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they don't love you like i love you

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They lie to each other all the time.

Not real lies, of course. Not about the big stuff. One superhero-side-hustle-reveal was quite enough to shake the bedrock of their trust hard enough to frighten them away from ever doing it again. So there’s no real lies, no secrets anymore.

It’s just the little stuff, now. Sometimes when Kara checks up on whether she’s eaten lunch, Lena may embellish the triple shot Americano she’d mainlined between conference calls into something more resembling a nutritious meal. When Kara sends a snap of herself wearing a new baby blue button up in an over-lit dressing room, Lena replies with a forced-casual looks great! instead of the I want to lick your biceps through that shirt that would be closer to an honest response. Once when her best friend suggested a hot yoga class after work, Lena had pretended to immediately come down with a nasty cold if only to avoid the devastation of witnessing Kara Danvers in a sports bra.

Kara fibs to her too, she knows. Glosses over the potential danger of every Supergirl save she throws herself into headfirst, as if that will assuage Lena’s worry any. Fudges the astronomical number of oven pizzas she inhales as a ‘snack’ before they even make it out to whatever restaurant Kara is in the mood to try and Lena is in the mood to treat her to that week.

For the most part it’s harmless. And Lena trusts Kara completely, she does. It’s no longer an implicit trust; it’s hard fought and hard earned and she’s pretty sure one or both of them would die before allowing their foundation of honesty to disintegrate again.

But with all of that said, there’s a particular one of Kara’s little lies that really gets under Lena’s skin. It niggles because it feels a little too analogous to the First Lie, the Big Lie. Because Kara lies about it as if Lena is oblivious, as if her flimsy excuses in any way mask the reality of the situation. As if Lena is stupid enough to accept it blindly.

And if there’s one thing Lena Luthor, with her four degrees and Mensa certification, is not, it’s stupid.

So here, now, pulled fully into Kara’s lap as they recline on her couch in front of a Planet Earth marathon, one of the blonde’s hands carding through Lena’s loose hair while the other strokes lightly over the jut of her hip bone through her borrowed sweats, Lena is just about ready to call bullshit on Kara’s most blatant, most frequent little lie.

There is just no way that this is what friends are for.

 

In the beginning, it was easy enough to excuse.

Friendship, much to Lena’s ongoing discomfort, was not an area in which she could claim much experience. As such, like any good scientist who knows their own limits and suddenly finds themselves out of their depth, she’d ceded control of the situation to an expert.

And Kara Danvers did seem to be an expert. She breezed into Lena’s life as unstoppably as the first bright blush of spring sunshine, blew through boundary after hastily-erected boundary between herself and Lena’s heart like a cotton candy-covered wrecking ball.

Kara Danvers brought coffee and donut dates and text me so I know you’re home safe, but she also brought Alex and Winn and James, then J’onn, Brainy, Nia, Kelly. She brought girls’ nights and game tournaments and a social calendar more packed than Lillian Luthor’s at the height of gala season.

Clearly, Kara Danvers knew friendship. The tight-knit, loving little family she’d initiated Lena into was the proof in that pudding. So who was Lena, awkward guarded lonely Lena, to question the ways in which this friendship manifested itself in her life?

If Kara said friendship was drawn-out lunch dates and kisses on cheeks and the bright thrust of her unshakeable faith in Lena even on her darkest days, who was Lena to tell her she was wrong? Who was she – she, whose middle school boyfriend had been paid off by her mother to never speak to her again; she, whose one and only friend in boarding school had spent over half their relationship lying to her face – to claim she knew better?

And so it had begun, and so Lena had let it. Even when that’s what friends are for came accompanied by lip bites and ducked heads and blushing cheeks. Even when it came alongside interrupted dates and awkward third-wheeling and a kind of manic, protective, jealous energy that set off alarm bells in Lena’s head and a deep and unidentified thrumming in the pit of her stomach, she’d let it slide.

She’d even tossed the phrase back once or twice, half-teasing, half testing the boundary with a thundering pulse and sweaty palms. Her more reckless streak had wondered if Kara would ever correct her. If she’d ever raise an eyebrow at Lena’s flirtatious smirk and low, breathy tone and tell her that actually, no, none of that was what friends were really for. That they were in fact toeing the boundary of something else, something far beyond anything remotely resembling a platonic relationship. That friendship was far too flimsy a cover for how flagrant and unabashed their transgressions were becoming.

But she never did. In fact, the blonde seemed positively buoyed by Lena’s reciprocation. If anything, she went on to step up her own game, and still Lena said nothing. Still, the darkest corners of her self-doubt cast constant aspersions on the nebulous thing she was fairly certain was developing between them. Still, she would lie awake for hours after each game night, each movie marathon, playing over Kara’s sweet words and seemingly innocuous touches and wonder if she was the one who was wrong.

Maybe this was friendship. Maybe everything else she’d experienced pre-Kara Danvers had been the politely distant trappings of acquaintanceship, and only now was she being exposed to the kind of intimate bond that formed the subject of every best-friend-centred book and film she’d been so obsessed with in her youth.

Looking back on it now, it’s a little worrying quite how easily she was able to gaslight herself into believing that. But she did, she had – she’d let Kara throw out that little lie the very first time and every time after that without challenging it once.

So it’s her own fault, really, that things had only gotten worse (better, better, better) ever since.

 

It had developed slowly, subtly, the way things do when they shift only minutely day by day. Each lunch date and office takeout and kombucha reconnaissance mission had built so quietly and unobtrusively on the one before that Lena had barely noticed how completely Kara had embedded herself in her daily life. Their cosmic pull had grown the way one doesn’t notice their own hair growing; naturally and unremarkably until it’s out of control.

It had bloomed unchecked, this thing between them, inexorable and undeniable. It had gotten so big that Lena had half-convinced herself that they were nearing something, some admission or resolution to the mounting tension shrouding their every interaction.

She’d been right, as it turned out. But it wasn’t the type of resolution she could ever have anticipated, was the furthest thing from what she’d secretly hoped for. And instead of finally tipping the two of them over the edge into something more, everything they’d ever built had come crashing down around them.

They’re not memories Lena wishes to relive. The things Kara had done, the ways she herself had retaliated, the complicity of every person she held dear— dwelling too long is still a sure-fire way to knock the breath from her lungs and leave her sickened and bitter despite the months of healing they’ve painstakingly put in.

But even in the midst of that turmoil and heartache it had registered on some level of Lena’s consciousness that the pain cracking her ribcage down the centre was perhaps more than she should be feeling.

And then there were the words whispered and pleaded and screamed between them. Too intense, too superlative; lies and manipulations and betrayals that cut both of them far deeper than a simple friendship had any right to.

In the wake of it all, in the pale grey dawn light that had finally drawn from Lena the admission that no matter how much Kara had hurt her, she still wanted her back, something had shifted yet again.

There’d been a frenetic energy to each of Kara’s urgent embraces, a pressure that bordered on outright discomfort in the way she’d crushed their bodies together ever since. It was as if she thought Lena might disappear at any moment; that she had to make every second they shared count with weighted words and piercing gazes.

Their every interaction had been fraught and strained, no matter the façade of normalcy they tried hard to cultivate. The comforting ease of their earlier relationship seemed to have evaporated into thin air, leaving every overwrought nerve exposed to the slightest misstep.

It had been exhausting, honestly. Tiptoeing on the eggshells of their shattered past had been so draining that Lena had found herself, against every shred of rationality her aching mind possessed, wishing to hear those five accursed words Kara used to toss out to blur the boundaries between what they were and what they could be. To know that whatever possibility of more their utterance seemed to forestall, they at least had the promise of possibility to hold onto.

Because for the entire duration of that terrible, merciless, desperate year Lena hadn’t been sure if they were friends. If they ever could be again.

But against all odds here they still are, and Lena steadfastly resolves not to look a gift friendship in the mouth, or however the saying goes. She can’t afford to be reckless and unthinking with this amorphous magnetism between them anymore, has lost the freedom and security to test its capacity to bear weight.

She knows now, in excruciating first-hand detail, what a life without Kara looks like. And— she shudders. Never again. She’ll take Kara however she can have her.

 

That’s not to say it isn’t challenging at times. It is. At others, it’s confusing as hell.

The dust has all but settled, now. Things are more normal than not. Kara drops a coffee on her desk most days on her way to Catco, sends her selfies with stupid filters and pictures of cute dogs she runs into on the street – time for your daily pupdate, Lena! – that have her stifling a smile behind her fingers in even the most austere of board meetings.

She’s pretty sure Kara has also made some kind of alliance with Jess because not a day goes by now where one or the other of them doesn’t interrogate her over what she has or hasn’t eaten so far and what time she’s planning on leaving the office that evening. It’s amusing and annoying and, if she’s honest, ridiculously endearing.

And it’s almost certainly outside the purview of mere friendship, for Kara to be quite so concerned with Lena’s day-to-day wellbeing, but hey. No more looking in horse’s mouths, or whatever the fuck.

But it’s not just the quotidian and the mundane that Kara concerns herself with. She also has a strong penchant for near-death rescues that are putting almost as much strain on Lena’s heart as the assassination attempts themselves.

Technically, this isn’t a new development. Of course, Lena knows now why the superpowered protector of National City had always been perfectly positioned to snatch her clean out of the jaws of death twenty odd times a year.

But hindsight is very different to accepting the bare-faced reality that it’s Kara stepping between Lena and this week’s assassin, Kara holding her gentle and sure as they hover high above the city, Kara brushing her hair out of her eyes as her pounding heartbeat shudders through them both.

Maybe it’s just the inherent homoeroticism of lying in the arms of a caped crusader sheathed in skin-tight spandex, but Kara’s daring saves are feeling less and less platonic by the day.

Because sure, friends would probably save each other’s lives if they could. She recognises, from the desperate panic that claws its way up her into her own throat every time Kara is in any semblance of danger, that friendship involves some level of worry over the other person, a strong desire to protect them from harm.

She could maybe excuse the plurality of rescues, then. Can write off the arms that intercept her nosedive from a skyscraper balcony, the cape that shields her from bullets, the body that deflects blows meant for her, as acceptable examples of what friends may do for one another. Albeit, friends with an alter-ego as the city’s superpowered sweetheart, but still.

What she couldn’t, can’t excuse is everything that comes after.

When each immediate threat has been averted, when Lena’s heart is still beating and all her blood is still inside her body and each limb remains decidedly un-blown-up, the adrenaline coursing through both their veins pushes words from Kara’s mouth that Lena cannot for the life of her manage to disregard as innocuous.

It had started with I will always be your friend and I will always protect you, which, fine. Borderline acceptable. But time passes and the assassination attempts keep coming and in each and every aftermath Kara’s urgent whispers get harder to ignore.

They move through you’re safe with me, I promise after one near-death experience into I’ve always got you, Lena, always after the next, plummeting headfirst less than a month later into I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you, and Lena is left breathless and reeling from far more than just this week’s chloroform exposure.

Lena has watched Kara shield James from a bomb blast with her cape, seen her intercept J’onn’s crash course with the ground or snatch Alex out of the path of a speeding vehicle. And she can say with certainty that after none of those incidents did Kara gaze teary-eyed at her rescuee, pressing stuttering promises into their hair and gentle kisses to their foreheads.

It's blatant, it’s brazen, how differently the blonde treats Lena compared to everyone else in her life. Still treading on shaky ground in the smouldering wake of the reveal, Lena lets this attention, this special treatment, sit warm and reassuring in her chest. Lets it rekindle the tiny spark of hope between her ribs that, no matter how many different synonyms for just friends Kara manages to pepper into their daily conversations, she’s never been able to bring herself to extinguish entirely.

 

It’s reassurance, then.

That’s what Lena tells herself, for a while. That she allows Kara’s increasingly non-platonic behaviours to continue unquestioned because the care and affection exuding from the blonde’s every pore comfort Lena, console the terrified corner of her heart that worries they’ll never get back to what they used to be. Because, quite simply, it feels good.

That’s how she ends up tucked into Kara’s side for movie night after an interminably long week, unable to stifle the yawns that keep coming. And that’s how she ends up acquiescing when Kara glances at her in concern, murmuring you’re tired as she tugs them both down to lay flat on the couch, Lena’s head pillowed on her chest.

“Hang on,” Kara mutters, and Lena doesn’t resist it but she also isn’t breathing at all as Kara wriggles beneath her, rearranging their bodies to align more comfortably. The net result of this careful adjustment ends with Lena lying directly on top of Kara, the blonde’s arms looped heavy and comforting across her lower back.

Every inch of their bodies is pressed together, Lena’s cheek rising and falling to the steady rhythm of Kara’s inhales, and Lena still isn’t breathing. Kara is so warm beneath her and the way one of her sweatpant-clad legs is hooked casually over Lena’s is stirring something in Lena that’s about as far from just friends as it’s possible to get.

Even without Kryptonian superhearing, there would be no way not to notice the complete absence of oxygen entering Lena’s body for anyone pressed against her as tightly as Kara is right now. “Are you okay?” the blonde asks from above her and Lena forces herself to draw in a deep, shuddering breath, not trusting herself to speak.

Kara tenses beneath her – Lena doesn’t let herself dwell on the sensation of that; all those muscular planes and firm edges – and her voice turns hesitant. “Have I made you uncomfortable?” she asks quietly. “Do you want me to move?”

“No,” Lena manages through the oxygen deprivation slowly liquefying her brain. “I just— wasn’t expecting it.” Because this is not what friends do, her brain screams, begging Kara to pick up on the meaning behind her words. To address whatever the hell is going on here.

