible health care to people and families who normally are given cheaper, second-hand services, to ensure that those who can’t afford it are given the opportunity to receive the same leading benefits that only money can get you, this has mainly focused on their physical health. The technology that SI is and will be developing over the next decade covers a variety of domains —  easier and cheaper-to-operate imaging machines, cheaper augmentative and alternative communication devices, updated medical equipment in the day-to-day physician check-up offices, advanced 3D printers for the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge, experimental treatments and stay up to date on the latest upgrades. This is the central aim of L-Corp and Spheerical Industries — but it’s left little room for ensuring that the people they are reaching out to also receive mental health care aside from yearly check-ups with their primary care physicians. Anything beyond that isn’t prospected to be under L-Corp’s coverage. It’s a battle Lena’s been fighting and losing for a year now. Incorporating mental health services takes far too much time, they’ve said, time that they just don’t have and time that they can’t buy, not in the same way they can with physical health services. The “ugly truth,” as Lillian likes to put it, is that trying to address them all will about double their projections for their ten-year plan, and it’s simply too ambitious an initiative for them to take on.

But now, the board of directors can’t see her smile but Lillian can certainly hear it when Lena brings up her ideas again, and slowly their objections begin to falter as Lena argues their stance. L-Corp is far more prominent an organization than any of them had predicted when they first began, and Lena feels gracious enough to even verbally point out how Lillian can be thanked for capitalizing on Lena’s popularity and ensuring it lasted longer than just a few months of typical press interest. Because while the article is a significant factor to thank for Lena’s surge, that hype would have dwindled out within six months at the latest if Lillian hadn’t strategically woven Lena back into the public eye with a careful, calculating poignancy.

And because of this, because of how everything has fallen together and because of the convenience of Lena currently being in National City, she is more than happy to test-run her ideas here.

When the other board members hang up, and it’s just her and Lillian left on the line, she hears a low, wry chuckle through the static.

“Well played, Lena.”

Lillian says nothing else, and Lena has no response to her mother’s words other than a self-satisfied smile tucked low to her chest.

The next week and half are spent on the logistics and preparations. Her ideas presented over the phone are just that: ideas. Before she can actually put anything into motion, she needs to prove to the board that this will be a valuable, worthwhile commodity, that it’s a resource people and faculty will take advantage of. She has to draw up projections, make phone calls to local hospitals, communicate with other local nonprofits working with adolescents and children. The board wants to see cold numbers showing exactly how well this is going to work before they approve anything.

She doesn’t forget, of course she doesn’t, the digits of a phone number swim in the back of her mind like a subtle mist seeping around the corner. 

She just pushes it to the side, is all.

The first chance she has at a free hour, though, is on a Thursday. It’s by accident that she has a moment to breathe, she has a meeting end early and the next one gets pushed off a little later, and it was all too last-minute to schedule anything else in. She could take the time to catch up on her paperwork, to keep researching for her presentation to the board, but she decides to grant herself the advantage of a free lunch hour.

But she doesn’t call Kara.

A different blonde strolls through her office doors, wearing pale blue paperbag shorts and a loose-flowing white blouse, and her smile is far more pleased than it should be.

Though after glancing around Lena’s office with pursed lips, Gayle huffs.

“I haven’t even said anything and you’re already annoyed.” Bemusedly, Lena shuts her laptop. “What is it?”

Gayle pushes her black sunglasses back over her hair and she crosses her arms. “I’m not seeing any flowers.”

“And why would I have flowers in my office?”

“An apology should always have flowers.”

“Who said anything about an apology?”

Gayle pointedly stands by