The first thing Lena tries, after she sits in her home office in the dark and drinks a whole bottle of wine, is telling Kara. Straight up.
“I know that you’re Supergirl,” Lena says. It’s a bright, sunny brunch. The restaurant they’re at is busy. For once, Kara was the one with a friend of a friend who got them a table when everyone else has to wait two hours. And Kara is beautiful, like always. Her hair is in a fishtail braid. Now, Lena can sort of see the resemblance. When Kara had adjusted her glasses before she orders a bruschetta for them to share, there’s a brief moment where Lena’s vision shifts.
She thinks of that awful footage. Kara pulling her glasses down and incinerating a whole room of photos. Pictures of them, in some part. Funny how life can become so uselessly dramatic.
Kara is staring at her, face bare of any sort of reaction other than a blank shock. Her eyes are wide and a perfect cerulean blue. Lena remembers this face from when they first met. Panic in her veins before she had turned and saw the blonde attached to Clark Kent’s side staring at her, mouth open. Eyes so blue Lena had momentarily forgot Clark was in the room.
She had once thought that she and Kara could be something. In that moment, she had maybe thought a flirtation, a one or two night fling. Later, she had thought Kara could be a suitably fun replacement for Jack’s familiar and affectionate presence. And then it was love, bright and blooming; and then love, cautious and impossible. And now, those phases of Lena’s thoughts on Kara were infected at their very root.
“Lena,” Kara says. Her voice catches. She takes a deep breath, looking around cautiously. No one is paying anything but their very special avocado toasts any attention. “Lena, I’m - ”
“You’re a liar,” Lena says. She can’t help that her own voice catches in response to Kara’s, or the tears that fill up her vision when she sees Kara’s own. One of the things that had always shocked her by her reactions to Kara was her empathy and reflectiveness. Kara would do something, and Lena would do the same. Kara smiled; Lena smiled. Kara hugged; Lena hugged. Kara is crying, Lena is crying. “You lied to me.”
“Lena,” Kara says, the name breaking in two segmented syllables on her tongue. “I didn’t - I was going to - ”
Kara reaches fast for Lena’s hand, clearly intent on gripping it as tight as she can without breaking it. It’s a familiar gesture from Kara, one of comfort and warmth. The very thought of it makes Lena gasp until her lungs are tight.
That’s enough of that.
She draws her hand away from Kara’s reach, the distraught expression on Kara’s face impossible to miss. She places her thumb and index fingers over her wet eyes, and draws them inward. The simulation ends on those blue eyes growing dark under the weight of tears.
Lena sits in her dark home office, takes a deep breath, and reaches for the last dregs in her wine glass.
The tech is sound, if a little questionable in terms of implementation. It’s a clever little thing, a neuro bug that reads a person’s thoughts and emotions and builds simulations that the person imagines. The simulations are limitless, in the sense that their parameters are constantly adjustable - the pitch that had been given to Lena was one of hopeful marketing. You want to practice life on Mars? Now you can!
But from what Lena understands, there are such a thing as truths in these worlds, because there are truths in brainwaves and minds. Lena can imagine punching Kara, but if the parameters of the world declare that Kara is Supergirl, the simulation sends a shiver of pain from her knuckles up her arm. If she adjusts the parameters, Kara can be human, and her nose can bleed freely, and the simulation will let her feel the wet of the blood, in a dissonant, strange way. Like her skin is numb, but she’s aware enough to know that it’s been touched.
She tries Mars once, but Kara shows up anyway.
Supergirl finds her in her lab at the DEO. Her cape swishes as she comes in, arms crossed, and smiles gently at Lena. When she had moved into the DEO and started working with them, it had been surprisingly simple. Supergirl was on her side, and so was Alex. It had felt lucky, in some ways, like she had somehow gone through the crucible of Supergirl’s distrust, so sudden and rough, and then come out the other side with a deeper trust. And she had valued it.
Lena thinks of Supergirl, lying on that medical table, kryptonite running in her veins. She had been so worried. It had felt cloying. Looking back on it, it was familiar - somewhere deep inside her, it had been like she was aware of who it was she was looking at. Like she could have looked at Kara in any disguise and still felt her.
Lena feels foolish. And angry.
“How’s your work going?” Supergirl asks. After they had resolved their argument from last year, this had been a favorite habit of Kara’s. Initially, Lena had thought it was because she was used to trouncing into the room and bothering Alex, considering how close they were. But eventually, in the short time where Supergirl was both a friend and not a fugitive of the DEO, it had been somewhat nice. Supergirl had brought her coffee once or twice and Lena had let it go that she knew her order.
“Well,” Lena says. On the desk in front of her is a complicated little sleek thing. “How goes yours?”
“Saved a cat from certain death in a tree,” Supergirl says, smiling softly as she sits across from Lena and leans forward. “Is that - what is that?”
“It’s an alien detection device,” Lena says. She doesn’t look up from the knot of wires and sensors in front of her. She knows what she’ll see. Kara’s shocked face, drifting into frustration, discomfort. The first time, it had confused her - she had created an amazing scientific object that could read DNA at the snap of a finger. It’s utilizations were limitless. Kara had pointed out exactly how far its reach would extend, and she had stored away accordingly - even then she cowed to the judgment of a small, nervous, pretty reporter.
It isn’t real now. She won’t cow. And she wants Supergirl to hurt.
“Kara Danvers told me about this,” Supergirl says. Her hands keep to her side of the large metal workbench, but Lena can see she’s flexing them together, avoiding pressing them into the stainless steel.
“I’m sure she did,” Lena says, a laugh on her tongue. “She hated it. Thought I was just like any other Luthor.”
“I believe that was years ago, now, Miss Luthor,” Supergirl says. Lena does not miss the slip into formality. Kara liked to call her Miss Luthor when she thought Lena was acting particularly like a twenty-five year-old billionaire, like when she ordered Kara a selection of Mont Blanc fountain pens as a simple gift, or when she flew them to Kaznia on her private plane and had skipped security altogether. Supergirl does it like this, when she’s put out by the subject of their discussion. She wonders if the tendencies come from the same root.
“She was right,” Lena says. “Naive, perhaps. But right - I hadn’t considered the consequences of a device like this existing.”
“And she helped you realize?” Supergirl asks. Her voice is somewhat hopeful, a part pleased. Lena wants to laugh.
“She taught me that protecting oneself should come before anything else,” Lena says, looking up at Supergirl. “You didn’t need to tell me then, when I was shoving this in your face. But you had other chances. When Mon-el left. When I got arrested. When I almost died on that godforsaken plane.”
Supergirl’s face is frozen, her mouth open and eyes wide.
“You cared about yourself more than you ever cared about me,” Lena says. “That’s alright. I think I’ll do the same from now on.”
“Lena,” Supergirl’s voice jumpstarts when Lena drops the device on the table and starts to move away. “Lena, let me explain - ”
“No explanations this time,” Lena says. “Feel free to destroy that thing. And feel free to stay out of my lab after that, as well.”
“No, Lena, please - ”
The simulation fades and she’s left sitting at her desk, Kara’s pleas ringing in her ears.
Lena is crying. Lena is not really a person who cries; Lillian had always insisted that while crying was a natural and human thing, there was no place for it in public or around others. It’s a sign of weakness, Lena. Never let them know how you’re really feeling.
Somewhere along the way, Lena’s certain she’s internalized this message to the point that she herself no longer knows exactly how she’s feeling. But the shock of feeling that had rattled through Lena in the depths of one of her life’s most harrowing moments had nearly taken her out. And the sound of Lex’s gravelled, dying voice: Kara Danvers. Is Supergirl.
It feels like it stays on her skin, like a burn, for days and weeks afterward. Lena has believed in boxes her whole life, has shut emotions out in favor of logic and a bullheaded desire to forge ahead despite the pain behind. But Kara Danvers...well. Kara Danvers has always slipped through Lena’s defenses.
“That’s what hurts, Kara,” Lena says. It’s more like a moan. Kara is sitting next to her on the couch. She hasn’t moved in the four minutes since Lena’s begun this conversation. Lena’s eyes are packed to the brim with tears, but she can still pick out the tight ball of Kara’s hands; white and so wound together that she surely must be hurting herself. “I trusted you - you know everything there is to know about me and you - you lied to me - you hid your - ”
Kara isn’t saying anything. Lena gasps around the tight feeling in her chest. There’s an interesting combination of unbearable happening inside her: she can’t draw breath, and she sort of feels like she’s seconds from puking. And there’s so much snot running down her face that she doesn’t hold back from the childish urge to wipe her nose with her sleeve.