But of course the blonde doesn’t. She just hums in a way that is entirely distracting, the sound vibrating up into Lena’s own chest. Lena gives one more half-hearted attempt at steering them back into more platonic territory. “Isn’t this uncomfortable for you? I mean, am I not squishing you?”

Kara just scoffs, tightening her arms around Lena’s back. “Please. I’m invulnerable and you weigh like, half a pound. And anyway, I kind of like it,” she says, quieter now. “It’s kind of like a weighted blanket, you know?”

“I thought you just said I wasn’t heavy,” Lena jokes lightly and the slight awkwardness surrounding them dissipates into thin air.

Kara jabs a finger into Lena’s ribs and she squirms. “I just mean it’s comforting,” she says, tone turning solemn. “It makes me feel grounded. Sometimes—” she inhales deeply. “Sometimes I feel like I could just float off into space, all alone. Like no one would even notice. This— tethers me. You tether me.”

Lena closes her eyes as she swallows hard, sliding her own arms under Kara’s back to hold her tight. It’s not a prospect she’d considered before but maybe, just maybe, Kara needs this reassurance as much as Lena does. What kind of monster would she be to deny them both?

 

It is possible, Lena reluctantly concedes a week later upon extensive further reflection, that it’s not just about reassurance.

Reassurance might, at a stretch, be able to explain away the hundreds of texts she and Kara exchange every day; not just jokes and puppy photos and anecdotes about their days but also good morning and sweet dreams and I miss you, can’t you buy back Catco so we can hang out at work again?

Reassurance might, if she’s pushing it, cover the way Kara tirelessly cheerleads her all the way through weeks of stressful prep for a crucial meeting with her biggest potential investor yet. Might cover the way Kara shows up like clockwork the second the conference call finishes with a bottle of champagne and three bouquets of flowers, swings Lena into her arms and spins them around her office in celebration. Might cover Kara’s flushed cheeks and beaming smile and the way she whispers how proud she is, how she never doubted her for a second, soft and earnest into Lena’s hair.

But even Lena can admit that reassurance might not cut it for all the other things Kara’s doing at the same time.

Things like flying to London to buy an advance copy of the latest book by Lena’s favourite author two months before its American release date. Things like sliding a possessive arm around Lena’s waist when a man old enough to be her father tries to hit on her at one of L-Corp’s many galas, pulling Lena flush into her body and thumbing firmly at her hip as her glare almost burns a hole clean through the lecher’s skull.

Things like inadvertently flexing her biceps on either side of Lena’s head when she’s leaning over her to proofread something on Lena’s laptop. Things like noticing the way Lena notices the bulging muscles and has to swallow hard against her suddenly dry throat. Things like then flexing her biceps again, slowly and deliberately, until Lena thinks her heart might beat clean out of her chest.

Things like pulling back once she’s finished proofreading the press release, gaze dropping heavy to Lena’s mouth as she murmurs a thank you for the help. Things like Kara’s tongue darting out to wet her own lips, eyes dark and pupils blown as their faces tilt ever so slightly closer together.

Things like the blonde shattering the moment with a resounding no problem, what are friends for that leaves Lena breathless and disappointed and confused. Things like that.

It is possible, Lena concedes, that something more than just the preservation of a newly-mended friendship is going on here.

It’s possible she’s going to need some help to figure out exactly what that something is.

 

As luck would have it, Sam is in town a few days later for a meeting of L-Corp’s division heads and Lena wastes no time finding an opportunity to drag her away for coffee and a catch-up.

She’s been cooing over photos of Ruby playing soccer and ice skating and snuggling with assorted fluffy animals at a petting zoo for roughly twenty minutes when Sam plucks her phone out of Lena’s protesting hands with a huff.

“Alright, Luthor. Out with it,” she says flatly, quirking a brow as she swirls the ice cubes in her cold brew. “You didn’t practically manhandle me out of the office just to moon glassy-eyed over pictures of my daughter.”

“I might have,” Lena says defiantly. “I miss Ruby very much.”

“She misses you too,” Sam says without missing a beat. “Don’t change the subject. What’s up?”

Lena sighs, and submits to the mortifying ordeal of being known. “It’s Kara.”

“Shock of the century,” Sam deadpans. “What, has she revealed another secret identity? Confessed to moonlighting as Batman too? Is her name really Bruce Wayne? Hell, she’s got the physique for it.”

Lena doesn’t find the jokes funny at all. Sam disagrees, chortling quietly into her cup. When her snorts finally subside she sucks in a deep breath, rearranging her features into a rough approximation of a sombre expression with obvious difficulty. “Sorry, I’m done,” she snickers. “Go on. I’m listening very seriously, promise.”

Lena sighs again, rolling her eyes. “She’s being— she’s being weird.”

“You’re gonna have to be more specific than that, babe. Not sure I’ve ever known her not to be weird. In fact, her not being weird would be weird, y’know?”

Lena swats at Sam’s arm disapprovingly. “Well, you know that we’ve always been— close.” And isn’t that the understatement of the century. The barely-restrained smirk on the brunette’s face tells her Sam’s thinking the exact same thing.

Lena clears her throat, soldiers on. “But recently it’s been, like, even more than that. She’s been acting really, well, weird, and I don’t know what it means.”

Sam’s tongue pokes out, chasing her straw around the rim of her cup. “Well, what do you think it means?”

“I think it means something— something more than just friendship, but. God, I don’t know. I’ve been wondering for years if maybe there was something there but she never— she never really acts on it, you know? She’s just— confusing,” Lena finishes in a huff, taking a calming sip of espresso and sighing as the caffeine starts to hit her bloodstream.

“Okay, but she’s been confusing since you met her,” Sam says reasonably. “What’s changed?”

“Nothing’s changed, it’s just— more, I suppose.” Lena tugs a hand through her loose hair. “I’ve always wondered, with her, right from the beginning. Wondered if I was, I don’t know. Interpreting her intentions wrong?” She shakes her head. “First I thought maybe— maybe I just didn’t know what friendship was supposed to feel like.”

Sam sighs. “Lena, love nugget. While that sentiment simultaneously breaks my heart and makes me want to murder Andrea Rojas in cold blood—” she brushes off Lena’s noise of disapproval, grasping her hands and gazing pointedly into her eyes, “—please don’t say that you have no idea what friendship feels like directly to the face of one of your closest friends.”

Lena blinks. “Right. Sorry. It’s just not the same as— it’s different, with you.”

“Yes,” Sam nods, releasing Lena’s hands to take a long-suffering sip of iced coffee. “Because I know the meaning of the word ‘platonic’. Carry on.”

Lena chooses not to engage with the incisive remark, picking up the outline of her thought process instead. “So anyway, after we fought I thought maybe she was just being so intense to make up for lost time, you know? Like, she was overly affectionate because we were both still healing.”

Sam nods sagely, chewing on the end of her straw.

“And then I thought it was reassurance. Reasserting out relationship, proving we were still okay, that kind of thing. But lately it seems like— it seems like it’s even more than that.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. Her expression couldn’t be clearer if she’d written no shit across her forehead in neon sharpie. “Mmm. I’d say it’s more than that, yeah.”

Lena’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that that woman has been in love with you for at least four years now.”

Lena’s inordinately glad she isn’t mid-sip as Sam’s comment lands. Her suit is Balenciaga; she doesn’t particularly want to spray espresso all down the front of it. “What?” she splutters nevertheless. “She isn’t— she hasn’t been— why on earth would you think—”

Sam doesn’t even bother to respond, quirking a brow as she slurps noisily through her straw.

“No.” Lena’s head is shaking so emphatically she can feel the joints in her neck crack. “No, she’s not.”

“Uh huh. Sure.”

“She’s not.” Lena runs a hand through her hair. “Sam, she very deliberately refers to us as friends at least three times a week. Fuck, remember after Edge tried to frame me for poisoning those kids? She called us sisters.” Lena represses a shudder at the memory. “She wouldn’t do that if she felt— like that about me.”

The amusement on Sam’s face hasn’t lessened at all. She looks thoroughly unconvinced by Lena’s impassioned arguments. “Sure. But, counterpoint,” she says calmly, tongue poking out a little between her teeth. “She’s a fucking idiot.”

“Hey—”

“I mean that in the most affectionate way possible, before you jump to your girlfriend’s defence,” Sam smirks. “But you’ve gotta admit, she’s a Grade A dumbass. Sweet as pie, but a little dense. Hot, but totally oblivious. Built like a Greek goddess, yes, but dumber than a bag of—”

Okay,” Lena interrupts, feeling her cheeks heat up as Sam’s smirk widens another degree. “That’s not helpful.”

“Sorry,” Sam says unapologetically. She stares at Lena for a moment before softening, shaking her head and smiling fondly. “Lena, darling. Angel. Muffin face. Cuddle bun. Why are you freaking out?” She dips her head to meet Lena’s eyes. “Do you want her to like you as more than a friend?”

“I don’t know!” Lena mutters, cheeks flushing. Sam arches one unimpressed eyebrow. Lena huffs. “Fine, I do know.”

Satisfied, Sam leans back in her chair, slurping loudly through her straw. “Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that she acts— like that,” Lena says, gesticulating vaguely in the air as if the feeling of Kara’s lips pressed platonically to her neck can be encapsulated by the wave of a hand. “And then goes on to— to friendzone me in the same breath!”

Sam smirks. “Did Nia teach you that?”

“Yes,” Lena sighs. “Did I use it right?”

“Let me ask Ruby,” Sam says, fingers flying over her phone screen. A moment later her cell vibrates. Sam smiles down at the message. “You did! Good job.”

“Focus,” Lena pouts, snapping her fingers in the brunette’s face. “I’m left with two options here. Either Kara genuinely thinks that the way she treats me is acceptable according to what friends are for—”

She tries, really she does, to hold back a shudder as she says the words. She doesn’t succeed. “Or— or she’s lying to me. Covering, lying about her feelings for me.” Lena’s voice gets very quiet. She feels choked suddenly, like a gloved hand is tightening on her windpipe. “She swore she wouldn’t ever lie to me again. Not about anything real.”

Sam reaches out, lays a warm hand over Lena’s clenched fist to give it a sympathetic squeeze. “So ask her, babe. Just ask her where you stand.”

“I can’t ask her,” Lena sighs. “What if she doesn’t think there’s anything weird about her behaviour? What if she is lying? How will I trust her then? What if it ruins our relationship? What if she’s never thought of me like that? What if she doesn’t—”

“Lena,” Sam interrupts firmly, squeezing her hand again. “What if she does?”

Lena freezes mid-sentence, mouth hanging open in a manner so uncouth she can almost hear her mother’s scathing disapproval at her shoulder. What if Kara does? What if Lena’s feelings are returned, reciprocated? What if they could have the cuddles and forehead kisses and love confessions without it being weird and confusing? What if—

No. Lena derails that particular thought train before it can reach its natural, devastating, full-of-false-hope conclusion. “It’s too risky,” she says with finality, raising her chin and squaring her shoulders. “If it goes wrong I can’t— I can’t lose her again. No.”

She takes a deep breath. “First I have to be sure. I have to figure out how she feels. Do some investigation, find some proof. Then I can act on it.”

Sam leans back in her chair again to stare at her flatly. “Yes, because that sounds much easier than just asking.”

But Lena barely hears her. She’s already bulldozing ahead, mind clicking into its familiar scientific process, parsing through variables to be monitored and outcomes to be analysed. “No, I can crack this. It’s just going to take some research.”

Her phone vibrates twice on the table, a message from Jess about an early appointment and Lena stands, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles from her suit. She feels lighter already, buoyed by the plans formulating in her mind, invigorated by the promise of rigorous scientific data upon which to base her decisions.

“Thank you,” she hums, bending to press a kiss to Sam’s cheek. “You’ve been such a help. I have to run— potential investor. Give Ruby my love!” she smiles, picking up her purse and turning to leave.

“I don’t approve of this plan!” Sam calls after her, throwing her hands in the air. “I want it on the record that I think this is a terrible idea!”

“I’ll be sure to credit you as a co-author when my findings are published,” Lena tosses over her shoulder with a wink and a grin, all but floating out of the coffee shop and back to the office.

 

She throws herself into preparatory research the very first chance she gets.

Oddly enough, her scan of the literature doesn’t yield many fruitful results. She searches multiple journal databases, even takes advantage of her lifetime alumni access to comb through the online libraries of Harvard, Yale, and MIT. And still, her search of peer reviewed studies on the conflation of platonic and romantic love between intimate acquaintances produces no useful insights.

Frustrated and running low on caffeine, Lena pinches her fingers together hard at the bridge of her nose. “Hope,” she sighs, waiting for the pleasant bing that tells her the AI is listening. “This is ridiculous. How do you find out if your best friend is in love with you without asking them?”

“I’ve found an article that may help you, Ms Luthor,” comes Hope’s soothing voice. “It’s titled 18 Signs a Friend Likes You Romantically Even If They’re Hiding It. Would you like me to pull it up on your laptop for you?”

Lena perks up immediately, pulling her computer towards her to scan the screen. This is it; the answer she’s been looking for. A list of eighteen behaviours that can be tracked, monitored, quantified. A list that, if fulfilled by Kara, will indicate the truth of her feelings for Lena.

Lena reaches for a notebook, flipping to a clean page. She diligently copies out the list of signs then pauses, tapping her pen against her chin. On the page opposite, she writes out two possibilities.

