Lena can’t dance.
It’s what she tries to tell Lillian, pleading with her to excuse her from the dancing lessons, the latest of the tortures her mother subjects her to under the guise of proper upbringing . She’s sixteen now, which means she can be presented at the Metropolis Founders’ Ball, which means dance lessons for months beforehand, because no Luthor would be allowed to embarrass themselves on such an occasion.
“Luthors are not whiners . Or quitters,” Lillian declares, icy as ever. “You will not disgrace the family name.”
Lillian thinks she’s too lazy to learn, too awkward to carry herself with the required grace, or just too sullen and stubborn in her rebellious teenage years to obey her. She could abide none of that.
She’s also dead wrong.
Lena fences, and does it exceptionally well. She knows control, precision, grace, she has the agility and strength to carry herself through an entire tournament. It’s not the physical exertion that she has a problem with, not the challenge of mastering the right steps and the elegant moves. It’s her partners, the slimy, arrogant teenage heirs of the great Metropolis fortunes, their condescending smiles, clammy hands, and two left feet, the way they yank her around and grope at her waist. (Jack wouldn’t do that to her – Jack might even make the whole damn ball bearable, make her laugh and take good care not to step on her toes – but Lillian makes sure he’ll never be paired with her.) It’s the feeling of being paraded around like it’s 1850, like their parents would already be busy discussing dowries as they dance in the great hall below. It’s the abject hatred of the whole charade that petrifies Lena’s limbs, makes her moves stiff, ungainly, and half-hearted at best. She suffers through it with a strained smile and bile in her mouth, and tears off her dress when they get back to the mansion at the end of the night.
She doesn’t want to dance ever again.
Lena won’t dance again until Andrea comes along and makes her want to try .
They are in their room at Mount Helena the first time Andrea puts on music and beckons her to join, and Lena feels her heart jump in her chest.
“I can’t dance,” she protests, the refusal as instinctive as it is immediate. She doesn’t say that she thinks she might faint if she takes Andrea’s hand, if she lets her spin her around like those boys at the ball.
“I’ll teach you then,” Andrea keeps smiling, hand extended. “C’mon, you jump…”
Lena takes her hand before she could finish.
They spend their afternoons stumbling through the most basic steps of bachata after that, giggling as they cling to each other. It feels like something out of a fever dream, following the pace Andrea sets, letting herself indulge in the slow, intimate motions of their dance. The space they have is barely sufficient, hardly allowing for more than a couple of tight turns, but there, in their cramped room, tucked into her best friend’s arms, Lena finally feels a freedom she’s never known before.
Dancing with Andrea is a revelation, a most extraordinary gift. She holds Lena gently, almost reverently when they draw each other close, her touch always so soft like she’s afraid that Lena might break. She stays patient even when Lena messes up for the dozenth time, too lost in the blue of her friend’s eyes to concentrate. And Andrea laughs in their headmistress’ face when she tries to forbid them from going to the prom together, and makes sure they have their first slow-dance right in the middle of the dance floor, stuffy conventions and furious teachers be damned.
“She’s gonna give you hell,” Lena whispers, and Andrea shrugs and holds Lena tighter, pressing their foreheads together. Lena can feel the way she trembles, see the usual mischievous look in her eye giving way to something almost anxiously tender.
“It’s worth it.”
She’s right, of course.
Lena thinks about how the cliché of just having to find the right partner must be true every time they dance afterwards, all through their college years, at the all-too-loud bars Andrea drags Lena to during their weekends, or in their dorm rooms, tipsy and carefree and happy . She thinks about it when they dance on the veranda of the Rojas’ country house on their summer breaks, swaying to cheesy pop songs as the sun sets on the horizon, arms wrapped around each other’s waist, Lena resting her head on Andrea’s shoulder. She thinks about it every time they settle into their perfect harmony, hearts beating as one when they move, and Lena feels safe. Content. Loved , like never before.
Lena’s heart breaks when it turns out Andrea wouldn’t be the right one , after all.
A universe has to be torn apart and pieced back together for Lena to find herself in the right partner’s arms.
And it only happens as an accident.
For years and years, Lena never dances with Kara. She feels unworthy, first, to even dare to think about touching someone so bright, so virtuous, while the stain of the Luthor name is still fresh and foul. She watches Kara dance with that greasy manchild from CatCo at her gala instead, suffering the pang of jealousy that strikes her heart in silence, suffocating the desire to be the one who gets to spin around Kara and make her throw her head back in delighted laughter.
The jealousy mellows into a dull, persistent ache as their bond grows stronger. Kara finds her way into Lena’s heart with alarming speed, charms her despite Lena’s best efforts at resistance. Her resolution never to love again, never to place her trust in another, cracks and withers with every smile Kara gives her, every warm hug and kind word. She’s parched for the affection, the tenderness, the reassurance that everyone else denies her ever since Lex, and Kara is happy to dole it out in spades, asking for nothing in return.