“You’re - you were my best friend,” Lena says. She feels the wince on Kara’s face. Feels the twinge in her heart that whispers that this phrase is true on some level, but not the most accurate. “And you had all of me, all of me, all the - fucked up things - ”
“You’re not fucked up,” Kara says, plainly, interjecting. Her voice is tight and shaky. Lena feels a new wave of tears push through her. Even when Lena has Kara dead to rights to face indictment, Kara takes her opportunity to support her. It makes it worse, that even right now, when Lena is so angry, that she still coerces the simulation into this.
“Everyone knows but me,” Lena says. “Everyone but me knows, and I thought - I thought we were - ”
“We are,” Kara says, and Lena watches her hands on her lap as she unwinds them, presses tight into her thighs, raises them toward her face, then presses them back down again before they return to their wrought pose. “Lena. We are.”
“I don’t believe you,” Lena says. “How can I believe you?”
“I don’t know,” Kara says, and her voice downturns to bitterness, her body shifting. “I don’t know how to make you believe me, but please try. Please, Lena. I need you.”
“You’re saying that because I want to hear it,” Lena says.
“That’s not how I work,” Kara says. Who she’s speaking for is questionable, and Lena feels a grateful distance from this moment, a healthy dissonance that’s ruined by Kara’s hand reaching for Lena. “It’s the truth. It’s why I - why I didn’t tell you.”
“I loved you, you know,” Lena says. She hears a sob come up through Kara.
She ends it there.
Supergirl stares at her. Blue eyes as wide as dinner plates. Lena is holding a baton grafted with kryptonite. It’s a fanciful looking thing, elegant, run through with the glowing green rock. Supergirl staggers backwards, into the wide expanse of Lena’s windows. It’s a testament to the power of the rock when she simply thwacks into the bulletproof glass. Her cape clings to the glass as she slides to the ground.
“Lena,” Supergirl says. It’s strained, but still strong. Intimidating. Lena wonders how it is Kara can play this part so well. Or maybe, this is the truth of it, and Kara Danvers is the mask. She doesn’t know anymore. “What are you doing?”
“Hurting you,” Lena says. She feels like she’s boiling, like a pot filled too high and ready to spill over. Her fingers loosen and regrasp on the baton. She had broken Eve’s jaw with it in Kasnia. What could it do to a depowered Supergirl?
“Why?” Supergirl says. She doesn’t cry. She stares, scrambling back up into the glass and trying to sit up more fully. Lena isn’t sure what it is going through her mind, and so she comes closer, holding the baton under Supergirl’s chin and pressing it to her neck. The look of kryptonite swimming up her veins had been unnerving the first time Lena had seen it. Even now, rage in her heart, her stomach knots with worry. She doesn’t pull the baton away. “Lena, why?”
“Because, Kara,” Lena says. “You hurt me.”
The words unravel Kara. She slumps back again, the tension she had managed to gather leaking from her spine. It’s as though the fight leaves her, or the mask of Supergirl leaves her. But in the end, the simple soul of Kara is looking at her. Lena recognizes it easily. It makes her resolve go tumbling.
“I’m sorry,” Kara whispers. “I’m so sorry. How did you - ”
“Lex told me,” Lena says. “Funny. That he chose not to lie to me, when everyone else did.”
“He did it to hurt you,” Kara says. “To be cruel. I lied to protect you.”
“Be that as it may,” Lena says. Her voice shakes as she presses the kryptonite harder against Kara’s neck. She imagines it slicing through for a moment. Like a knife through butter. It’s an invasive thought that makes her chest tighten to the point of pain, and she has a converse thought to throw the kryptonite as far away as possible, to burrow into the welcoming warmth of Kara. “I’m so angry with you.”
“I know,” Kara says. “Can you - can we - ”
“No,” Lena says. And she draws the baton back and swings hard. She can feel the reverberation of the hit up her arm. Kara slumps sideways, blood blooming at her temple. She’s knocked out.
Lena takes two steps backward, stumbles when her legs catch one of Kara’s feet. She falls to the ground and pukes her guts out, one hand pressed into the leather of Kara’s red boot. Her fingers clench tightly, but she manages to raise her other hand to her eyes before the simulation’s vomiting ends up all over her imported Turkish carpet in real life.
She lies on the couch and tries to breathe, the sunset warm on her skin. She doesn’t make it more than five minutes before she has to run for the bathroom and upends her lunch.
She turns around, and Kara is standing in the galley of the plane with her glasses off, face drawn into a tense facade. Even so, Lena can perfectly see the desperation there, the fear.
“Lena, I’m Supergirl,” Kara says.
Lena isn’t sure this is better. This is a thought experiment, of course. She is placing herself backwards in time, reading into the tense sound of Kara’s voice behind her as Lena had tried to apologize for putting Kara in danger. She had glossed over it at the time, of course, because Kara was so kind that she would be worried over Lena when Lena was in shambles over the very thought of Kara being caught in that explosion, wrapped in Lena’s international grudge match with Eve Tessmacher and her brother. Of course Kara would try to move past it so easily. It was the kind of goodness that Lena loved so much in Kara. Could feel as well as she could feel Kara’s skin.
“What?” Lena says. It’s an expression of shock. She imagines herself standing there and suddenly piecing together the whole enormous truth of it. And there’s also the truth of Kara looking on the verge of collapse, worried sick over Lena’s reaction. As if Lena could ever do anything but love Kara.
Even in the real world, all Lena does is love Kara. Loves her so much she hates her.
“I’m Supergirl,” Kara says. “You should know. You need to know, because - you’re my best friend, in the whole world. And I trust you, and I wanted to - I wanted to keep you safe, but I don’t know how to do that anymore without you knowing. I don’t know how to lie to you anymore. I’m so sorry I ever lied at all. But I needed you. I was so afraid of losing you.”
“You’re - Supergirl,” Lena says. Her vision is somewhat hazy. Kara steps closer, and Lena lets Kara touch her, feels her touch deep beneath her skin. She lets Kara draw her in, wrap her up tightly.
She feels a perverse sort of relief about the whole thing. Her worries are entrenched, but now separated. Kara could have been blown up ten minutes ago; but she never could have. Kara is safe, but Kara is safe because she’s Supergirl. Not by luck.
Lena can’t imagine this world, truly. It simply doesn’t exist.
She brushes the simulation out of her eyes. But she still dreams of it like a wish, later that night.
Kara comes to her office with a bag of takeout, and kisses her. This surprises Lena; the simulations up to this point have manufactured versions of Kara that made sense. It surprises Lena that her mind creates a Kara who walks into the office with confidence and no smile and comes right up to her and kisses her, softly but firmly.
There had once been a time where Lena thought she knew Kara better than almost anyone - that she knew Kara’s fears, Kara’s hopes. She thinks, in the end, that she still knows them in some form. Or maybe it’s that a foolish part of her hopes she does. It’s just that what she knows is free-floating, edited by a lack of context.
It surprises her enough that she kisses back, after one minute moment of hesitation. It surprises her so much that when they break, after one long, endless moment of connection, that she ends it there. When her eyes settle on the real world, her hand is clenched tight in the fabric of her suit jacket.
The kiss unlooses something that she had tried to bound tightly within her chest. It reminds her of how much she wanted Kara, before that catastrophic moment Lex had shown her that footage. How much she still, foolishly, wants Kara.
She cries herself to sleep and ignores the customary ten o’clock text Kara’s been sending the past two weeks. Tonight, it’s a single red heart.
Lena can’t stop thinking about the kiss.
Kara comes to Lena’s apartment in jeans and a blazer, fresh from work. It’s their usual post-work “hangtime” where they watch something on Netflix, make excuses to sit too close to each other, and talk about their days. It had, once upon a time, been one of Lena’s most cherished pastimes. It’s true that Lena has believed for a long time that she and Kara could never find the accord they needed to move into another phase of their relationship. There had always been some sort of barrier between them, something she nor Kara had ever tried to breach.