Hypothesis 1: Kara’s behaviour, while intense, is not cloaking romantic intentions

Hypothesis 2: Kara’s behaviour fulfils the signs that she has romantic intentions. She loves likes me and is lying about it

There. Simple. Even though seeing the possible outcomes written there in black and white makes Lena’s stomach twist in nervous anticipation, she still feels better. Focused; filled with purpose.

All she has to do is compare Kara’s behaviour over the next few weeks against her list of signs. If all, or even a majority, occur, she can reasonably assume that Kara likes her – she represses a shiver – romantically. Armed with that knowledge, she can then figure out how to act on it.

She scans the list again, eyes narrowing. Sure, at first glance, there seem to be a lot of behaviours listed there that Kara has definitely exhibited before. As recently as the past week, in fact. She might even have done three of them this morning.

But. Rigorous experiments are always time-bound, with clearly defined limits. She can start her observations tomorrow with a clean slate, as it were. Just to ensure her results are accurate, indisputable.

Satisfied in her research plan, she pulls out her phone to text Sam.

Lena [5.41pm]: I’ve found a solution to my Kara problem.

Sam [5.41pm]: does it involve copious amounts of alien booze and a leather harness?

Lena [5.42pm]: Sam so help me God

Sam [5.42pm]: sorry, sorry. do tell

She takes a deep breath, refocusing as her thumbs fly over the keys.

Lena [5.44pm]: I’ve found an article that lists ways to tell if your friend is in love with you. All I have to do is see whether Kara exhibits those behaviours and I’ll have my answer. Simple.

She snaps a photo of her notebook, hypotheses and all, and attaches it to the message. It doesn’t take long for a response to buzz in.

Sam [5.46pm]: oh yeah? who wrote this article?

She frowns, flicking tabs to check.

Lena [5.47pm]: A site called

God, she doesn’t even want to type it. She takes a deep breath. Steels herself.

Lena [5.47pm]: BootyTap.com

The reply is immediate.

Sam [5.47pm]: because THAT sounds like a reliable source

Sam [5.48pm]: god this is gonna be a train wreck. an absolute disaster. possibly the worst plan you’ve ever come up with, including that time you tried to mind control humanity

Sam [5.48pm]: keep me updated i want to hear EVERYTHING

Lena sighs, locking her phone. So, maybe, objectively, it does seem a little ridiculous to conduct a clandestine scientific observation of her best friend’s behaviour to determine her intentions when, as Sam pointed out, the option of just talking to her is right there. But vulnerability and opening herself up to the possibility of rejection have never exactly been Lena’s strongest suits; even less so now post-Supergirl-fiasco.

Maybe it’s stupid, maybe it’s overkill. Maybe it will be a train wreck. But science and data and quantifiable proof have never, not once in her life, let Lena down the way people have.

So sue her if she’s keen to get a little more confirmation before allowing her defences to fall to the battering ram of Kara’s earnest charm all over again. It’s just good scientific practice, is all.

 

She gets the opportunity to begin her observations the very next day.

She and Kara meet for coffee between meetings and conference calls, deciding to check out a new hole in the wall coffee shop famous for its homemade scones. The blonde promptly inhales four with great appreciation, dropping crumbs all over their cosy corner table.

It’s raining hard outside and the insides of the windows have steamed up, the air thick with the scent of baking pastries and roasting beans. Lena relaxes further into her padded chair, sipping contentedly at her latte as she listens to the blonde outline the authoritative guide to the best sweet treats in National City, now updated to include their current location.

She’s tracking a raindrop’s path absentmindedly down the windowpane, feeling snug and floaty and dream-like within their espresso-scented bubble of warmth, when it happens.

Kara is still talking, chirping excitedly about her latest article pitch and Lena is half-listening, half just staring at the blonde with what she’s sure is a look of dumb affection plastered to her face.

And then, with absolutely no warning, Kara reaches out. Drags the pad of her thumb slowly across Lena’s top lip, dipping smoothly into the bow and pressing slightly at the corner. Lena, all higher brain function blissfully halted in its tracks, watches in silent shock as Kara leans back comfortably in her chair, the tip of her thumb covered in latte foam.

She does it casually, as if Lena doesn’t have two perfectly capable thumbs of her own for just such occasions. As if there isn’t a napkin tucked under Lena’s mug in anticipation of this very eventuality, as if Kara doesn’t possess a matching one. As if the slow drag of her skin over Lena’s mouth was really the only antidote to this situation.

For one awful moment Lena wonders if Kara is going to lick the foam off the offending appendage. For another too-long, wavering beat it seems Kara is wondering the same thing.

But she comes to a decision, smiling as she wipes her thumb on her napkin and carrying on with her story as if she’d never interrupted herself at all. As if Lena’s heart isn’t pounding out the tempo of the Macarena double-speed as it attempts to beat itself right out of her chest.

The contents of her 18 point list, currently burning an accusing hole through the notebook in Lena’s purse, floats hazily before her eyes. Signs a friend likes you romantically even if they’re hiding it, she thinks, cursing her near-eidetic memory. Number six: they get close physically.

Well, that’s fine. It’s only one out of eighteen. Not a big deal. Not a big deal at all.

 

It’s not a big deal.

It’s such a not-big deal, in fact, that Lena doesn’t even think about it again for an entire day and a half.

Admittedly, that’s less out of choice and more out of necessity. She’s had a hellish day finalising L-Corp’s biggest merger to date, dodging last minute double-crossing and averting eleventh hour crises, and it’s all she can do to put the kettle on and try not to collapse face-first on the marble countertop when she gets home.

The boiling water pulls her out of her exhaustion-induced staring competition with the kitchen sink and she rifles tiredly through her tea caddy only to find it empty. Sighing heavily enough to wake the dead she bobs up onto her tiptoes, straining to reach the emergency teabags on the top shelf.

Her fingertips are still a solid two inches from their goal when suddenly a hand appears on her waist, sliding her gently out of the way. This hand appears with no audible warning, in Lena’s highly secure and – to the best of her knowledge – completely empty apartment, so Lena does the only rational thing she can. She shrieks.

The hand on her body is quickly followed by a blue-clad arm, then a shoulder, then a face belonging to an utterly unperturbed Supergirl at Lena’s back. The hero continues her comms conversation with unnerving serenity as she nudges Lena out of the way.

“And that was before I even— stop screaming, it’s only me— had a chance to slap the cuffs on him.”

Lena does manage to stop screaming then, barely. Sags back against the counter with a hand pressed to her racing heart, staring at the unexpected intruder with wide eyes. Kara, for her part, just nods approvingly at Lena’s silence as she snags the spare teabags from the top shelf, handing them to Lena with a smile.

“No, she’s fine,” Kara says into her comms with a fond roll of her eyes, plucking a teabag from the box sitting limply in Lena’s grasp and depositing it into her waiting mug. “I made her jump. She’s just being dramatic.”

Lena scoffs, recovered enough from the adrenaline rush to swat at Kara’s shoulder as she brews her tea. Kara says goodbye to her sister and plucks the comms from her ear, slipping it into its designated compartment in her boot. “Hi,” she beams, smile big and angelic. “Did I scare you?”

Lena stares at her flatly, one eyebrow raised in a half-hearted attempt at disapproval. “How did you get in?”

“Bedroom window,” Kara says guilelessly as she rifles through the three cupboards in Lena’s kitchen dedicated specifically to sating a Kryptonian appetite for snacks. “The one you still haven’t fixed from—”

“The last time you trespassed?” The chastisement in her voice is shockingly weak even to her own ears. Wait, she thinks belatedly as her own words register in her exhaustion-fogged mind. The last time. One of many.

And all of a sudden, after an entire day and a half of not thinking about it, that goddamn list is the only thing in Lena’s mind. She’s thinking specifically of item fourteen, of how it had looked on the page of her notebook in her looping cursive. They’re very comfortable in your space.

Shit, bollocks, and also fuck.

Okay. Okay. It’s fine. It’s still only two. Out of eighteen. Probably just a fluke. She and Kara are very good friends, after all. Best friends. Close best friends.

It’s fine. It’s so fine.

She sucks in a deep breath. Tries to remember how human beings communicate. “You couldn’t have used the door? Knocked, maybe?” she manages, voice only a little higher than normal.

“But think of the extra time that would have wasted,” Kara says, unperturbed by Lena’s mini crisis, selecting four family-size bags of her favourite imported kimchi potato chips and hip-checking the cupboard door shut in satisfaction. “If I had, your stumpy little legs would still be straining for the teabags right now. I was doing you a favour.”

Lena’s mouth drops open in mock outrage, the dish towel in her hand a convenient missile to launch at the blonde. The cloth hits Kara square in the face but the Kryptonian doesn’t even flinch, letting it drop to the counter as she just grins and grins. Lena will not let herself be endeared out of this, she will not. “Doing me a favour by breaking into my home?”

Kara pouts, and Lena feels her tenuous resolve weaken even further. Damn her. “You’re focusing on the wrong things here, Lena,” she says beseechingly and then, resoundingly, as though sealing the deal, “—you have tea because of me.”

“Oh, and I’m so grateful,” Lena deadpans. “Whatever would I have done otherwise?”

Kara’s grin widens, nodding. “Well, that’s what friends are for.”

Oh Christ, Lena thinks, fingers already twitching toward the booze cupboard. Here we go again.

She keeps up her charade of annoyance for all of another seventeen seconds, until Kara wraps her arms around Lena’s waist from behind and dances them both around the room in mid-air, crooning an only slightly off-key rendition of an old Whitney Houston ballad in Lena’s ear until she stops trying to fight the smile that threatens to split her face in two.

Later, laid out on the couch in front of an old Gilmore Girls rerun, Lena decides simply not to think about the broken window lock in her bedroom and the inevitable awkward conversation she’ll have to endure with her head of security as a consequence. Decides to ignore the looming prospect of the list, that probably almost definitely doesn’t mean anything anyway.

She focuses instead on the way Kara’s socked feet slide snug against her own whenever she laughs, and seriously considers installing a cat-flap in her apartment. Or a Kara-flap.

In the end, she settles for adding Kara’s thumbprint to her home security system so the blonde can come and go as she pleases, and doesn’t let herself think too hard about it.

 

It is, of course, totally and absolutely fine that Kara proceeds to knock another three items off the list in the span of twenty-four hours.

She’s waiting on the couch outside her office when Lena re-emerges from a morning in the lab, chatting amiably with Jess and chewing her way through two cheese Danishes simultaneously. Lena quirks an eyebrow at the grease-stained bag on her assistant’s desk, at her smudged lipstick and smug smirk as she beckons Kara inside.

“Did you bring food for Jess?” she asks as she boots up her laptop, pouring them both a glass of water.

Kara grins sheepishly. “Well. I brought it for you, actually. From that bakery in Dublin that you love. Happy Thursday!” she says with a flourish, producing another heavenly-smelling paper bag and nudging it towards Lena on the desk.

They surprise you, Lena thinks. List item seventeen. Damn.

Kara continues, charmingly oblivious. “But, yeah. I also picked up some potato scones and a cinnamon bun for Jess. She mentioned that she liked them last time, so.”

“So?” Lena asks coyly, one eyebrow quirking in amusement. “Are you trying to woo my assistant, Ms Danvers?”

Kara, predictably, turns an immediate shade of scarlet. “No— I— not woo,” she manages at last, reaching up a hand to tug self-consciously at her ear. “I’m not even— I just— fine. So maybe I’m trying to get her to like me,” she admits with a huff, avoiding Lena’s eyes.

Lena’s stomach clenches suddenly, almost violently at the blonde’s words, her own cheeks heating up to match. “You are, are you?” she manages after a strangled beat, aiming for playful teasing and praying she manages it. “Does someone have a crush?”

“What? No!” Kara almost yells, her response so immediate Lena struggles to believe it’s anything but sincere. “No,” the blonde continues, quieter now. “She’s your friend. And my friends are your friends, so. Your friends… are… my friends?” She clears her throat awkwardly. “Anyway. You get it. Gotta, ha. Gotta stay on her good side, y’know? Her death stare could rival yours.”

Number fifteen: they want your friends and family to like them, is what Lena thinks.

“Mmm, I trained her well,” is what she actually says, and that, at least for the moment, is that.

 

That’s that, for the rest of Lena’s working afternoon. And then Kara comes over that evening to be an audience in front of which Lena can practice her latest TEDTalk, and that is no longer that.

She’s a great listener, Lena has to admit. Attentive and engaged, nodding and smiling and asking all the right questions in all the right places. She puts Lena so at ease that she gets lost in the explanation of her latest research on water provision during humanitarian crises; barely even notices Kara silencing her vibrating phone with a huff before shifting her full attention back to Lena.

But the second time it happens – with her Supergirl phone, no less – Lena definitely does notice. And a minute later, when the comms piece in Kara’s boot starts making enough noise that even human hearing can’t help but pick it up, she also notices the way Kara shifts her foot in irritation, almost crushing the tech into dust.

“Kara, do you need to—” she starts to ask just as her own phone vibrates, the screen lit up with a photo of Alex Danvers pouting. She ignores the blonde’s noises of protest to answer the call.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Director Danvers?” she asks, smooth and saccharine sweet.

“Is my sister there?” Alex huffs, foregoing all pleasantries. “Never mind, I know she is. Will you please ask her to answer her damn phone? And remind her that if she destroys another comms piece, she’s paying for it.”

