Actions

Work Header

Bizarre Love Triangle

Chapter Text

That's how it starts
We go back to your house
We check the charts
And start to figure it out
And if it's crowded, all the better
Because we know we're gonna be up late
But if you're worried about the weather
Then you picked the wrong place to stay

“All My Friends” - LCD Soundsystem

 

It all starts with Kara ignoring one of Alex’s cardinal rules.

Don’t make eye contact on the subway,” Alex had told her. “Or the street. Or the store. Or, just, you know, anywhere.

After five years in the city and countless encounters with strange men asking Kara for her money, time, phone number, and sometimes all three, one would think that Kara has learned her lesson.

But on this wintry January Saturday, her mind awash in anxious waves as it obsessively replays and dissects the unpleasant call she had with Mike that morning, Kara needs a distraction. So she allows herself to roam her eyes over her fellow passengers in the semi-crowded subway car, imagining their lives and stories to distract herself. The stocky, middle-aged man with his eyes closed is a construction worker who makes a 2-hour commute from New Jersey everyday. The young woman with pierced lip and oversized headphones lives with her parents and two siblings in a one-bedroom apartment and studies psychology at the city‘s university. The well-dressed man leaning against the subway doors works on Wall Street and goes up to his cabin in the Catskills on the weekends to perfect the art of whittling.

And a few feet away, that raven-haired woman standing in the middle of the subway car, gloved hand clinging on to the pole, she’s-

The woman looks up, revealing a pale, pretty face, striking even with its clearly exhibited distress. The woman glances up at the display of subway stops above; then, almost unthinkingly, she looks around the subway car. Her eyes, light blue-green and shimmering from barely contained tears, meet Kara’s.

And Kara’s mind goes blank.

The raven-haired woman, embarrassed, quickly looks away. She lowers her head and takes in a sharp, shaky breath.

Kara’s making her way over before she even has time to think about what she’s doing, weaving her way through the few straphangers between them. She comes to a stop when she grabs a hold of the same pole the woman is using.

The raven-haired woman looks up again, and looks appropriately confused at the approach.

Kara tries to think of something to open with. It has to be a good one.

“Would you like a donut?”

The woman’s look of confusion morphs into alarm. As it should when one is randomly offered food on the subway by a complete stranger who’s been staring at you.

And really, the only appropriate response is: “What?”

“A donut.” Kara digs into her tote bag and produces a grease-stained white paper bag. The woman eyes her carefully as she does. “There’s this place in Greenpoint that makes the best red velvet donuts. Would you like one?” Evidently red velvet donuts are not sufficiently enticing, because the raven-haired woman looks no less alarmed. So Kara tries something else. “I also have cannolis from Veniero’s. Do you want one?”

Again, the only appropriate response: “What?”

“I also have mini pies. Pumpkin? Blueberry?”

“I…” The woman draws her own conclusion on what Kara’s trying to do. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have any cash on me.”

It takes a moment for Kara to catch on, and when she does, she barks out a laugh. “Oh, no! I’m not selling anything. I’m just offering.”

It’s not possible for anyone to look as confused as this woman does. “But why?”

Kara shrugs lightly. “You look like you could use it.” The train is slowing as it pulls into the 42nd Street station. Kara glances at the display above to confirm the stop, then holds out the white bag. “This is my stop. Here, take the donuts. They’re really good. They’ll make you feel better. I promise.”

The woman, still with that astonished, vaguely unsettled expression on her face, takes the paper bag just as the train stops and the doors slide open. Kara beams at her, adjusts her tote bag, and hurries out of the car.

Rushing out onto the wide, bustling platform, Kara finds herself momentarily lost, unsure of which direction to go for the exit that she wants. She spends a moment craning her neck, trying to get a glimpse of the street signs at each end of the platform. The people around her swarm and swirl, gradually thinning out. Then Kara notices the presence next to her. The woman.

“Oh, hi!” Kara greets brightly. “Did you want the pies instead?”

“N- no, this is my stop too.” The woman holds up the paper bag in her hand. “Why did you give this to me?”

“I told you. It looked like you needed it.”

Kara’s answer evidently does nothing to alleviate the woman’s confusion. “Do you just… go around the city giving away donuts to sad people?”

“Not usually, no.”

The woman’s now looking around, like she’s looking for a hidden camera or an accomplice with a phone. Surely this is a prank. “So… why…”

“I don’t know. I just thought some sugar might cheer you up. It cheers me up.”

Seemingly satisfied that there’s no one lurking about with a camera, the woman nods at Kara’s tote bag. “Is that why you’re carrying three different desserts with you?”

“Actually, yes. And I’m on my way to collect another one.”

The woman shifts about on her feet, looking unsure of what she’s about to say. “Where?”

“Lady M. Do you know it?”

The woman nods. “It’s this way.” She starts moving, and Kara follows. They easily fall into step together. “So… what are you planning to do with all this?”

“Take it all back to my apartment and stuff my face,” Kara answers, as lightly as she can.

“Bad day?”

Kara nods. “But maybe no worse than yours.”

“And this is what you do on a bad day? Go around the city collecting desserts?”

“Got a better idea?”

“I’m partial to wine myself.”

“Ah, well, that’s for a bad night.”

The woman lets out a low chuckle, then seems taken aback by her own reaction, like she didn’t expect to laugh at such an obvious, corny quip.

Now slightly less guarded, the woman offers, “I’m Lena.”

“Kara.” Without breaking stride, Kara sticks out her hand. Lena takes it and they shake hands briefly as they exit the station.

Kara’s surprised, but not displeased, to find Lena moving alongside her towards the direction of the cake shop.

“I couldn’t help but notice your bag.” Lena nods towards Kara’s sugar-laden tote bag, emblazoned with a CatCo Worldwide Media logo. “I have a coworker who’s obsessed with the magazine. He just started going out with a girl who works there and now he’s ordered a year’s worth of back catalogue to ‘study’. He’s been talking about it all week.”

Kara stares back at Lena with gleeful surprise. “Brainy?!”

Lena comes to a sudden stop. “Wait, are you the-”

“Oh, no, no,” Kara says hastily. “But I work at CatCo too. I know Nia. She’s so excited about him! I can’t believe you know him. And with the tea! She was just telling me how she wasn’t sure if he’s into her.”

“Oh,” Lena replies simply, her mind still reeling from a coincidence like this in a city of eight million people. Then again, maybe it’s the CatCo bag that even inspired her to talk to Kara in the first place. After having spent the vast majority of life never thinking about CatCo, then last week being inundated by Brainy’s chatter of nothing but, it felt oddly significant to be accosted on the subway by a woman with a CatCo bag. Like the universe’s trying to tell her something. Not that Lena even believes in such things. “I probably shouldn’t have told you that thing about the back catalogue then.”

They start walking again. Looking to reassure, Kara says, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her the details. But I may just encourage Nia to be patient with him.”

“That’s probably for the best.”

“But if they get married, we’re definitely telling this story at the wedding.”

“Okay,” Lena responds with an amused smile. “That sounds fair.”

“Nia’s never going to believe I randomly met Brainy’s friend on the subway. She’s going to think it’s a sign.”

“Like we were fated to meet?” Lena suggests, her tone thick with irony.

“Sure, you laugh now. Wait until I’m giving my toast at Brainy and Nia’s wedding. It’s going to be a fantastic story.”

“I look forward to it.” Her curiosity over the bag satisfied, Lena turns to her next question. “So what’s the trouble that has you running for pastries?”

“Oh. Uh…” Kara isn’t sure how to answer that. Her history with Mike and their current conflict is complicated, to say the least.

“I’m sorry,” Lena says quickly. Interpreting Kara’s response as reticence at sharing with a stranger who’s now more or less invited herself along on the walk to the cake shop, she slows her footsteps to allow Kara to get ahead. “It’s none of my business.”

“No, no.” Kara slows down too, and matches Lena’s pace. “It’s just kind of a long, complicated story.”

“Ah,” Lena voices in understanding. “I won’t pry.”

“No, I mean that it’d take a while to tell.” Kara’s stopped now, and Lena realizes that they’ve arrived at Kara’s destination. Kara inclines her head toward the store. “But if you’d like to have a slice of cake with me?”

Lena’s instinctively on the verge of saying no, but catches herself. It’s not as if she has anywhere else better to be.

“All right. But you have to take back these donuts. I can’t do both in one day.”

Kara narrows her eyes, clearing judging Lena’s irrational decision to voluntarily surrender donuts, but she takes back the bag. They line up at the counter and order their slices, for Lena, a green tea mille crepe and a black coffee, for Kara, a chocolate mille crepe, a checkers cake, and a mont blanc.

“What?” She asks when she feels Lena’s eyes on her. “Some of it is for later.”

They find a table in the back. As they dig into their mille crepes, Kara tells Lena about her life-long love affair with Mike Matthews.

They had grown up together in Krypton, a small town in Minnesota. They started “dating” at eleven - or whatever passed for dating at that age - until Kara moved away two years later. They kept in touch over the years, blurring the line between close friends and pining exes, occasionally “getting back together” and trying to do the long-distance thing. It’s never worked out for them, but they’ve also never been able to fully sever the ties between them. When Mike moved to the city three years ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would finally be together. And they did. For a while, everything was great. But then Mike’s company asked him to take an assignment in Germany.

“So that’s where he’s been for about a year now.” Having quickly finished off her mille crepe, Kara is now halfway through her checkers cake. “When he left, we’d agreed- well, we agreed to a lot of things, one of which was that he’d be back in a year and we’d just pick up where we left off. But now he’s saying that the company wants him to stay another six months and he’s going to do it. I just, I thought he’d be back soon, but now it’s going to be six more months and who even knows after that?”

“Did you two talk about it before he agreed to stay?” The glumness in Kara’s expression answers Lena’s question. “That wasn’t very considerate on his part.”

“No, I don’t- I mean, they kind of demanded an answer from him on the spot. I know he would have talked to me first if he could. And I know that he can’t afford to say no to them. He really needs the job. So that’s not even the real reason why I’m upset. It’s just that…” Kara worries at her bottom lip, feeling reluctant to share something so personal.

“It’s all right,” Lena reassures her. “Hey, did you know that there’s an Angela Merkel Barbie doll?”

Kara relaxes then, smiling in relief at the change in subject. “I did know that, actually.”

“All right, but did you know that as a child, I once tried to make my own Ada Lovelace Barbie from a Beach Barbie?”

Inhaling sharply, Kara pitches forward and adopts the position of rapt attention with both hands underneath her chin and elbows upon the table top.

“Tell me everything.”

From there, they sit and chat aimlessly. They share stories and what remains of Kara’s cakes (although, in truth, Kara ate the bulk of it).

Lena, Kara learns, has lived in the city almost her entire life, save for a stint in boarding school and going to college in Massachusetts. She now works in biotech research. She has an older brother named Lex, who is a brilliant man and, at times, an insufferable prick. (“That’s funny, my sister’s name is Alex. Not a prick though. Prickly, yes, but not a prick.”) Kara tells Lena about her job at the magazine, as a reporter in name but a glorified fact-checker in practice working her way up. They bond over their mutual love of Titanic and *NSYNC.

Finally, Kara asks, “So what’s made you so sad today?”

Instantly, although they just spent so long sharing, Lena looks wary. “I think I’d need some wine before I get into that.”

“Okay, well.” Kara nods her head toward the windows. Lena looks over, and is surprised to see that it’s already dark out. “Is it time to have a bad night?”

This probably isn’t a good idea. Lena had already derailed her plans today (which, granted, only consisted of reading pharmaceutical trade publications) to eat cake with a woman she barely knows.

But she finds herself saying, “I know we just had dessert, but I don’t suppose you’d like to get some dinner?”

With a broad grin, Kara replies, “I’m okay with doing things out of order.”

Then they’re off, back into the cold. At Kara’s suggestion, they end up at a gastropub a few blocks north. Still early for a Saturday night, they manage to get a table. Kara gets the fish and chips and Lena tries to order a salad, but upon seeing the look of dismay on Kara’s face, switches her order to a veggie pot pie. As they eat, they continue their conversation earlier on ‘90s pop culture.

Lena hasn’t offered to talk about her bad day. So Kara hasn't pushed. Instead, Kara tells Lena about the neighborhood she lives in, and how she basically only chose it because Alex lives two blocks away.

After their meals, they order cocktails. When Lena’s halfway through hers, she finally volunteers, “So. My bad day.”

Kara sits up a bit straighter, but respectfully says, “Only if you want.”

“It’s nowhere as interesting as yours, I’m afraid. No childhood loves or long-distance relationships. It’s fairly boring. I got dumped.” Lena shrugs, trying to seem casual but knowing that she’s failing miserably. “We were together for a year. I can’t say things were perfect, but I still felt quite blindsided when she broke up with me. That was a month ago. Today my friends and I were at brunch and there she was. With her new girlfriend.”

Lena clucks her tongue, a humorless smile on her face. “You know, Veronica doesn’t even like Shopsin’s. She always complained every time I wanted to go. She said it was too ‘squalid’. But I guess love changes you because she certainly wasn’t complaining today when she was making out with her new girlfriend in the middle of brunch.

“So I went over and asked why she had to come to this place, of all places. I shouldn’t have because it just set her off. She told me that, like always, I was being an uptight bitch, that she’s glad she’s rid of me… well, that’s when my friend Andrea jumped in. She was being a good friend, but it didn’t help the situation. Words were had, food was thrown. In the end, we were all asked to leave. I think we’re all banned from Shopsin’s now. So… there it is. Not a spectacular story, just embarrassing.”

“Yes,” Kara says quickly. “For Veronica. Who behaves like that?”

“I shouldn’t have gone over. We’re adults. I can’t expect her to avoid certain places just because it’d upset me.”

“Oh, please. It’s a big city. She can find a different place to have eggs for a couple months other than your favorite brunch spot.”

Lena chuckles, ducking her head in acknowledgement. “Andrea said the same thing. But she also said that it was a bad idea for me to go over. She blamed it on my IBS.” When Kara wrinkles her nose, Lena quickly amends, “Oh, no, I don’t- sorry, it’s a joke. Andrea says I suffer from Insufficient Boning Syndrome. Because it’s, ah, been a while. She says it’s making me irritable and affecting my judgment. She told me that I needed to get over Veronica by getting under someone else.”

“And you don’t want to?”

“I’d like to move on. And I’d like to…” Looking slightly embarrassed at discussing this with a relative stranger, Lena looks down at her near-empty cocktail glass, clearing her throat lightly. “I’m not strictly opposed to the idea of having some, um, physical contact. Especially since it’s… well, like I said, it’s been a while. Towards the end of the relationship, there wasn’t much passion.” She looks up now, peering at Kara anxiously. “Too much?”

Kara shakes her head. “No. So if you don’t mind me asking, what’s the problem? I mean, you’re so unbelievably beaut-”And now it’s Kara’s turn to look embarrassed. “Uh, I just mean that it’s- just that you probably don’t have a hard time finding, um, interested parties.”

It’s not the first time Lena’s been complimented on her looks. But this, coming from Kara, fills her with inexplicable giddiness.

“The problem is I’m nowhere emotionally ready to be in a relationship.”

“But there are a lot of other people out there who’s okay with just a hookup, right?”

“Or they say they are and end up wanting something more anyway,” Lena answers with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t know how I feel about having a series of one night stands. Nothing wrong with it, but there’s a shocking number of women out there who think you can’t get STIs through lesbian sex. The risk is low, but still more risk than I’d like. In a no-strings-attached situation, I can’t help but wonder how safe they’re being with other people and what the risk is to me.”

“Sounds like you want a friend with like exclusive benefits?”

Lena wrinkles her nose at the thought. “They’re all attractive people, but no. We know each other too well to be attracted to each other. You know what I mean?”

“Well… then… maybe…” Kara’s staring down at her empty glass, fingers nervously rubbing at its stem. “An almost-friend that you’ve… just met?”

Lena says nothing, too stunned by the suggestion. She recovers when Kara looks up with her face teeming with uncertainty and worry.

“When you offered me those donuts, it crossed my mind that you were hitting on me, but then you mentioned a boyfriend…”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t- I wasn’t hitting on you, it honestly didn’t occur to me until just now while you were telling me-” Kara shakes her head fiercely, feeling like she’s about to die of humiliation. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from. It was a stupid, stupid thing to say.”

Kara sits back, slightly slumped, waiting for Lena to make a hasty exit.

Instead, Lena asks, “What about Mike?”

Kara shifts uncomfortably in her seat, feeling her body tense at the subject. “Okay, so… you know how I said that Mike and I agreed to a lot of things when he left? Well… one of those things we agreed on is having a open-ish relationship? We’re going to be together exclusively when he comes back but, in the meantime, what we do when we’re apart is just, you know, what we do.”

Skeptically, Lena asks, “And was this your idea or his?”

“Well, we both agreed that we didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship.”

“But when you said you didn’t want long-distance, you meant ‘don’t go to Germany’ and he meant ‘let’s sleep with other people.’”

“It wasn’t like that,” Kara replies even as she thinks that maybe it had been a little bit like that. “Anyway, he’s been gone almost a year and I haven’t done anything, and a lot of it has to do with the same reasons you mentioned. You know, worried about being safe and also that I’d be leading someone on when I’m definitely not emotionally available for that. But Mike… well, we don’t really talk about it but I know he’s… made friends. So when he told me that he was staying for another six months, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another reason he wanted to stay. Another person.

“I told him how I felt, I asked if there was another reason he wanted to stay, and he said no. He said that we promised each other that we’d be together at the end of this and we've always kept our promises to each other. And then he said that… maybe I’m feeling insecure because I haven’t enjoyed New York as much I should have while he’s gone. He said that I should… get out there and enjoy myself.”