But the barrier was less than opaque. She could see Kara clear as day, could feel a reflective affection wafting Lena’s way. It was always most apparent on nights like this, when Kara would tug at the soft cords of Lena’s sweater until Lena was drifting closer, underneath the weight of Kara’s arm around her shoulder, her hand settling between their thighs. On the fence, as it were.
Kara tugs at Lena’s arm and Lena forgets for a second, that Kara is Supergirl. Her touch is gentle. Firm but still warm. Still kind. When Lena settles into the cover of Kara’s arm, she glances up. Kara is watching the television, her jawline defined and singular, and Lena loves the curvature there, has always found herself watching the lines of Kara’s face as they shifted and moved through their interactions. Love has a way of idealizing a person, Lena knows, but she’s still somewhat certain that Kara is truly beautiful, is truly marvelous to everyone.
“Are you going to watch?” Kara asks, her voice rumbling and teasing. Lena’s hand, sandwiched between their two thighs, shifts. She watches Kara’s face as she runs up the hill of Kara’s muscular thigh, and presses each of her fingertips into the meat of it. It’s not indecent in the sense that it’s too high; but it’s a transgression of the barrier. Kara tenses with it.
“Are you ever going to kiss me?” Lena asks. Lena has played the seductress before in her life. And she had considered it with Kara, briefly, in the liminal phase between a basic flirtation and a true intrigue. But love had suddenly hovered over her head like a Sword of Damacles.
Kara’s face blooms with bright red. Lena expects the simulation of Kara to jump away, or to stutter her way through a question. What she gets instead is Kara’s body curling more to face Lena’s, her hand reaching up to press lightly against Lena’s cheek.
“Do you want me to?” Kara asks. Her eyes are so blue. Lena loves her.
“No,” Lena says, even as Kara’s lips hover treacherously near her own. “Not until you tell me the truth.”
Kara’s fingers are mid-caress on Lena’s face. They shutter to a stop as Kara looks down at her, eyes quick as they bounce from Lena’s eyes to her mouth, back and forth.
“The truth about what?” Kara asks.
“You know what,” Lena says. Kara’s eyebrows knit together and she tilts her head sidewards.
“I love you,” Kara says, softly, eventually.
Lena wonders if this admission is more essential to Kara than the truth of her identity, if it’s more at the core of her than Supergirl. Lena wonders if she wants Kara so badly that she’d imagine Kara caring more to tell her this than about Supergirl. Lena isn’t sure what’s real anymore but how much she hurts, how much she loves.
She leaves Kara on that couch, the look of her desire trapped in her mind.
Later, in the morning, she contemplates calling the therapist recommended to her by Kelly Olsen. She had claimed that she had suggested nearly everyone in their friend group to go see someone, on account of “you guys’s messed up lives.” Lena is aware that her coping mechanisms are not the best. Lena is aware that Kara has called her twice this week wondering if she’d like to have dinner, even after Lena’s left her texts unanswered. Lena is aware of the phantom feeling of Kara’s hand on her cheek, her eyes on Lena’s lips. One breath away.
Supergirl stops a small chemical fire that blooms in one of L-Corp’s labs out in the desert early one morning. Lena hasn’t seen Kara, the real Kara, in person for a month and a half, hasn’t given her any response to her attempts at contact since she was given the simulation technology. Lena feels Kara as only a concept, a lie crafted to keep Lena complacent in a friendship of undeniable convenience to Kara. One that Lena had needed so badly.
The accident is small enough that Lena is only sent a text alarm; it’s small because Supergirl arrives even before emergency workers. Later, Lena watches the footage like it’s a movie; Supergirl is a character played by Kara Danvers. She flies in through the already-damaged freight door on the south side of the building and flies the few scientists still in the building to the parking lot before she works to calm the fire. The entire process takes her less than a minute.
And then for a moment, Supergirl - Kara - stands there in the smoking lab, her hands on her hips. She has a new suit, and there’s a pang of curiosity on which of Lena’s so-called friends developed it for her. Supergirl tilts her head up, looking to the ceiling, for a long few seconds, breathing deep before she starts to exit the building. On the way out, she passes by a few pieces of the fume hood that were knocked off during her firefighting, one of them a sheet of metal from the top printed with the proud L logo of the company.
Lena watches, dreamlike, as Kara picks up the piece of metal and gently brushes away some of the accumulated ice from her freeze breath, before she places it gently on a nearby lab bench. This moment is nothing in comparison to the things Lena’s mind has produced in the simulation, but it sits so heavy in her chest that Lena doesn’t bother attempting a simulation for three days.
She throws a wrench at Kara’s head.
Kara ducks so fast that she blurs. Lena’s private lab is an oasis in the middle of the basement at LCorp. Kara has access because Lena is a fool.
“Uh, was that some sort of reflex test?” Kara asks. Her laugh is nervous, and she toes the wrench on the ground. “A good old Lillian Luthor parenting tactic?”
“What’s your name?” Lena asks. Kara frowns.
“Kara Danvers,” she says. “Lena, are you okay?”
“What’s your real name?” Lena asks, contemplating the next throwable object on the table in front of her. It’s a small centrifuge. She’s unsure if she could actually throw it. “Superman says his real name is Kal-El. What are naming conventions like on Krypton? El is the name of your house, correct?”
When Lena looks from the centrifuge to Kara, Kara is staring at her.
“You know,” Kara says, flat.
“I know,” Lena says, anger leaking into her tone. “Thanks to my damned brother. Not my best friend. Not my ex-boyfriend, or any of my other closest friends or coworkers. Not my mother.”
“I’m sorry, Lena,” Kara says. “You needed to be kept safe.”
“Safe,” Lena repeats, feeling a laugh in her throat that goes loud and angry. “You didn’t trust me.”
“I trust you,” Kara says.
“You accused me of being like my brother, when I was trying to help Sam. You told me that when I asked for your name that I was dangerous. You sent James to spy on me,” Lena says. “I had always hoped that you could see me as something other than just another Luthor.”
“I didn’t arrest you when you almost killed Edge,” Kara says. And she’s frustrated, her face getting red. “I didn’t - I have trusted you and believed in you every step. And I was wrong about the kryptonite, I was just - I was just scared. I almost died because of Reign. I was scared of getting hurt again.”
“You hurt me,” Lena says. It feels like she’s trying to iterate something that is bigger than the words she’s saying. She’s searching for a way to explain the mountain in her chest that smolders every time she looks at Kara’s face. “You betrayed me. Every time you chose not to tell me, you were selfish.”
“I know I was selfish,” Kara snaps. “I know, and I know that disappoints you - ”
“It does disappoint me,” Lena agrees. “It disappoints me that Kara Danvers was a lie that you kept to make me complacent.”
“I don’t owe you my name,” Kara says. “I don’t owe anyone my name.”
“Then you were content with me never truly knowing you at all,” Lena says.
“You know me,” Kara says, loud, spine tight and tall. “You know me, and I know you. I’m not my name. You’re not yours. We’re just us. You can be angry at me, Lena, and you can throw whatever you want at me. But don’t pretend you don’t know me.”
“What do I know about you, Supergirl?” Lena says. “Oh, this is my acquaintance, who goes by…”
“You know what I want on my perfect pizza,” Kara says. “You know that when I’m sad I like to go sit on that pier down by the marina, next to the dog park. You know that I don’t understand the rules to Catan even though I keep telling everyone I do.”
“Here’s the problem,” Lena says. “What’s my name?”
“Lena,” Kara snaps back. Lena thinks for a moment that Kara is interjecting. But she’s answering the question, her arms crossed.
“It’s Lena. My name is Kara. That’s the name my parents gave me, on Krypton, in Rao’s light in the duvehd ahmzet sharreth when I was born in the House of El. And Lena was the name your mother gave you in Metropolis General on December 3rd, 1994. And my - mother named me Kara, for the moon of the planet Phalon, and yours named you Lena, for the sun.”
“Don’t try to make this poetic,” Lena says.
“I’m not trying, Lena,” Kara says. “It just is.”
She reaches up to her eyes and wipes it all away.
She still has a subscription to CatCo, even after selling the company. Jess still delivers her copies of Kara’s articles when she has one published, mixed in with her morning reports. She’s been throwing them away, but they still end up beneath articles about her competitors and about various arms of LCorp’s recent actions.
There’s one about the VR tech, and Kara writes vehemently against it - a typical Kara opinion, one Lena could have anticipated. But she reads it anyway.