Kara huffs unhappily on the couch and Lena’s just opening her mouth to relay the message when Alex cuts her off. “Kara, I know you can hear me. There’s a situation at the port that needed Supergirl’s attention like, five minutes ago. Stop ignoring me and get your ass over there, please.”

Lena presses her lips together to hold back a smirk as the dial tone sounds in her ear. “So, you’d better go,” she says around a smile as she slides her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. “Before Alex comes looking for you. I don’t fancy your chances against her, invulnerability or no.”

“Ugh, fine,” Kara pouts, dragging her body off the couch and looking for all the world like a stroppy teenager. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Be safe,” Lena murmurs reflexively as Kara’s suit materialises in the blink of an eye. The blonde throws a wink and a thumbs up over her shoulder as she turns to leave.

“Hey,” Lena calls at her retreating form. “Why were you ignoring your calls? You know it drives Alex crazy.”

“I wanted to let you finish your talk,” Kara says simply, tugging open the balcony door and Lena thinks, fuck, really? Another one? Lucky number twelve: they avoid their phone to focus on you.

Kara smiles at her, backlit by the setting sun and haloed in gold. “It’s not like she needs me for anything urgent urgent. Just a faulty ship engine that needs a nudge in the right direction. And you were so in the zone; I didn’t want to slow your roll.”

And then she’s gone in a blur of red and blue, and Lena is left alone to come to terms with the fact that she may very well be in love with a woman who unironically says things like slow your roll.

And the fact that it’s looking increasingly like she might just be loved back.

 

They manage to make it two whole days without further incident but the next offence, when it comes, is a real doozy.

It’s just a regular night. A regular night at Kara’s apartment with regular takeout and regular blanket-sharing and regular popcorn in front of a regular Disney movie Kara won’t stop singing along to.

Lena just has a regular question, some regular query about plot or characters or maybe even the thermostat in Kara’s apartment. She can’t really remember. The point is, it’s just a regular question that she intends to phrase in a regular way.

She even, out of respect for the assortment of crooning animals onscreen, waits for a break in the near-constant songs before she interrupts.

“Kara?”

The blonde doesn’t even look away from the TV screen. “Yeah, babe.”

Lena promptly inhales a piece of popcorn directly into her lung, coughing and spluttering and generally trying to remain tethered to the mortal plane while Kara’s casual babe bounces erratically around the inside of her skull like a nineties Windows screensaver.

That goddamn list floats unbidden into her mind. Specifically, item seven. They use pet names.

“Oh, oh,” Kara coos, apparently oblivious to the flaming blush on Lena’s cheeks that has exactly nothing to do with her choking fit. “What happened, sweetheart? Here, c’mere,” she murmurs, movie forgotten as she rubs gentle circles between Lena’s heaving shoulder blades.

She’s managed to somehow manoeuvre Lena’s body to fit snug between her thighs on the couch, setting them at right angles to each other as her hand continues its tender ministrations. As Lena slowly regains the ability to draw air into her lungs Kara’s chin drops heavy to her shoulder, nose pressed to the hollow beneath her ear. One hand stays warm and unmoving on Lena’s back, the other snaking its way round her waist to thumb over her hip and now Lena is struggling to breathe for an entirely different reason.

“You humans are so fragile,” Kara murmurs, nosing along Lena’s jaw. Her eyelashes flutter against Lena’s cheek, lips nudging against her skin as she speaks and Lena feels her soul leave her mortal body and ascend to a better place.

“You ought to be more careful,” the blonde hums against Lena’s throat, tone light and teasing. “After everything you’ve survived, we can’t have you done in by a piece of popcorn.”

“No,” Lena manages, gaze locked straight ahead, cheeks flaming. “Think of the headlines.”

“I can see the obituaries now,” Kara sighs. “My write-up of you would be tasteful, of course. With a classy title, paying tribute to your extraordinary life.” She pauses for dramatic effect, hand sliding up Lena’s back to tangle in her hair. “Luthor heiress finally pops.”

Lena curses herself for the snort of laughter she releases, for the way the hand on her hip tightens happily at the reaction. “Well, you do have a lot of experience writing puff pieces.”

Kara gasps, very unfortunately, very distractingly, right in her ear. “Lena,” she breathes, hushed and awed. “Was that a pun?”

Lena presses her lips together to hide her smirk. And to prevent herself from doing anything catastrophic like licking them. Like turning her head and pressing them to Kara’s.

“It’s nothing you can prove.”

“Lena Luthor is punny,” Kara crows triumphantly, nudging her grin against Lena’s cheek. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. You can keep up your badass business persona with everyone else. They needn’t know you’re secretly an enormous dork.”

Item fucking eight, Lena thinks. They affectionately tease you.

“Thank God,” she manages weakly, thoroughly distracted by the way Kara’s nails are scratching lightly through the dark curls at the base of her skull. “Can’t be ruining my cutthroat image. I’d never win another boardroom negotiation again.”

“Mmm, I promise you no one else will ever know that my best friend is a nerd who makes popcorn puns. Scout’s honour,” Kara hums, and Lena really should tease her back. Really should call her out on the fact that she was certainly never a Girl Scout. Really should brush this off like every other borderline-inappropriate interaction they’ve had over the past few months.

But increasingly, it’s getting harder to do. Because casually tossing out the best friends label might be alright for introducing one another at parties and bars. It might be alright for brunch plans and spa weekends and even the occasional sleepover when Kara’s too drunk to fly home.

But it does not feel alright for this moment right here. In the immediate aftermath of babe and sweetheart, with Kara’s thighs firm and snug around Lena’s hips, Kara’s fingers cupping the nape of her neck and creeping beneath Lena’s sweatshirt to trace over her stomach, Kara’s nose at her jaw and her lips against her throat— this is not alright.

This is not a best friends moment. This is a I want to kiss you until you can’t remember your own name moment. This is a I’d like to press you into these couch cushions and make you forget everything but the feeling of my skin on yours moment.

This is not a best friends moment. But it seems that Kara has not gotten the memo.

 

Seven out of eighteen.

It’s more than Lena expected to observe, maybe ever, and it hasn’t even been a week since the start of her experiment.

She exhales heavily, leaning back in her office chair and running a hand through her hair just as her cell lights up with an incoming call. She answers with a resigned sigh. “Do you have some kind of sixth sense for when I need to talk?”

“Absolutely,” comes Sam’s chipper voice down the line. It sounds like her mouth is full, her words interspersed with the wet sounds of chewing. “Plus, my Lena Luthor yearn-o-meter just pinged so hard I heard it from across the country, so. Dish the dirt.”

“What dirt do you want me to dish?”

“Don’t play cute with me.” Sam swallows whatever food is in her mouth with a huff. “I demanded updates on your terrible terrible plan and so far you have resoundingly failed to deliver. How’s Operation-See-If-Kara-Is-In-Love-With-Me-Spoiler-Alert-She-Definitely-Is coming?”

“Catchy name,” Lena deadpans, then drops the bravado to press her fingertips to her temples. “She’s already done seven out of the eighteen things on the list. In less than a week.”

“Only seven?” Sam asks around the unmistakeable sound of her taking another bite of food. “Gotta say, I’m a little disappointed.”

Lena opens her mouth to protest, but Sam doesn’t let her get that far. “Alright, tell me everything. Lay out her crimes. Spare no detail.”

Lena sighs again – she seems to be doing an awful lot of sighing these days – and tugs the notebook containing her observations towards her on the desk. "She uses pet names.”

“Christ, of course she does.” Sam sounds far too delighted with this new information for Lena’s taste. “Which ones?”

“Um.” She scans through the pages. “Sweetheart. Honey. Babe.”

Honey?” Sam whistles low through her teeth. “Fuck, she’s got it bad.”

Lena’s brow furrows. “But, that’s not necessarily— Sam, you call me honey all the time. You call me much more elaborate pet names than that, in fact.”

“Yes,” Sam says slowly, as if she’s spelling out her answer to an infant. “Which is completely different. Because I’ve made it my mission to acclimate you to genuine human intimacy through repeated reassurance of your importance in my life in the form of loving nicknames. Plus, I don’t want to sleep with you.”

Lena makes a sad noise in the back of her throat, and Sam snorts.

“Oh, pickle. You know I’d hit that in a second if redheads weren’t more my type. Plus, I wouldn’t put it past Kara to punch me into space for even considering it.”

Lena chooses not to engage with that particular comment, outlining Kara’s other non-platonic transgressions with a feeling of dread steadily growing in the pit of her stomach. It must translate into her voice because when she finishes, Sam makes a concerned noise down the line.

“What’s wrong? Why has this made you switch into your mopey voice?”

Unconsciously, Lena straightens her spine. “Sam, I am the CEO of a multibillion dollar business empire. I do not have a mopey voice.”

“Whatever you say, princess,” Sam says, and Lena can hear her smirk down the phone. “Isn’t this a good thing? You’re well on your way to proving what the rest of us have known for years: that Kara’s head over heels for you. Or, like, cape over boots.”

If that’s true,” Lena sighs, emphasising the if so hard it’s almost physically painful, “all it means is that she’s lying to my face. If it’s true, why is she keeping up this friendship schtick? Why is she keeping things from me, important things? Again?”

Sam sighs. “Lena. Buttercup. I know you’ve been burned before. But you’ve gotta admit, not confessing your feelings for someone is not the same thing as lying about your basic identity for four years. After all,” Sam pauses dramatically, lining up the killing blow. “You haven’t told her how you feel, have you.”

Lena huffs. Fuck, if she’d wanted sense and rationality she would have talked to Hope about this. Can a girl not be allowed to wallow in her own illogical insecurities in peace from time to time?

“That’s irrelevant,” Lena manages primly. “I’m not the one throwing out the just friends line every time I exhale.”

“She’s still on that soapbox, huh?”

Lena shakes her head, scanning her notes. “She’s done seven of the eighteen things on the list but in the same time period, she’s also explicitly referenced our friendship—” she pauses, counting. “On nineteen separate occasions.”

“Nineteen? In a week?” Sam whistles, long and low. “Damn. So she’s either oblivious, having the world’s most protracted gay awakening, or way overcompensating in her cover story.”

“I’m not sure which of those options is worst,” Lena sighs, kneading her knuckles over her closed eyelids.

She’s not even sure which experiment outcome she’s hoping for, anymore. Either Kara has an extremely fucked up idea of exactly what friends are for, and Lena is doomed to spend the rest of her life in a quasi-romantic relationship in which there are, in the immortal words of the endearing idiot to whom Lena has unfortunately lost her heart, no benefits except the benefit of friendship.

Or, alternatively, Kara knows exactly what she’s doing and is using friendship as a flimsy smokescreen to cloak her real intentions. If that’s the case, it opens up a whole minefield of questions, including such gems as why hasn’t she ever said anything and why is she lying to me and the critically acclaimed smash-hit single what the hell am I supposed to do now?

But, all of that seems like a problem for Future Lena. Current Lena still has an experiment to finish; a convenient excuse to continue burying her head in the sand until she can figure out her next move.

She says as much to Sam, ignoring her concern cloaked in gentle ribbing and promising (lying) to not overthink this whole thing, to keep the brunette updated on developments. Ends the call, pours a large glass of scotch, throws it back in one smooth movement and then ignores the glass entirely, curling up on the couch with the bottle cradled in the crook of her elbow and drinking until she falls asleep.

 

She wakes the next morning hungover and stiff from a night on the couch, but with a new sense of purpose and resolve. For the duration of this experiment she is a scientist; an independent observer who also, coincidentally, happens to be one of the subjects of the study.

But that’s irrelevant because she is going to be impartial. Unbiased. She is going to let Kara do whatever she’s going to do until she either checks off every item on the list or it becomes clear that she never will.

She will be a neutral party, watching and observing everything that happens but not feeling it. Not worrying about it or freaking out over it or overanalysing it. Not until the study is over, one way or another, and she has a complete data set upon which to base her rational decisions.

Satisfied in her own reasoning and adherence to rigorous scientific standards, she uncurls herself from the couch to begin her day.

 

Thank god for her newfound resolve, she finds herself thinking that very evening. Because an innocuous Friday night invitation to Al’s dive bar with the rest of the Superfriends seems in fact to be a smokescreen for Kara’s attempt to knock off every remaining list item in one fell swoop, and if Lena weren’t so detached and impartial she might be feeling extremely affected right now.

But she is, so she isn’t, so. It’s all good. It’s totally fine. Little boxes, and all that.

It starts with Kara trying to teach Lena to play darts. Lena’s seen her fair share of romcoms; she knows exactly what she’s in for the second the blonde suggests it.

As usual, her predictions are right on the money. She ends up in a dark corner with Kara pressed tight to her back, wrapped around her like she wants Lena to wear her as a jacket. They’re facing the dartboard and Lena’s trying to think about force and distance and trajectory because, hell. She’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to physics. Cracking the secret to a good dart throw should be a piece of cake.

She’s trying to think about physics because she’s trying hard not to think about Kara’s fingers wrapped warm around her hand as she guides Lena’s throw, or the blonde’s unyielding grip on her waist as she steadies their bodies, or the way her ass is pressed perfectly to the cradle of Kara’s hips and Kara doesn’t seem to mind at all.

Needless to say, Lena does not manage to think very much about physics.

She is, accordingly, absolutely terrible at darts. But the way Kara’s hands come up to frame her ribcage, rocking them back and forth in celebration the first time Lena gets a single dart to stick in the board instead of the wall and floor surrounding it makes her think that the blonde never cared too much about the game anyway.