“And naturally you interpreted that to mean you should go on a sugar rampage through the city.”

“Up until five minutes ago, yeah. And then you said that thing about it being difficult to find a regular sex-only partner, and I just, well, I’m kind of in the same position and I’m already in love with somebody else, so…” Suddenly feeling overexposed and like she had truly overstepped her bounds, Kara tries to correct the course. “But that’s silly. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t go around just saying whatever pops into my head. That was so presumptuous of me, like for me to assume that you’re even attracted to me or that you’d want-”

“I’m attracted to you,” Lena blurts out. Reining herself in, she adds, milder now, “I’m… definitely attracted. I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t be.”

“Oh. Um.” With a pleased, nervous smile, Kara fidgets with her glasses to distract herself from the wave of overwhelming pleasure she feels. “Thank you. That’s, uh, really kind of you to say.”

“Kind has nothing to do with it, it’s the truth,” Lena replies. “So what now?”

“Uh. Well. Maybe go over some details?” Kara finds herself squirming, finding it uncomfortable to talk so plainly about this. But it’s important to be able to talk about these things. “You had mentioned being safe. And, um, I had my physical in November with a full panel. I have a clean bill of health and um, I haven’t done anything since then. So. But of course we can still use protection if you’re more comfortable.”

“I was tested last month. Same. And you’d be okay with not having other partners?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the point of this, right? We can both have something, um, physically satisfying but do it safely?”

At that, Lena leans forward, a playful glint in her eyes. “You know, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Who says it’d be satisfying? Maybe we’d have zero chemistry.”

Kara huffs indignantly. “Excuse me, I’m very good at what I do.”

“Chemistry has nothing to do with skill.”

Kara brings herself forward, mirroring Lena’s position and leaning over the table. “Okay then. So kiss me and find out.”

That’s the opening Lena’s looking for. She smiles and slowly leans in, tilting her head slightly to the side. She pauses, and waits for Kara to meet her halfway.

And Kara does. Their lips meet. A closed, chaste peck.

It’s Kara who draws back first. Just slightly, cracking her eyes open to gauge Lena’s reaction. Lena smiles. Gives an affirming nod. So Kara goes back in, her slightly parted lips meeting Lena’s again.

They kiss over the tabletop. Slow and tentative at first, each unsure and hesitant of going too fast, each mindful of this public display. But as electrifying desire spreads throughout their bodies, instinct takes over. Caution and reservations forgotten, their kiss deepens, mouths feverishly working against the other’s. World forgotten, they’re blinded, deafened, and swept away by crescendoing need. They tip their bodies into it - or, as much as they can, given the table between them.

They’re pulled back to reality with raucous noise; an unrelated, risqué joke told at a table a few feet away with a large party, eliciting a sudden, loud laughter that pierces through their bubble.

They break apart. Sit back in their seats.

Lena looks at the blonde across the table, slightly astonished.

Kara clears her throat and grabs for her water glass. Before taking a sip, she remarks, as coolly as she can, “How’s that for chemistry?”

And really, the only appropriate response is:

“Do you want to get out of here?”

***

Lena takes them to her apartment a few blocks away. Kara’s stunned to discover that Lena lives in a modern, luxury, doorman high-rise building overlooking Bryant Park.

Kara stands frozen in the entranceway. “You live here?”

Lena shrugs off her coat, hangs it up, and strides down the hall to her sizable living room. “Honestly, it’s mostly out of convenience. My company’s just down the block. It’s not my favorite neighborhood, a bit soulless and busy. I do enjoy saying good morning to Patience and Fortitude though.”

“To who now?”

“The two lions in front of the library,” Lena clarifies as she takes a seat on the couch. “Are you going to come in?”

Slowly, Kara takes off her coat, still gaping at her surroundings. “What is it that you said you do again?”

“Biotech research.” Lena slips off her heels, setting them beside her sofa.

“Can I, um.” Kara holds up a finger, looping it about in the air.

“Go ahead. Look around all you like.”

Kara surveys the land. The entranceway opens to a long hallway. To the left, there’s a spacious dining/living room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Bryant Park. Tucked away on the other side of the hallway is a modern kitchen, with expensive, shiny countertops and sleek, stainless equipment. And a dishwasher. The kitchen provides a passageway connecting the dining/living room to a study before looping back into that long hallway by the entrance. On the other end of that long hallway are two bedrooms, one master and a smaller second bedroom.

“I didn’t realize there’s such good money in biotech research.” Kara says as she makes her way back to the living room. “Is your roommate here?”

“I don’t have a roommate.”

That’s the most startling thing Lena’s said to her all night. Kara stares at her, feeling like her brain’s about to short-circuit.

“You live in a two-bedroom. In Midtown. With a doorman. By yourself,” Kara restates, trying to sound calm but still coming off as slightly hysterical. “Ohmygod, you have a washer and dryer in here, don’t you?”

“Kara,” Lena answers, serenely but firmly. “Come over here.”

“I’m afraid to sit on your couch. It’s probably worth more than my entire life savings.”

“Well, if you’re afraid to sit on the couch, you could just sit on my lap instead.”

Not even fancy-apartment-struck Kara would say no to that.

She approaches Lena, climbing on top and straddling her lap. She drapes her arms about the brunette’s shoulders, loosely clasping her hands around the nape. She finds herself staring into stunning blue-green orbs, the sight of it so breathtaking that she can almost feel her chest ache.

“Hey,” she whispers.

“Hi,” Lena whispers back as her fingers linger and dance at the edge of Kara’s shirt.

It’s Kara who closes the gap between them. They make out languidly, indulgently, unhurriedly, warm tongues gently sliding and exploring. It’s Lena who makes the first move under the clothes, slipping her hand beneath Kara’s shirt to caress along the length of her torso. Kara gasps against Lena’s mouth as she feels a hand cup her breast.

“Kara,” Lena murmurs against fervent lips.

“Yeah?” Kara responds as she turns her attention to Lena’s neck. Lena lets her head drop against the back of the couch, squeezing her eyes shut as she struggles to remember what she wants to say.

In between sharp gasps that correspond to Kara’s gentle sucking at her neck, she manages to say, “You know that it’s okay if nothing happens, right? I don’t- I don’t want you to think that you have to do something just because you came home with me or because I want it or- or because Mike wants it.”

Kara pulls back slightly, regarding Lena in perplexion. “Well, I’m the one on top of you, so what does that tell you?”

“Just checking in.” Delicately, Lena brushes an errant strand of hair out of Kara’s eyes. “I want to make sure that this is happening because you want it to.”

“You should know that your concern is extremely hot. It just makes me want to take off all your clothes.” Kara pauses, studying Lena for a reaction. “If that’s what you want.”

Lena doesn’t even hesitate. “Bedroom’s that way.”

“Okay then.” Kara takes her glasses off, setting it atop the side table. She swiftly clambers off, and before Lena even fully registers what’s happening, she finds herself in Kara’s arms, being carried off down the long hallway towards the bedroom.

Instinctively, Lena yips in surprise and grabs on, looping her arms around the blonde’s neck, although it probably isn’t necessary, not with the sturdy grip Kara has on her.

“Where did the bumbling donut lady go?”

Kara promptly shoots back, “Donut lady in the streets, dapper daddy between the sheets.”

Lena blinks in shock, then bursts out with a high-pitched, borderline hysterical laugh. “You did not just say that.”

Kara’s already grimacing at her own words. “Um… yeah, I don’t know where that came from. I’ll come up with a better comeback later and we can pretend I said that thing instead of… what I just said.”

They tumble into the room, Kara depositing the other woman on her bed.

“My god,” Kara exhales in astonishment.

Lena follows Kara’s gaze, at the view of the Empire State Building out her window, cast in a red glow for the evening. And, sure, it’s a great view, but Lena can’t help feeling the tinsiest bit offended. Surely she can compete with a building.

“Um, Kara? Would you like to undress me now?”

Kara snaps her attention back to the task at hand. Hurriedly, she scrambles onto the bed, her hands going to work at the buttons of Lena’s blouse. To make up for the momentary lapse in focus, she now lavishes attention on the woman under her. With each button undone, Kara presses soft kisses against the unveiled skin beneath, trailing her way up, up Lena’s tense, eager body until their mouths meet once again.

As they kiss, they undress each other. A little uncomfortable, a lot clumsy, they struggle with unfamiliar terrain. Lena squirms when Kara touches her side, and Kara learns that Lena is ticklish. Kara squeals when Lena nips at her neck, and Lena learns that Kara doesn’t like teeth on her skin. But they giggle and laugh their way through it, their excited, boisterous mood undiminished by the brief skirmishes with awkwardness in learning one another’s body.

When they’re naked, pressed up tight together, Lena utters lowly, “You okay?”

Kara nods surely. “You?”

“Yeah.” Lena’s hand, prowling south, grazes upon Kara’s thigh. “Are you ready?”

“Please.” Lena dips her fingers into wet folds, rubbing at where Kara’s most sensitive. Kara inhales sharply through clenched teeth, arching her hips up as her body spasmed with pleasure.

“God, that feels amazing.”

“It really has been a while, hasn’t it?” Lena teases. “You’re so ready. One or two? Three?”

“Two, please.”

When Lena obeys, Kara lets out a deep sigh of relief, which quickly turns into a high-pitched whine as the brunette starts thrusting. And Lena’s right. Kara’s ready. So ready that it doesn’t take long at all for Lena to make her come. So ready that, almost immediately after her orgasm, Kara’s looking to return the favor.

“I’m a little rusty,” she admits as her hand dips down. “Will you tell me what feels good to you?”

“Yes,” Lena says.

Which quickly turns into a series of yes yes yes without the need for much instructions at all.

Well,” Lena manages through heaving pants, gazing upon Kara with something that looks a lot like admiration. “Not so rusty after all.”

Still caressing Lena’s thigh and peppering kisses along her shoulder, Kara answers, with a healthy dose of ‘I just made a hot woman come’ swagger, “Could always use more practice. When you’re ready.”

It doesn’t take long for Lena to be ready again.

When they finally mutually agree that they’re done, it’s very late.

“You can stay if you want,” Lena says.

“I should go.” Kara sounds as reluctant as Lena looks. “I’m having breakfast with Alex in the morning.”

“Well, at least let me get you an Uber home.”

As Kara gets dressed, Lena throws on a robe and searches for her phone.

“So, um…” Kara starts hesitantly as she’s pulling on her jeans. “Would you… do you think you’ll want to do this again? And no hard feelings if the answer’s no. If this is it, that’s- uh, it’s totally fine. I’ll just, um, maybe see you at Brainy and Nia’s wedding in three years and we’ll… just like pretend not to have met before or something.”

Lena should not find this kind of bumbling awkwardness as endearing as she does. “I’ll give you my number.” Lena does, and Kara enters it into her phone. But then Kara freezes, staring down at her phone uncertainly. “What is it?”

“What’s your, um- I mean, you- it’s just, I, I don’t actually know, uh-”

“My last name?”

Kara flushes, looking sheepish and deeply embarrassed even though she’s just spent the last couple of hours ravishing Lena. Well, maybe because she’s spent the last couple of hours ravishing Lena Last Name Unknown.

“Uh, yup.”

“It’s Luthor. L-U-T-H-O-R.”

Kara keys it in, keeping her attention sharply focused on her screen. “I’ve, um, never done this kind of thing before. Sleep with someone I just met.”

“I don’t exactly make this a habit either. But I suppose that’s the point of this arrangement. Now we don’t have to go looking for strangers to satisfy our needs.”

“At least until Mike gets back.”

“Right,” Lena replies evenly. “Until then.” Her phone buzzes and she looks down. “Your car’s downstairs.”

Lena walks Kara to the apartment door. Kara opens the door and takes one step out, but then lingers in the doorway. She turns back, shoving her hands into the pockets of her heavy coat.

“Um… well, thanks for a lovely evening.”

“You too.” Well, that hardly seems sufficient. Grabbing a hold of Kara’s coat, Lena gives a gentle tug, pulling the other woman into her personal space, covering her mouth with her own in a long, slow goodbye kiss. When Lena pulls back, Kara looks vaguely dazed. “Goodnight, Kara.”

With a small push upon Kara’s shoulder, Lena casts Kara over the doorway threshold; after one last purposeful once-over accompanied by a flirtatious smirk, she closes the door.

She heads back to bed, feeling tiredness and sleepiness settling in. Just as she collapses into bed, she hears her phone buzz. She grabs it off the bedside table and peers at the screen.

There’s a text from an unfamiliar number.

The message just says “Kara Danvers.”

***

In a crowded diner flooded with the noises of the Sunday morning brunch rush, Kara can somehow still hear the weak, disbelieving stammers coming from her sister across the table.

After flapping her lips and uselessly emitting a string of incomprehensible noises, Alex finally manages to say, “You- you spent the night with a woman that you met… on the subway?!” On that last word Alex’s voice goes so high, it’s almost a whistle.

Meekly, Kara nods her head.

You,” Alex says in a shocked-beyond-belief voice. “Kara Danvers. You, of all people, had a one night stand. With a woman you met on the subway.

With her fork, Kara pokes at the stack of waffles before her, dragging a swirl of syrup across the ridged surface. “Um… well, it’s not exactly supposed to be a one night stand. She’s sort of in the same situation as me in that she’s not looking for anything. She just came out of a relationship, but she, um, still has needs? So, er, we kind of agreed to be like… friends with benefits?”

“Except you’re not even friends. So it’s like strangers with benefits.”

Kara hums in agreement. “Or! Straphangers with benefits.”

Alex does not look remotely amused.

“Kara, what the hell were you thinking? You can’t be going home with randos on the subway. She could’ve murdered you.”

“She’s not a complete stranger. She knows Brainy.”

You don’t know Brainy! You just heard about him from Nia!”

“Whatever! It worked out. I had a great night and, look, I’m alive.”

“So you’re going to, what, sleep with this woman until Mike gets back?”

“Um, yeah, that’s pretty much the plan.” Kara says as she devotes her attention to painstakingly cutting up her waffle into small squares according to its indentations. “I’m happy, she’s happy, Mike’s happy. It all works out.”

The look on Alex’s face can only be described as one of abject pity. “Oh, sweetie. No, no, no, no. This is not going to end well. At all.”

Kara huffs in annoyance. “You don’t know that.”

“I know you, and I know that you’re not capable of having a benefits arrangement with someone without falling ass backwards in love with them.”

“That’s not going to happen.” With her fork, Kara stabs at her cut-up waffle squares, somewhat aggressively. “I’m in love with Mike. I’ve always been in love with Mike and I’ll always be in love with Mike. We’re going to be together when he gets back. Mike’s the end goal, Lena’s a detour.”

“Yeah, well, it’s going to be a bumpy detour- for the love of god, why are you eating your waffle like that? The squares are there to hold in the syrup!”

“Because I want to!” Kara returns petulantly, clearly talking about more than just waffles.

“Kara. This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. And I’m including the time that you set fire to your own hair and nearly burned the house down trying to do some spell you found on MySpace to make Troy Bolton materialize in real life and marry you.”

“Leave it alone, Alex.”

“No, I take that back. The dumbest thing you’ve ever done is to let Mike talk you into having an ‘open-ish’ long distance relationship. But this is definitely the second dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”

“Alex,” Kara spits out, her tone steely. “I said leave it alone.”

Alex mulls it over. She’s far from done, but she knows that there’s only so much she can push Kara in one day.

“Fine, but I’m reserving ‘I told you so’ rights. I don’t care if it’s petty.”

“You won’t have to,” Kara says smugly. “It’s all going to be fine.”

Alex narrows her eyes and lifts her coffee cup to her lips, mumbling lowly to herself, which maybe sounds a lot like famous last words. But, then again, Kara decides, it’s simply much too loud in the diner to know what Alex really said.

 

 

Chapter Text

It's a shame to be polite now
To hesitate's a sin
Coming up and up my mind, babe
And let the news rush in
I wanna hold you in the gilded morning
I wanna love you in the secret night

“I Wanna Fuck You Till I'm Dead” - YACHT

 

 

On Monday morning, when Lena enters the L-Corp lab at 7AM, she’s not at all surprised to find the doors unlocked and the lights on. Half the time, Brainy beats her in. The two of them typically work silently for a couple of precious hours before the rest of the staff start filtering in and distract them with social interactions.

Brainy has his head bent, staring into his microscope. Although he undoubtedly heard Lena come in, he doesn’t spare a second’s worth of attention away from his work.

Lena greets him with, “I hope you went home last night.”

“No, but as I interpret your statement as a question as to whether I worked all night, I can assure you that I did not.”

Normally, this would be the end of the conversation. These early morning staff-less hours are valuable, and neither of them likes to waste it. But, well, things happened that weekend, and they sort of concerned Brainy.

Lena begins delicately. “Did you see Nia?”

Brainy doesn’t move, doesn’t look up from his microscope, but his smile is evident. “Yes.”

“Are things going well between you two?”

“I believe so.”

“Have you…” Now, how to phrase this. “Is it getting serious? I mean, have you met each other’s friends and such?” Clean the reels and break out the tackle box, because Lena’s going fishing for information.

“No.”

As it turns out, some fish are annoyingly unhelpful. “Nia works at CatCo, right?”

“Yes.”

“Does she talk about it?”

“Yes.”

Very, very unhelpful. Maybe she should be fishing with dynamite.

“Has Nia ever mentioned a Kara Danvers to you?”

Still glued to his microscope, Brainy hums as he thinks about the question. “Yes. One of her friends from the magazine, I believe.”