Kara is the first to hear her name and not see sister of the mass-murdering maniac serving seventy-one life sentences but Lena, the first to look at her and see the woman whose testimonies put Lex and Lillian behind bars, who foiled Cadmus’ plan and saved the aliens of National City, who twisted CatCo out of Edge’s paws. Kara is the reason why Lena no longer feels like she’s fighting an uphill battle in clearing her family name and steering L-Corp into a bright new future, the reason why Lena’s desperate defiance slowly changes into confidence. If someone so utterly, thoroughly good as Kara believes that the Luthor name might stand for good, after all, then who is Lena to question her?
Kara changes her life in every way, changes her more than Lena could have ever thought possible. And in the process, Lena falls, inevitably, tragically, and falls hard .
She can handle it, Lena decides very early on. She knows that she could not ever be worthy of Kara’s love like that: her conviction only grows stronger once Kara unbuttons her shirt with a shy, shaky smile, and reveals the shining crimson S beneath it. Lena forbids herself of even dreaming of such things, then, and shoves her feelings far, far down in her heart. But the friendship can still be kept, nourished, so Lena draws a meticulous list in her head of permissible and forbidden , of the ways she might allow herself to receive and return Kara’s affections.
Dancing is not one of them.
She allows the hugs, the cuddles on the couch, the occasional kiss on the cheek; the normal, well-worn gestures of friendship whose absence might even cause alarm. She lets herself card her hand through Kara’s hair when they’re huddled up together during a movie night, laughing when Kara presses into her touch like a cat; though not without a pang of guilt. She lets the interlocked arms when they walk together pass, and Kara’s hand on the small of her back along with the protective looming over her with squared shoulders too, though it starts to feel distinctly unlike something friends would do every time Kara escorts her through a crowd like that. She doesn’t object when Kara starts leaning closer during their conversations than strictly necessary, linking their fingers together whenever they sit for lunch, or calling Lena babe with alarming frequency. It’s only friendly . Perfectly normal. She’s affectionate like that.
But dancing is out of the question.
Kara asks a number of times: out at girls’ nights, the nights she gets a bit tipsy at the alien dive bar, and once even at a CatCo gala, leaving Lena’s heart hammering in her throat before she could press her lips into a strained smile and politely decline. But then whatever she thinks of Lena’s steadfast refusals, she gets the gist of them, only flashing Lena a warm smile before tugging Alex or Nia or Kelly away instead. And Lena watches her, every time, with a profound heartache, watches the playful enthusiasm of Kara’s moves, her easy familiarity with her partners, watches how her face lights up and how laughter bubbles up to her lips every time. Lena watches and longs to be the one in Kara’s arms, to be the one basking in her glow, and rejects it when it’s offered, not wanting it to be tarnished by her own unwanted desires.
She holds her self-imposed ban till the very moment when a twist of fate would have her falling into Kara’s arms.
It happens at Nia’s birthday party, at the Luthor mansion. Lena takes any opportunity to fill that miserly place with new memories: maybe she gets a little too enthusiastic and ends up with something a bit too lavish in the process, but Nia’s wide grin and excited whooping when she sees the set-up in the gardens makes it all worth it.
It’s also the cause of Lena’s downfall.
Five hours and three measly glasses of champagne into the festivities, Lena decides to stand from the table and stretch her legs, and trips almost immediately over a lump in the grass. She stumbles and flails and prepares to fall, resigned to a graceless ending of a good evening, until she’s suddenly pressed against a familiar body, a pair of strong hands wrapping around her waist, steadying her.
“Easy there, champ,” Kara smiles down at her and Lena’s treacherous heart speeds up immediately, her mouth suddenly parched. The familiar, handsome lines of Kara’s face, the expanse of her shoulders and the strain of her arms against her crisp white shirt, all regular features of Lena’s more troubling dreams, somehow seem even more devastating up close and under the soft glow of the lanterns. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Lena rasps. She’s anything but. “Just wanted to stretch my legs. Too much sitting.”
“Well,” Kara looks around, then leans in, conspiratorial, and wiggles her eyebrows. “We are on the dance floor.”
She’s right, Lena realizes to her horror. Somewhere in the background, Nia and Brainy are swaying together to the old-timey crooning that Brainy must have picked, Alex and Kelly watching them from the sides, hand in hand.
“I’m rusty,” she protests half-heartedly. Kara is still holding her, pressing her close: the warmth of her body and the faint scent of her cologne makes Lena’s head spin more than the champagne had before. “And not entirely sober.”
“It’s fine,” Kara smiles. She seems to be in no hurry to let go of Lena, and Lena cannot find it in herself to object. Even worse, her hands find their way up to Kara’s shoulders, clutching at them all too tightly. “I’ll lead, I can carry you if you get tired.” Lena’s close to passing out at the mere prospect and Kara’s still staring down at her, so warm and earnest, with only a hint of teasing in her smile. “But we do have to make sure your blood circulation is all steady and good.”