When I spoke to the scientists who had built the heart of Obsidian Tech’s products, I was shocked to find that it wasn’t just simple wish fulfillment. I asked Jason Whittier, head of the “cognitive team,” about how the stuff actually worked.
“The VR is a software, and the human brain is the computer running it, is the simplest way of saying it,” Jason says. “The brain creates parameters for the simulation, but the truth is that the human brain can’t account for all the details of real life, right? If you want to create a simulation of a burning building, for instance, and you’re a firefighter trying to train - you may know as much as you possibly can about the building, about fire, so on and so forth, but you can’t compute that environment. Your brain would explode.”
I’ve tested this technology, even with my reservations. It’s as close to real life as I think the cutting edge of modern science could produce. How does the background of these simulations get filled in? How does Whittier’s burning building become a fully-realized vision?
“The funny thing about a human’s perception is that we know more than we think we know,” Jason says. “If you were in a burning building, you’d see the whole thing. Our brains just filter it all out and picks the things it finds important to focus on. So this tech relies on that stuff, the stuff that we know without knowing. We want this tech to be used in therapy, in emergency services training - if you’re in therapy and if your therapist decides it’d be best for you to talk to your mom about childhood trauma, you create the parameters consciously and the unconscious fills in the rest.”
But what if you never really knew your mother, or you’re imagining something less practical, like meeting a celebrity you’ve never met? How does the simulation work then?
“Simply? It doesn’t work as well,” says Whittier. “If you ran the simulation, same parameters each time, you’d come out with different results. But I think you’d be surprised, too, by how much you know even when you think you don’t.”
“I helped conduct the studies that established this product as a therapeutic possibility,” says an anonymous psychologist. “We collected volunteers, confirmed that their therapeutic needs were things that could be helped by this - not, for instance, psychotic disorders or even mood disorders. But people who just need to talk and outlet their thoughts and feelings. And it was helpful for them, to approach situations in this safe environment.”
“I talked to my uncle,” says one of the patients who participated in the study and reached out to answer a few questions. “It’s a long story, but he - sort of disappeared from all our lives when I was about twenty-five. Just up and left. And we were close before all that, and I think I felt for a long time that maybe I hadn’t known him, really. But I talked to him, and the simulation tried to give me answers, but they sounded logical based on who he was. And it was really helpful to me. To help me feel a sort of peace. I think if my uncle showed up randomly tomorrow, I’d still be angry, but I’d at least - I don’t know. Feel okay about talking to him.”
“I’m terrified of spiders, too,” the patient adds. “And in the simulation, I let one walk up my arm and I screamed so much, but I felt - better. Afterward, when I was out and safe. I didn’t feel so scared.”
“I think it’s natural that people would be suspicious,” says Olivia Corriman, who headed the ethics review of the simulation technology. “I was. I still am - I think that this technology could have applications that are not good. And that could be detrimental, and possibly even addictive. Those are things I think we’ve been open about. It’s why it’s age-restricted, use-restricted. It’s why we adapt the technology every week and edit code constantly. But I also think that it could do a lot of good. I think it could help people.”
She throws the article away, and sits, and thinks, and spends so much time doing so that she doesn’t hear Jess over her intercom announcing her first meeting the first three times she tries.
“I need to tell you something,” Supergirl says. Her breath is heaving. She’s got a gaping wound littered with shards of Kryptonite along her stomach. There had once been a time where Lena might have cared about finding out the exact biology of a Kryptonian’s body, largely out of curiosity. But the shredded remains of whatever organs make up Kara’s body don’t interest her as her fingers shake. “I need to. I need to tell you something. Lena. Lena, I need to - ”
“Shut up, Supergirl,” Lena says. She can’t feel her hands. She hadn’t even put on gloves. Her fingers are thick with blood. Alex, across from her, is pulling at green glittering pieces with both hands. It’s frantic. Lena isn’t sure why she’s here. What she wants to learn from this avenue of thought. “Please, just - try to relax.”
“Lena. Lena, I need to tell you something,” Supergirl repeats. Her teeth are chattering. Lena is well aware that her vitals are pitching downward precipitously. Lena is well aware that Eve, the godforsaken villain, has done too much damage. But she tugs at a piece dug into a massive purple internal organ anyway. Blood is everywhere. “Lena. Alex, make her - please.”
“Fucking listen to her,” Alex spits out, throwing a jewel of Kryptonite halfway across the room. There’s no one else there, besides the hovering spectres of J’onn and Brainy and Dreamer, her suit doused in Kara’s blood.
“I’m Supergirl,” Supergirl says, then her mouth twists funny, her head thunking backward when Alex gives a particularly savage pull to a piece of Kryptonite. “No, I’m - I’m Kara. I’m Kara, I’m Supergirl. I love you. I love you.”
“You could’ve waited,” Lena says, and she wants to wipe the tears from her eyes and get out of this awful vision but Kara’s blood would be on her face and she can’t think. Just pulls at the largest pieces she can. “You could’ve told me tomorrow.”
“I don’t think so,” Kara says. “No, I don’t - Alex. Alex. I love you. Tell Eliza thank you.”
“Okay, now you can shut the fuck up,” Alex spits out. “Kara, you’re fine. Just - I don’t know. Look at Lena. Don’t think about this. Don’t think like that.”
“Okay,” Kara says, agreeable as always when it comes to her sister. Her blue eyes are lidded and bloodshot when she slides them over to Lena, a small smile quirking on her face. “Okay. Lena. Lena, I love you.”
“Stop,” Lena says. “Please stop.”
“You should know,” Kara says. “You should - ”
Lena doesn’t reach for her eyes fast enough. She sees Kara’s body go slack under her hands. Hears the flatline.
She sits on her couch and sets her face in her hands and doesn’t think to move until the sun has set. She’s scared; scared that her head has built a thousand different scenarios by now and has come to the same results over and over. Scared when she sees a flash of red cross the skyline outside her apartment, and sad, inexplicably, terribly, when it doesn’t alight on her balcony.
She comes back to it. Produces the same parameters, like Kara’s article, and comes back with the same response.
Kara kisses her on Lena’s living room couch, one hand at Lena’s jaw. Her body curled toward Lena’s. Do you want me to? Yes. Of course. The answer has been yes for years now, burning hot as a brand in Lena’s chest. She had been content to let it roast her from the inside out, or die inside her, ashen.
Kara kisses her and Lena lets her and she doesn’t demand more of her. She sinks into it, sinks into Kara’s body. Lena has thought about kissing Kara at least a hundred thousand times, and this is everything she might have expected and nothing at the same time. Kara’s fingers are soft on her jaw, but they’re firm, in the way that Kara treats Lena in general - gently, but with a boldness that no one has ever thought to try.
There’s gentle brushes of tongue, a deepening of their binding, a treacherous shuddery breath escaping Lena as they press more and more into each other. Kara’s other hand lands at Lena’s side, and Lena’s hands press into Kara’s two strong, defined shoulders. And it’s the perfect kind of kissing, thoughtless and thrilling and she can feel the pooling of arousal inside her after only a minute of the slow tug of war between them.
Kara takes things from inside Lena and spins them into something new and exciting, always has. And when Lena feels Kara tilting further and further her way, she lets herself get gently laid on the leather of her couch. Feels the weight of Kara, settling between her legs and overtop her. And it’s like a dream, like a precious, awful dream.
It feels like a breaking open, a wound exposed to air.
“Why did you not tell me?” Lena gasps, when Kara’s lips ghost onto her neck. “You could have told me and we could have had this.”
“You know now,” Kara says, her breath hot against Lena’s skin. “God, this doesn’t even feel real. I’ve wanted you so badly.”
She lets Kara draw her again into a deep, feverish kiss, before she reaches up to knock the sensation away. It wasn’t real, isn’t real, couldn’t be real. But there’s the barest sense of Kara, all around her.
“I thought we were for each other,” Lena says. Supergirl sits uncomfortably on the other end of the sagging leather couch. “I thought we were - ”
“We are,” Supergirl says, twisting her hands into her cape. “Lena, I didn’t tell you to protect you.”
“Try again,” Lena says, running her finger in the air in a circle. Kelly, settled in her desk chair nods in affirmation.
“I didn’t tell you because it was complicated,” Kara says. “When I met you, I didn’t know you and things - got too messy. It was too late, eventually.”
“Try again,” Kelly says, voice soft. Kara huffs, her cape getting tossed to the side.
