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you're all that i need (underneath the tree)

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Lena’s secret comes out during game night.

With another round of finals done and dusted, Lena and the rest of their close friends are gathering at Alex and Kara’s off-campus apartment for the night before winter break pulls them in varying directions across the country. Lena’s been there since the afternoon though. This space has always felt more like home than her own apartment, and she never turns down an excuse to spend extra time with her best friend. So helping to clean and tidy, prep the ingredients needed for crockpot mulled wine, and chauffeuring Kara around town to collect everyone’s favorite takeout dishes feels like anything but a chore.

Lena’s holding the ladder Kara’s using to hang a silver and blue Happy Holidays banner while Alex and Kelly stack festive red and green Solo cups, napkins, and plates when Nia and Brainy arrive, arms laden with more snacks and drinks. Sam and Winn are only a few minutes behind and soon there’s nothing but hugs and laughter, good-natured teasing and well-earned merriment filling the small apartment. Lena blinks back the burning threat of tears as she breathes in the feeling of home with this family she’s found and curated over the past three years. When she senses Kara’s eyes on hers, Lena mouths, “I’m fine, promise,” and Kara’s answering smile finds a way to burn in Lena’s chest instead.

xxx

A couple of hours later, Uno’s abandoned alongside empty takeaway containers, and gift wrap and ribbon from their white elephant exchange scatters across the carpeted floor. Drinking games have replaced those of the board and card variety, and Nia’s toasted on hot toddies when from her spot on the futon she calls out a jovial, “Never have I ever decorated a Christmas tree!”

A few groans sound, but everyone dutifully raises their cups to their lips except, “Hey, Lena, no skipping sips!” Winn’s words are a bit slurred, but they’re clear enough to draw everyone’s attention. All eyes are on Lena now, and there’s a new tint to her cheeks that has nothing to do with her schnapps spiked cocoa.

“I’ve never decorated a tree.”

It’s a simple statement, and Lena casts her eyes down, watching her fingers wrap against the warm ceramic of the mug in her palms. She wishes she had taken a sip. After all, what’s a little white lie between friends, especially one that will help her avoid the wide eyes and assorted looks -- some sympathetic, some pitying, some understanding -- she knows she’s currently receiving from her friends.

She knows it’s the wine and the egg nog Sam shoved into her hands earlier that has her lips loosening and saying more about her life back in Metropolis than she’s ever revealed. Because Lena doesn’t talk about her family. She doesn’t need to when a simple internet search can provide more information than she’d ever willingly share.

“The trees we had at home--” Lena uses home when she really means manor because she knows the looks that are always attached to that word, too-- “were always professionally trimmed for the party Mother and Father hosted.”

That’s all the explanation Lena offers, and even though Brainy and Sam are on deck, Lena decides she’ll take her turn now. “Never have I ever fallen asleep during a Professor Henshaw lecture.”

“Lena!” Kara’s sigh is dramatic and so is her pout. “It was one time.”

“Should we revisit the photographic evidence of the puddle of drool you left behind?” Alex is already swiping through their group chat to pull up the picture and Kara reaches out lightning fast to try and snatch her phone. A standard Danvers Sisters Wrestling Match ensues, a reaction bigger and bolder than what the teasing called for, but when the dust settles and everyone’s attention is no longer on Lena -- their friends taking turns ribbing each other about mishaps and moments and memories in shared courses and group projects -- Kara’s eyes find Lena’s.

I’ve got you, promise,” Kara mouths, and Lena feels the burn in her chest erupt into a blaze.

xxx

It’s well after midnight when Lena’s walking home, Kara at her side. Their bare hands migrated out of their respective pockets two blocks ago, palms pressing together. One block ago Lena gave in to her desire to further lean in, to wrap her other hand around Kara’s bicep and keep close. Their pace slows as a result, but Lena’s all too happy to soak up every last second she has with Kara.

“I’m going to miss you over break.” It’s not an easy thing to admit, and Lena can’t blame this looseness on a night of revelry and drinking with friends. Kara has a way of burrowing under her skin, finding purposefully forgotten boxes and pulling off the tape with precise gentleness and care. Kara coaxes out feelings because over the course of their friendship Kara’s taught Lena that feelings aren’t weakness. Some days Lena still doesn’t believe that’s true, but tonight isn’t one of them.

“I’m gonna miss you, too, but we’re gonna text and facetime so much it’ll be like I never left. Plus we’ve got our--”

“Our movie schedule.” Lena presses her grin into Kara’s coat sleeve.