Finally, they’re getting somewhere. “What did she say about her?”

“That they work together at the magazine.”

“Is that all?”

“She’s nice. Likes food.”

“Does she also breathe air and walk on two feet?” Lena asks sarcastically.

“Well, I’d assume.”

This is probably Lena’s fault in the first place. She should’ve known that this would happen. It’s like fishing in a rain puddle.

“All right. Thanks, Brainy.”

She pauses, wondering if Brainy is finally going to ask why she’s asking these questions.

But all he says is, “Yup, okay.”

***

The next time they meet, it’s at a chocolatier near Rockefeller Center, a few blocks north from Lena’s apartment.

In the week since they’ve last seen each other, there’s been almost no communication. No calls or texts, not until Kara sends a text on Friday night asking Lena what her plans were for the next day.

Lena texts back “nothing,” then cancels her spa plans with Sam. Sam would understand. If she knew. Which she doesn’t. Lena’s told no one of what happened. Because some part of Lena thinks that there’s really nothing to tell. Although things had gone well that night and they had exchanged numbers, she didn’t know whether she would see Kara again. She wasn’t sure that Kara would reach out. Wasn’t sure that Kara would respond if she reached out first. Wasn’t sure that Kara really wants to see her again.

She still isn’t sure, not until Kara’s sliding into the seat across from her, cheeks rosy from the cold, but wearing a dazzling, megawatt grin like she’s genuinely pleased to see her.

Or maybe it’s the spread she’s happy to see.

“I ordered, but I wasn’t sure what you wanted,” Lena explains as Kara marvels over the food on the table. There’s hot chocolates for both of them, each accompanied by a dish of decadently rich house-made whipped cream. There’s a colorful sleeve of assorted macarons, a box of champagne truffles, a chocolate eclair, and a chocolate mousse cake.

“Wow, I must have really impressed you the other night.”

“That you did.”

With a cheeky smile, Kara offers up: “Cake in the street, earthquake between the sheets?”

“Better than what you came up with last time.”

“Genius takes time.” Kara takes a sip of her hot chocolate, her face lighting up at the taste. “That’s good.”

Lena fidgets with her own cup, but doesn’t take a sip. “So I thought we’d talk about our arrangement. We didn’t really get into it last time.”

“Hey, I tried, but someone wanted to test the chemistry first.”

“It was the prudent move. Why bother with the details if we’re not compatible in bed?”

“But we are, right?” Kara asks, an eager grin on her face.

Lena rolls her eyes, but there’s a fond smile on her face. “Yes, Kara, we are. In case that wasn’t evident by my vocal appreciations last time and today’s chocolate gifts.”

“Just checking. Okay, let’s talk details.”

Kara picks up her fork, digging into the cake. She takes a bite, sucking at the fork to get at the last bit of frosting, closing her eyes to savor the rich, creamy, chocolate-y goodness, and lets out a long, drawn-out sigh of contentment. The sound reaches Lena’s ears, sending a shiver of want down her spine.

And she blurts out, “Do you want to take this to go?”

***

When Kara takes her second bite of cake, it’s hours later. She’s on Lena’s couch, naked beneath the throw blanket that’s usually kept neatly folded and draped on the couch’s back. Next to her, Lena nibbles at a macaron that Kara had thrusted into her hands.

They didn’t quite make it to the bed this time. Maybe that had been the plan, but seconds after walking through the front door, Lena found herself shoved up against the wall, Kara’s lips on hers. Before she even had the chance to take off her coat, she found herself pantsless and Kara kneeling before her, mouth at the ready. She comes like that, leaning against the wall by her front door, still wearing her jacket. Then Lena, intending to reciprocate, started to drag Kara towards the bedroom. They made it as far as the living room before, lips glued together and bodies tangled up in each other, they crashed to the floor and Lena decided to just go ahead and stick her hand between Kara’s legs right there.

“So,” Kara starts. “Details?”

Which is probably something they should’ve discussed before they had sex again. Oh, well. Too late now.

Lena polishes off the macaron, using the opportunity to think about how to start this conversation. “What are your ground rules?”

Kara frowns in concentration, thinking it over. “I don’t know if I have that many. We’ve already talked about not sleeping with other people. And you already know that this ends when Mike comes back. That’s about it for me. What about you?”

Lena looks at Kara intently, holding her gaze for a beat before answering so that Kara understands how serious she is. “The second you even think you might be feeling something, you have to tell me. For your sake and mine. I’m deadly serious about where I’m at emotionally. I can not handle romantic entanglements right now.”

“Same,” Kara nods enthusiastically. “But you really don’t have to worry about that. My heart belongs to Mike. It always has.”

“Okay,” Lena replies, feeling herself relax a little. “I suppose there’s not much else I need. It’s not like I have a ton of experience with this.”

“So we’ll figure it out together as we go,” Kara says confidently. “And of course if you start feeling like you’re ready for a relationship and you want to start dating people, just let me know. I won’t mind. We can stop whenever.”

“Same applies for you. If you do meet somebody you’re interested in-”

“The only person I’m interested in lives in a different country right now,” Kara asserts firmly. “But yes, I’ll let you know.”

“What about things like spending the night?”

“If it’s okay with you, it’s okay with me. It doesn’t bother me.”

“And what if we run into each other somewhere with our friends?”

“Um, full disclosure, I already told my sister.” Kara shifts to see if Lena’s upset by this news. When she sees Lena give a small shrug, she relaxes and pushes on. “And um, Mike. I kind of told Mike?”

That does get a reaction from Lena, but it’s curiosity more than anything else. “How did that go?”

“Fine? We kinda have this agreement that we wouldn’t get too much into details. But he knows that I’ve, uh, made a new friend. Honestly, he seemed happy for me?”

“Because then he feels better about what he’s already done?”

Kara wisely decides that it’s best not to get into that subject. “Anyway, as for other people, I don’t mind telling them the truth. My friends already know what my situation with Mike is, so it’s up to you. If you don’t want us to tell anyone, we won’t.”

“I don’t mind if people know.” And if it somehow gets back to Veronica, well, that’s just a bonus. “What about non-sexual activities?”

“What, like this?” With her fork, Kara gestures at the two of them. “We’re doing okay right now, aren’t we? Not a big deal.”

“I just don’t want us to cross any boundaries.”

“The whole point of casual sex is to keep things casual, right? Seems counterintuitive to have a whole bunch of rules. I know what I want and I’m not going to get attached just because we share a plate of momos. If that’s true for you too, I don’t see why we can’t hang out.”

A pleased smile spreads across Lena’s face, feeling assuaged by Kara’s assurances. It seems like this can be easy after all.

The only thing she’s left wondering is: “What are momos?”

With a loud, startled gasp, Kara squeals, “What do you mean ‘what are momos’? They’re Nepalese dumplings. Have you never had one?”

“No?” Lena answers uncertainly, wondering what the big deal is.

And it’s almost as if Lena had said that O-Town was the best ‘90s boy band or something crazy like that, because Kara looks positively aghast at her response. “Lena! You said you’ve lived here your entire life! What have you been doing? What do you usually eat?”

Thoroughly baffled by Kara’s agitation over what seems to be a trivial matter, Lena answers, “Salads? Sushi? I don’t know, I usually just grab something from Whole Foods on my way home.”

“Oh, Lena,” Kara groans, sadness permeating every syllable. “No, no, no. This won’t do at all.” Then she’s throwing aside the blanket, scrambling to her feet, and grabbing for their clothes. She tosses Lena’s shirt at her. “Come on, get dressed. We’re going to Jackson Heights right now.”

“Isn’t that in Queens?”

“Yes! Now, come on, let’s go.”

Somehow, Lena, who can’t even remember when she last left Manhattan, finds herself being dragged along for an hour-long subway trip into Queens. The entire way there, Kara chatters about dumplings, from potstickers to momos to perogies to khinkali. The woman is an encyclopedia of all things dumplings.

And Lena thinks to herself that it all makes sense now. This is why this gorgeous, intelligent woman is stuck pining after some dude who’s off banging any number of women on the other side of the world.

Because Kara Danvers is a big freakin’ weirdo.

“Behold, Lena,” Kara says as she holds up a momo with her chopsticks, staring fixedly at the dumpling with a maniacal look in her eyes. They’ve made their way to their destination, a dimly lit restaurant on the main street through Jackson Heights, where Kara’s on a first name basis with the entire wait staff. “The dumpling skin is thick, but not too thick, to balance out the deep, unctuousness of the beef filling. The filling may be denser than what you’re used to, more meatball-like. No need to be delicate here, we’re not handling soup dumplings.”

“Oh my god,” Lena mutters underneath her breath, wondering what the hell she’s gotten herself into.

But the big weirdo is right. The dumplings are delicious, along with all the other dishes that Kara orders, with ingredients that Lena’s never heard of, let alone identify. There’s chiura, some kind of dry, crispy rice substance; warm roti with a trio of dipping sauces; yak cheese pakora; and an intimidating-looking dish called goat bhutan.

“Okay, but what’s in it?” Lena asks again after unsuccessfully trying to get Kara to explain the dish.

“Trust me, it won’t help you to know.” Seeing the distrust on Lena’s face, Kara says kindly, “You don’t have to try it.”

For Lena, these words are the opposite of the intended effect. Feeling like the gauntlet’s been thrown, she picks up an unidentifiable chunk with her chopsticks and pops it into her mouth. It’s savory, chewy, a little spicy, and not quite as weird as she expected.

“Not bad.”

“Wow.” Kara chuckles, looking thoroughly impressed. “I’ve been trying to get Mike to try that one for years.”

Through their meal, they share stories.

Kara tells Lena about the apartment she shares with her roommate Indigo, who might be certifiably insane. (“She’s so pathologically afraid of bedbugs, she literally makes me change my clothes at the door every time I come home and seal my shoes in a ziploc.”)

Lena tells Kara about the time she was caught in flagrante in the chemistry lab with another girl by a nun at her all-girls Catholic boarding school. (“The weirdest part was that she wasn’t even mad. Or surprised. She just shrugged and said ‘oh, I guess it’s you two this year’.”)

At the end of their dinner, sipping on yak butter tea, Lena discovers that she’s actually having a really good time with the big freakin’ weirdo.

And this, Lena thinks, might be the beginning of an amazing friendship.

With benefits.

***

Occasionally, Kelly joins the Danvers sisters for their traditional Sunday morning brunch at their local diner. Which is perfect, because Kelly’s a psychologist who specializes in dealing with trauma, and Alex seems to be experiencing plenty of that right now.

“What the hell do you mean ‘we don’t have ground rules’?” Alex screeches, her voice cutting through diner din, drawing the attention of nearby patrons and staff. “How the hell do you not have ground rules?!” Kelly places a placating hand on Alex’s forearm, stroking gently to calm her down.

Basically don’t have ground rules,” Kara corrects. “We don’t sleep with other people, we stop when Mike comes back, and we tell each other right away if we start to develop feelings or if we meet somebody else we’re interested in. You know, just normal, healthy, communication.”

Blinking rapidly, Alex sputters like a dying engine. “Wha- norm- health- what- how-” She forces herself to take a deep breath. “Kara. What part of this nonsense is normal and healthy to you? No rules?! Sorry, basically no rules. What about texting? Talking on the phone? Birthdays, holidays? Valentine’s Day? Did you talk about any of that?”

“I don’t know, we can figure it out as we go. I don’t see the need for a complicated system when we both know where we stand. Besides, there’s an expiration date on this.”

Incredulous, Alex shakes her head. “Unbelievable. It’s like you’re not even trying to stop yourself from falling for this woman. What’s the difference between this and dating?”

“The difference is there’s a clock,” Kara replies with a shrug. “It doesn’t matter if we set rules. In six months, it’s done. Nothing’s going to come from this.”

The noises Alex makes are strangled and inhuman.

Intervening, Kelly pats Alex on her hand, reminding her to relax. “Alex is just worried. She doesn’t want to see you fall for someone who can’t reciprocate those feelings.”

“I know. But, Alex, I’m an adult. You just have to trust that I know what I’m doing.”

Alex folds her arms across her chest and looks at her little sister with a mixture of frustration and resignation.

“Fine,” she says. “But I’m still reserving ‘I told you so’ rights.”

***

“Something’s different about you,” Andrea says.

They’re having drinks at one of Andrea’s favorite cocktail bars, a swanky, noisy joint in Midtown with overpriced drinks. Sam perks up at the subject, but says nothing and merely raises her glass to her lips as she watches Lena for her reaction.

Briefly, Lena considers deflection. But why? It’s not supposed to be a secret.

“I’ve been having casual sex with a woman I met on the subway who has a boyfriend in Germany.”

There would be silence, except there’s nowhere that’s silent in this bar. So what they hear is normal bar sounds, glasses clinking, babbling chatter, raucous laughter.

“Yeah, that was not my guess,” Sam says. “I just thought you bought new shoes.”

Looking pained and already knowing the answer, Lena nevertheless asks, “Do we really need to talk about this?”

“Uh, yes,” Andrea says emphatically. “What else are we going to talk about? Ruby’s soccer game? Again?”

Hey.”

“Apologies, apologies, love her to death, kisses, love, happiness,” Andrea tosses out at Sam. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us. How long has this been going on?”

“Just a couple of weeks and we’ve only met up twice. It’s very casual and superficial, but it’s been good and distracting.”

“You said you met on the subway?” Sam questions. “Seriously?”

“It was the day we ran into Veronica at brunch.” Even now, recalling the event weeks after, it fills Lena with a sense of dread and pain. “I was a mess on the way home. And Kara, she… well, she just walked up and offered me donuts to try and make me feel better. We got to talking from there. It turns out we know some people in common.”

“This random woman offered you donuts on the subway?” Andrea looks perturbed at the thought. “She sounds crazy.”

Crazy good in bed, Lena thinks as she says, “She’s normal enough.”

“But, Lena, she has a boyfriend.” Sam’s in worried mom mode, sitting on the edge of her seat, brows knitted in concern.

“That’s not an issue. They have an open relationship.”

Andrea emits a disgruntled, disbelieving snort. “Yeah, okay, I’ve heard that one before.”

Stiffening, Lena feels - probably irrationally - offended by the comment. “Kara’s not like that.”

“Sticking up for her already.” Lena does not like that mischievous glint in Andrea’s eyes. “Are you sure it’s as casual as you say?”

“Completely. It’s the perfect arrangement. Neither of us are emotionally available. I’m trying to get over Veronica and she has a boyfriend. He’s apparently the love of her life. It’s a cute story.”

“As cute as a subway donut meet-cute?”

“It wasn’t a meet-cute. It was just a regular meet.”

Undeterred, Andrea presses on, “Okay, but I remember your ‘casual hookups’, Lena. They all want something more eventually.”

“That’s true,” Sam supplements. “Didn’t you and Veronica start off as a casual thing?”

“It’s a gift and a curse,” Andrea says. “They all fall for Lena Luthor eventually.”

“Not this one,” Lena responds, willing herself to feel as confident as she sounds.

“Tread carefully,” Andrea cautions anyway. “And do something gross like burp in her face so she doesn’t fall for you.”

Sam helpfully adds, “Tell her that you’re really into Ayn Rand.”

“Show absolute zero interest when she tells you a story. In fact, unless you’re having sex, never look up from your phone. Oh- or even better, stare at your phone during sex too.”

“Make her pay for everything, except for a hotdog this one time at a minor league baseball game, then a week later, ask her to pay you back with interest.”

Lena arches a brow at Sam. “That was far too specific to be random.”

Sam shrugs nonchalantly. “High school boyfriend. We all make mistakes.”

“All in all,” Andrea concludes. “Just try to be less of your perfect self.”

***

It’s Lena who texts first this time. For the third Saturday in a row, Kara shows up at Lena’s apartment.

They don’t say much to each other before they get down to business. They know what the point is. They know what the other person wants. And maybe, on some level that neither will admit to, they remember the conversations they had with their respective concerned friends and family that week, casting a pall over their willingness to engage socially.

At least it doesn’t affect the sex. That part just seems to be getting better, as they learn each other’s bodies, talking one another through what works and what doesn’t.

They make it to a bed this time. Almost. Kara’s half-on the bed, legs dangling over the edge, spread apart for Lena, who’s kneeling on the floor, head buried between her thighs. Lena’s tongue laps at Kara’s clit while she pumps her fingers in and out.

When Lena sucks, and Kara gasps out, “Not so hard.” So then Lena learns when to ease off before it gets to be too much. Kara grunts and digs her fingers into Lena’s hair; Lena knows she’s close, so keeps up the tempo until Kara stiffens and comes.

The lessons go the other way too. When Kara recovers, she pulls Lena on top of her. She starts caressing Lena’s breasts, only to have Lena grab her hand and shove them down.

“Can’t wait,” Lena pants impatiently. “Need your fingers now.” So then Kara learns when Lena’s had enough foreplay.

When Lena starts making a certain guttural grunt, Kara knows that it’s time to change the angle of her thrust to bring her to completion. Lena comes, crying out in ecstasy as she clenches around Kara’s finger, then sags, sated, against the blonde. Kara gives Lena a moment to recover. Then she gently rolls Lena off her, but keeps the woman in her arms.

“Notes?”

“Um…” Lena tries to think through the mental fog. “Good. Really good. Uh. You can be a little rougher if you’d like, but it’s all really, really good. Really, really, really good.”

Kara presses a kiss to Lena’s shoulder, hiding a proud grin. “Can I get another really?”

Playfully, Lena swats at her. “Don’t make me regret inflating your ego.”