That is, until Kara announces with a flourish that she’s going to show Lena how it’s done, challenging J’onn to a competition and proceeding to absolutely wipe the floor with him with an air of self-assured swagger that cannot be accidental.

The way she strips off her flannel to play in only a skin-tight white tank top, arms flexing like some kind of deity of being absolutely jacked; the way she smirks and struts and barely even pays attention as she casually flicks dart after dart right into the centre of the bullseye; the way she keeps glancing over to make sure Lena’s watching, throwing her grins and winks and even blowing a kiss as she lines up the winning shot— well.

Absolutely none of it feels accidental and Lena thinks, bingo. List item two: they try to impress you. Doesn’t think at all about how it absolutely definitely might be working.

From there, the evening progresses as it usually does whenever Maldorian rum is involved. Kara almost starts a fight with three separate men – and one woman – who have the poor judgment to try and hit on Lena whenever she heads up to the bar to buy their table another round.

Each time Lena just smirks, pulling Kara’s growling form away from whichever poor unsuspecting soul hadn’t anticipated that their flirtatious overture would almost lead to them being punched into space by a possessive blonde bodybuilder with a ponytail and glasses.

Number three, she thinks after the fourth time they repeat that little dance. They’re protective of you.

Soon, Kara moves past growly-drunk and slides into sombre-and-reflective-drunk, circling Lena’s wrist with her fingers and dragging her out into the cool night air to stare at the stars through the fog of light pollution. They want to spend time alone with you, Lena thinks as the blonde shrugs off her flannel and drapes it around Lena’s shoulders, tangling their fingers together as she points out galaxies and constellations she’s experienced firsthand and Lena falls a little bit more in love.

That last bit is irrelevant, though. All Lena’s doing is gathering data. Impartially. That’s all.

Inevitably, Lena gets cold and Kara gets thirsty and they head back inside to re-join the others and have another round. And inevitably, Kara ends up at Lena’s secret favourite and definitely most-terrible-for-her-health stage of alcohol consumption: handsy-drunk.

The bar is packed, every table overflowing and barely any floor space left to squeeze through as the Friday crowd gathers strength beneath the dim lights and thrumming music. Kara manoeuvres her carefully through the throng, arms out and rigid around Lena’s body to prevent her getting squished but when they finally make it to the table Alex and the others have claimed, there’s only one spare bar stool to be found.

Lena’s still trying to see through the mass of bodies to find another seat when strong arms wrap around her waist, Kara lifting her clean off the ground to perch on the one remaining stool with her, right between Kara’s spread thighs. The stool really isn’t very big, and Lena’s pretty sure the blonde is surreptitiously floating just a little to keep herself from falling off backwards. But the net result of the arrangement is Kara pressed tight to her back, arm wrapped around Lena’s stomach and chin on her shoulder, muscular thighs tensed deliciously along the outside of Lena’s own and frankly, she’s just not going to complain about how the situation came about.

What matters is that it has come about, and the next hour passes in a blur of jokes and laughs and drinks and at the forefront of it all is the sensation of Kara getting softer, closer, bolder with every minute that passes.

It starts with the blonde reaching up to gather Lena’s loose hair, draping it all over one shoulder so she can press chin and cheek to the newly-exposed skin of the other as she talks animatedly to Kelly about the latest Star Wars movie.

Kara’s hand, the one not anchored around Lena’s waist, starts off resting on the table, long fingers wrapped loosely around her rum. But as the glass empties her hand leaves her drink to drop beneath the table, landing first on her own thigh and then, gradually, migrating over to Lena’s.

At first it just rests there, flat and open and respectably close to Lena’s knee. But as Kara laughs harder, as she gets more involved in her stories, it starts to drift higher. Starts to squeeze, fingers spreading to rhythmically tighten and relax as they inch their way up Lena’s leg. Her thumb sweeps out to stroke over the swell of Lena’s inner thigh, fingers angling inwards; with every breath moving further and further from any position that could be considered even remotely platonic.

The blonde’s other hand, not to be outdone by its compatriot, takes its time working its way beneath Lena’s shirt to rest on the bare skin of her stomach. Lena can’t help but suck in a sharp breath when Kara’s entire palm finally makes contact, but all she gets in response is a tightening of Kara’s thighs around her hips and strong fingers moulding themselves to her skin to rub tender circles over her belly.

In fact, Kara doesn’t acknowledge the position of her various limbs and appendages at all. She keeps up an animated conversation with the rest of their table guilelessly, as if she doesn’t have one of her hands sandwiched between Lena’s inner thighs while the other teases over the sensitive skin where Lena’s stomach meets the waistband of her jeans.

Because, Lena realises, Kara’s transgressions are hidden from public view by the table between them. If Lena continues not to react – a Herculean effort for which she surely deserves some form of Nobel prize – none of their friends will be any the wiser.

That is, until Kara’s energy wanes and her eyelids start to droop and she gives up participating in general conversation to drop her face against the bare skin of Lena’s neck and shoulder. Lena’s about a drink and a half past two drinks too many and has been unable to do much more than nod along with the group’s raucous stories for quite some time now, and it takes an embarrassingly long moment for her to notice the sudden absence of conversation at their table.

She blinks herself back into some semblance of awareness to see every pair of eyes at the table locked incredulously on her. Feels her cheeks heat up before she fully registers why.

“Why is it that there are two actual couples at this table, yet the person getting the most action here is Lena?” Nia asks around a sly smirk.

Fuck. List item eleven. Other people notice the attention they give you.

Lena’s cheeks begin to flame, but her seat-mate appears not to have even registered the comment. Alex reaches out to snap her fingers next to her sister’s ear and Kara flinches, grumbling.

“Please don’t make me institute a hands where I can see them policy,” Alex sighs, massaging her temples as Kelly pats her arm in sympathy. “We’re in public, for Christ’s sake. Keep it PG.”

Kara huffs, face still smooshed against Lena’s neck. Her wandering hands don’t move an inch. “’M not even doin’ anything,” she mumbles tiredly. “Barely even touchin’ her.”

Alex throws her hands up in despair as Nia bites back what sounds like hysterical laughter.

“Actually, Kara, 57% of the surface area of your body is touching Lena’s right now,” Brainy says brightly, pleased as ever to be able to share some more knowledge with the group. “Including but not limited to your hand on her stomach and your mouth on her neck.”

Nia makes a choked sound of delight as J’onn awkwardly excuses himself to go and get them all another round. Lena’s cheeks are burning hotter than a supernova by this point and she’s just about ready to slide off the stool and hope the crowd tramples her to death so she doesn’t have to face those looks on their friends’ faces. But Kara just tightens her grip, allowing no such escape.

“You’re all jus’ jealous,” she huffs, face still pressed to Lena’s skin, lips still ghosting over her throat. “’Cause none of your best friends are this cuddly.”

And that’s it. That’s officially Lena’s limit.

Because yes, Kara had knocked off four list items in the span of as many hours. But she had also, with one hand massaging Lena’s inner thigh and the other half-buried beneath the waistband of Lena’s jeans, dropped the best friends bomb without missing a beat.

Any good scientist knows when they’re nearing the brink of their capabilities, and Lena has just reached hers. She downs the last of her drink, slides off the stool and out of the arms of a protesting and grumpy Kara, entrusting her safe travel home to her sister and calling herself a car.

She makes it home with her heart still hammering, takes a very long cold shower, drops into bed and screams into her pillow for an unbroken three minutes before she finally passes out.

 

In classic Kara Danvers style, they never talk about any of it.

This is good for Lena, in the sense that she is an impartial observer of this study and talking about what is happening between them would surely alert Kara to the fact that she is being studied. And then they would have to address the fact that there is something to be studied, and Lena is not quite ready for that conversation.

However, the complete lack of acknowledgment of Kara’s handsy crimes at the bar is also bad for Lena, in the sense that she has to try and continue to live her life as if she doesn’t possess the knowledge of exactly what it feels like to have Kara Danvers’ hand wedged tight between her legs.

And she does have that knowledge. She is able to think of very little other than that knowledge.

But Lena Luthor is, first and foremost, a scientist. A neutral onlooker of this experiment. So she will show up to the requisite Sunday afternoon Danvers Sister Movie Marathon and she will do it normally and neutrally and she will not blush once.

Okay, so the last one is a bald-faced lie. But she’s still proud of herself for managing to get through half of the first movie without being weird around Kara, or Alex, despite the blonde’s characteristic invasion of Lena’s personal space and the redhead’s near-constant suspicious glances.

She’s given a brief reprieve from the strain of remaining normal and impartial and un-weird when Alex’s work phone rings, loudly. The two sisters push off from the couch in unison, ready to deal with the latest crisis to hit National City and Lena thinks, thank fuck. A chance to breathe.

Kara hands her the remote and tells her to make herself at home while they’re gone, apologising for the interruption and handing Lena a bar of expensive dark chocolate as compensation as Alex tugs on her jacket.

“Lock up behind you if you leave!” Kara calls over her shoulder, already halfway out the door before she pauses, turning back for a moment as her voice lowers. “Don’t leave, though,” she says quietly, a hesitant smile tugging at her lips. “Please. Unless you need to. We won’t be long.”

Lena just nods, steadfastly ignoring the flush starting its slow crawl up the back of her neck. List item number thirteen: you can feel their nerves.

Reassured, Kara’s smile only widens. “Cool. Okay. See you soon!”

The door is closing behind them and Lena is sinking back into the couch cushions to the familiar soundtrack of Alex’s impatient grumbling when there’s a loud thud from the hall.

“Ooof— Alex, what are you—”

“What did you mean, ‘lock up behind you’? How was she supposed to do that?”

There’s the sound of scuffling through the still partially-open front door, and Kara’s frustrated huff. “Would you move? We have to go! Lena has a key, what are you even—”

Another thud, another huff. “Alex. You can’t just stop right in front of me like that! I could have knocked you clean through the wall—”

“She has a key?”

Alex’s tone is so incredulous that Lena feels herself shrinking into the couch the way she’s sure Kara is shrinking beneath her sister’s narrowed eyes. “Um. Yes?”

“You gave Lena a key. To your apartment.”

“I did.”

She had. It had all been very anticlimactic, really. She’d simply dropped her spare key off with Jess at L-Corp so Lena could pick up her forgotten laptop charger from the blonde’s apartment on a day when Kara was particularly slammed with Supergirl duties.

Lena had tried to return it that evening at movie night but Kara had just shaken her head with a smile, pressing the key back into Lena’s offering palm and getting up to refill the popcorn bowl without another word on the matter. So there the key had stayed, burning an accusing hole through the inside pocket of Lena’s purse ever since.

And— well. Fuck. List item number nine, Lena realises belatedly. They talk about a future with you in it.

Well. Trading keys (or thumbprints) to each other’s apartments presumably qualifies as envisaging a future together. So that’s just— that’s just. Fuck.

Outside the door, Alex’s tone is the careful kind of measured that makes Lena think of bomb disposal teams and delicate operations. “Why did you do that, Kara?”

Lena can practically hear Kara shrug. “I wanted her to— it’s just easier. She can come and go whenever she wants. She’s my best friend. What?” she asks after a too-long beat of silence. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Lena hears Alex mutter something that sounds distinctly like sweet suffering Jesus before the door finally slams closed behind them. Lena can’t help but echo the sentiment.

She’s drifted off to sleep tucked up under Kara’s red blanket by the time the Danvers sisters finally return hours later. Kara wakes her by leaning in close and trailing her just-washed hair over Lena’s face, laughing delightedly when Lena flinches away from the offending water droplets.

She presses a wet smacking kiss to Lena’s temple, nudging her up to sitting and tucking herself snugly into Lena’s blanket cocoon. She tugs the also freshly-showered Alex down on her other side and proceeds to overlay the first ten minutes of the movie with an excited regalement of their mission to Lena before Alex smacks her with a pillow and tells her in no uncertain terms to shut her damn mouth. Lena turns from Kara’s sheepish expression to face the screen with a fond smile.

And if Alex spends the rest of the evening shooting half-suspicious half-knowing looks at Lena, then at her sister, then at every point at which they’re cuddled together, well.

It’s no more difficult to ignore than the feeling of Kara’s soft breaths on the sensitive skin of Lena’s neck where her chin rests on Lena’s shoulder, or the way the blonde’s fingers have fisted into the bottom of Lena’s sweatshirt, one knuckle just brushing the exposed skin of her waist.

And Lena’s been ignoring that – and much, much worse – for years. A pointed Alex-Danvers-eyebrow-raise is child’s play to a consummate avoider such as herself.

She’s Lena freaking Luthor. She can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that Kara has now checked off thirteen of the eighteen items on her list, and still have some wilful ignorance to spare.

 

They’re together so much now that a night apart from Kara has begun to feel unnatural.

This worries Lena, on some level. If there was one thing her cold upbringing and various life traumas had taught her, it was that the only person she could ever truly rely on was herself. Needing another person practically invited them to hurt her and inevitably, they always did.

Kara had. She’d validated all of Lena’s deepest fears, proved once again that intimacy meant vulnerability and vulnerability just meant Lena’s heart being shattered anew.

But Kara had also done something that none of the others ever had. She’d come back.

She’d come back, no matter how many times Lena tried to push her away. She’d argued and screamed and cried and pleaded. She’d fought with Lena, but she’d also fought for Lena.

For the first time in her life, Lena had found someone who made her believe that she was worth fighting for. That seems like a thing too precious to ever be allowed to slip away.