A week ago Kara presented her with a list of holiday films (some single presentations and others double features) they could watch together each night while Kara’s back in Midvale.

“I still can’t believe you’ve never seen Home Alone.”

Lena’s quiet for another half block, and if it were two years ago, Kara would be trying to fill the silence between them. But just as she’s learned when to push and pull feelings and thoughts from Lena, she’s also learned when to be patient and trust the silence, and wait for Lena to unravel all on her own.

Even though the night is quiet and there are no cars on the street, they dutifully stop at the crosswalk, and as they wait for the signal Lena says, “Well you learned earlier that holiday traditions weren’t exactly observed in the Luthor household.”

And as they continue their trek to her building, Lena quietly tells Kara about the vans and box trucks that would descend upon the estate a week before the scheduled holiday gathering. How she had been out for a riding lesson that first year, having left a house that was dark and cold only to return to white lights lining every architectural line and feature of the manor. How inside wreaths with ribbons, holly, and fresh-cut garland and trees would decorate doors and banisters and stand tall and proud in foyers and rooms that wouldn’t be closed off to party guests. Everything was tastefully trimmed to Lillian’s standards, specifications, and seasonal schemes. That was the holiday tradition that played out in their household every year, where she and Lex were never allowed to help, and any ornaments they might have created in art classes were never displayed on boughs or branches. Lena tells Kara about how even such warmth in decorations and displays couldn’t chase away the coldness of the house because everything, including the holiday spirit (and happy family), was for show.

They’ve been on the steps of Lena’s building nearing ten minutes now, Lena tucked into the warmth of Kara’s arms and chest because Kara’s also learned that sometimes, even if she’s sure a few of her professors (especially Professor Grant) would disagree, words aren’t enough.

It’s in the safety of Kara’s hold, the bubble they’ve created together that Lena, voice wet with the emotion that comes with talking about a time now so fragmented that often it seems like it no longer belongs to her, says, “Sometimes I think I decorated a tree with my mom. But it’s--”

There’s a sigh, one of frustration and resignation when words fail. Lena can feel Kara’s patience in her hold that tightens that much more. More secure. More warmth. More reassuring. Just more. She can feel Kara’s understanding with the ghost of her best friend’s lips pressing at her temple. Because sometimes, when Kara talks about a past that’s also slipping from her memory like fine grains of sand, she struggles to find the words, too.

“It’s like everything else from then. I never know if they’re actual memories or just wishes.” Scenes that Lena hopes those first few precious years included. “But I think I remember her holding me, lifting me up to put the star on top.”

After a beat, Kara fills the quiet between them, and fills Lena’s heart up a bit more, too, because Kara always understands, and when she does find the words, she always knows what to say. “Did you know your name can mean light? So it’s pretty fitting that you basically held the sun in your hands.”

With Kara and Alex’s planned early morning shove off time, they say goodnight, and Lena’s tucked into her bed not even fifteen minutes later. She’s still warm from Kara’s arms, promises of letting her know when she and Alex get in safely to Midvale, and the memory (not merely wishful thinking) of Kara’s customary goodbye kiss to her cheek landing at the corner of her mouth.

xxx

Lena’s startled awake by knocking (that sounds more like kicking) on her apartment’s front door. She glares at her phone -- it’s barely after 7am -- and flops back onto her mattress. Classes and exams are done. Her friends are driving or flying back to their homes this morning. No one but Hypnos currently requires her attention, so Lena sighs back into her pillow and wills her newly tensed shoulders to relax. Except as soon as she feels her muscles melting back into her sheets the pounding sounds again.

Stomping to her door, Lena doesn’t bother checking the peephole, which is why she’s surprised when the door opens to a tree. Something large and coniferous with its needles and scent, and are those pine cones?

“What the f--”

“Oh, that’s a dollar for the swear piggy.” Kara’s familiar blonde head pokes through thick branches - smile as bright as the sun, and far too awake for this hour.

“Kara, what are you-- Is Alex here too? Weren’t you already supposed to be on the road?”

“We’re going to leave later,” Kara says as if it’s that simple. As if it’s that easy. “Had something more important I needed to do first.” And she wiggles the large tree propped up against her chest.

“Kara.”

“Lena.”

Lena lets the guilt of impacting Kara’s family’s plans to sit heavy in her chest for one, two, three heartbeats before she’s stepping out of the doorway and ushering her best friend and her tree inside. Because it is that simple and it is that easy. Everything’s always easier with Kara.