Feeling cold, Lena pulls the sheet up around them. They lie like this, side-by-side, for a while. After a few minutes, Kara rolls off the bed and starts looking around for her clothes. Lena watches her from the bed, unmoving. She feels compelled to say something, although she’s not quite sure what.

“You can stay if you want.”

“Um…” It’s clear that Kara’s looking for an excuse when she doesn’t have one. She finds her shirt draped on the dresser, where Lena had carelessly flung it.

Helping, Lena comes in with, “Sunday brunch with Alex?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Kara pulls her shirt over her head, then moves to pick up her jeans off the floor. “I have to meet Alex in the morning.”

“Not at all,” Lena responds, feeling something that she chooses to label as relief. “I’ll get you an Uber.”

“No, I can take the subway.”

“It’s the least I can do.”

In the midst of slipping on her sweater, Kara’s movements slow. “I’d really prefer it if you didn’t. It, just, um, makes me funny, like you’re paying me to leave?”

That strikes a chord. Not a good one. Lena sits up in bed, letting the sheet fall to the side and baring her torso. No point in modesty after what they just did.

“I would never do that to you.”

“No, I know. It just- I’d just prefer it if you didn’t. It would just feel, um, transactional, you know?”

“It wouldn’t feel quite as transactional if you stayed over,” Lena suggests.

“I know, I know.” Now fully dressed, Kara stands in the middle of Lena’s bedroom, looking awkward and sheepish, putting her hands in her pocket, then taking them back out, like she doesn’t know what to do with them. “But, um, I can’t. So.”

That’s it then. Lena doesn’t see the point in forcing the issue. Kara doesn’t want to stay. Lena’s offered twice now, already once more than her pride would normally permit. She reaches for her robe, tugging it on as she moves towards the door.

“I’ll walk you out.”

She leads Kara out the bedroom, down the hallway to the front door, which she opens and then steps to the side to allow Kara passage. Kara shrugs on her winter coat and lingers at the doorway. Lena leans against the door, waiting for her to leave.

“I, um, had a good time tonight,” Kara says.

“Same.” If Lena sounds a little stiff, it’s just because she’s tired and would like to go to bed. So she insists on thinking to herself.

“Okay,” Kara says in response to nothing. She’s still standing in the doorway, and Lena just doesn’t get it. Kara wants to leave. So she should.

Lena inclines her head toward the outside hallway. “Goodnight, Kara.”

“Right,” Kara mutters, taking her dismissal in stride. She leans forward and kisses Lena on the cheek. “Good night, Lena.”

“Good night.” Lena closes the door behind Kara’s departing figure. She leans against the door, closing her eyes, feeling… she’s not quite sure what.

Bed. She should go to bed.

As Lena heads towards her bedroom, she hears two soft knocks sounding at the door. She pauses, heart rate spiking in anticipation.

It is, of course, who she thinks it is.

“Hey.” Kara’s wearing a shy smile, hands shoved deep into her coat pocket, rocking back and forth on her feet. “I’m kind of hungry. You wanna go get an arepa with me?”

Lena chooses not to label what she feels in the moment.

She just says, “Give me a minute to get dressed.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Maybe we're a fault line
Maybe we're a phone line ready to break
Maybe you're a time bomb
I don't care what your boyfriends say

“Saturdays” - Twin Shadow ft. Haim

 

It first happens on a Wednesday.

Kara texts Lena. And it’s just a picture of a random dog on the street. Followed up by the message, “Doesn’t this dog look like Chewbacca?”

It’s the first time she’s texting about something other than coming over for sex, requiring some kind of response from Lena other than “okay, come over” or “can you do an hour later?” Lena’s left at a bit of a loss.

Which is somewhat ridiculous, because they’ve had full-on meals together and many hours of conversation, and Lena would have no problem coming up with a response if Kara had said it during one of those times. Somehow, this perfectly innocuous message feels somewhat threatening when it’s being texted at 1:25PM on a Tuesday afternoon instead of at a late-night post-coital dinner.

So Lena texts back a cry-laughing emoji and hates herself a little bit for it.

She locks her phone away in her desk and refuses to look at it for the rest of the day.

But when it’s time to go home, she finally takes her phone back out and sees that Kara hasn’t texted anything more, she has to admit that she feels a bit disappointed.

***

It’s Friday night, and Kara’s with Alex and Kelly at their favorite neighborhood bar, a dark, drabby dive with vaguely Irish origins that hipsters have yet to ruin. While Kelly’s at the bar getting them another round, Alex’s telling Kara about her crazy week at work, the endless stream of unlikely drama that gets inflicted on her hospital on a weekly basis.

“And I’m just like, ‘when the hell do you people even have time to hook up in the on call room?’ Like am I the only doctor here who works? Some dude’s coding in the hallway, but sure, take half an hour to talk about your relationship status with your best friend’s wife’s brother.”

Except that Kara’s not exactly listening. She’s staring down at the cellphone in her lap. Annoyed, Alex gives her a little kick under the table. “Hey. Earth to Kara.”

Kara looks up abashedly, but doesn’t put her phone away. “Sorry, just working out the time with Lena tomorrow.”

Alex tries not to look judgmental. She fails, but at least she tries. “You’re going to see her again?”

“It’s Saturday. That’s when we see each other.”

“Oh, good, a weekly standing date that you plan out. Fantastic.”

“Alex.”

Alex heaves a heavy sigh of resignation and tries to switch from Judgmental Big Sister to Supportive Big Sister. “Okay, so… tell me about it then. I mean, not it. Just generally. Like, I don’t know, where does she live?”

“She’s in Midtown.”

Alex looks confused. “You mean like Murray Hill?”

“No, I mean Midtown. Like Bryant Park.”

Alex looks even more confused. “Nobody lives in Midtown.”

“Lena does. She has a two-bedroom over the park.”

Alex stares at her. “Kara. Just how rich is this woman?”

“I don’t know.” Kara’s starting to feel a little defensive under this line of questioning. “I don’t exactly go over there to balance her checkbook.”

“Eww. Also, who balances checkbooks anymore?”

“You know what I mean. That stuff doesn’t matter.”

Kelly returns with their drinks then, and as she sets it down on the table, Alex tells her, “Kara’s dating a millionaire.”

“Oh? Did Mike win the lottery?”

“No, Lena,” Alex says. “Lena’s a millionaire.”

“Good for Lena.” Kelly slides into the booth beside Alex. “But Kara’s not dating Lena. They’re just having fun.”

“Thank you, Kelly,” Kara expresses with a mixture of gratitude and exasperation. She shimmies out of her side of the booth, making her way towards the bathroom. “Now, when I get back, can we please talk about something else?”

Once Kara’s out of earshot, Alex crossly says to her girlfriend, “You’re not helping.”

You’re not helping, dear.” Although her words are harsh, her tone is gentle. “Respect what Kara’s telling you. She’s dating Mike. She loves Mike. Lena’s just fun.”

“It’s going to end in disaster. You know it is.” With Kara out of the scene, Alex finally lets her distress rise to the surface, allowing the panic she feels to reflect in her voice. “She’s going to fall so hard for this Lena woman. I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

“Mm-hmm.” Kelly gives her best I hear you psychologist nod. “But it’s Kara’s disaster to make and Kara’s disaster to handle. Your job is to make sure she feels safe and supported enough with you to turn to you when she needs help picking up the pieces.”

“I can’t just do nothing.”

“You didn’t. You‘ve already shared your concerns with Kara. Several times. She hasn’t changed her mind. Do you think badgering her about it is going to make a difference?”

“So I’m not even supposed to try and resuscitate,” Alex replies sourly. “I’m just supposed to sit here and watch her crash?”

“It’s more like she’s coming in with a cut on her arm and you go straight to suggesting amputation and you won’t take no for an answer. She’s going to run away and not come back even when sepsis sets in.”

“I hate that analogy actually makes sense to me and that you somehow still sound really hot talking about sepsis.”

Kelly puts her arm around Alex, pulling her in tight. “Love you too.”

***

Lena Luthor (11:10): Hey.

Kara Danvers (11:10): Hi!

Kara Danvers (11:10): I’m getting us some bagels from my local place.

Kara Danvers (11:11): I should be there within the hour.

Lena Luthor (11:11): I’m sorry, I should’ve texted you earlier. I meant to catch you before you left.

Kara Danvers (11:11): ? What’s up?

Lena Luthor (11:11): I have to cancel our plans.

Kara Danvers (11:11): OK sure

Kara Danvers (11:12): Everything okay?

Lena Luthor (11:12): Everything’s fine.

Kara Danvers (11:13): OK

Kara Danvers (11:15): Are you sure?

Lena Luthor (11:15): Yes. I’m fine. But it’s not a good time.

Kara Danvers (11:15): I’m getting worried.

Kara Danvers (11:15): What’s wrong?

Lena Luthor (11:16): Nothing’s wrong.

Lena Luthor (11:16): I’m just feeling a bit under the weather.

Kara Danvers (11:16): Oh no! Are you sick?

Kara Danvers (11:16): Is it bad?

Kara Danvers (11:16): Could it be the flu? Did you get your flu shot??

Kara Danvers (11:16): Do you need soup?

Lena Luthor (11:17): No, no, no, yes, maybe.

Kara Danvers (11:17): I’m so confused.

Lena Luthor (11:19): I started my period.

Lena Luthor (11:19): I’m not up for a hookup right now.

Lena Luthor (11:20): I didn’t want you to waste your time coming over for nothing.

Kara Danvers (11:20): OMG you’re ridiculous.

Kara Danvers (11:20): I’ll see you soon.

Kara Danvers (11:21): And I’m bringing soup.

***

Kara shows up at her door with two quarts of soup (one matzoh ball, one tomato basil), bagels, cream cheese, dark chocolates, cookies, three pints of ice cream, and a scowl. She breezes past Lena, making her way toward the kitchen. Lena watches her, feeling inadequate. She’s dressed in black sweats for comfort, her hair pulled back in a loose, messy bun. She was too crampy and tired to bother with makeup, and now, looking upon Kara with her perfect skin and rosy cheeks, regrets that choice.

The first thing Kara says is, “I can’t believe you thought that I wouldn’t come over just because we’re not going to have sex.”

Lena trails Kara into the kitchen just as the blonde shrugs off her coat. Wordlessly, Lena takes the coat from her and deposits it on a nearby dining chair. Kara’s sporting a blue fitted cashmere sweater and dark blue slacks, the combination of which work together to accentuate taut muscles and curves. Again, Lena regrets her choices that morning. Self-consciously, she pulls at the hem of her loosely-fitted sweatshirt. Why did she think it would be a good idea for Kara to see her like this?

“Isn’t that the point of our arrangement?”

“I thought we agreed that we could hang out?” Kara sticks the ice cream in the freezer and shuts the door, leaning against its frame. “Unless you don’t want to? Did you want to be alone?”

“No,” Lena says hastily. “I’m, I’m really glad you’re here. I just didn’t want you to be disappointed.”

“Like I said, you’re ridiculous. I like hanging out with you.”

“You do?”

That look of skepticism and disbelief hits Kara harder than she thought it would. “Yes,” she spits out emphatically. “How is this a question? You’re fun and funny and warm and smart and just, like, really awesome to be around.”

Lena tugs at and twirls an errant stand of hair, feeling overwhelmed by the compliments. “One of the reasons that Veronica broke up with me is that she said that I was ‘joyless’ to be around. That kind of thing… stays with a person.”

A flash of anger crosses Kara’s face, but it disappears quickly. No need to let Lena dwell on this. “Veronica’s an idiot. Now, come on, get your butt to the couch. We’re going to Netflix and really just chill.”

That’s how they spend their afternoon. They watch TV, they eat snacks, and after some feeble protests, Lena lets Kara fawn and fuss over her. Kara jumps up to fetch her aspirin and ice cream. Kara takes her bowl away when she’s done. Kara keeps one arm loosely draped about her shoulders, gently and non-sexually caressing her arm.

When night falls, Kara orders pizza for them. She lets Lena pick the toppings and orders side salads without Lena needing to ask.

“You’re spoiling me,” Lena tells her. She almost makes a joke about how if Kara keeps it up, she’ll never want Kara to leave. Wisely, she thinks better of it before she says it. “I’ll have to return the favor soon.”

“You’ll be waiting a while. I skip mine. Birth control.”

“Right. Because of the boyfriend. Yes.” It’s unnervingly easy to forget that detail.

“Yes and no? It’s just nice not having to deal with having a period every month. Anyway, you’re reaping the benefits now. What if our cycles never sync up? The six months we have together would be more like three.”

“Five now,” Lena reminds her. “Mike comes back in five months.”

“Oh.” Kara’s tone suggests that she hadn’t considered that. But it’s true. “I didn’t realize it was already… um, yes. You’re right. We have five months left.”

Kara turns her attention back to the TV, but she’s too distracted to know what’s going on with the movie they’re watching, some ridiculous holiday romcom.

After a moment, with her eyes still glued to the TV, Kara asks, “Hey, what if… I mean, I was wondering-” This isn’t working, so Kara tries again, this time turning away from the screen to face Lena. “So, I mean, I work downtown and I pass through this area everyday. What if… what if I stopped by after work some time?”

“You want to see each other on weekdays?”

“If you want.”

“I… well, I usually work pretty late.”

And Kara says, “Oh.”

Before awkwardness can claim the moment, Lena quickly adds, “But I can make it work if you give me a heads up.”

Kara grins. “I can do that.”

Their food comes and they eat their dinner at the dining table, because Lena’s the sort of person who has a dining table in her Manhattan apartment instead of eating off the living room coffee table like a common peasant.

Kara tells Lena about her childhood growing up in Krypton. She tries to explain ice-fishing. Lena tells Kara about boarding school. She tries to explain dressage. Neither of them really “gets it” but it doesn’t matter. They understand each other even if they don’t understand the subject matter. They listen to one another, truly listen, instead of thinking of the next thing to say.

“Hey,” Kara says at one point, holding up her folded-up slice of pizza.

Lena looks at her quizzically. “Yes?”

“Pizza in the streets, pizzazz between the sheets?”

When Lena groans, Kara lets out a loud, pleased cackle.

After dinner, they watch another movie and cuddle up close next to each other on the couch. It’s well past midnight when Lena yawns and Kara takes that as her cue to go.

From the couch, Lena watches Kara gather up her things. And before she can stop herself, she says, “You could stay.” Kara’s movements falter. She looks up at Lena, who already knows the answer. “All right. Goodnight then, Kara.”

“It’s just that-”

“Brunch with Alex. I know.”

Except that Lena knows that’s an excuse. And Kara does too. But it’s easier not to pry. So Lena walks her to the door and kisses her goodnight.

She doesn’t get it. Not one bit. Kara will come over, fawn over her, ask to spend more time with her, and then balk at the idea of spending the night when they’ve both already agreed that it would be fine if she did. It doesn’t make sense.

Then again, very little about this arrangement makes sense.

***

On Tuesday, Kara texts Lena with a picture of a cat that looks like Salvadore Dali.

Lena texts back, “That’s adorable.” Then, after a moment’s hesitation, “Not as adorable as you, obviously.

Kara sends back ten heart-eyes emojis. Then she asks how Lena’s day is going.

When Lena finally puts her phone back down, it’s forty-five minutes later, she now has dinner plans, and there are thirty new emails in her inbox screaming for her attention.

Brainy side-eyes her when she leaves the office at 6PM.

“Get well soon!” he calls after her. Lena realizes that she never leaves the office this early unless she’s sick.

She meets Kara downtown at a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant that Andrea had once mentioned. It’s the kind of place that prints out its short daily menu on elegantly flimsy paper, only lists a string of ingredients in lieu of a dish name, and there’s nothing for sale that’s even close to a single-digit price. The waiter comes by to explain the menu, along with the tidbit that it’s a “family-style, à la carte tapas-inspired” restaurant and the helpful suggestion that each person order at least three to four dishes.

Kara hums in acknowledgement. She thanks the waiter and turns her attention back to the menu, studying it carefully, a slight crease between her eyebrows where there wasn’t one before. Lena could guess at what caused it.

“By the way,” she says casually. “This one’s on me.”

Predictably, Kara sets down her menu with a frown. “No, we’ll split it.”

“Nonsense. You paid for everything last time.”

“Last time?” It takes Kara a moment to remember. “You mean the snacks and the pizza? That was nothing. This place is way more expensive.”

“You bought a ton of chocolates and ice cream.”

“Which I brought over without asking, and most of which I ate.”

“And I’m the one who suggested this place. You paid last time, I’ll pay this time, and you’ll get the next one. That’s fair, isn’t it?” Before Kara can offer a rebuttal, the waiter comes back. Lena takes both menus and passes them over. “We’ll have one of everything.”

After the waiter leaves, Lena is left with Kara gaping at her from across the table. “Lena…”

“It’s a small menu anyway.”

Despite her protests, it’s evident that Kara is positively thrilled. With each dish they bring, her eyes light up. She savors every bite she takes, sometimes even moaning in deep appreciation.

“That duck nigiri was so good. And that lobster with beef heart with aji panca? Uhhh.” Despite having demolished twelve (albeit small) plates of food, Kara somehow still manages to look mournful that the food is gone.

“We can order more.”

“I can’t have another bite. I’ll die.”

“But what about dessert?”

“...okay, maybe just one to share.”

After they split a black sesame ice cream, Lena pays the bill, and the two of them head back into the cold night. Without hesitation, Kara loops her arm through Lena’s as they walk, huddled up close together to fight off the chilly wind.

“That was such an amazing meal. Thank you so much for that. That was really generous of you.”