“I didn’t tell you because I knew it would hurt you, and I can’t stand the thought of hurting you,” Kara says.
“Again,” Kelly says.
“I didn’t tell you because you’re a Luthor,” Kara spits out. Her eyes betray her frustration.
“Again,” Lena says.
“I didn’t tell you because I never cared at all,” Kara says. “This whole time, I’ve been watching you to make sure you didn’t commit any genocidal maniac crimes.”
“One more,” Kelly says. “The real one. Give her the real one.”
“Because I - because I love you, because I was selfish, because I wanted to be your hero - me, Kara, not - not Supergirl, because that isn’t - I wanted to be yours. I wanted to be yours, and I was so scared to be yours, and I kept us in this stupid space because I couldn’t handle it. Because I didn’t want to hurt you, because I wanted to protect you, because it got too insane, because sometimes you looked at Supergirl like she was a bug and you looked at Kara Danvers like - like she was something. Something good. And I wanted that. I wanted you. I love you. I love you. Lena, I love you.”
It sits in the room like a brick. Kara is breathing hard around the avalanche of words that’s just poured out of her. And Lena - well.
“Is that what you wanted to hear, Lena?” Kelly asks. Her eyes are all too knowing.
The assassin gets in through her office doors, while Kara is mid-review on the new gyro place she’s ordered their lunches from today. The heavy doors fly inward, blown off their hinges. Lena has preparations in place for these things; there’s really no way that a would-be killer could get this close. Her security team is top notch, and there are scanners in the elevators, and Jess is trained to detain anyone who looks even somewhat suspicious by electronically locking Lena’s doors and activating a security protocol.
But it’s her mindscape, her rules, her interest focused on Kara. So the assassin comes through her office doors.
And Kara, her eyes focused on Lena’s face in one second and then hard the next, stands in front of her, bold as can be in the gorgeous purple dress and blazer combination she’s wearing today. Her body swells to full height, and it reminds Lena unbidden of Kara looking at Morgan Edge. She turns the memory over, seeing Supergirl hovering in front of the same awful man. God, she should have known.
There are a thousand places she should have known.
Even now, if she didn’t have the knowledge, she wonders if she could see it in this moment. Kara’s hands brace on her hips, her legs slightly spread. It’s all power pose, all imposition. The assassin stutters in the doorway before his gun raises higher.
“Get out of the way,” he says. He looks like a C-list villain. Lena lets it go.
“You think I’m going to get out of your way so you can kill my friend?” Kara asks. She almost sounds amused. “No thanks. I’m sure the police are on their way.”
“You think I won’t shoot you?” the guy says, his gun shaking in his hands.
“No, actually,” Kara says, shrugging, taking one step forward. All confidence. If Lena hadn’t recognized the streak of Supergirl in Kara’s stance just now, she imagines she’d be terribly frightened and anxious. She feels a slight twinge of it anyway. “Why don’t you give me the - ”
He fires, and then immediately drops the gun, and sprints away. Kara does not crumple. Kara makes a huffing noise, then pauses, then bends over at the waist, her hand pressing into her stomach. Lena can’t help but feel amusement at the play. She wonders, on some level, what it must be like to feel no pain. To be hit with a bullet and not worry. It’s hard to look at a gun and not see her brother’s face these days.
She almost doesn’t bother waiting to see what excuses Kara comes up with when she turns. But Kara turns anyway, before Lena can reach for her eyes.
“Is this what you wanted?” Kara asks, simply, her hands caught at her stomach where blood is starting to seep through her fingers.
She doesn’t know what it is she’s looking for, in these mindscapes. It’s like a splinter, wedged into her skin. Sometimes she slips into it without an expectation or an exact thought. She lets her subconscious take her where it wills. She lets Kara exist as a guidepost, central and strong and unchanging.
It takes her to Krypton.
“Ambassador Luthor, it is a pleasure to welcome you to our planet,” says Alura. Lena has obviously never met Kara’s father, but she imagines now as she looks at the flowing dark ringlets of her mother that he must have been blonde. And boisterous, too, if one is to believe that a child is an approximation of its two parents. When Lena had met Alura on Earth, in her real world, she had been impressed by the dignity and grace that had so clearly transferred to Supergirl’s bearing. She thinks, now, of the time Kara had seen a plumeria sitting in her office: it reminds me of my mother.
She understands it differently now. She had understood it then, too, had felt a growing pang of familiarity for the girl in front of her with the wan smile. And it’s different now.
“Thank you,” Lena says. “It is an honor to be welcomed, and to have finally arrived.”
She’s thought about the mechanical needs of a ship to reach Krypton before this. The technology of humanity, even boosted by Lena’s intellect and skill, wouldn’t be able to do it without a long-term mission and a ship of hundreds, with room for growth of the population. But she’s seen now that the universe is larger than even her brother had thought. She’s thought about modifying a ship for the purpose of travelling to the remains, yes, but why?
“We are grateful for your safe travels under the light of Rao,” Alura says. She smiles, turning and extending her arm. There’s Kara, her hair long and nearly identical in shape if not color to her mother’s. “This is my daughter, Kara. We understand that you are an impressive person and that you would surely like to begin your studies as soon as possible, but the Council and I thought you might like to have a companion of similar age to accompany you, rather than any of us elders.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ambassador Luthor,” Kara says, though it takes a few quick moments for her to speak. She bows, low. Lena knows only some of what Krypton’s trappings are, but Kara is dressed in a flowing blue dress that mimics the one her mother had worn on Earth. The symbol of her house is small at her shoulder.
“And you as well,” Lena says, simply. Alura’s smile has been warm but practiced, one of a diplomat greeting an important guest. But Kara has no such illusion to her. Kara smiles her bright smile, a little goofy looking, the one that had entranced Lena the first time she saw it, and Lena feels as though she’s lost all over again. “Though you can call me Lena.”
“Lena,” Kara repeats, a little breathless. Her eyes glitter so differently and so much the same under the light of a red sun. Lena remembers why, now.
CatCo submits a request for a comment about the recent rise in Obsidian Tech’s stocks and Lena’s own comments on the technology as a thought leader in the field. She gives back a no comment; James emails. She ignores it, and then Nia texts, and then, eventually, hours later, Kara calls. She doesn’t bother acknowledging them.
She expands the parameters further, and tries to find something surprising. It doesn’t work.
The Kryptonian in the lab is young. Her age. She’s been kept away from sunlight by Lex’s machinations, and so her powers are not so advanced as Superman’s. Her understanding of English is impressive for someone who’s been kept in a leaded basement for almost her entire time on Earth, where she’s only been visited by members of the Luthor family.
“I’m leaving, soon,” Lena says. She had told Lex she was going down to the lab to run a few more tests before she had to leave for Boston. But she hasn’t run any tests on the Kryptonian in years, and Lex has never cared to hear about her supposed research.
“Leaving?” the Kryptonian asks. She’s been showered recently, most likely due to the gash running down her forearm, stitched up lazily by her mother’s hand. They sit closely on the little run down couch that Lillian had relegated to the lab as a supposed gift after she had caught Lena and a boarding school friend kissing on it. The Kryptonian is warm, runs hotter than a human, and it’s cold in the lab - so they sit close. “Where?”
“Um, Boston,” Lena says. “I’m going to college. I mean, I’m going to go learn.”
“Boston,” the Kryptonian repeats. “Boston - Massachusetts?”
She traces the shape of Massachusetts perfectly in the air. Her memory is nearly eidetic, from what they can understand. Facts are easily memorable to her, even if idioms escape her.
“Yeah,” Lena says. “I wanted to - I wanted to see you before I go.”
The Kryptonian is frowning. Lena’s always thought that the little crinkle between her eyebrows when she’s thinking too hard or is upset was adorable, a funny little quirk to her.
“I’ll miss you,” Lena says. The Kryptonian frowns deeper, her eyes darting from Lena’s face to things around the room. Lena’s surprised that the words have even left her mouth. Yes, she’s probably formed the closest connection to the Kryptonian out of the three of them, but they aren’t necessarily - friends. Just people who sit on a couch together and try to talk around the worlds between them.
“Me too,” the Kryptonian says. “I - my name is Kara.”