But decades of conditioning aren’t easy to undo, and it still sits uneasily with Lena that she’s come to rely on another like this. That Kara’s absence sits heavy and obtrusive in her apartment on the rare nights she inhabits it alone.

Tonight is one such unsettled evening. She and Kara had parted ways after last night’s sleepover with the promise of lunch the next day, and the thought of the empty hours stretching between now and then is troubling Lena far more than it should.

There was a time when the prospect of a bottle of expensive merlot, a stack of experimental physics journals, and a nature documentary turned down low on the TV would have been Lena’s idea of a perfect night. But now she finds herself discombobulated, out of sorts, rattling around her too-big apartment unable to focus on anything but the empty space at the kitchen island, on the couch, in her bed.

She’s being ridiculous. She knows this. Lena is acutely, painfully aware of her own ridiculousness in this moment. She’s also emphatically unable to stop.

So when the faint beep of the biometric fingerprint scanner on her front door echoes through the apartment a moment later, Lena throws herself across the room and all but vaults onto the couch. Snatches up a journal at random and pretends to read with what she hopes is an air of nonchalance even as her heart somersaults excitedly in her chest.

“Hey,” comes Kara’s voice over the sound of the front door closing, her bag dropping unceremoniously onto Lena’s hall floor.

“Hey,” Lena returns as casually as she can manage, eyes glued to the page in front of her in a vain attempt to convey the image that she has any semblance of a life outside of the blonde anymore.

From behind her in the kitchen comes the sound of crinkling packets; the unmistakeable symphony of cupboards being raided. Seconds later a warm body appears at her side, Kara nudging in close to slide her arms around Lena’s waist and hook her chin over her shoulder. “Whatcha reading?” the blonde hums as she stares down at the article in Lena’s lap, pop tarts momentarily forgotten at her side.

Lena takes a deep breath to answer and instantly regrets it, inhaling a lungful of Kara’s soap-and-stardust scent that settles somewhere low in her hips. But layered over it are other smells; beer and chalk and wipe-clean pleather and she tilts her head to look at the blonde properly for the first time.

Kara is sporting neither supersuit nor Catco cardigan, but a pair of tight black skinny jeans Lena is suddenly excruciatingly glad she didn’t see from behind and a long-sleeved purple shirt. A shirt Lena distinctly remembers Kara trying on to show her one morning before they headed out to brunch, pouting and picking distastefully at the fabric as she complained that the colour washed her out. After much prompting Lena had eventually agreed that though the blonde looked good in everything (so, maybe she hadn’t meant to say that part out loud), it wasn’t the most flattering piece in her wardrobe.

Kara’s hair is pulled back in her usual half-updo, strands curling loosely over her shoulders. Her face is typically free of makeup, but the faded remains of pink lipstick colour her mouth.

Cogs begin to whir in Lena’s mind. Kara has clearly put more effort into her appearance than a typical workday requires, yet the overall effect (though gorgeous) is undeniably half-hearted.

Lena narrows her eyes. “Have you been at the bar?”

Kara nods, pressing her cold nose against Lena’s neck as her palm rubs gentle circles over Lena’s stomach. Lena ignores the very normal shiver she has to restrain at the touch in order to focus on the much more abnormal fact that Kara is – or at least, was – wearing makeup on a weeknight.

“Since when do you put on lipstick for your sister?”

Kara huffs out a chuckle against Lena’s skin, fingers tightening against her hip. “Wasn’t with Alex,” she sighs, leaning more heavily into Lena’s side. “I was on a date.”

Lena very quietly, very carefully, stops breathing. “Oh?”

Kara lets out a disgruntled huff. “Alex made me go.” She reaches out one-handed and unwraps a cherry pop tart, her jaw pressing rhythmically into Lena’s shoulder as she chews.

“Crumbs,” Lena scolds absentmindedly as her eyes zero in on the clock on the wall. It’s barely eight pm. Kara hums an apology in her ear, picking a stray crumb off Lena’s sweater and licking it from her fingertip. Lena swallows hard. “You, um. You didn’t stay long. On your date.”

“Was still too long,” Kara mumbles around a mouthful of processed sugar. “Couldn’t wait to leave.”

Lena tries with every fibre of her being to remain nonchalant. “It didn’t… go well?”

The blonde hmphs unhappily in her ear. “No. William is so boring. And he didn’t laugh at any of my jokes. I asked him what clouds wear under their shorts and do you know what he said? Clouds can’t wear clothes, Kara. They’re water vapour.” The blonde’s voice drops low into the worst approximation of a British accent Lena’s ever head, and she can’t hold back a snort.

Kara is still huffing angrily against Lena’s clavicle. “Do you know what clouds wear under their shorts, Lena?”

“Thunderpants,” Lena murmurs with a small smile. This is by no means her first rodeo.

“Thunderpants!” Kara crows indignantly. “Exactly. Was that so hard? Water vapour,” she mimics crossly, inhaling another pop tart and chewing violently in Lena’s ear.

Lena pats the hand folded across her stomach placatingly, carefully ignoring how much of a terrible person it surely makes her that the knowledge of Kara’s bad date fills her with such relief. Kara swallows the half-masticated fruity atrocity in her mouth, unwraps another, and swallows it whole.

“So he asked if I wanted to get another drink, but then I remembered you said you needed to reorganise your office since you got that new bookcase delivered, so I told him I had to go.”

Lena blinks. Then she blinks again. That fucking article hovers in the back of her mind, unavoidable and accusing. They remember everything. They make time for you.

Ah, fuck.

At her side Kara seems to notice her sudden stillness, swallowing yet another mouthful of food to nudge her nose against Lena’s jaw. “We don’t have to do it tonight, if you’re tired,” she says lightly. “I just thought I could help. But if you don’t want—”

“No, it’s not that,” Lena says, regaining the ability to speak after her brain’s hard reboot. “I just— Kara. Did you leave a date to… help me move furniture?”

“Yeah?” Kara answers, voice lilting up at the end as though she cannot understand why Lena is asking. “Like I said, he didn’t laugh at my jokes. And I’d much rather be with you.”

Lena tries to remember how to breathe. It’s proving to be a struggle.

Kara appears unconcerned by her steady oxygen deprivation. “And I didn’t come over specifically to help you move furniture,” she continues, one hand still stroking soft over Lena’s stomach while the other reaches out to grab a blanket, draping it over their joined bodies. “I mainly came for cuddles.”

The blonde accompanies the words with a tightening of her embrace, pressing her face fully into the crook of Lena’s neck and shoulder. “Mmm, you smell so good,” she muffles out, sighing happily. “William smelt like sweat and beer. Lager, Lena.”

Lena can’t help but chuckle, softening instinctively into Kara’s arms despite the way her heart’s still pounding. “Heaven forbid.”

Kara hums approvingly. “I’m not gonna let Alex talk me into anything else. Her ideas are terrible,” she mumbles, plucking the remote from the coffee table and expertly navigating Lena’s smart TV to pick up their West Wing rewatch where they’d left off the night before.

“What do I need to go on dates for, anyway?” she asks as she leans back against the arm of the couch and tugs Lena against her chest, sighing as she settles in. A second later she tenses so hard Lena feels the shock in her own body, stiffening as if an unpleasant thought has just occurred to her.

“Are… um, are you going on dates?” Kara asks quietly, face practically buried in the shoulder of Lena’s sweatshirt as she muffles out her question.

Lena tenses in turn, tongue suddenly feeling distinctly too big for her mouth, face too hot and lungs too empty of oxygen. “Not, um. No,” she manages, staring so hard at the blanket covering her lap that she wonders if lasers might burst spontaneously from her own eyes. “Not for a while.”

At her back Kara relaxes instantly, breath whooshing out of her as she softens into the cushions once again. Her hands, which had tightened almost to the point of pain around Lena’s pelvis, loosen immediately, massaging Lena’s hips as if in unspoken apology.

“Good, that’s good,” she hums, almost too low to be overheard and Lena thinks, shit. List item number ten. They’re invested in your love life. Or lack thereof, apparently.

“I mean,” Kara says a second later, clearing her throat awkwardly. “Not good, just— what do we need dating for?” she murmurs, nosing against the side of Lena’s head as she presses play on the remote. “We’ve got each other.”

In her chest, Lena’s heart promptly does a triple backflip, sticks the landing, then picks up its pounding again at four times its normal speed. Maybe, she concedes as her face flushes scarlet and an undeniable thrumming starts low in her belly; maybe Sam has a point. Maybe this is going a bit too far.

 

She keeps meaning to call Sam.

There are only two items left on the list, only two crimes against platonic friendship that Kara has not yet committed, and it’s barely even been two weeks.

But a crisis in R&D, a small but not insignificant lab explosion, and a cock-up in accounting mean that Lena is slammed with work for the entire week and she barely has a moment to breathe, let alone socialise.

She barely even sees Kara, aside from the meals the blonde pointedly drops off and then sticks around to make sure Lena actually eats most lunchtimes and evenings. But their visits are brief and Lena is always half-distracted by the hundreds of emails flooding her inbox and the near-constant ringing of her phone.

All of this culminates in Lena finally prying herself away from her desk at midnight on Friday, forcing Jess to go home and quickly following her own advice. She’s so tired that by the time she’s showered and shovelled half a salad into herself on autopilot, it’s all she can do to drop into bed. She falls asleep in record time, half of her head filled with thoughts of missing Kara, the other half overflowing with disdain at her own clinginess. After all, it’s been, like, three days.

It feels like she’s barely slipped into unconsciousness when she’s being tugged from it again, the mattress at her back dipping as the blankets lift and a warm body slides into bed behind her.

Lena restrains a scream, reassured by the familiar scent of soap and stardust and the fact that only one person could possibly have gotten into her apartment without setting off alarms loud enough to wake the dead. Head foggy and eyes half-shut, she tries to roll over to face her visitor.

“Kara?” she mumbles, brow scrunching in the darkness. “What—?”

But Kara scoots in close, pressing herself to Lena’s back and wrapping a firm arm around her waist. “Shh, go back to sleep, s’okay,” she hums, slurring a little.

Lena’s half-open eyes narrow. “Are you drunk?”

“No.” The blonde immediately hiccups, the air around them scented with the tang of Eluvian ale. “Mmm. Yes. Vasquez’s birthday,” she manages, almost unintelligible. “Alex cut me off, mmm, ‘n sent me home.” She punctuates the words with a tightening of her arm around Lena’s waist, pressing her face into Lena’s loose hair.

“And yet you ended up here,” Lena teases, feeling warm from head to toe. “Something wrong with your own bed?”

“Mmm, you’re not in it,” Kara hums and Lena becomes suddenly, acutely aware of just how dangerous the territory is that they’re currently skirting.

“Kara,” she says carefully, throat suddenly tight. “You’re very drunk. We should probably go to sleep.”

“Pffft,” the blonde exhales, tickling Lena’s neck where her face is tucked against it. “Didn’t fly all the way to a pretty girl’s bed just to sleep.”

Lena can feel her cheeks heating up, prays Kara’s too wasted to notice. List item number five, she thinks through her sleep- and libido-clouded mind. They flirt.

Well, she thinks resolutely. If anything ever is going to happen between she and Kara, it’s certainly not going to be when one of them is blackout drunk. Lena has not endured so many years of silent pining just to have Kara drunk-kiss her and not remember it in the morning. “Well, sleep is the only thing on offer,” she whispers firmly. “Take it or leave it.”

Kara makes a sad noise behind her, kicking her legs forward to tangle with Lena’s. “What, no cuddles?”

Lena takes a deep, cleansing breath, and curses herself for being so fucking weak for this woman. “Fine. Cuddles so that you’ll sleep.”

Kara hums happily in her ear. “Mmm, you’re the best. Best ever. The cuddliest, softest, bestest—”

“Less talking, more sleeping,” Lena interrupts, carefully ignoring the way her heart is hammering. If she makes it through this night unscathed it might just be the most difficult thing she’s ever accomplished. And she’s survived, like, triple digit assassination attempts.

Kara huffs crossly, closing her mouth but promptly shattering the momentary respite when the hand pressed against Lena’s stomach begins to wander, bunching the material of Lena’s oversize science camp t shirt in her fingers.

Lena, still sleep-groggy, realises too late what the rogue appendage is angling for. By the time she picks up on Kara’s intentions the blonde has already tugged her shirt up from where it fell to the middle of Lena’s thigh and is working on pushing it up above her waist. Only then, too little and far too late, does Lena realise that Kara herself is wearing nothing but a sports bra and boxer shorts, leaving far too much bare skin exposed for this to end in anything but disaster.

Her hand snaps out to circle Kara’s wrist and the blonde pauses, having successfully tugged Lena’s t shirt up above her belly button. From the waist down Lena’s modesty is now preserved by nothing but a pair of lacy underwear and the feeling of her bare legs tangled with Kara’s bare legs sends a jolt straight down the length of her spinal cord, her heart almost beating out of her chest.

Kara—” she manages, breathless and strangled, keeping a firm grip on the offending wrist.

“No, s’fine, s’good,” Kara hums. “’M sleeping, promise. Just cuddling. Just, mmm. Want to feel your skin. Warm. Soft.

Lena thinks, suddenly, that she might actually die. Lena thinks, with some certainty, that she might already be dead.

She feels like she’s ascended, her soul leaving her mortal form behind to hover high above the scene, looking down at her own body in what can only be described as express disappointment. Disappointment that when, a moment later, Kara tugs questioningly at the wrist Lena’s still holding captive, Lena just. Lets go.