“It’s nothing,” Lena replies. And it’s true, very true. To her, the sum is a pittance. But she’s aware that for Kara, with her junior reporter’s salary, the meal is a treat. It’s with that in mind that she says, “You know, we should do things like this more often. I like having dinner with you.”

“I like it too.” Kara tightens her hold on Lena in affection.

“So it’s settled then. We‘ll take turns taking each other out to dinner. When it’s my turn, I’ll pick the place and foot the bill. You can do the same when it’s your turn. And now we don’t need to have another conversation about it.”

Kara tilts her head to the side, regarding the other woman with suspicion. “Why do I feel like you’re up to something?”

“I want to take you to places that my friends and I would normally go. And I’d like you to take me to places that you and your friends would normally go. I think we can acknowledge that there’s going to be a difference in monetary cost and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. What matters is us enjoying each other’s company and sharing our experiences.”

“Wow,” Kara says softly.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just, I just never thought that I’d have a sugar mama.”

Lena makes a face, then lightly thumps Kara on the arm. “Oh, stop. I like hanging out with you too, Kara. If you want to stay in and order pizza every time, then that’s what we’ll do. But if you’re amenable, I’d like to take you to, say, Eleven Madison Park. Purely out of selfish reasons. I like you, I like fancy food, and it would give me great pleasure to combine the two.”

There’s no use in pretending that Kara isn’t immensely excited by the prospect of going to dinner at a fancy restaurant that costs more than a thousand dollars for two people. “I mean, I’d have to be crazy to say no to that. I just want to make sure that you don’t feel… taken advantage of?”

“Oh, Kara,” Lena replies with a feigned dramatic sigh. “I like you, but you should know that you’re not likely to get me to do anything that wasn’t my idea in the first place. I’m stubborn and immune to influence.”

Kara stops walking, so suddenly that Lena nearly trips in the process. Lena takes a step back so that they’re aligned next to one another again. They’re in the middle of the sidewalk, but they’ve wandered off onto a residential street currently void of pedestrians.

There’s a challenging, almost predatory, glint in Kara’s eyes. “Yeah?”

Feeling a thrilling shiver pass over her, Lena takes a step closer, and with a defiant jut of her chin, responds coolly, “Yeah.”

Kara’s hands slip to Lena’s waist, gloved hands gripping firmly. With a rough tug, she pulls the brunette close until their bodies are flush together. For a moment, they study one another. Slowly, Kara leans in, brushes her lips gently against Lena’s. Kara’s lips are cold and slightly chapped, but Lena finds herself surging forward, eager for a taste. Kara parts her lips, tongue meeting Lena’s in gentle, lazy strokes. They make out on the empty street, unheeding of the world.

When they stop, neither moves away. Foreheads pressed together, they keep huddled close, warmed in the cold night by the proximity and charged energy between them.

“Joke’s on you,” Lena remarks hoarsely. “I wanted you to do that.”

“Good joke,” Kara whispers back. “Excellent joke.”

They make their way to the subway, where they take the train uptown toward Lena’s stop. As the train approaches her station, she looks over to Kara and thinks about asking whether she should ask, again, if Kara wants to come spend the night. She knows what the answer will be, but the impulse to ask anyway is there and stronger than she would have expected. But before she can make up her mind, the train slows to a stop and the doors are opening. With a rushed hug, she says goodnight and hurries out of the train. On the platform, she stops and turns to wave at Kara just as the doors slide close.

They watch one another until the train pulls away.

***

The rest of Kara’s friends find out at their Thursday night game night.

Kara’s not sure why they don’t know already, and if you asked her, she would just say that it hasn’t come up. There’s just not very many opportunities to organically work in, “By the way, I’ve been casually banging this rich woman I met on the New York City subway” in a normal conversation.

They’re gathered in the living room of Alex and Kelly’s apartment, surrounding the coffee table, where a game of Pandemic is stalled while Winn reviews the rules again. While he does, Nia’s telling everyone about how Brainy finally, finally asked her to make it official and be his girlfriend.

She’s sharing a funny story: “I was so nervous that he wasn’t really into me. As it turned out, he was just super nervous that I wasn’t into him! He told me that after our second date, he actually ordered like a year’s worth of the magazine’s old issues just so he could learn more about my work.”

As everyone coos and awws over the story, Kara says, “I’m so glad he finally told you! I was wondering if he would.”

Which naturally led to a perplexed Nia asking, “Wait, how do you know that story?”

Kara feels everyone’s eyes on her. Nia, James and Winn looking on curiously. Alex, clearly trying not to look judgmental. Kelly, thankfully neutral.

“So, um, funny story. I actually met someone a few weeks ago who knows Brainy.”

“You did?!” Nia squeals. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Well, she wasn’t really supposed to tell me the story. It just slipped out. We didn’t want to meddle. It’s better if he told you.”

“I was wondering why you’ve been encouraging me to be patient with him. I get why you didn’t, but I kind of wish I knew earlier. It would’ve been a relief to know he felt the same way.” Nia looks a little annoyed, but grudgingly understanding. “What else did she say about Brainy?”

“Nothing, really. It hasn’t come up again.”

“Again?” Nia raises her eyebrows. “So you’ve met her more than once? Who is this person?”

“Yeah, um…” Kara starts peeling at the label of her beer bottle as a distraction. “So we’ve… kind of been, um… meeting up regularly, to um, well- so, like, the thing is, we’re sort of… um, well, we’re like… uh-”

“They’re sleeping together,” Alex breaks in.

“Alex!”

“You were taking forever!”

Kara crosses her arms, trying to seem miffed, although truthfully, she’s glad that Alex jumped in. She really didn’t have a plan for how she was going to finish that sentence.

By now, the entire room’s attention is intensely focused on her. Even Winn has stopped reading the rules. The questions come tumbling in all at once:

“Who is she?!” Nia squeaks.

“What?!” Winn cries out.

“Wait, how long has this been going on?” James asks.

Nia demands, “Why didn’t we know about this?”

James comes in with, “How did you two meet?”

“How did this happen?” Nia again.

“Whaaaaat?!” Winn repeats.

Kara waits for the questions to die down before she calmly answers, “It’s been a little over a month. I don’t know why we haven’t talked about this. It just hasn’t come up? And um, we met… um… well, we met on the subway.”

So helpfully, Alex adds, “They actually slept together that first day within like, an hour of meeting each other.”

The ensuing chorus of stunned gasps and squeals is deafening.

Thank you, Alex,” Kara says stiffly. “And it was… more than an hour.”

“More than five hours?”

Kara decides that it’s best not to answer her sister’s question.

“I did not know you had it in you,” Winn remarks, sounding awed.

“And she’s loaded,” Alex says. “I think she might be a millionaire. She has a two-bedroom over Bryant Park.”

James lets out a low, impressed whistle.

“Okay, now I really need to know who it is. How does she know Brainy?” Nia narrows her eyes. “It’s not an ex, is it?”

“No, a coworker. Um, Lena.”

“Lena?” Nia repeats, confusion evident on her face . “Who is- wait, you mean Lena Luthor?”

Kara nods. “Yeah, that’s her.”

“Um, Kara,” Nia says slowly. “Lena’s not Brainy’s coworker. She’s his boss.”

“Oh, okay.” That clearly signifies nothing to Kara, not even with the meaningful way Nia’s staring at her.

So Nia tries to explain it. “No, Kara, Brainy works for L-Corp. Lena Luthor’s the ‘L’ in L-Corp. She owns the company. She’s not a millionaire, she’s a billionaire.”

This time, there’s just silence.

It’s Kelly who reacts first. “I’m sorry, did you say ‘billionaire’ with a ‘B’?”

“Holy shit,” James says.

Again, Winn: “Whaaaaaaat?”

“Wow,” Alex mutters. “Suddenly that two-bedroom in Midtown seems… quaint?”

“Lena’s not a billionaire,” Kara says, starting to feel a little lightheaded. “She takes the subway. Billionaires don’t take the subway.”

Nia looks flabbergasted. “How did you not know this? Do you not google the person you’re sleeping with?”

Clearly, the answer is no. Kara can only give a helpless shrug.

Nia pulls out her phone. She searches for Lena Luthor, pulls up a New York Times profile on L-Corp, and shows it to her friends. There’s a photo of Lena at the top, with the caption Lena Luthor, the founder of L-Corp, is one of the world’s youngest billionaires.

“See? Billionaire with a B.”

“Oh my god,” Kara moans softly as reality slowly starts to sink in.

That’s Lena?” Alex jabs a finger at the photo. Kara nods weakly. “Wow. Okay. Um. All right then.”

Kelly says to Alex, “It suddenly makes a lot more sense that Kara went home with her after like an hour, huh?” Much to Kara’s chagrin, Alex nods along in agreement.

“It was more than an hour,” comes Kara’s feeble protest, not that anyone’s paying attention.

“Uh,” Winn pipes up. “Can she pay off my student loans?”

“Can she pay off all our student loans?” Nia adds.

“Oh my god,” Alex groans as a horrifying thought pops into her mind. “Is she Fifty Shades-ing you? Did she make you sign a contract? Kara, you have to tell me if she did.”

Looking revolted, Kara vehemently denies, “What?! No! It’s nothing like that!”

James says, “So you randomly met a hot billionaire on the subway and you just… start sleeping together? Stuff like that just happens to you while the rest of us are futilely swiping away on Tinder?”

“Does she have a sister?” Winn asks. “Or brother. Cousin. Uncle. Grandmother. I’m not picky.”

“Or if you two are done when Mike comes back,” James says with a teasing lilt. “Can I have her number?”

Bursting, Kara forcefully and sharply cries out, “STOP IT!”

They instantly quiet, shocked by Kara’s sudden intensity.

Glaring at her friends, Kara jumps to her feet. “Lena is this absolutely incredible woman and it’s so dismissive that you’re all focusing on her money and her looks when that stuff doesn’t even make the top ten or twenty list of amazing things about her. It’s just, it’s not nice to talk about her like her wealth’s the most important thing. She’s so much more than that, but none of you have any idea.”

Her friends exchange awkward, slightly frightened looks, all making this mental note to themselves: Do not joke about Lena. Kara does not have a sense of humor about Lena Luthor.

“We’re sorry,” Alex is the first to say. “We’re just joking around because the whole billionaire thing threw us.”

“Yeah, I’m sure she’s really lovely.” Kelly takes Kara’s hand, pulling her back down to a seated position.

James, Winn, and Nia all follow up with their own murmured, overlapping apologies. Now mollified (and more than a little embarrassed at the eruption which even surprised herself), Kara mumbles something about getting back to the game. They do, and no one brings up Lena again for the rest of the evening.

Later, after everyone’s gone, Kelly and Alex are at the kitchen sink, Kelly rinsing off soapy dishes and passing them over to Alex for drying. Staring off into space, Alex takes a plate and cursorily runs a tea towel over it.

“Kara’s seeing a hot billionaire,” she says.

“Sleeping with, not seeing,” Kelly corrects gently.

Alex snorts derisively. “You saw her reaction tonight. Clearly, it’s not just that.” Alex puts the plate away in the cupboard next to the sink. Kelly holds out a rinsed mug and Alex takes it, but does nothing. “Kelly. I’m scared.” Sensing the importance of the moment, Kelly stops what she’s doing, turning off the water and shifting her body toward Alex to give her full attention.

“For Kara?”

“Yeah. Look, Kara’s incredible and nobody on this earth knows that better than me, but… I can’t help but think…”

“‘What is this hot billionaire doing running around with my sister?’”

Alex gives an acknowledging shrug. “They’re just from such different worlds. I just don’t trust the situation.”

“Trust Lena, you mean. Because she’s rich.”

“Because she’s unimaginably rich. What does a woman like that have in common with a staff writer for some magazine?”

“Then I suppose it’s a good thing that it’s not going anywhere. It’ll be done in a few months.”

Alex rolls her eyes, scoffing at the thought. “Kara will be head over heels by then. I’m just so afraid that this Lena Luthor’s going to crush her. Kara, she’s… she has such a big heart. She doesn’t know how to protect herself.”

“So she’s better off with Mike?”

“At least Mike Matthews is predictable. I know Mike. I can predict the kind of bullshit he’d pull.” Absent-mindedly, Alex starts drying the mug she’s still holding in her hands. “I wonder if Mike even knows that Kara’s sleeping with a hot billionaire. I wonder if he feels threatened. I mean, he should. If I was him, I’d be on the first flight back.”

Taking the cue from Alex, Kelly resumes her chore as well. “Probably not. He and Kara don’t talk specifics, right? Are you going to tell him?”

Alex looks deeply tempted by the thought. But then she shakes her head. “No. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Mike’s just going to have to deal with the consequences. Kara too. You’re right, it’s her disaster to deal with. I can’t interfere. I just have to be here for her when it falls apart.”

If it falls apart,” Kelly rebuts optimistically.

“No,” Alex replies, equal parts sad and confident. “When.”

 

 

Chapter Text

From a tree a forest grows
It could turn into anything
It's okay to let it grow
Let it grow into everything
I don’t wanna be the one who goes and fades and fades away
I don't wanna be another memory

“Let It Grow” - Maximum Balloon (ft. Karen O. & Tunde Adebimpe)

 

 

Alex decides that she’s going to be supportive about the arrangement. This idiotic, doomed-to-fail, conceived-by-apes arrangement.

“Supportive,” Kelly reminds her. “Also apes are highly intelligent creatures. You might have picked koalas.”

When Kara comes over for dinner that night, she finds three glass jars on the kitchen counter, each with a yellow sticky note stuck to it.

“What’s this?” She asks, perusing the notes, which are labeled as ‘Twizzlers,’ ice cream,’ and ‘bail.’

“I’ve decided to be supportive!” Alex exclaims. From the living room (which is only a few steps away - this is New York City after all), Kelly sighs. “Of your arrangement with Lena. So I’m going to start depositing my change in these jars.”

“Um, okay. How is this supportive?”

Alex grins, clearly delighted that Kara asked. She strides over and taps the first jar. “This is your Twizzlers fund, because that’s your anxious snack, for when you inevitably realize that you’ve fallen in love with Lena.” She taps the second jar. “This is your ice cream fund, for your wallowing when Lena crushes you emotionally.” She touches the last jar. “And this is your bail fund, for your arrest for causing a public disturbance when you make some stupid grand romantic gesture to declare your love, like rushing the stage at a concert or stopping traffic in the middle of rush hour. But please don’t try to rush to the airport before her plane takes off. I do not have enough money to fight the TSA.”

Folding her arms, Kara narrows her eyes in a sulky glare. “You know, you’re not as funny as you think.”

“Yeah, well, Kelly thinks that you’re a koala.”

“Not what I said,” Kelly calls out from her spot on the couch, a statement which is squarely ignored by the bickering sisters.

“Cute and likes to sleep?” Kara nods. “I’m okay with that.”

“Stupidly obsessed with eating toxic leaves and vulnerable to extinction,” Alex answers.

“Again, in case anyone cares,” Kelly says patiently. “Not what I said.”

“Okay, you know what? Fine.” Kara digs into the pocket of her jeans and comes up with a crumpled-up dollar bill, which she holds up for Alex to see. “Here’s my contribution. Except it’s not going to be a Twizzlers contribution, it’s going to be a party fund for Mike when he gets back and we’re back together.” With great flourish, Kara drops the bill into the Twizzlers jar.

Alex peers in the jar. “That was a twenty.”

Kara’s face briefly contorts with regret, but she quickly chases it away.

“Whatever, I’m standing by it. Mike deserves a great welcome home party.”

Alex tilts her head to the side and scrunches up her nose. “Does he though?”

As Kara starts in on her rebuttal, Kelly sighs and reaches for a package of crackers on the coffee table. Looks like they won’t be ready to start dinner anytime soon.

***

Kara takes Lena to a Georgian (the country, not the state) restaurant in the Village. She orders khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings; adjaruli khachapuri, egg yolk and butter stirred into a pile of molten cheese in a bread boat; chvishtari, crispy cornbread with a cheese-and-walnut dipping sauce; and a giant platter of pickles.

Despite the feast, Lena can tell that something’s wrong. Kara’s half-heartedly nibbling at her pickle instead of ravenously cramming as many dumplings as she can into her mouth.

“Everything all right?”

Kara smiles stiffly at her dining companion. “Fine! No problem!”

Which, of course, is entirely unconvincing.

When the check comes, Kara quickly makes a grab for it. To Lena, that’s inexplicable and confounding, because they’ve already agreed to take turns paying for dinner. There’s no need for Kara to grab at it like Lena’s going to insist on paying the whole thing if there’s even a moment’s delay.

Lena decides to wait for the right moment to address it. She doesn’t bring it up on their walk and she doesn’t bring it up on the taxi ride back to her apartment. She waits until they’re both sitting on the couch in her living room. She scoots close to Kara, their knees touching, and places a reassuring hand on Kara’s thigh.

“Tell me what’s the matter?” When Kara looks visibly reluctant, she prompts, “You’ve been off all night. What is it?”

Kara fidgets with her glasses and shifts around in discomfort. “Okay, um, so the other day, I found something out. About you.”

Instinctively, Lena shrinks back, heart rate spiking although she can’t quite articulate why. There’s nothing major that comes to mind, no deep, dark secret or buried skeleton. There isn’t anything that she’s hiding from Kara. There is, however, a lifetime of insecurities playing tricks on her mind, tiny ways that she thinks she doesn’t measure up. If Kara says she found something out about her, Lena’s already assuming that it’s something bad.

“What is it?” she asks, trying to sound calm.

“Uh, well, apparently you’re- you’re like a billionaire?”