“Kara,” Lena repeats blankly. Lena had wondered if the Kryptonian had a name, if they had names at all on Krypton. Lex or Lillian had never cared. She wonders, exactly, why it is that this version of Kara, clearly abused by her family’s cruelty more harshly than in their own reality, wants to give her this.
Kara reaches for her hand, and Lena feels the familiar warmth of her leech into Lena’s skin, lighting up the nerves of her arm.
“I wanted you to know,” Kara says. Her eyes are unblinking, boring into Lena’s. That was a funny thing they had learned, that Kryptonians didn’t need to blink in the same way humans did. There’s a growing shimmer in Kara’s blue ones now. “You should know, Lena.”
Something about the bold honesty breaks her. She bursts into tears. Immediately, she’s enveloped in that warmth, Kara smelling somewhat like dish soap, but something beneath that cloying smell so distinctly Kara to her that she melts under it. She didn’t know that the Kryptonian would even know how to hug. She must’ve seen it in a movie.
“Don’t be sad,” Kara whispers into her ear. “Don’t be sad, please, Lena.”
She is sad. Sad that her mind has taken her here, sad that Kara would hold her like this in any universe. Sad that she can’t imagine a world where she doesn’t believe that. Sad that despite how mad she is at Kara, how hurt by her she is, she can’t manage to rip this desperate hope out of her heart. That she can’t face Kara and not care. Sad that she’s been lied to for good reasons but for too long. Sad that she’s so sad.
She presses her face into the loose fabric of the grey t-shirt on Kara’s body, and cries and cries and cries, Kara whispering over and over until what she’s whispering isn’t even English. Lena doesn’t know Kryptonian besides a cursory vocabulary developed via Lex’s obsession. But she wants, all of a sudden, to know it, to dig her hands into Kara and feel every inch of her.
Maybe it isn’t all of a sudden. Maybe that’s the problem at the heart of this.
“Let’s go,” Lena says, pulling her head away. Kara looks at her in confusion, her eyes concerned and wet. “Let’s go, Kara.”
“Go where?” Kara asks, her head tilting in confusion. Lena grabs Kara’s hand, her fingers brushing over scars.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” Lena says. “And we can hide. Together.”
Lena isn’t - totally certain that she would have done this if it were real. When she went to college at sixteen, she was impulsive and bratty. But she imagines, truthfully, that she would recognize Kara’s twin soul anywhere. That there is no circumstance that does not end with them wound in each other. For better or for worse. And that there are a thousand things Lena has done and would do for Kara. And honestly, who cares? It’s her ridiculous imagination piecing this together. If she can save this Kara, even if it’s not real - it’s worth it.
She watches Kara - bruised and uncertain, eyes wide - slowly smile at her.
Jack comes to her office in Luthor Tower - the old one, the one on the twelfth floor with the messy R&D blueprints everywhere - with a bright smile on his face, a cup of coffee in his hand. Her office took up a corner view, but it was smaller and packed with books and bits and bobs. She had a little workbench, even, that Lex repeatedly had told her was against fire code. Sometimes he said it with amusement, as he eyed whatever it was that was sitting on there, in that easy, dismissive way. Other times, it was serious. You should care more about these things, Lena. One day you might be the one responsible for the fire that burns us down.
Anyway, Jack. He’s handsome, like always, happy to see her. That had been one of Lena’s favorite things about him, that even when he was upset with her about something, he had always been so happy to see her. And seeing him was -
“Hello,” Jack laughs, when Lena wraps her arms around him tight. The simulation does a good enough job of making her feel it. She gets something resembling an olfactory stimulation that makes her feel like his cologne is in her nose. His arm pulls around her and press into the space between her shoulder blades. “Yes, I know, you love coffee and by extension anyone who brings you any.”
“Or maybe I love you, just in general,” Lena says, and then there’s a familiar scruffy sensation when he leans down to press a kiss to her lips. “What brings you here?”
“Just thought I should visit my lovely girlfriend of several years,” Jack says, handing over the coffee and folding himself into one of the guest chairs across from her desk. Immediate flares of suspicion roll up her spine, and so she just watches him as he adjusts his loose tie and picks at a shoelace.
“Why are you bribing me with coffee?” Lena asks flatly. Jack snorts, tilting his head to the side and back.
“I’ve got an interview tonight,” Jack says. “About BioMax, and its launch.”
“That’s wonderful,” Lena says.
“It is,” Jack says, nodding and looking behind Lena. “Yes, except the reporter - well, she scares me.”
Lena snorts, and then pauses, looking down at her desk. The newspaper there has an above-the-fold image of Supergirl smiling. Super Cousin Visits Metropolis! the paper screams. There’s a post-it note from Lex slapped on it, a childish looking doodle of a stick figure with a skirt and cape. The vision fast forwards:
Kara is wearing a thick looking sweater and pea coat, shuffling her feet outside one of the nicer restaurants in town. Her hair is half-up, half-down, and Lena just can’t take her eyes off her.
“I forgot to mention that she might be your type,” Jack whispers into Lena’s ear as they approach. She reaches up to sock him in the arm, but he only laughs, drawing Kara’s head up from the notepad in her hands. She feels those blue eyes on her immediately.
“Mr. Spheer, it’s nice to see you again,” Kara says, professional and smiling that disarming smile. “And I see you’ve brought a friend.”
“Yes, but truthfully, she’s the brains behind all my operations,” Jack says, his arm slipping around Lena’s waist.
“Nice to meet you, I’m - ”
“Lena,” Kara interrupts, her smile softening up around the edges, her hand reaching out to meet Lena’s in the gulf between them. It softens Lena’s resolve to carry this vision through to whatever natural conclusion it could reach. God, she’s not sure she even wants to know. It was hard enough to break Jack’s heart once. “Lena Luthor. I know who you are.”
“Right. And you are?”
Kara’s hand is still warm around Lena’s, her eyes focused and hot, and Jack’s arm is still around Lena’s back, and Metropolis is freezing cold around all three of them. And Lena just - can’t do this.
She receives a text from Alex: Look, I don’t know why you and Kara aren’t talking, but it’s kind of killing her and I am willing to play mediator if I absolutely have to. Can you call me? Or her?
There’s a strong impulse to simply delete the number, but she doesn’t. She’s seen enough now to know that she’d hate herself more than she already does if she burned all her bridges. Even when she was afraid to cross them.
“I’m angry with you,” Lena says. Kara is sitting at the other end of James’s office at CatCo, looking at her curiously from the couch. She wonders sometimes what Kara sees when she looks at Lena in these moments. She knows what she wants her board members to see, or what she wants clients to see, or even other CatCo employees. She wonders what Kara saw that very first day, sometimes.
The vision pulls sideways then, a sickening rumble as her interest follows that thread. Kara is looking at her from across her desk at LCorp, a soft smile on her face as she adjusts her glasses. They’re having lunch; it’s their first lunch, somewhat awkward and stilted. But there’s a thrum of something something something there, and Lena has gone a few months without that sense. Kara is new, fresh, and naive - blind to the cruelties of the world. It’s so apparent when she looks at Lena.
She’s used to people regarding her a certain way, is all. And Kara hadn’t. Doesn’t. Not when she’s Kara, at least.
“What did you think of me, when you first met me?” Lena asks, interrupting Kara’s ebullient thoughts on last night’s episode of some reality show named Stag that she watches with Winn and Alex.
“I thought you were - ” Kara starts, then stops. She adjusts her glasses. “I was with Clark. And I thought he was being kind of - harsh. And you were just. Not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected, maybe, but you weren’t that.”
“Are you saying that because that’s what I want to hear?” Lena asks, bemused, blinking down at the meal in front of her. A caesar with extra chicken. Kara had ordered the extra chicken with a promise that a few extra proteins wouldn’t kill her, and a bright smile, and Lena had felt so endeared to her. It’d been a long time since someone had thought to second guess her, or treat her with any such kindness.
“No,” Kara says, shrugging. “This will sound weird, but I don’t really - I want to be honest with you. I trust you.”
“Do you?” Lena asks, more to herself than not. Kara reacts anyways, taking a deep breath before she smiles that beautiful smile, the loose one that Lena was sometimes certain was only for her.
“Yeah,” Kara says. Like it’s a big thing. If this had truly happened, Lena might have attributed it to someone solidifying a connection with a Luthor, the immensity of it. Now, she sees it more clearly - it’s not just Kara choosing to align herself with a Luthor. It’s Supergirl. “I do.”