Just releases the miscreant limb, lets it continue its highly questionable quest to— what? Naked-spoon her? Jesus fucking Christ. Lena had believed she was stronger than this, really she had.

But Kara’s intention, it turns out a moment later, is only to half-naked spoon her. So. That’s fine.

Once she’s managed to push Lena’s t shirt up to her ribs, bunching just under her breasts, she releases the material in her grip to replace her arm around Lena’s stomach. Tightens her fingers in the crease where Lena’s thigh meets her pelvis to tug Lena’s hips firmly back into her own. Strokes back and forth over the vast amount of skin she’s just bared to herself as her breathing evens out, heartrate slowing as she drops into unconsciousness.

Lena, more awake than she’s ever been in her entire life, lies dry-mouthed and unmoving in her embrace, mind completely blank save for the tiny corner absorbed in cataloguing every single inch of Kara’s bare skin where it presses against her own.

This is going to kill her. This experiment, this behaviour from Kara, it’s really going to kill her.

Lena lies there, afraid to move lest Kara decide she hasn’t yet felt enough of Lena’s skin and tries to continue her exploration any further, and vows to call Sam first thing in the morning.

After that, she just lies there and prays that she makes it till morning.

 

Luckily, Kara is called away early to Supergirl duties.

Lena feigns sleep, desperate to avoid any awkward encounters as the blonde carefully disentangles their half-naked bodies. The second she hears the balcony door open and close she’s lunging across the bed for her phone and dialling Sam’s number.

“What happened?” Sam answers on the third ring, and Lena could almost kiss her for how well the brunette knows her. She runs through a synopsis of the week’s events, ending with a description of Kara’s drunken cuddling fiasco, and feels the panic mounting in her chest finally begin to ease.

Well,” Sam says at last once she’s heard the whole sorry tale. “I guess you know how she feels, at least.”

“That’s the thing, though,” Lena sighs. “I still don’t, not really. I mean, she pulled the that’s what friends are for line on me as recently as yesterday, Sam. Maybe she really thinks that—”

“Sorry, no,” Sam interrupts in the firm tone usually reserved for misogynistic board members or Ruby when she talks back. “No more of that shit. Experimenting on your evil Kryptonian mass murdering alter-ego for weeks in a secret basement lab— that’s what friends are for. Not half-naked cuddling because she just wants to feel your skin. Jesus fucking Christ, Lena.”

Lena has to concede, she does have a point. But as usual, her insecurities rear their ugly heads as self-doubt roots through the cracks in her heart like weeds through concrete. “There are just so many mixed messages, what if she doesn’t really—”

“Lena. Sweetheart. Honey. Sugar plum.” Sam sounds like she’s five seconds away from reaching through the phone and shaking Lena until she sees sense. “Denial is a many-splendored thing. It comes in all sorts of shades and hues and not one of them looks good on you.”

Lena sighs in resignation and Sam chuckles. “And you know I don’t say that lightly, since everything looks good on you.”

Lena reaches into her purse for her notebook, flicking back to her original list. “But neither of my original hypotheses feel right,” she laments. “I mean, Kara’s exhibited all the signs that she likes me. You know, likes me likes me.”

“What are we, in junior high?”

“Shut up,” Lena huffs. “And yet the evidence is inconclusive. She still insists we’re just friends.”

As Lena flicks through the pages of her notebook in despair, something flutters out to land face-down on the sheets. She picks it up, turning it over to reveal a Polaroid Kara had gifted her from the ridiculous novelty camera she’d been so excited to receive last Christmas.

Lena smiles down at the photo. It’s not of anything particularly special, just a regular night of movies and takeout, immortalised in ink and tucked into the pages of Lena’s work notebook as a pre-emptive mood booster for the days when the meetings drag on and the investors won’t shut up. Kara’s got an arm slung around her shoulders, chopsticks extended as she tries to coax a pouting Lena into trying a bite of whatever affront against Chinese food she’d ordered that week. Kara’s grinning widely, cheekily, and despite the wrinkling of her nose it’s clear photo-Lena is beaming too.

Sam sighs, pulling Lena’s attention back to her and sounding for all the world like she’s about to impart the most profound secrets of the universe. “Can I suggest a third hypothesis?” she asks and Lena hums in acquiescence. “Just because Kara won’t admit she’s in love with you, that doesn’t mean she isn’t in love with you.”

And that’s— that’s true, Lena supposes. Technically, that is a third option. It would probably explain a lot.

She stares down at the photo in her hand. Traces her finger over the handsome lines of Kara’s face, the warm affection in her expression. There’s no doubt that there’s love in this picture. The thought makes Lena’s heart flip over in her chest and she swallows tightly.

“If— if that were true, what would I do about it?”

Sam sighs again. “I’m gonna give you the same advice I gave you two weeks ago, before you hopped on your little science experiment train all the way to Crazy Town. Just. Talk. To. Her.”

Lena pouts. “But what if—”

“Nope!” Sam cuts her off.

“But maybe—”

“Nuh-uh,” Sam interrupts. “You tried it your way. All you’ve managed to do is prove once and for all that Kara is the oblivious gay mess we always knew she was. Now it’s time to do it my way.”

Lena opens her mouth to protest again but Sam, with unnerving intuition, cuts her off before she gets the chance. “Lena, please know that I say this with all the love in my heart. Stop trying to undercut this thing with science and facts and experiments. You’re not gonna be able to break it down to numbers and statistics. I know it’s scary but sweetie, just be human.

It takes a solid two minutes of a fierce internal battle in Lena’s mind before she finally manages to mutter out a muted okay.

Sam whoops in triumph. “Babe, don’t freak out. It’s gonna be great. You love her; she absolutely definitely loves you even if she hasn’t admitted it yet. What could possibly go wrong?”

 

Those are, as it turns out, famous last words.

Saturday night finds Lena tucked up once again on the couch with the blonde at her side for movie night, any lingering tension from the night before conveniently forgotten. Kara brings takeout and listens to Lena complain about the three separate emergencies that had called her back into the office that day with a sympathetic smile. Even reaches out and pulls Lena’s feet into her lap, massaging them gently after Lena complains about the aches of wearing testicle-impaling heels for twelve hours straight.

Lying there cocooned in warmth and comfort, full of good food and good wine and once again overwhelmed with love and affection for the woman in front of her, Lena cannot get Sam’s words out of her head. What could go wrong, she wonders, if she were to broach the subject of their relationship to the blonde this very minute.

Or, she thinks with a thrill of anticipation in the pit of her stomach, what could go right?

“You know,” Lena starts conversationally, pausing to stifle a throaty moan as Kara’s strong thumbs dig deliciously into her aching arches. “Alex has never offered to rub my feet.”

Kara gives her a sideways look but doesn’t stop her ministrations. Lena has to bite her lip to hold back the breathy sounds she’s fairly certain she should not be making at her best friend’s touch.

“Neither has Kelly,” she gets out during the brief reprieve while Kara switches feet. “Or Nia.”

“What’s your point?” Kara asks, fingers stilling against Lena’s skin. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No!” Lena squeaks, a little (a lot) too quickly. “I’m just saying. I have other— friends.” The air quotes around the word are so blatant Lena cannot believe Kara doesn’t react.And none of them would do this for me.”

“Yeah, well,” Kara drawls as she pulls Lena’s legs more fully into her lap, tucking a blanket carefully around their joined bodies as she flicks on the television. “They don’t love you like I love you.”

The words are light, tossed in Lena’s direction with a conspiratorial wink and interrupted almost immediately by the thunderous beginnings of the Star Wars theme tune. That doesn’t prevent them from knocking the air from Lena’s lungs with the efficiency of a freight train.

The final item on that goddamn list – the only one that Kara hadn’t so far checked off – floats unbidden before her eyes. Number eighteen of the eighteen signs a friend likes you romantically even if they’re hiding it: they let slip how they feel about you.

Lena feels breathless suddenly, heart pounding and mouth dry. Anxious and bold all at once. She knows Kara loves her, of course. She has for years. But—

“How?”

“Hmm?” Kara doesn’t even glance in her direction, eyes glued to the screen.

Lena takes a deep breath. “How do you love me?”

That gets the blonde’s attention. Her head snaps sideways to stare at Lena, hands stilling where they’d begun tracing airy patterns over Lena’s blanket-covered shins. “What— what do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” Lena manages with a confidence she conjures from thin air. “How do you love me? How is it different from anyone else?”

Kara’s paused the movie now, blinking big and fast and looking for all the world like a deer caught in headlights. “Well, you’re— you’re my best friend,” she manages at last, tongue darting out to wet her lips.

“Oh?” Lena asks, quirking an eyebrow. The blonde’s obvious nerves have the strange effect of calming Lena’s own pounding heart, filling her with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose. “So we’re just best friends?”

Kara visibly gulps. “What— what else would we be?”

“You tell me,” Lena says smoothly, propping one bent elbow on the back of the couch and resting her head against her hand. “You’re the one who crawled into my bed last night for drunken half-naked cuddles. You’re the one who practically felt me up in the middle of a crowded bar. You’re the one who thinks we don’t need to be dating other people.”

With every word that falls from her lips the blonde’s cheeks get hotter and hotter, until Lena is legitimately worried she may have to declare her a fire hazard. Her mouth is opening and closing comically, seemingly rendered speechless when confronted point-blank with her own transgressions.

Lena smirks, scooting closer on the couch so their bodies are mere inches apart. “Does that sound like the behaviour of best friends to you, Kara?”

The blonde is blinking so fast Lena’s worried she’s going to strain a muscle, eyes wide and cornered. Fuck, Lena realises. It’s possible she really hadn’t realised how flagrant her behaviour was until it was laid out at her feet.

Doubt and uncertainty rise up in her throat and she worries yet again that maybe she’s misjudged the whole thing, that maybe everything Kara’s done would really better be explained away as just a very close friendship. But then she watches in real time as blue eyes slide away from Lena’s own, down her face to land heavy on her lips and stay there, unmoving.

Kara’s expression is ambushed and anxious, yes, but there’s an undeniable hunger beneath it that banishes Lena’s uncertainty and reignites the fire smouldering low in her hips. Kara’s gaze stays fixed on Lena’s mouth, blue eyes darkening the longer she stares as she sucks her own bottom lip into her mouth to nibble on the plump flesh.

“We’re— we are best friends.” Kara sounds remarkably like a broken record. Lena decides to push her advantage.

“Mmhmm. So you wouldn’t mind if I did all those things with Nia, too? Or Sam? Or Andrea?”

Blue eyes go wide. “You don’t, do you?”

Lena smirks. “No, I don’t. Why? Would it be a problem if I did?”

“Yes,” Kara says quickly, eyes widening further. She clamps her lips together tightly, as if the answer had slipped out quite without her permission.

Gotcha, Lena thinks. This is. The moment of truth. “Why would it be a problem?”

Kara gulps. “Because.”

Lena nudges closer, her chest pushing up against the side of the blonde’s arm. “Because what?”

“Because, um—”

The net is tightening; there’s no escape now. Lena’s voice is soft, hopeful. “Why, Kara?”

“Because they’re not your best friends,” Kara exhales, her breath tickling Lena’s lips. “I am.”

Lena freezes. Blinks heavily once, twice, three times, as the weight of disappointment settles in her stomach like a slab of concrete. She leans back, putting some space between them again as she wills her amygdala and her lachrymal glands not to give her away by producing any weak, traitorous tears.

Kara’s brow furrows as she watches Lena carefully, still chewing on her bottom lip. “So, we’re closer than the others,” the blonde says tentatively into the tense silence that’s fallen between them. “And we do things that you wouldn’t do with them. That’s normal, it’s— I really like being this close to you, Lena,” she murmurs. “I like being your best friend.”

And Lena thinks, okay. Time to get it together. Time to curb her own greediness, to stop hoping for more when what she has right now is already far more than she’s ever deserved.

“I like being your best friend too,” she manages at last, voice thick as she lifts her legs off the blonde’s lap and pulls her knees to her chest. This is fine, she thinks. It is. She couldn’t have been much clearer, she basically asked Kara point-blank, and she got her answer. Now she knows. Now she can work on actually being fine with it.

“Why were you— why were you asking?” the blonde asks hesitantly. “Do you, I mean. Was there something you wanted to—”

Her fumbling is cut off by the sudden insistent ringing of her Supergirl phone on the couch and Kara grimaces, answering the call and promising to be there in just a second.

She sighs heavily as she hangs up, “I have to go, I’m so sorry.” She takes in the way Lena has curled in on herself, the strained smile on her face. “You’re mad.”

Lena sucks in a deep breath, lets it out roughly. “I’m not.” She’s not. Embarrassed, certainly. Foolish, definitely. Disappointed, absolutely. But not mad.

Kara frowns. That adorable crinkle appears between her eyebrows and Lena wants more than anything to soothe it away with knuckles, fingers, lips. “You seem mad.”

Lena bites the inside of her cheek, hard. She’s not being fair. She can’t blame the blonde for not reciprocating her feelings. After all, hadn’t Kara been perfectly transparent about how she regarded Lena? It was only Lena’s own false hope that tried to read more into the words than was ever intended.

“Kara. I promise I’m not angry with you.” With herself, maybe, but that’s neither here nor there.

Another burst of noise through Kara’s earpiece, and the blonde grimaces. “I’m sorry, I really have to go,” she says, biting her lip, fingers twisting together so hard her knuckles have turned white. “Do you— should I, um. Should I not come back? Tonight, I mean.”