That’s certainly not what Lena had expected to hear. But at least it’s not about one of the million-and-one personality flaws she thinks she has. It’s just about money. Luthors can handle talking about money. She relaxes. Just a little.

“Is this new information for you?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Oh.” She doesn’t quite know what to say to that. She had assumed that Kara already knew. “Well, you knew that I have money.”

“Well, obviously.” Kara gestures at their surroundings. “I just didn’t think you were a billionaire with a ‘B’.”

“You didn’t google me?”

“No.” It’s clearly not the first time Kara’s been asked the question, because she already looks sheepish. “Why? Did you?”

“Of course. The moment you left my apartment the first night. I read all the articles you wrote.”

“Oh. Um. I didn’t know that.” Now Kara feels downright silly for not having done her due diligence. And she’s supposed to be the reporter here. “I just, I didn’t expect it. You take the subway. You live here. I mean, it’s obviously a really, really nice multi-million place, but shouldn’t you be in a mansion or like a duplex penthouse?”

Amicably and temperately, Lena explains, “I like the subway. And I like this place. It’s close to work and has the perfect amount of space for me. I have one room for me and one guest room. I don’t need more than that.”

That response only frustrates Kara more. “It’s just like completely crazy that this place is considered low key and modest for you. But it is, because you’re a freakin’ billionaire. With a B.”

“Mm. Although it’s really not quite that straightforward. The money is practically an illusion.”

“Okay, that’s something that only an obscenely wealthy person would say.”

“I mean that bulk of my net worth is based on the value of my shares in L-Corp. I might be a billionaire if I liquidated today and gave up control of my company, but that’s never going to happen. I don’t deny that I’m still obscenely wealthy, but not quite as obscene as it sounds. And I don’t understand the issue here. Clearly you were fine with the idea of me having money, but for some reason, it seems to bother you to find out that I’m a… ‘billionaire with a B,’ as you say. Why is that?”

“I- I don’t know.” Kara looks down at her hands, examining her cuticles for something to focus on. “I guess, from working at CatCo, I’ve met plenty of rich people. I thought you were just, like, regular rich? I didn’t think you were like ‘build a super secret underground lair guarded by robot bears’ rich.”

Looking amused, Lena asks, “Am I a super villain?”

“We did establish that you’re a billionaire, right?”

Lena just laughs, easily shrugging off the dig. “Fair enough. Well, I don’t have underground lairs or robot bears. What I have are the majority shares in a very successful company with a lucrative pharmaceutical development and production branch. We make an ‘obscene’ amount of money, which lets me fund the projects I want to fund, worthwhile but risky and likely unprofitable ventures.”

“Y- you don’t have to explain yourself to me, Lena.”

“That’s not how it feels.” Her good humor finally evaporating, Lena regards Kara solemnly. In the back of her mind is the thought, a friends with benefits arrangement is not supposed to be this intense. But she quickly expels the thought. More important things to focus on now, like getting to the bottom of what’s bothering Kara. “What’s the problem here?”

“I don’t- it’s not a problem, really-”

“But it is, because it’s clearly bothering you.”

Finally, Kara lets out in one, long, anxious breath, “I don’t know why you picked me.” When she sees that Lena’s befuddled, she adds, “It was one thing when you were, like, regular rich. Now, finding out you’re astronomically rich, it highlights just how different your life is and how surreal this whole thing is. And I don’t, I don’t understand. Like why are you sleeping with me? You’re so far out of my league.”

Lena slants back, shock flooding her face, her brows arching as high as they could go. “You think that I’m out of your league?”

Kara purses her lips, exasperated that she’s expected to respond to a question that, to her, has such a plain, indisputable answer. “Well, obviously!”

“No,” Lena responds emphatically, slightly stretching the vowel. “Not obviously. Have you seen yourself?” She reaches out, propping her elbow on the back of the couch and playfully tugs at the end of Kara’s hair. “All flowing blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and…” Her eyes fall downward, shamelessly giving Kara the once-over with no attempt to conceal what’s on her mind. “Well, all that.”

It’s not the first time Lena’s praised her. By this point of their arrangement, Lena’s said so many filthy things to her in bed that a line like this should have no effect. Still, Kara blushes fiercely and needlessly adjusts her eyeglasses.

“Well, um, thank you. But I’m not even talking about that. You’re such a catch, Lena. There’s god knows how many hundreds, thousands of people dying to date you, but here you are, hanging out with me.”

“If that’s what I wanted, that’s what I would be doing.” With a light sigh, Lena pulls back her hand that’s been compulsively toying with Kara’s hair. “Kara, I meant it when I said that I’m not emotionally ready for a relationship. Veronica and I, we were-” Her voice catches at the memories, and she clears her throat. “Well, it’s just going to be a long time before I feel okay enough to try again. This is all I’m capable of right now. So don’t think that this arrangement is keeping me from anything, because that’s just not true.”

Kara is still holding herself tensely, Lena’s assurance not bringing any relief. “I just don’t want to be the person that keeps you from having something great. I- I have someone amazing and I know how great it feels when you’re with the right person. I just want the same for you.”

At a loss for what to say, but knowing that it’s a terrible idea to suggest that ‘someone amazing’ maybe doesn’t include a man who pushes for an open relationship when moving away for a year, Lena decides to change the subject. Move it to a territory that they’re both more comfortable with.

“You’re keeping me from having a great orgasm right now with all this talking.”

Despite herself, Kara laughs. Lena takes the opportunity to scoot over, moving close and hovering, waiting for permission. Kara gives it by taking the initiative, tilting her head and pressing her mouth against Lena’s.

Coming alive, Lena surges forward, kissing Kara back with the same unrestrained eagerness she always does. Her body just reacts to Kara’s, instantaneous, acute, almost volatile. She leans in (wanting more, always wanting more) until she has the blonde beneath her. Her hands roam freely, encouraged by Kara’s satisfied sighs and canting hips.

Lena tugs at the edge of Kara’s sweater. Getting the hint, Kara sits up just enough to let Lena pull her sweater and shirt over her head. It’s Kara who unhooks her own bra, but Lena who slides it off her shoulders and discards it to the side. As always, Lena lavishes attention on Kara’s breasts, sucking, pulling, kneading, alternating between gentle and just hard enough to almost hurt.

When Kara decides that she’s had enough, she grabs Lena’s hands and brings them to the waistband of her jeans. Obediently, Lena unbuttons, unzips, slides the material down. She wedges her hand between their tightly joined bodies, feeling her way to where Kara’s most sensitive. When her fingers press against Kara’s clit, the blonde groans sharply. With practiced precision, Lena rubs, with varying tempo, bringing Kara to the precipice of pleasure before easing off, then repeats, rebuilds.

When Kara decides that she’s really had enough, she angles her hips up, wordlessly directing. Lena shifts, sinking two fingers inside while she keeps her thumb on the clit. With a few quick thrusts, Kara’s clenching and moaning out her orgasm, with Lena kissing her through the high. Kara goes slack, and Lena withdraws her hand, but remains atop the blonde, quiet and still, knowing that Kara enjoys the pressure and feeling of safety as she recovers.

“You know,” she says lowly in a near-whisper. “You were afraid to sit on my sofa when you came over the first time. Now here you are, naked and coming all over it.”

Tired but in good humor, Kara quips back, “Well, now that I know you’re a billionaire, I have no problem ruining your expensive furniture.”

“I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that I don’t mind.”

“Well, good.” Kara sits up, swiftly and easily flipping Lena onto her back as she slides to the floor on her knees. “Because I’m about to go down on you right here.”

So she does. And, very vocally, Lena demonstrates just how much she doesn’t mind.

***

“Nia’s asking many questions about you.”

Lena looks up from her desk and sees Brainy standing in the doorway of her office. She leans away from her computer screen, sitting back in her seat, resting her elbows on her chair’s armrest as she locks her hands together before her.

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

Sometimes she forgets that Brainy occasionally needs prompts. “What has she asked?”

“If you’re nice. If I like working for you. If you’re easy to talk to. If you’re kind and considerate. I answered all in the affirmative. She also wanted to know your romantic history. I told her that I was not very familiar. But I did tell her about the time Veronica showed up to take you to lunch and you came back inebriated then went to cry in your office.”

Lena wants to find a hole to crawl in and die. “You knew about that?”

“Yes.”

Lena clears her throat, and uselessly moves a pen on her desk away from the edge. “Does everybody else here know about that?”

“I don’t believe so. I have not mentioned it to anybody else. I never intended to. But Nia, she…” Brainy looks embarrassed but still cheered at the thought. “She has a way. So. I am deeply sorry for my miscue.”

Lena nods. She doesn’t relish the thought of anyone knowing about that particular incident, but frankly, that hadn’t even been one of their top ten worst fights. It was just the one that happened during work hours. They didn’t even break up until three months after. In retrospect, it’s remarkable they ever made it to a year.

“Did Nia tell you why she’s asking all these questions?”

“She says you know her friend, Kara Danvers. I believe you previously asked me about her.”

“I did. Did she say anything more about her?”

“She did not.” Brainy looks puzzled. “Why do you keep asking about Kara Danvers?”

She doesn’t plan on it, but out it comes anyway. “We’re sleeping together. Kara and I, that is.”

“Ah,” Brainy says, looking startled. It finally occurs to Lena that maybe there are some things a boss shouldn’t share with a subordinate. Oops.

“Sorry, forget I said that. That was inappropriate.”

“I do not mind,” Brainy assures her. “But I’m afraid I don’t have much information. What I know is that Nia considers Kara a true friend. Loyal and caring. But Kara, she’s, well…”

The concern etched on Brainy’s face causes Lena’s heart to seize with worry. “What is it?”

Reluctantly, Brainy says, “Kara’s romantically entangled with a man overseas. A serious boyfriend. I’m sorry, Lena.”

Relief floods Lena’s system. “That’s all right. I knew that. Kara and I have an arrangement.”

“Oh.” The puzzled look is back again.

“You don’t approve?”

“It isn’t that. I’m no stranger to these arrangements myself - before Nia, that is. I’m merely surprised.”

“Because Kara doesn’t seem like the type?”

Brainy gives her an odd look. “I do not know Kara well. Because I did not think you were the type.”

Lena scoffs, feeling oddly offended. “And why is that?”

“Truthfully, I’ve always thought of you as secretly sentimental. Tenderhearted, even.”

Me? Sentimental?” The nerve of this man. She’s not even going to address the ‘tenderhearted’ insult.

“Secretly,” Brainy emphasizes. “But yes.” Evidently feeling that the conversation has run its course, he steps away from the doorframe he’s been hovering in, leaving Lena with, “Perhaps I am mistaken.”

By the time Lena recovers to say “Yes!”, Brainy’s already gone.

“You are,” she says to the empty room.

***

Lena takes Kara to the most expensive sushi restaurant in the city. Privately, she thinks the place is a bit overrated, but she doesn’t share the thought. Places like these, like much of the city itself, is about having the experience, something you do just to say you did it.

Heaping a spoonful of toro tartare and briny caviar atop thick slices of grilled bread, Kara’s eyes light up as inspiration strikes her.

“Toro in the streets, toro between the sheets.”

Which only earns her a perplexed, slightly perturbed look from Lena. “Are you- is ‘toro’ supposed to be an anatomical reference?”

“What? No! I meant toro as in Spanish for bull!”

“But you see how it’s confusing when we’re in a Japanese restaurant. Where toro means fatty tuna. And we’re literally eating raw fish right now.”

Kara huffs indignantly. “My mind didn’t go there. I was trying to, you know, bring a multicultural flair to it.”

Lena shrugs. “B plus for effort, C for execution.”

With an expression of petulant outrage, Kara protests, “I’ve never gotten a C before in my life!”

“I’m happy to be your first, darling.”

And Kara wants to complain more, she really does. But the look on Lena’s face, teasing and flirty, coupled with that ‘darling’ breaks her brain a little bit.

After dinner, they decide to walk back to Lena’s apartment. It’s a clear night, a little cold but tolerable, and the city is beautiful at this hour, calm enough to be enjoyable. There’s still honking cars and the occasional drunken hollers from fellow pedestrians, but for this part of the city, this is considered serene because they can stroll slowly down the sidewalk without twenty people speed-walking by with dirty looks.

As they walk, Kara tells Lena about her work woes. It’s New York Fashion Week, but instead of being anywhere near the action, CatCo has her making calls and fact-checking the features by other writers.

“And it’s not like I even want to cover Fashion Week, but I wish that they’d use me for more than just fact-checking.”

“They don’t give you article assignments?”

“They do, but it’s been small little fluff pieces and quick Q&A profiles. And every time I think I’m making a good pitch, it always ends up getting overshadowed by something else. But!” Kara holds up a finger in emphasis. “I think I’m onto something for my next pitch. I’m still putting the details together, but it’s going to be really good.”

“I’m sure,” Lena agrees readily. “I’ve read your pieces. I know you say they’re fluff, and maybe the subject matter isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s clear that you have a talent. Whatever you write next, I look forward to reading it.”

Kara lets the exhilaration of praise wash over her, indulging in the moment. Lena likes her writing. She lets that thought linger, holding and turning it over in her mind, savoring it. It means more than it probably should. Or, as Kara’s now rationalizing to herself, maybe she’s just an egomaniac who thrives on all praise.

“Hey, about next week,” Kara says. “I won’t be able to come over.”

“Oh,” Lena says simply. There’s a sudden tightness to her chest, which she quickly dismisses as heartburn. After all, she just had a big meal. “That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s Valentine’s Day weekend.”

Lena thinks she understands. “Right. And you don’t think it’s a good idea for us to see each other on a romantic holiday. I understand.”

Kara wrinkles her nose in genuine surprise. “What? No. I don’t care about that. But my sister and I host a Galentine’s Day every year the day before Valentine’s Day. This year it’s on Saturday so I won’t be able to come over.” Kara lightly nudges Lena in the side. “But you should come. If you want. We’re going to Alex and Kelly’s apartment.”

“To Galentine’s Day?”

“Yeah. Although now it’s really just a party for all our friends. James and Winn started crashing it, so we just ended up inviting more and more people.”

“Oh, um…” The thought of meeting Kara’s sister and friends fills Lena with a sense of foreboding.

“Come! I know you don’t have any plans on Saturday.” Kara reaches out, taking Lena’s hand in her own and pulling playfully like a begging child. “Comeeee onnnnnn, Lena. It’ll be fun. I make really good cupcakes.”

“I, I don’t know,” Lena says hesitantly. “Meeting your sister and your friends? Isn’t that a little bit too…”

“Friendly?” Sardonically, Kara adds, “God forbid we get a bit friendly after sticking our tongues inside each other.”

That earns her a small chuckle from Lena. “Maybe I’m just intimidated by the prospect of being interrogated. You know your friend Nia’s been asking Brainy about me?”

“Has she?” Kara makes a face, slightly peeved but unsurprised. “I’m sorry, my friends can be nosy. She’s just curious. I’ll talk to her. She won’t interrogate you, I promise.”

“To be fair, I’ve asked Brainy about you.”

“You have?” Involuntarily, Kara squeezes Lena’s hand in excitement.

“Hmm. I was curious about what I’d gotten myself mixed up in. Sadly, Brainy isn’t much help.”

“I’m an open book,” Kara says with a light shrug. “You can always ask me whatever you want.”

Except now that the offer’s on the table, Lena’s mind has gone blank. It’s not as if she had specific questions in the first place. She’s aware that she has an amorphous, undefined desire to know Kara, who she is, what she’s about. (This desire, Lena rationalizes, is merely a byproduct of her scientific mind. It’s perfectly natural to be curious about the person you’re sleeping with. It doesn’t have to mean anything.) The kind of knowledge that cannot be extracted from a Q&A, but only imparted through time, patience, familiarity. (The kind of knowledge, Lena is aware, she does not have the luxury to obtain as the clock, the countdown to their end, ticks steadily on.)

Lamely, she tries, “What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue to wear, green and beige for furniture, red for slushies,” Kara rattles off without a moment’s hesitation. “Yours?”

“Black.”

“Of course it is,” Kara says, rolling her eyes in exaggerated mockery. “Okay, see? We can get to know each other and the world’s not going to end.”

Cautiously, guardedly, Lena replies, “I just want to make sure that we adhere to our agreement.”

Kara sighs, feeling a little worn by the subject. “Look, I’m not inviting you because I’m, like, feeling something for you. I’m inviting you because I like hanging out with you. It’s really that simple. But I’d never want you to be uncomfortable. If you don’t want to go, I’ll drop it.”

There’s a part of Lena who says (in a voice that suspiciously sounds like her adoptive mother’s) that this is an idiotic endeavor, that the safer course of action is to stay home, that nothing good can come from meeting Kara’s friends.

But instead, despite her more practical judgment, she says, “All right, sure. I’ll come.”

Because spending the day before Valentine’s Day with your fuck buddy is just such a terrific idea.

 

 

Chapter Text

When I wake up in the morning
I'll make you some coffee
We'll lay about and let the day pass
I'll wipe your blood off the concrete
Take you to the party
We'll drink until our brains black out
And god, you're so pretty
Your smile's unforgiving
I'll place it where nobody can find

“I Think You’re Alright” - Jay Som

 

Lena finds herself running late to the party, even though she had painstakingly set alarms and obsessively checked the time to make sure that she left the apartment on time. But there was heavy traffic which resulted in her Uber sitting in the Midtown tunnel for twenty minutes. It does nothing to assuage her already on-edge nerves. It’s not a big deal, she keeps telling herself, to meet her friend’s other friends. Just a normal, casual social gathering. She’s done it dozens of times.