“I trusted you, too,” Lena says, softly. Kara’s face falls to confusion, and Lena reaches for her eyes.
“Do you want me to?” Kara asks, her hand brushing the skin of Lena’s neck. Her palm is warm, but not damp, and she is looking at Lena intently. If Lena were a little more sentimental, she might pause this moment, and exist in the eternity of it. This endless horizon of almost, the sweet, heavy, burning kind that Kara is exuding. But she’s not. And this moment can exist in perpetuity anyways. There’s no point in trying to save it.
“Yes,” Lena says. And Kara kisses her.
Kara kisses her, and Lena kisses her back, and it feels just like the same life-affirming love that had suffused the last time she had imagined this. Kara’s hand settles on her hip, Lena’s reaches for Kara’s shoulders. Kara is strong - Lena knows this both objectively on the basis of Supergirl’s superstrength and because Kara doesn’t mind when she carries Lena’s coat and Lena’s bag and two bags of takeout while Lena pays. Lena wonders, exactly how Kara’s muscles develop - if they stay toned and obvious because she uses them regularly to fight evils, or if it’s some sort of inborn genetic trait.
The point is, Lena feels the muscles of Kara’s shoulders tense when Lena pushes just slightly and leverages herself up onto Kara’s lap, one leg slinging over. It’s been a while since Lena’s acted her age and made out with someone on a couch. But Kara drags her deep, the hand at her jaw sifting into Lena’s hair. Kissing is a funny thing to want to do with someone, really, but kissing Kara feels so good and essential to her that she forgets to think too much. All of a sudden, her hips are shifting down and searching for friction. All of a sudden, Kara is letting a small noise leak out. All of a sudden, Lena is gripping at the collar of Kara’s shirt and biting at the skin of her earlobe. She doesn’t bother being gentle; Kara certainly can’t tell what is and isn’t an appropriate amount of force.
She wants Kara to feel this, to feel it the way Lena does, to feel the weight of them together. She wants to affect Kara in reply to the way Kara has affected her.
And Kara, God, Kara moans when Lena latches on and licks and kisses. Her hands press tight into Lena’s head and her hip, and then their lips are back on each other.
“Take me to bed,” Lena says, more into Kara’s mouth than not, and Kara moans again. Lena feels her hands flex independently of each other once, twice, three times before she’s pulling away and looking at Lena, the blue of her eyes cobalt and wide open. She’s breathing hard. “Please, Kara.”
She doesn’t know what she expects. To be swifted to bed and taken care of; to be denied by a shy Kara Danvers, maybe. But she doesn’t get that.
“I want to,” Kara breathes. “But I - Lena, I need to tell you something. Before we...um. Go further. Fuck.”
“Why don’t we try the fucking first?” Lena asks. She’s drowned, honestly. She doesn’t even question what it is Kara wants to tell her. She’s finally figured out how most of the world uses this damned technology, and for once, she feels like guiltily indulging.
“No, it’s important,” Kara says, her hands pressing in hard to keep Lena from tilting her way. It’s strong, firm, and Lena realizes then what’s coming. “Lena, I’m Super - ”
“Lena,” Kara says. But it’s Supergirl, hovering over her body. Everything is a bit hazy. There’s a smoky smell to the vision around her, and a convincing simulation of pain radiating out of her leg. “Lena, hey, Lena.”
“Kara,” Lena croaks out. She can’t really lift her head - hurts too much - so she clenches her hand on whatever’s in her hand and tries to breathe. But she can’t really breathe either.
She can’t even imagine what a therapist would say when it came to this. What do you want out of this? To hurt her, or to hurt yourself? Or is it both?
It’s Supergirl’s hand in hers. And Supergirl is nodding, her long hair flowing freely, sooty and blackened in parts. There are no glasses on her face.
“Yeah it’s - it’s Kara, Lena,” Supergirl says, nodding and raising her free hand to her face to wipe away a streak of tear trailing through ash. “It’s Kara. I’m right here.”
“Okay,” Lena says. “I miss you.”
“I’m right here,” Supergirl says, tugging at Lena’s hand and pressing it right into the symbol over her chest. “I’m right here, please, Lena, try to stay awake. They told me I couldn’t move you, but they’re on the way - ”
“It’s okay,” Lena says. Kara’s chest heaves under their joined hands. “It’s okay, Kara.”
“It’s not,” Kara whispers, hunching forward, her head hovering somewhere over Lena’s chest. “It’s not, I thought we could - I thought that we were getting there. I thought we were going to get our chance. Please, please, Lena, stay awake. I’m right here.”
“I - ”
And the world ends suddenly. Lena blinks back to her office only to find a message blinking up at her from her computer.
Kara Danvers here to see you. Send her away?
Right here, indeed. Of course.
Yes. And close my office for the day. I’m going home.
“I’m Guardian,” James says. His face is doleful, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. At first, there’s abject concern - even if she feels as though their relationship ran its course relatively naturally aside from Lex’s machinations to kill the man, he’s a person she cares about deeply. At the moment he had told her, she had been more than worried. Panicked even.
Maybe it’s telling that her first thought had been of Kara. Does Kara know? And then the now-tragic cascade of worries: If Kara knows, she’d want to help, and then Kara would be in danger. Kara would never let him do this alone. And then, eventually, Lena’s mind had arrived to a more natural place: maybe I can help.
It had been telling. She had known it was telling, that her first thought upon her boyfriend telling her he’s a widely feared vigilante was not concern for him but for someone else entirely. But Lena had worked her whole life to wall off the kind of second guessing that would follow in anyone else’s thoughts. And she was also entirely aware that her feelings for Kara were not outstripped by her feelings for James. So she had skipped past that, at the time.
“Does Kara know?” she asks. James’s face had always read relatively easily to her - he had never bothered to keep his emotions in check. It was somewhat refreshing, considering Lena spent most of her time around businesspeople, scientists, and government agents. Kara had been an interesting exception to this rule: Lena could read the emotions on her face when they occurred, but she always wanted to know more. Wanted to dig deeper, to dive deep. It was another telling thing in a long line of telling things that when James’s face immediately flashes to hurt before it smoothed to confusion, she didn’t care much to investigate.
“Um. Yeah. She does - but don’t be upset with her for keeping it from you. It’s my secret,” James says, then gives an uneasy grin that’s trying to masquerade as comfortable. “You know. Secret identity and all.”
“And you thought I didn’t deserve to know,” Lena says.
“You do deserve to know,” James says, looking confused. “That’s why I’m telling you.”
Lena considers this. It’s rational. James hadn’t really known her very well up until this moment, after they’d been dating for a few months and had started to trust each other. If Lena were a vigilante, like those Batpeople in Gotham, she wouldn’t go around telling people. And James, whether he chooses to admit it or not, has reason to not trust Lena that go deeper than not. James had been instrumental in Clark Kent’s journalistic crusade on Lex and his legacy. He had seen her family up close. But he had looked past that by this moment. And she knows what happened. She forgave him for hiding it from her - it was natural, to want to keep it under wraps, and it was natural, too, to not tell her immediately. She had hid plenty from him, anyway.
“Guardian,” Lena says, slowly. James nods. He looks anxious, his large hands reaching for one of her hers slowly. “Do you know who the Supers are, then?”
“I mean, your watch,” she says, indicating it. “Superman gave it to you. Do you know who they are?”
“No,” he says. He does not smile. “Me being a guy in a suit fighting guys in the streets is one thing, but I don’t know. If I was Superman or Supergirl I think I’d try to tell as few people as possible. You’ve seen how much people hate aliens in general, and you’ve seen...”
“How much people can hate the Supers in particular,” Lena says, allowing him that. Yes, she had witnessed her brother turn the sun red. She wonders what Kara was thinking on that day, briefly. What had it been like, to suddenly be separated from unnatural powers. “But still. They must tell some people.”
“Maybe,” James says, shrugging a bit too largely. She lets him stew in it for a moment.
“Thank you for trusting me,” Lena says. It comes out authentically. It had been a shock that he wanted to share it with her at all, to be honest. She still feels the relief of it. Of she and Winn working on the lead device, of Alex calling her begging for her help with the Kryptonite poisoning. How it had felt to be trusted by people who weren’t just grudgingly accepting her help.