This is the last point where Lena could excuse herself, should excuse herself, if her own long-standing rules are anything to go by. There might be a pout, maybe some awkwardness between them for the rest of the night, but she’d escape unscathed, undefeated, triumphant over herself once again.
What she does instead is plain madness, selfish and indulgent. Just one time , Lena tells herself, just once and no more , the voice in the back of her mind screaming as she moves her hands to clasp them together behind Kara’s neck and flash her a smile.
“My hero, always to the rescue,” she coos. Kara laughs, ducking her head, and Lena thinks she might be going mad, after all, because there’s no way there could be blush forming on her friend’s cheeks.
She shuts her eyes and lays her head against Kara’s chest. It only helps a little – she’s not sure she could stand the sight of Kara’s face like this, so close, so terribly adoring . But instead, there is her low, happy humming in Lena’s ears as she slowly sways and spins them around, the weight of her hands on Lena’s hips, her fingers gently stroking as they move. It’s more than enough to make Lena tremble, to make her feel like she’s aflame; a fittingly tortuous punishment for her transgression.
None of it quite compares to the feeling of Kara’s lips pressing against her forehead with a kiss, murmuring:
“I’ve been wanting to do this for so long.”
Lena’s eyes fly open at that, her heart beating so hard like it’s trying to jump out of her chest.
“Partying here?” She tries to deflect, breathless, but Kara laughs, having none of it.
“Dancing with you.”
Lena stops then, abruptly, almost tearing herself away from Kara, leaning as far back as the arms around her waist still let her. Her mind buzzes with disbelief so heavily that she barely even registers the shock on Kara’s face.
“Cause I love to dance with all my favorite people,” Kara replies, very matter-of-factly, then slowly smiles again. “And I’m very fond of you, Lena Luthor.” Lena can only stare in response, feeling her chest heave, her hands gripping Kara’s arms, an effort to keep her at a distance just as much as to keep herself on her feet. “Why would you never dance with me?” Kara asks, forehead crinkling in obvious dismay of the tense silence between them. “I’m sorry, you don’t–”
“Because I’m too fond of you,” Lena chokes out. Something breaks in her, a lock on some dark, hidden corner of her mind, and the words come flowing like a terrible flood, uncontainable, liberating . “Because I knew that the second you’d hold me in your arms and not just because you yanked me away from an exploding bomb or a bullet, I couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to kiss you. And I can’t taint our friendship with that.”
Kara blinks once, twice, opens her mouth and closes it again, and Lena can feel her blood turning cold at her silence.
“You want to kiss me?” Kara finally repeats, low and hoarse. Lena sighs, defeated, and casts her eyes down, already feeling the sting of tears: she cannot bear to look at Kara’s face.
“Yes, I do. Quite desperately. Every day.”
She expects Kara to disentangle herself immediately, to stammer something about how she doesn’t like Lena like that , and storm away. Instead, she only hears ragged breathing, then Kara’s hand presses gently under her chin, tilting Lena’s head up until their eyes finally meet. The expression on Kara’s face is unlike anything Lena could ever dream of: where she imagined she’d find shock and disgust, there’s only love, soft and radiant, and deep, aching desire.
“May I?” Kara whispers. Lena stares and stares at her, gaze dropping to Kara’s lips then flicking up to her eyes again, her mind desperately trying to wrap itself around the fact that the woman she’s been deeply, hopelessly in love with for years is now holding her in her arms, asking for a kiss.
She finally nods.
The first kiss is fleeting, tentative, a mere press of Kara’s lips against Lena’s own, shaky and unmoving as they are. It’s a shy question that finds its resounding answer when Kara tilts her head and Lena buries her hand in Kara’s hair and they press together again, feverish and needy and uninhibited. Lena lets Kara drink her in, lets Kara kiss her with slow, devastating thoroughness, lets Kara bite on her lip and steal the air from her lungs. She lets herself be kissed and feel like it’s her benediction.
She doesn’t realize she’s started crying until they break apart and her vision is clouded with tears.
“Hey, hey, my gosh.” Kara cups Lena’s face, gently wiping the tears away with her thumbs. “I love you, okay? I love you so much. I’ve been trying to find the way to say it for so long now, I’ve been so scared– It doesn’t matter. I love you.”
Lena snorts, inelegant and still teary, and presses her face into the crook of Kara’s neck.
“I love you,” she whispers. “I love you, I love you.”
Her body’s still shaking, giddy with excitement, with happiness, and Kara hugs her tightly, holding her until her breath steadies. When they look into each other’s eyes again, Lena feels like she’s looking at the sun after only seeing the lights of torches: no sight may compare to the utter love in Kara’s eyes, her kiss-swollen lips smeared with Lena’s own lipstick.
“Hey, Lena?” Kara says, those lips curling into a wide smile as she holds out her hand. “May I have this dance?”
For the first time in years, Lena takes the offered hand without trepidation, without pretenses, her heart swelling as she returns Kara’s smile:
“It would be my pleasure.”