It looks like a craft store exploded in her living room, the coffee table littered with all sorts of supplies. Piles of construction paper. Containers of glitter. Hot glue sticks. Colored yarn. Popsicle sticks. Clothespins. Paint. Pinecones. Paperclips.

“Did you break into a Michaels?”

“You’ve got scissors, right?”

Lena can only nod as she moves to the desk in the corner of the living space. She comes back with two pairs and a ruler as well.

The tree is up and straight -- (“Yes, Kara, I’m using a level. Don’t you dare laugh! This is my first tree!”) -- with blinking light strands the color of the rainbow. There’s gold and silver tinsel draped across needles that fill Lena’s apartment with a scent memory that threatens to send her back to Metropolis, back to a place that’s never felt like home, but instead she’s now creating a new memory. Because they’re three hours, one donut run, and four mugs of cocoa (Lena only drinks one of those) into their ornament crafting workshop and the tree is nearly full. There are only a few bare patches still in need of a constructed creation.

Lena’s attention currently rests with the meticulous pattern she’s devising for the God’s Eye in her hand. She’s switching back to purple yarn when she can sense, “You’re staring.”

“Pffft. No, I’m not.” All it takes is barely a hint of Lena’s eyebrow lifting skyward, eyes never leaving the popsicle stick cross in her hands, for Kara to cave. “Okay, yeah, maybe I was but, um. I wanted your opinion on this one.”

“You know I always trust your artistic eye and endeavours.”

“Lena..."

There’s something laced in Kara’s voice that pulls Lena’s attention, and she abandons her yarn and sticks onto the table. She looks up and, “Oh.”

Kara’s had to have been working on this particular ornament for nearly the full time they’ve been gluing and glittering and cutting because the red paint on the puzzle pieces looks to be dry. The pieces themselves are arranged in the shape of a heart but there’s an open space in the center as if a piece is missing. And filling that space is a cut-to-fit polaroid, one Lena recognizes is from last night, when Kara came up to her from behind and engulfed her in a hug. Kelly captured the shared moment of surprise and delight.

“If you don’t like it we don’t need to hang it up, but you know you’re-- These last couple of -- and well -- and especially this year you’ve just been, you’re just--”

Sometimes words aren’t enough, but over the course of their friendship, Kara’s taught Lena that actions can be just as loud, just as impactful.

Pushing up from her spot on the floor, Lena shuffles until she’s directly in front of Kara. They’ve danced around this for years now, and certainly, in particular, the last couple of months. Lena knows she’s been hesitant to act, to change the status quo, because what they have is perfect, and what if in doing so, if wishing for more ruins what they’ve created and built together? Lena can’t bear that.

But she also can’t bear to see the shine welling in Kara’s eyes, even if it brightens her blue in the prettiest of ways (like icicles glinting in the sun), and is quick to assure her best friend, hands moving to cup Kara’s cheeks. “You’re everything to me, too.”

Because Kara is. Her best friend. Her strength. Her moral compass. Her confidant. Her missing piece.

“I love it. I love…” Lena goes to lick her lips, to take a steadying breath and speak words that don’t make her weak.

Except Kara steals those words when she presses her lips to Lena’s. Because Kara’s only sometimes patient with Lena’s silences.

xxx

Another game night. Another secret. However, this secret Lena’s excited to share with their friends.

They’re gathered at her and Kara’s apartment this time, and Alex has dutifully moved to her assigned spot at the Christmas tree (it’s the fourth tree Lena’s decorated in her life). Sam and Nia are engaging Kara in conversation. Brainy’s helping Winn pour out drinks to toast. Kelly has her phone in her hands, ready and waiting.

“Hey, Kara?” Alex ensures her voice carries over the soundtrack of Darlene Love singing about pretty lights on the tree. “What’s the story behind this one again? The puzzle pieces one.”

Kara rolls her eyes because all their friends heard the story three years ago when they got together for New Year’s Eve. Kara had kissed Lena in greeting, and their friends’ reactions had been as dramatic as they’d predicted. But Kara walks over to the tree, one that’s still home to a handful of the ornaments they cut and pasted together that day that feels both so long and only like a split second ago. She looks at the ornament in question, at the painted puzzle pieces, the picture that always makes her grin, and the looped ribbon with a new addition. A ring.

Nia and Sam are grinning. Winn’s nearly bouncing out of his shoes (and Brainy takes the flute out of his hand before he spills). Kelly’s filming and Alex is attempting to fight off tears, even if they’re ones of joy.

“Lena?”

“Kara.”