“It’s not really about trust,” James says, after a second. “I mean. I do trust you, but it’s more like...it’s not about trusting you with my secret. It’s about trusting you enough to come home to you. That if things went wrong, you could be there. Or if I needed help. I don’t want there to be barriers between us.”
“Barriers,” Lena says. It feels like a sledgehammer to the head.
“Yeah,” James says, his hand brushing up the skin of her arm until he’s pulling her into an embrace. It feels almost feathery in the way that the tech implements it. “But I don’t want any with you.”
She lets him wrap her up. But as always, she’s thinking about Kara.
“Would you have ever told me?” Lena asks. Kara has her head in her hands, eyes red. Her glasses are clenched in one fist. She sits on her couch like a normal human being, looking heartbroken. It reminds Lena, unbidden, of Jack watching her pack up her suitcase. “Were you ever going to tell me? Or were you happy to keep me away?”
“Of course I wasn’t happy,” Kara spits, mostly at the floor. That’s fine, Lena doesn’t need to see her tears right now. “I was going to tell you. After we figured out Lex, that was my plan, you can - you can ask Alex, and J’onn, and James, I talked to all of them about it.”
“You almost died fighting Reign, you went to - a whole other planet with your stupid ex-boyfriend. Who I almost killed by the way, and forced you to send into - space and time,” Lena says. “What was the plan, if Supergirl died, or got sent away? Hope Lena never asks where Kara’s gone?”
“There was no plan,” Kara says. “Or if there was, I didn’t make it. I just - I couldn’t - ”
“Are we friends?” Lena asks.
“Yes, of course,” Kara says, looking up from her hands. “You’re my best friend, Lena.”
“And you love me,” Lena says. “Or so you’ve said.”
Kara cracks her neck, her eyes closing as she tosses her glasses onto her coffee table. Her face goes back in her hands.
“Yes, I love you,” Kara says. She looks somewhat harangued, but Lena doesn’t care. Lena is angry, wants to shake Kara until she realizes how much Lena hurts.
“I don’t blame you anymore for not telling me immediately or even - several months in,” Lena says, and means it, surprisingly. “But why did you wait so long, when you knew it would only make this worse?”
“Because I didn’t want to hurt you,” Kara says, sighing.
“Then why didn’t you do it when the chance was there, like with Sam, or Mon-el?” Lena asks.
“Because I didn’t - I wanted you to - ”
“You wanted to be Kara, and not Supergirl,” Lena says. “But you are Supergirl. I understand perfectly well how she’s a mask and a - I don’t know, selective version of you, but you are her. And I deserved to know both halves of you. I wanted to know both halves of you. I wanted to know - all of you.”
“I love you,” Kara says, as though that is an answer to Lena’s statement. But she picks her head up from her hands and looks at Lena flat on. “I love you so much more than I was ever prepared to. And I’m so - scared, all of the time, of losing you. Over little things, even, not just - this.”
Lena pauses. Kara takes a mile.
“Like, when you got arrested, and CatCo tried to publish this awful hit piece on you, and the DEO didn’t trust you, but I believed so much in you that I just sort of. Lost my mind, a little bit. You almost got bailed out of prison by Supergirl beating down the doors,” Kara says. “And...I have nightmares, about you dying. Because people keep trying to kill you. I think about if I hadn’t stopped those murder drones in that helicopter attack, and what if I had never really known you, what if I had never really got to be your - ”
Kara’s voice cracks. But she keeps talking.
“But like I said, it’s little things, too, like when you were dating James and you kept cancelling our Saturday brunches that were really just lunches. And when you refuse to join my Monopoly team.”
“Monopoly isn’t a team game,” Lena says, as she always does. And Kara laughs, as she always does, reaching up to wipe at her eyes.
“I know I should’ve told you,” Kara says. “But there are a lot of things I should’ve told you. I was scared. Love is scary, and I’ve never loved anyone like this.”
“Love is scary,” Lena says. Love is scary in the sense that she’s trying again at a scenario that she’s not sure will ever come to pass; love is scary in the sense that she’s trying again because she wants, so desperately to find some sort of peace with this. With Kara.
“Can you forgive me for this, Lena?” Kara asks. There’s hope in her eyes.
Jess brings her a bag of Big Belly Burger one afternoon, around two, and delivers it with a pointed look. Lena doesn’t bother asking how Jess knew Lena’s guilty favorite.
“Why did you not tell me?” Kara asks. They’re standing on that awful beach two hours north of Metropolis, Kara’s arms wrapped around her. The sensation of warmth being created through her skin by the simulation, though, is not the same as what it’s like to be ensconced in Kara’s true warmth. “You can tell me anything, Lena. I’ll love you no matter what.”
“Me too,” Lena mumbles into the fabric of Kara’s thick sweater, wishing badly that she could feel this moment, and lets Kara hold her tighter.
“No, it’s important,” Kara says, her chest rising and falling as her hand rests against Lena’s neck. “Lena, I’m Supergirl.”
Lena nods slowly. Kara looks like she might cry.
“I know,” Lena whispers, and the tears do fall from Kara’s eyes then. Her fingers twitch against Lena’s skin, and Lena - for the first time in a long time, she wants that feeling to be real, and not an electrical impulse being triggered by a virtual reality entwining with her neurological system. To feel every individual whorl on Kara’s individual finger.
“And I love you,” Kara says, adds on. “I love you so much.”
“I know,” Lena says, reaching up to brush away a tear from Kara’s eye before she grasps the frames of Kara’s glasses and pulls them away. “I love you too.”
And Kara kisses her, hard, like there’s nothing else in the world. No barriers that could keep them apart, in the end. Lena has felt for a long time that she and Kara were two ends of one line, twisting around and around in the hopes that they could one day meet in a perfect, precise circle. She had wondered if they ever would. She still does.
But she’ll take this, if it’s all she ever gets.
In the end, after this Kara wrings a shuddering and strange, distanced orgasm from her that tingles but doesn’t roll the way a real one does, she cries. And Kara holds her, tight, pressing kisses to her face and wiping away the tears.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Kara says. “Talk to me, Lena. Just talk to me.”
Her doorbell rings, loud in the silence of her living room. She’s reading another article of Kara’s, of course, and then - she’s there. The camera reveals Kara’s form shuffling in the doorway. Lena knows that Kara can see her through the door. A few months ago, she would have just ignored her and let Kara feel the sting of the same rejection Lena feels simmering deep inside of her. She would have let the barriers she had thrown up stay up.
She opens the door to her apartment to find Kara standing there, her shoulders low and eyes wide behind the lenses of her glasses. She’s fiddling with them when Lena opens the door, clearly lost in thought. Lena had seen her on the camera tug at them back and forth, shuffling her feet and the things in her arms.
Kara is holding a vase of plumeria flowers in one hand, and a bag of food from Lena’s favorite Italian place in the other. Lena can smell the flowers from here, intermingling with Kara’s darker, heavier perfume. Kara looks altogether shocked that Lena’s even opened the door, her shoulders rising as she takes in a breath. Lena is surprised too.
“Lena,” Kara says, her blue eyes looking Lena over slowly. “Hi. Um. I didn’t - I know you’ve been avoiding me, and I don’t really know why but - well. I was hoping we could talk. I really need to talk to you, actually, so even if you don’t - even if you don’t want to talk to me. Could I please talk to you?”
Lena reaches out one hand and lets her hands feel the solid, real, waxy sensation of the flower’s petals. Closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before she looks in Kara’s blue eyes. It’s funny, that you can feel eyes on you like physical brands. The air around them feels just as heavy, even as Kara’s words send ripples through the space.
“Do you know what plumerias mean?” Lena asks. Kara stares at her, like she’s surprised to hear Lena’s voice.
“Yes,” Kara says, her voice rough. There’s a trigger then, of Kara’s voice just like that in Lena’s ear. But that was a fantasy, hewn from Lena’s wants. Kara’s face now, resolute and frightened and resigned and sad. Her face twists, starting with a quick smile and ending on a downward frown, her eyes shining and bright. “I mean, I had to google it, and there were a bunch of different definitions, but - yes.”
Lena can’t help it. It’s so undeniably Kara, a quirk that Lena’s head could only catch the ghost of. Real and standing here, watching Lena so steadily and carefully.
She laughs, softly, for the first time in what feels like forever, pressing at the petal long enough that its oiliness bleeds into her fingers before she lets it go like a taut breath. “Alright. Come in.”
And she lets Kara in.