Lena sighs. Allows herself one brief second for her eyes to slide closed. “Don’t be ridiculous, of course you should come back. If you want to.” She just barely restrains the urge to knead her knuckles over her closed eyelids. “You know you’re always welcome here.”

Kara shuffles her feet, teeth working hard into her bottom lip. “Thanks,” she whispers with a rueful smile, and then she’s gone.

Lena sags back against the arm of the couch, barely holding back a chuckle or a sob or some messy combination of the two. “No problem,” she whispers to her empty apartment. “What are friends for?”

 

“Can I, um. Can I join you?”

The words are whispered, barely audible over the snapping of a heavy cape in the wind. Lena sighs, takes another long swig of scotch, and steels her fragile heart as best she can. “Of course you can,” she answers, conjuring a smile and indicating the empty space beside her on the cushion.

She’s tucked up on the wicker recliner on her balcony, swaddled in a blanket and clutching her scotch glass like the lifeline it is. The cold, and the sky, and the muted hum of the city below are a welcome distraction from the silence and rumination of her empty apartment and she’s been out here ever since the blonde had left several hours ago, various limbs slowly numbing in the chill of the night air.

Kara, returned from whatever crisis had needed Supergirl’s assistance tonight, perches awkwardly on the edge of the recliner next to Lena’s bent knees. Stands suddenly like it’s an afterthought and replaces her glasses, her suit de-materialising to leave her in her movie night sweats and long-sleeved Henley. When she sits down again it’s careful and uncomfortable; she looks like she’s one deep breath away from falling clean off the edge of the seat.

Lena sighs. “You don’t have to tiptoe around me, you know. We’re fine. Everything’s fine.” She swallows hard. “Nothing’s changed.” And apparently, nothing ever will.

“Yeah, um. About that.” Kara reaches up to fiddle with her glasses. “I was thinking about what you said, and I— I’m sorry, this feels so weird,” she interrupts herself, shifting closer to Lena with her arms outstretched. “Can I?”

Lena nods because at this point, why wouldn’t she? A little of something good is better than none at all. Kara sighs in what sounds like relief, scooting Lena sideways on the cushion to slot in beside her and wrap her up in her arms. Lena’s bent knees come to rest in the gap created by the way the blonde curls around her, pulling Lena close into her side. Her head tilts against Kara’s neck, temple to cheek, and Lena wills herself not to enjoy this moment for anything more than it is.

“That’s better,” Kara sighs. “Jeez, you’re freezing.” She hums in concern, tightening her embrace and rubbing vigorously up and down Lena’s blanket-covered arms.

For a long moment it’s just that. Just them, she and Kara, wrapped up together under an endless star-tossed sky. And Lena thinks, maybe it’s not so bad, having her like this. Maybe it will be enough.

It will have to be enough.

“So,” Kara starts, voice hushed in the sempiternal twilight of moon and stars and light pollution. “I think what I should probably have said before is, um. More.”

Lena’s brow furrows. “What?”

When Kara’s throat works, Lena feels it against her cheek. “That’s how I love you. More. More than the others love you. More than I love them.”

Lena squeezes her eyes shut, presses her lips together. “Kara,” she whispers, and it feels a little like she’s cracking open. “You can’t just— you can’t say things like that to me. It’s not fair.”

“But—” She can’t see Kara’s face from this angle, but she knows the blonde’s pouty voice when she hears it. “It’s the truth.”

“Maybe it is,” Lena manages, and she must have, like, straight up murdered the Dalai Lama in a past life to have earned such terrible karma in this one. “But it means something different to you than it does to me.”

“How do you know?”

Lena chuckles so that she can’t do anything else, like cry or put her fist through a window. “Because you call me your best friend eighteen times a day.”

“Because you are,” Kara murmurs, insistent and impossibly earnest. “I almost destroyed us, Lena. I almost lost you. I can’t believe you’re still here, that I still get to have you in my life at all, never mind like this. Every time I say it a part of me still can’t believe it’s true, thinks that you’re going to correct me and then when you don’t, I just have to say it again.”

And Lena— she doesn’t know how to respond to that.

The blonde’s arms tighten around her, snaking inside her blanket cocoon to hold her properly, without barriers between them. “I never told you enough before, how important you are to me. So I figured if I make sure you know now then you won’t— you won’t—”

Lena’s voice is soft, careful not to shatter. “I won’t what?”

Leave,” the blonde rushes out in a gasp. “You won’t leave.”

“Kara.” Lena’s insides have constricted, twisting and tightening and leaving her breathless. “I’m not going to leave.”

“You might.”

“I won’t.” It’s true, she knows it in her bones. Where would she go? What else could life possibly have to offer that could even hold a candle to the woman at her side? “You don’t have to— prove yourself to me. Or convince me to stick around. I’m here. I’ll always be here,” she finishes in a whisper. “There’s no penance to be paid, Kara. You don’t have to earn me.”

The blonde shakes her head, huffing out a quiet chuckle against Lena’s hair.

“Lena, I feel luckier than I can begin to comprehend that I even get to have you at all.” She tugs on their bodies until Lena’s practically in her lap, pressing her face to the crown of her head. “How could I ask for anything more?”

Lena’s breath catches, sticking in her ribcage. “Do you want more?”

For one long moment, everything is silent and still. And then the blonde shifts, lifting Lena’s body to slide her thighs underneath until Lena’s straddling them, the two of them pressed chest to chest. Pulls Lena back in so she’s flush against her again only now, with the added height difference, it’s Kara’s faced tucked into Lena’s neck. One of the blonde’s hands wraps around Lena’s, bringing it up to press over the fabric of her shirt and feel the way the Kryptonian’s heart is pounding.

Her voice, when she finally speaks, is hushed. Awed. Reticent and reverent all at once. “What do you think?”

Lena thinks her own heart may stop clean in its tracks when she feels Kara’s lips press, slow and deliberate, to the exposed skin above her clavicle. Has definitely forgotten how to breathe by the time the blonde begins nosing up the column of her throat, trailing the lightest series of kisses over the sensitive skin. When Kara’s nose reaches her jaw she pauses, tilting her head to lay a final, open-mouthed kiss over the epicentre of Lena’s thundering pulse.

“Lena,” the blonde whispers, pressing her forehead to Lena’s throat, lips and teeth and tongue teasing over the ridge of her collarbone. “I want any part of you that you want to give me. I want every part of you. But I forced you to lower your defences to me once before, and all I did was hurt you. I won’t ask you to do it again.”

Well, fuck. Whatever Lena had been expecting when the blonde landed on her balcony tonight, this wasn’t it.

“I think,” Lena starts, her voice little more than a strangled whisper on the breeze. She cuts herself off with a gasp as Kara’s hot, wet mouth reattaches itself to her neck, one arm wrapping tight around Lena’s waist as her other hand slides into the back pocket of Lena’s jeans, cupping and squeezing.

Lena swallows hard against the sensation of Kara’s tongue tracing her overheated skin in the cool night air. “I think,” she tries again, “that you don’t even have to ask.”

The blanket is all but forgotten now, twisted uselessly around Lena’s waist and caught between their pressing bodies but somehow Lena isn’t cold anymore. “I think,” she says again as Kara’s hands slide beneath the hem of her shirt, blunt nails raking gently up her back, “that you’ve never needed to ask.”

She barely represses a moan as one of Kara’s hands drops to Lena’s thigh, squeezing and tugging her closer as the other slides up to tangle in her hair. If she could have the opportunity to freeze time, to stay suspended in one moment of her life for ever and ever, this would be it. The feeling of Kara’s hands, her mouth exploring Lena’s body like it’s a new land she’s claiming all for herself; it’s intoxicating. It’s incomparable.

“And I think,” she manages with a breathy sigh, suddenly aware that as good as Kara’s lips feel on her neck, there’s somewhere else they’d probably fit even better, “that all we’ve been doing so far is wasting time.”

“Is that so?” Kara murmurs, her smile curving against Lena’s skin.

What with the way the blonde’s hand is rubbing and squeezing at her hip, the way her fingers have tightened just so in her hair, it’s a miracle Lena manages to hum her acquiescence at all. It’s a miracle she hasn’t melted clean into a puddle of goo on Kara’s lap, if she’s being honest.

“Well, then.” Kara’s voice is like honey, silky smooth and addictive. “We’d better start making up for that, don’t you think?”

And finally, beautifully, blessedly, Kara doesn’t wait. She doesn’t hesitate or hedge or back down. She just cups one hand around the nape of Lena’s neck, thumb extended to stroke over the hinge of her jaw, and slots their mouths together as effortlessly as if she’d been preparing for this moment for years.

Maybe she had, Lena thinks as her eyes slide closed and her mouth slips open and the entire world stands still in wonder at the way their lips slant together, like this moment of connection was the very purpose for which they’d been designed.

Maybe, really, they both had.

 

It’s not until later, tangled together in a mess of sweaty sheets with the length of Kara’s naked body pressed against her own, coming down from her third peak as the blonde brushes damp curls out of her eyes, that Lena finds her voice again.

“I can’t believe— fuck,” she cuts off in a gasp as Kara’s head drops lower, pink lips fastening around a sensitive nipple, “that at every movie night and sleepover and platonic cuddling session, we could have been doing this instead.”

Kara chuckles, pressing her lips to Lena’s sternum as she switches sides. “I’m not taking all the blame for the time we’ve wasted, Ms Luthor,” she hums, trailing kisses across the swell of Lena’s breast. “At least I actually tried to cop a feel from time to time. You’ve always kept your hands very respectably to yourself.”

“Yes, because you’d cop a feel at the same time as rambling about what good friends we were,” Lena manages, aiming for indignant but falling decidedly short as the blonde dips lower, scraping lips and teeth down her abdomen to nuzzle her cheek against Lena’s belly. “There were some serious mixed signals going on.”

Kara presses her smile against Lena’s hip, scooting down to settle more comfortably between her thighs. “I mean, I wasn’t exactly subtle. I gave you plenty of chances to call me out and you never said a word.” Kara licks a broad stripe over the sensitive skin of Lena’s inner thigh, pressing her hips down into the mattress when she squirms. Her voice is muffled against Lena’s skin and Lena shivers at the hint of teeth scraping over delicate flesh as the blonde hums. “Never gave me any indication that you wanted me back.”

Lena swallows hard, fighting the urge to buck her hips as the blonde moves at a torturous pace toward where Lena needs her mouth the most. “No, I certainly didn’t. Not after you’d consistently friendzoned me for over a year.”

The puff of air Kara releases as she chuckles makes Lena gasp, and she reaches down to twist her fingers into blonde curls. “Plus, I couldn’t make the first move,” she manages, breathless and aching.

Kara’s head pops up from between her legs, blue eyes wide and questioning. Lena shrugs like it should be obvious. It is obvious. “Come on, Kara. I’m me and you’re— well. You.”

She manages to raise one arm weakly, wafting it up and down as if it will convey the sum total of Kara’s washboard abs, her carved-by-the-gods biceps, her handsome face and the delicious firmness of her thighs.

Blue eyes narrow and Kara abandons her post, crawling back up her body to frame Lena’s face with her hands. Lena whines at the change in plans but Kara just locks her in place with a piercing gaze, thumbs stroking over her brow, her cheekbones, her lips. “Lena,” she breathes, quiet and earnest. “Look at you.”

Kara’s lips replace her fingers, charting a path of worship over the planes of Lena’s face as her hands cradle her ribcage like they’re holding something delicate, something precious beyond measure. “Look at you,” she groans, pulling back so their eyes meet again.

“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispers, so fervent that Lena’s protests die on her lips. “You’re everything I could ever want. And, in case the signals got mixed at any point,” she ducks her head to press their lips together, kissing her deeply, filthily, thoroughly before pulling back, both of them breathing hard. “I am fully and completely in love with you.”

Lena’s throat seizes up, breathless from more than just the kiss. “I’m in love with you, too,” she whispers, and the smile that breaks over Kara’s face at the admission makes her feel like she could cure cancer, or tap dance on the moon, or cure cancer while tap dancing on the moon.

And then, because maybe she still thinks she’s owed just a little revenge for the endless just friends bombs she’s endured over the years, for all of Kara’s handsy crimes and for the content of that godforsaken list, she lifts her thighs to wrap around the blonde’s hips and flips them over on the bed, pinning Kara to the mattress.

Kara gazes up at her, breathless and grinning, blonde hair fanning out around her like a halo and Lena can’t resist dropping down to slot their lips together, gasping when Kara licks into her mouth and starts sucking on her tongue.

“I love you so much,” Lena whispers when they break apart, panting. “So much,” she reiterates, pressing kiss after kiss to Kara’s lips until they’re both dizzy from it. She pulls back just enough to take in the woman beneath her, hair mussed and lips kiss-swollen and looking as thoroughly undone as Lena feels.

She gives herself a moment to just enjoy the sight. And then, slowly, she smirks. “Platonically, of course.”

Kara’s puff of surprised laughter hits her face and Lena thinks it might be the sweetest sensation she’s ever known. “Oh, so it’s payback time, is it?” the blonde chuckles, reaching up to gather Lena’s loose hair out of her eyes, one hand cupping her jaw. “I suppose I deserve it.”

“Oh, this is nothing,” Lena grins. “Just you wait until I stick my hand down your pants in front of your sister and all our friends in a crowded bar.”

Kara just beams. She beams and beams, cupping Lena’s face in her hands and pulling her in for another bruising kiss. “You drive me crazy, you know that?”

“Of course I do,” Lena smirks as she leans back in. “That’s what friends are for.”