The car takes her to a part of Queens she’s never been to before - not that that’s a huge feat, given how little she leaves Manhattan. Here the buildings are reasonably-sized instead of skyscraper-sized. Alex lives on a street lined with squat row houses, with her apartment on the second floor of a beige, nondescript two-story house.

There’s an older, heavy-set man sitting on the steps leading up the front door, smoking a cigarette and barking into his cellphone in a mishmash of English and Greek. He eyes Lena as she approaches, sizes her up and categorizes her in three seconds.

He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “Lesbians are up there.”

Lena makes her way through the unlocked front door and up the stairs to the second floor apartment, which door is slightly ajar. She finds herself walking into a crowded apartment packed with guests. Or rather, it just feels like that because there’s only twelve people but it feels cramped in a small apartment. It also doesn’t help that everyone’s looking at her as she walks in.

Lucky that she’s soon greeted by a familiar face. “Brainy!”

Swaying slightly, Brainy greets her by sweeping one arm to the side and doing a half-bow. “My boss! My liege!”

“Are you drunk? I’m not that late, am I?”

A slight woman appears at Brainy’s side, wrapping her arm around his torso to steady him. “You’re not. He’s just a lightweight.”

“Nia,” Lena guesses.

Nia grins happily. “And you’re Lena. It’s really nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard great things. From Brainy and Kara both.”

As always, this kind of compliment throws Lena.

Makes her feel exposed. Inadequate.

She’s forcing a smile and a thank you when she feels arms encircling her waist. When she looks over, she’s greeted by Kara kissing her cheek, and her heart floods with gratitude and gladness.

She returns cheek kisses of her own. Out of the corner of her eyes, she thinks she can see Nia smirk.

“I’m so glad you made it,” Kara gushes, as she always does when she sees Lena.

“Me too.”

“Come on, let me introduce you to everyone.”

Besides Brainy and Nia, there’s James and Winn, who greet her with high-fives and half-hugs like they’re already friends. There’s Jonn and Magann, who work with Alex at the hospital, who are a little aloof but cordial. There’s Kelly, who immediately hands Lena a flute of champagne before dashing off to assemble her a cheese plate. There’s William, Mackenzie, and Franklin, who all work at CatCo and greet her politely.

And then there’s Alex Danvers.

Lena’s not a woman who’s easily cowed. She’s faced hateful girls from boarding schools, taken on hostile men in boardrooms, and she’s not known for backing off or backing down. But now, there’s Kara’s sister, leaning against the kitchen counter with a beer dangling from her fingers; her posture is relaxed and nonchalant, but there’s a steely, unnerving glint in her eyes as she studies Lena.

Maybe Lena feels just a mite intimidated.

“So you’re Lena.”

Before Lena can respond, there’s Kara interceding, a low warning in her tone. “Yes, Alex, this is my friend Lena.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Lena had not known that two syllables could sound so sarcastic. Trying to find something neutral to talk about, she picks out some decor she can comment on as distraction.

“What are those?” She nods at the three jars on the counter behind Alex, each with a label and a collection of change and some bills in them.

Alex grins. “Oh, well, these are-”

“Alex’s change jars,” Kara breaks in. “She, um, she just really loves Twizzlers and ice cream. So uh, she collects change for them.”

“All right,” Lena says, slightly dubious as she eyes the third jar. “And… ‘bail’?”

The Danvers sisters exchange glances. Lena can tell that they have a whole conversation - argument, really - in five silent seconds. It’s clear who wins the argument.

Sighing, with slow reluctance, Alex says, “Uh, I get into trouble a lot.” She shrugs helplessly. “What can I say? I love meth.”

Kara barks out a wild, high-pitched laugh. “She’s joking. Definitely joking. There’s no meth. She just, um, she gets into a lot of bar fights.”

“Because of the meth,” Alex supplies.

“There’s no meth,” Kara grits out. “You’re a doctor, Alex. Lena knows that and she knows you’re not on meth.”

“Hey, you know what?” Lena intervenes, putting an end to this miserable, very unbelievable charade. “I really don’t need to know.”

Rescue comes then, in the form of Kelly and her cheese plate, which Lena gratefully accepts.

Trying to lighten the mood, she jokes, “So I see that you live in a doorman building.” As evidenced by three confused faces, it doesn’t land well, and Lena’s inwardly cringing at herself. “There was a man sitting on the steps outside.”

“Oh, that’s Christos, our landlord,” Kelly says. “He lives in the building next door. He spends most of his time just hanging around, so, yes, he’s kind of like a doorman. He’s a good guy.”

“I don’t love that he still calls us ‘the Lesbians’,” Alex grumbles.

Kelly lays a placating hand on Alex’s arm. “Yes, but he fixes things when we ask and he hasn’t raised our rent in four years. That makes him a unicorn that we treasure greatly.”

Nodding absentmindedly, Alex’s focus is still on Lena. “So, Lena, do you have a plan for how long you’re going to keep sleeping with my sister, or is this a on-a-whim, ‘let me see how long I feel like it’ kind of thing?”

“Alex!” Kara squeaks angrily.

Smoothly, Kelly places her arm around Alex’s shoulders, giving a small push.

“Honey, I need you to hand out the cupcakes.” With that, she whisks Alex away.

When they’re gone, Lena says softly, “Wow.”

Anxiously, Kara offers, “I’m sorry about that.”

“So… that’s Alex.”

“That’s my sister.” The look of dismay on Kara’s face plainly reveals her thoughts on that introduction. “She, um, she’s had a long week at the hospital. It’s made her loopy. She’s normally… kind of normal.”

Although entirely unconvincing, Lena doesn’t find that it’s her place to pry. Besides, she finds herself suddenly accosted, when a drunken Brainy stumbles forth and hooks his arm around her shoulders. He’s holding a mostly full bottle of beer, some of which splashes out and lands on her dress as he jostles her.

“Sire,” he says earnestly.

Lena passes her cheese plate to Kara to use both hands to steady Brainy. “Sire?”

“Madame,” he corrects, randomly adding a French accent. “Let us while away the evening with amusing diversions. Will you not join me for a game of charades? It is plebeian, but may be good fun.”

Lena pats Brainy’s back, kindly but awkwardly. “Are you a time traveler? Why do you sound Victorian when you’re drunk?”

Emerging from the bathroom, Nia spots Brainy’s embarrassing scene and quickly makes her way to his side.

“Brainy!” Nia admonishes, pulling him back and away from Lena. “I leave you alone for two minutes- oh, god, no, I’m sorry, Lena, did he spill on you?”

“It’s quite all right,” Lena assures. “I guess now I know why Brainy never comes to L-Corp’s holiday parties. He really doesn’t hold his liquor well, does he?”

Kara steps into the kitchen and returns with paper towels, which she uses to dab away at the spill on Lena’s dress. “Do you like charades?”

“It’s not normally my thing, but I’ll play if only to see what Brainy does next.”

And Brainy says, actually says, “Huzzah!”

The partygoers split up into teams and start playing. Despite her anti-charade declaration, Lena finds herself having a good time. It’s due in no small part to the fact that she’s actually winning for once. Kara, the excellent guesser that she is, just gets what she’s trying to do. Alex looks thoroughly unimpressed by it all. Or maybe, like Lena, she’s just not a big fan of losing.

Brainy lasts two rounds before he has to go lie down in the bedroom, which is the best thing for everyone since he’s taken to shouting out the answers for everyone when it’s his turn.

“Work is going to be very interesting on Monday,” Lena comments to Magann as she watches Nia help him stagger off. She’s seated on the couch next to Magann and Jonn, with Alex perched on the armrest next to Jonn.

James and Winn are sitting on the floor nearby, while the other three CatCo employees chat amongst themselves on the far side of the room. Kara’s in the kitchen with Kelly, fixing up a plate of nachos and despite the temporary absence of her personified security blanket, Lena feels at ease.

At least until Magann asks: “So how long have you and Kara been together?”

Lena is thrown, and Alex’s snickering isn’t helping. “Oh. Uh, we- we’re not- um, we’re just- we’re not together.”

“Oh! I’m sorry!” Magann looks embarrassed. “I just thought- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”

Lena feels bad for it. She thinks back to how she’s interacted with Kara all evening. Her hand on Kara’s knee. Kara’s caressing of her back. The lean-in whispers, the glances, the giggles. It’s hardly Magann’s fault for assuming otherwise.

“No, it’s okay. Kara and I are… close.”

“They’re doing it,” Winn blurts out drunkenly. James swiftly gives him a not cool, bro rabbit punch to the arm. “Ow.” Winn whimpers, rubbing at the spot.

Lena remembers that she and Kara had agreed that it’d be okay to tell people. She just didn’t think she would be discussing it with Kara’s sister’s coworkers.

Jonn frowns in confusion. “But I thought that you’re just friends. So how does that-” Magann pointedly clears her throat. “You know, actually, this is none of my business.”

“Kids today and their hookup culture,” Alex deadpans to Jonn and Magann.

“Lena,” James breaks in. “I saw an article in the Times the other day about the Dasgupta report. Have you been following it?”

And because this is a room full of nerds, they spend the next half an hour discussing the economics of biodiversity instead of Lena’s torrid love life.

The evening starts winding down and people start leaving. Nia takes Brainy home, who has at least sobered up enough to walk out on his own, but not too sober to say goodbye to Lena with a “madame” and a bow. The trio of other CatCo employees is the next group to go, and Kara walks them to the door. Lena grabs her coat and trails them to the alcove entranceway. Kara closes the door behind the departing trio.

“It’s getting late,” Lena says, sliding her coat on. “I should get going too.”

“Oh.” Surprise and disappointment cross Kara’s face. Adjusting, she smiles. “But I think you’re forgetting something?”

“Did I? What?”

“This.” With a single step, Kara erases the gap between them, fully invading Lena’s space. She lightly cups her hands about the back of Lena’s neck, gently drawing her in until their lips meet. Initially reserved, then slowly escalating, until their tongues touch. Kara parts Lena’s long coat at the waist, hands to her hips, fingers burrowing underneath clothing until they meet flesh. Her fingers dig in, firmly gripping and pulling, joining their hips together, then grinding hard against Lena.

Distantly, dimly, Lena can hear Winn, who really should have stopped drinking hours ago, giggling madly; James, shushing fiercely; and Alex, groaning and muttering oh my god.

Abashed, Lena places two hands on Kara’s shoulders and gently breaks them apart. Kara heeds her wishes, but doesn’t look the slightest bit embarrassed at being caught making out in the entranceway of her sister’s small one-bedroom apartment. Instead, she’s looking at Lena like she’s a Christmas morning present, wrapped up all fancy with a bow on top.

“Do you want to come home with me?” Kara whispers.

Lena, suddenly finding herself unable to speak, nods.

A few minutes later, Kara’s said her goodbyes (resolutely ignoring Alex’s stony “I thought you were going to help me clean up”), and leads Lena by the hand out into the streets and toward her apartment.

They walk along the street in comfortable silence.

“I don’t have a plan.”

Without breaking stride, Kara glances at Lena. “What’s that?”

“What Alex said asked me back there.” Lena gestures vaguely, as if that somehow helps. “She asked me if I had a plan for… how long this thing lasts. I don’t have a plan. It ends when Mike comes back, I know that. But other than that, I don’t have a plan.”

Unsure of how to respond, Kara says, “Okay. That’s fine.”

Lena pushes on to her main point. “It’s not exactly a whim either. You’re not a whim. It sounds, it just sounds so wrong. I wanted you to know that. You’re… more than that to me.” Nervously, heart-pounding, she ventures. “I think of you as my friend, Kara.”

“Right. Same here. I, I feel the same way.” Kara reaches out, snagging the crook of Lena’s elbow with her hand. “I like you, Lena. I like being your friend. I- well, honestly, I’m hoping that when this is all said and done, we’ll still be friends. Just without the benefits.”

At Kara’s ready embrace of her proffered friendship, Lena’s heart flips and somersaults. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise, not with all the time they’ve spent together, with Kara’s steady reassurances, the eager way she engages in conversations with her. But some scars are permanent, and for Lena, finding out that someone wants to spend time with her is always a surprise.

So she quells her uncomfortable excitement by changing the topic.

“Alex is nothing like how I had imagined. It’s hard to picture her as a little girl in Krypton. She must have raised hell.”

Kara doesn’t say anything right away. She mulls over how to address this, if this is even the right time for it. But then, there never is a right time.

“Alex didn’t grow up in Krypton. She’s from Midvale. In California.” She doesn’t have to look at Lena to know that there’s confusion there.

“My mistake. I thought you had told me that you didn’t move to California until you were thirteen.”

“I did. But, um, Alex- well, she’s not actually my- well, I mean, she’s my sister, but we’re not related by blood. Um, our parents were old friends. And, uh.” Christ, there is no easy way to say this, even after all these years. Kara decides to just rip off the bandaid. “My parents died when I was thirteen. I didn’t have any family who could take me in, so the Danvers adopted me and I moved to Midvale.”

Lena nearly falters in her steps, but recovers quickly.

“Ah,” she says.

Then nothing more. Kara had half-expected more. Most people have follow up questions. But evidently Lena doesn’t. Through her continued silence, she shows that she doesn’t care to pursue the subject. And Kara can’t even begin to decipher how that makes her feel.

They make it back to Kara’s apartment, a pre-war building at the corner of a busy street which takes up the entire block. Kara’s on the top floor of a five-story walk-up and Lena suddenly regrets her choice of footwear, thin-stemmed high heels.

Reading the apprehension on her face, Kara flashes a cheeky grin. “Want me to carry you up?”

Lena laughs it off, but she kind of suspects that Kara could actually do it. The thought makes her run a little hot, fueling her motivation to hurriedly click-clack her way up the stairs.

It’s an old building with dim hallways, mosaic floor with chipped tiles, and wobbly bannisters. But the inside of Kara’s apartment is evidently well maintained, although clearly historic (read: old), and meticulously decorated with cozy furnishings. It’s small and the tour takes all of twenty seconds, since one can see just about every available room from the living room.

Kara leads Lena through the living room to access her room at the back of the apartment. It’s a long, narrow space, with just enough room for a full-sized bed and a small desk. There’s a window at the back of the room next to the bed, offering a stunning view of the neighboring building’s brick wall six feet away. It reminds Lena of a closet. In fact, it is just slightly smaller than the walk-in closet attached to her master bedroom.

“So… this is me.” Kara stands in the middle of the room, hands in her pockets, shoulders raised in a nervous half-shrug. “It’s not much, but…”

“It’s perfect,” Lena says, and meaning it. She sits down on the edge of the bed, running her hand over the comforter on top. “And this is your bed.”

“That’s my bed.”

“I was wondering when it would make an appearance.”

“Were you? I didn’t know. It was just easier for me to go to you, but I would’ve been happy to have you come over.”

“Looks like I’m going to have to start being more explicit with you.”

Feeling a touch offended, Kara tries to scowl. Tries to, because she has a dopey smile on her face that’s hard to break through. “Excuse you, I’m very perceptive. I am a journalist with keen investigative skills.”

Lena half-lies back on the bed, resting on her elbows. “Are you? Because I’ve been giving you ‘fuck me’ eyes all night, yet you’re still standing over there, not taking my clothes off.”

Goaded into action, Kara rushes forward. She scrambles on top, planting her knees against the bed to straddle Lena. She dips her head down, and, cupping the sides of the brunette’s face, draws her in for a kiss. Neither feeling the need for a build-up, they start with open mouths and dueling tongues, hands immediately prowling over each other’s bodies. Kara finds the edge of Lena’s dress at mid-thigh and starts pushing the material up. Lena goes to work on the buttons of Kara’s shirt.

Lena’s just managed the last button when she moves away slightly, just an inch, and says, “It’s really hot.”

Still palming Lena’s thigh, Kara nods and mutters, “Yeah, babe, you make me hot too.”

She leans back in, only for Lena to shift her head to the side with a small, sheepish chuckle. “No, I mean it’s hot in the room.”

“Oh!” Kara quickly slides off, getting to her feet. “Right. Hot, temperature-wise. It’s these radiators. You can’t adjust them.” She crosses to the window at the back of the room and cracks it open. “Better?”

The blast of cold air hits Lena’s skin, offering much needed reprieve. Although it does nothing for the fire she feels inside.

Judging by the lascivious look on Kara’s face, she understands exactly how Lena feels.

There’s no need to delay anymore after that. Kara starts undressing, and Lena follows suit. They get under the covers together, where the kissing and touching resumes. When they’re ready, they lie on their sides facing one another, slipping inside the other with their fingers. Then comes the push and pull, the building of ecstasy. Lena comes first, but Kara isn’t far behind.

In the aftermath, they’re lying tangled up in each other, all cooling skin and slowing heartbeats.

Lena can hear sirens in the distance through the open window. It fades soon, leaving the room silent saved for the faint hissing of the radiator.

“I’m adopted too.” Her voice, at a whisper, sounds too loud in the dark.

Kara answers in a stunned voice, “What?”

“My father was married and he had an affair with my birth mother. But I always thought that she didn’t know who he was. She died when I was very young. So my father and his wife adopted me, but they didn’t… they raised me to believe that I was adopted. I didn’t know that he was my birth father until after he passed.”

The ensuing silence from Kara is offset by a gust of wind whistling through the cracked window.

Finally, she asks, “Why didn’t they tell you?”

“I don’t know,” Lena answers simply. “Can you believe, I’ve never asked. It just seemed… I don’t know, somehow natural that they wouldn’t have told me. Fitting for the Luthors.” Lena shifts closer, nosing her way into the crook of Kara’s neck, where she finds comfort in the scent of her skin. “I should’ve said something earlier, when you told me about your adoption. I’m sorry. I didn’t… I didn’t know what to say.

“I thought I’d be, uh, I don’t know, maybe come off as minimizing if I told you right away, like I’d be one-upping you with my story. Then I wanted to ask you more about you, but I thought it felt… unbalanced, like I was probing when I hadn’t shared my experience with you. And then it just… it was too late to say anything because I’d let it go too long.”

Kara softly strokes the bare skin on the brunette’s back. She presses a kiss to her temple.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Lena hums softly in return. “Yeah.”

She lies in Kara’s arm, quiet and almost afraid to move, afraid that it’ll break the moment. She knows what has to happen next. She just doesn’t want to take that next step. Because, despite what Kara had initially set for ground rules, it’s been made abundantly clear to Lena that Kara does not want to do overnights. Kara’s never stayed at her place, and Lena expects that it’s only a matter of time before she wants Lena to go. And all Lena can do is leave before she wears out her welcome.

Lena stirs; Kara tightens her hold, and Lena stills.

“Stay.”

Lena pulls back enough to look at Kara’s face, searching for uncertainty. “Are you sure?”

But there’s no reluctance to be found. Kara places her hand on Lena’s face, thumb slowly stroking her cheek.

“Yes.”

Lena doesn’t have to be asked twice. She lies back down, folding herself up against her lover as close as she can get. She closes her eyes, and loses herself to sleep in the safety and security of Kara’s arms.

***

When Lena wakes, it’s morning and the bed is empty. She doesn’t have to look far to find the answer to her question. There’s a note on the pillow beside her which reads, “getting breakfast, back soon” followed by three hearts.

Thoughtfully, Kara’s laid out a towel, some clean clothes, and a new toothbrush on the small desk. Lena rises and finds her way to the bathroom, where she showers and puts on Kara’s yoga pants and an oversized gray hoodie which blissfully smells like her. Rubbing a towel through her wet hair, she patters into the living room, where she looks out the window and surveys the outside world. It’s snowing heavily, already an inch-thick pile accumulated on the window sill, the streets below quiet, desolate, covered in white.

She hears the front door opening behind her, she turns to find Kara stumbling through the door, still with snow and ice stuck to her hair and jacket, holding their breakfast in a greasy-looking brown paper bag.

In the entranceway, Kara stomps the snow off her boots. “Wow, getting windy out there.”

“Thanks for picking up breakfast. But don’t you have brunch with Alex?”

Removing her winter gear, Kara answers, “No, it’s Valentine’s Day, remember? She has plans with Kelly. My roommate’s out of town too. It’s just the two of us.”

There’s something uncomfortable to that thought. Lena doesn’t have much experience with these types of arrangements, but she’s pretty sure that you’re not supposed to spend Valentine’s Day alone with your friend with benefits.

But. Kara isn’t being weird about it. She’s handing off their breakfast to Lena and skipping off to the kitchen to make them coffee. And breakfast smells really, really good.

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Friends can hang out. Even if they had sex the night before. Anyway, Lena doesn’t even think much of Valentine’s Day. It can be a day just like any other day. So. This doesn’t have to be a big deal.

They eat their breakfast (a bodega classic: bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll) on the coffee table. After breakfast, Kara produces a heart-shaped box of Kit Kat mini-chocolates.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Are we doing presents?” Lena feels a spike of panic at the thought.

Kara laughs, playfully swatting her knee. “No, I just wanted some chocolate.” She unwraps a chocolate bar and pops it in her mouth. “And so I can say this: Kit Kat in the street, wildcat between the sheets.”

“I feel as though it shouldn’t count when you specifically buy something just to make that joke.”

Kara huffs, unwrapping another Kit Kat already. “You’re so hard to please.”

“I think, darling,” Lena replies, lightly pulling at a strand of Kara’s hair. “Our time in bed has proved otherwise.”

Predictably, Kara blushes, which is why Lena said it in the first place.

Kara busies herself with cleaning up the chocolate wrappers she’s sprinkled on the table. “So you wanna watch something? Have you seen Russian Doll?”

As enticing as that sounds, Lena finds herself saying, “I should probably go.”

Kara gestures at the window. “Are you sure? It’s gross out. And I’m from Minnesota, I know winter.”

Indeed, the weather’s unpleasant. The wind’s picked up, whipping up the falling snow, dangerously veering close to a blizzard.

“Come on.” In encouragement, Kara nudges the brunette’s knee with her own. “We’ll hide inside, hang out, watch TV, watch the snow. I’ll make you a hot chocolate later. I make a really good hot chocolate.”

This is dangerous and stupid and blurs too many lines and Lena just doesn’t know how to say no.

“All right.”

Kara squeals, throws her arms around Lena, lurching them both back and forth in a jubilant embrace. Kara opens up the laptop she has sitting on the coffee table and starts setting up the show. Lena heads to the kitchen for water. She’s just turning off the tap when a heavy knock sounds at the door.

“Do you want me to get that?”

“Sure,” Kara responds, looking confused, as one does when somebody randomly knocks on your apartment door without notice.

It’s probably just the building super or maybe an industrious campaign worker who’s decided to brave the snow. Maybe a delivery person who has the wrong apartment. It could be anyone.

But if you had asked Lena what she was expecting to find on the other side of the door, her answer probably wouldn’t be ‘a grown man dressed up like a duck’. Scratch that, make that four grown men dressed up like ducks. Even stranger, the yellow duck costumes have been dyed to a grayish hue.

“Kara Danvers?” the lead duck asks.

From the living room, Kara calls out, “I’m here.” She steps to the entrance and spots her bizarrely costumed visitors. “Oh my.”

The lead duck says, “We’re the Grand Central Termi-Notes and we-”

The duck behind him interrupts, “No, we’re the Brooklyn Heights Serenades.”

The lead duck whips his head around and hisses, “Trevor, I’ve told you, that doesn’t make any sense! It’s pronounced prom--en--nod not prom--en--ade and it’s completely-” Cutting himself off, the lead duck clears his throat and turns back to Lena and Kara with a forced smile. “We’re working on our name. Lucky for you, this won’t affect our performance.”

Kara blinks slowly. “What is this?”

The lead duck sighs and grumbles (grouses), “Look, lady, this is one of the weirder gigs I’ve had. Your boyfriend paid us a lot of money to get these ridiculous costumes done for one song. When I tried to cancel this morning because of the stupid snowstorm, dude just wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was all, ‘no no no, it has to be today, it’s Valentine’s Day.’ So, can you please just let us do our song so this guy will stop calling me?”

Still deeply confused, Kara nevertheless steps to the side and lets the ducks in. The ducks spread themselves out in the living room. One of the ducks takes out his phone and a little stand and sets it up on the window sill. He aims the camera at the group and hits record. The lead duck gestures at the couch. Cautiously, bewilderedly, Lena and Kara take their seats.

Then, much to Lena’s horror, the ducks start singing.

Am I more than you bargained for yet? I've been dying to tell you anything you want to hear, 'cause that's just who I am this week.

Really, they’re not bad. They’re in harmony and on key; they sound good. But it’s still four grown men dressed up in ghoulishly dyed gray duck costumes doing an acapella version of a Fall Out Boy song, so Lena’s pretty much dying from vicarious embarrassment.

Drop a heart, break a name. We're always sleeping in, and sleeping for the wrong team. We're goin' down, down in an earlier round, and sugar, we're goin' down swinging.

The ducks are dancing. Or what qualifies as dancing in acapella, which amounts to rhythmic bouncing and enthusiastic swaying like willow trees in a stiff wind. Lena sits there, wide-eyed, stock-still, a frozen smile plastered on her face, unsure of how to react but not wanting to hurt the ducks’ feelings. She wonders if heart-on-her-sleeves Kara is as successful in masking her awkward feelings toward this performance. She looks over to check Kara’s reaction and --

Kara’s into it. Like super into it. She’s clapping her hands, bopping her head, mouthing along to the lyrics. Lena’s secondhand embarrassment compounds.

I'll be your number one with a bullet, a loaded god complex, cock it and pull it.

The song comes to a merciful end with the ducks striking a pose. Kara leaps to her feet, applauding enthusiastically, and Lena goes along with it out of politeness.

“That was so good! So, so good!” Kara looks over at Lena for affirmation.

Lena widens her smile and nods. “Mm-hmm!”

One of the ducks reclaims his phone from the window sill and asks Kara for her email address to send her the video. He asks Lena for hers too, and before Lena can figure out how to politely decline, Kara gives it to him. Their work complete, the ducks waddle out of the apartment.

In departure, the lead duck says to Kara, “That dude must really love you.”

Kara walks them out. She closes the door behind them and when she turns around, Lena is surprised - if not downright perturbed - to see tears in Kara’s eyes.

“So… you really liked that?”

Nodding, struggling to keep her voice steady, Kara says,“That was like the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

Lena wonders if ‘sweet’ and ‘bizarre’ are synonyms for Kara. “Was it? That’s… that’s great? That’s great. Uh, so you’re into acapella?”

“Uh huh. Well, sort of.” Kara shrugs. “Mike got me into it. Back in Krypton, he was in the church choir, but he always used to skip choir practice to go hang out with me at the lake.”

“And… what was that? Fall Out Boy? That’s what you like?”

“Well, not so much these days, but it was- it was kind of like a thing for me and Mike when we were young.” A fond smile spreads across Kara’s face as she stares off into space, reminiscing. “God, we used to spend hours just sitting around in his basement, listening to music. We would burn CDs for each other and take turns being the DJ. I think his parents still have an entire box in their basement just full of the CDs we made.”

Lena is learning way too much about Kara and MIke’s relationship. It’s becoming too real too fast. The solution is obviously to change the topic as fast as possible and --

From the coffee table, Kara’s laptop trills. She crosses the living room, sits down next to Lena on the couch and peers at the screen. “Oh! It’s Mike!”

Before Lena can escape, Kara answers.

And Lena finds herself staring into the face of the man whose girlfriend she’s fucking.

He’s handsome. Predictably so. His beard is slightly patchy, but he has kind eyes and a nice smile which stretches from ear to ear when he sees Kara.

“Kara!”

“Mike!” Kara squeals, more excited than Lena’s ever seen her. For reasons she doesn’t care to explore, it leaves her with a heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach. “The guys just left! I loved it so, so much. That was amazing!”

“I hate that we’re spending Valentine’s Day apart. I know how much you love it and I just really wanted to do something special for you.” With great confusion, Mike glances at Lena, who is trying to subtly lean her way out of frame.

Catching on, Kara grabs the brunette by the arm and pulls her close. “I’m sorry! I didn’t even introduce you! Mike, this is Lena. Lena, this is Mike.”

Whatever reaction Lena had been anticipating, it isn’t this. Mike’s expression clears, he’s beaming broadly, looking genuinely enthused.

“So this is Lena! Hey, Lena! It’s so nice to finally put a face to a name.”

“Hi,” Lena returns weakly.

“Happy Valentine’s Day! Any plans today?”

Lena thinks, besides railing your girlfriend? but says, “No, no plans. Just… around.”

“Did you like the show?”

“Yes, I did.” Because what else could she possibly say? “I must confess, I didn’t understand the costumes.”

Kara and Mike break into simultaneous laughter, and Lena’s acutely aware that this is a joke that she’s not in on.

“Um, Mike calls me gray duck sometimes,” Kara explains. “It’s his pet name for me. You know that children’s game, duck, duck, gray duck?”

Lena stares at her, feeling like this whole thing is getting more incomprehensible by the second. “Do you mean duck, duck, goose?”

Kara and Mike laugh again in unison, and Lena feels something unsettling and ugly bubbling up inside.

“Nope, definitely not,” Mike responds with his eyes adoringly fixed on Kara. “It’s duck, duck, gray duck. And pop, not soda, right, Kara?”

Kara, seeing Lena’s perplexion, touches her hand to Lena’s knee. “It’s just a thing where we’re from. It’s the same game, but we say gray duck instead of goose.”

“Obviously gray duck’s the superior version,” Mike says lightly. “We used to play when we were kids, and Kara was always my pick for gray duck. Even at six years old, I always picked Kara.”

As Kara aww’s and Lena wishes for the ground to swallow her whole, Lena manages a feeble, “That’s… sweet. That’s really sweet, Mike.”

Then Kara asks Mike a question about what he’s been up to today and he launches into a story about his adventures trying to find tater tots in Munich. For like the tenth time today, Kara’s enthralled for reasons that Lena does not understand. But she’s grateful for the distraction. She slips away to Kara’s bedroom, where she takes off the clothes that Kara has given her and puts on last night’s dress. She gathers her things and steps back out into the living room, where she finds Kara laughing uproariously at something that Mike’s just said.

Kara stops when she sees Lena standing there fully dressed. “Mike, I’ll be right back.” She jumps to her feet and quickly crosses the room. “Hey, where are you going?”

“I should be getting home.” Lena nods at the laptop. “And you should spend Valentine’s Day with your boyfriend.”

Kara holds Lena’s gaze, worrying at her bottom lip, the crinkle in her forehead suggesting that there’s something she would like to say.

But all she comes up with is, “Okay.”

Lena leans in, places a quick peck to Kara’s cheek and softly squeezes her arm in parting.

She lets herself out, click-clacks her way down five flights of stairs and out into the cold, tempestuous snow.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I paint inside the lines
Takes me too much time
You're a mess and that's all I want to be
Loosen up a bit
Flex and take the hit
If I make you better then let's come together now

“Come Together Now” - Matt and Kim

 

 

Andrea hasn’t stopped laughing for the past four minutes.

She’s chortling so riotously, she’s fallen over onto her side; she’s lying on the sofa in Lena’s office, clutching Lena’s cellphone in her hand. Face red, tears coming to her eyes, her body shakes uncontrollably with maniacal mirth. On the other end of the couch sits Sam, who’s chuckling along, but nowhere near the hysterical hyena stage that Andrea is in. The remnants of their lunches sit on the coffee table, forgotten.

Lena leans forward from her seat in the adjacent armchair and snatches her cellphone back. “Okay, it’s not that funny.”

“Yesss,” Andrea wheezes amidst peals of laughter. “Yes, it is. Those costumes! Ducks! Acapella! Fall Out Boy! This is the best thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so bad.”

Protectively (belatedly), Lena tucks her cellphone away into the pocket of her suit jacket, muttering, “I really shouldn’t have shown you two the video.”

Andrea quiets herself and with one last, long chuckle, pulls herself up back into a seated position. “No, no, thank you. That made my week.”

With clear disbelief, Sam asks, “And you said that… Kara liked it?”

Lena nods, grimacing as she does. “She loved it.”

Andrea snickers. “She must be really hot if you’re putting up with this kind of nonsense.”

Lena purses her lips, displeased. “You’re missing the context to it. These are all things that she shares with Mike. It’s sweet.”

“And terrible!” Andrea exclaims. “My god! And how seriously those guys took themselves. It’s so corny.”

“They were having fun,” Lena says, somewhat snappishly. “Not everything has to be wrapped in seven layers of cynicism.”

“Says the queen of cynicism,” Andrea returns. “Admit it, Lena. If Kara wasn’t into it, you’d be making fun of it too. I mean, what does that even say about you two?”

“I kind of agree with Andrea,” Sam says. “I mean, I didn’t think the video was that bad, but I sit through grade school musicals on a regular basis. The fact that you don’t think it’s the worst thing ever is alarming. You find NPR sophomoric.”

Lena defends herself with an indignant, “Sometimes Ira Glass sacrifices rationality for mawkishness!”

Andrea pats Lena’s leg, face full of mock sympathy. “There, there. Let’s not get you all worked up about public radio programming again. It’s okay if you decide that acapella covers of emo songs are suddenly cool because Kara’s into it. It’s also okay to admit that you’re whipped.”

Scowling, Lena plucks up Andrea’s hand, flinging it back to her. “I’m not whipped. Kara and I aren’t in a relationship. We have a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“Yeah, I totally meet my fuck buddy’s friends and family and spend Valentine’s Day with them,” Andrea says. Sarcastically. Obviously.

Still with that same scowl on her face, Lena picks up the remnants of her salad and drags her fork through it. “We didn’t spend it together. I left after Mike called.”

“Yeah, can we go back to that for a sec?” Sam asks. “What was that like? What’s he like?”

“It was… fine.” Lena shovels through the leafy greens until she unearths an olive and stabs her fork through it. “He seemed nice. We didn’t really get to chatting.”

“But he knew who you were?” Sam presses. “Like he knows about you and Kara?”

Lena pushes down harder with her fork, making sure that olive is good and dead. “Yes. He knew who I was. Kara’s said she’s told him that she ‘made a new friend.’ Whatever that means, but it seemed like he knew. I don’t know, it’s not like we compared notes.”

“Was that awkward?”

“I don’t know, Sam. Is it supposed to be awkward to meet the boyfriend of the woman you’re sleeping with?” Lena eats her olive, biting down with way more aggression than anyone needs for an olive.

“Yep,” Andrea nods. “This is exactly how I would react if I had a totally casual, absolutely no-strings-attached, no feelings at all arrangement with a fuck buddy.”

Lena practically throws her salad back on the table. “Okay, fine, it was weird. It doesn’t mean that I have feelings for Kara, I’ve never been with someone who has a partner already. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that, how I’m supposed to act. So, yes, Sam, it was awkward. No, Andrea, it doesn’t go any deeper than that. You really want to know what I think of Kara’s boyfriend? I’m grateful. She has him, which means she’s not going to try and make this thing more than what it is: two lonely people fucking to distract themselves until things get better.”

Her friends sit silent, absorbing her words; they share a brief look with one another, arriving at the same conclusion: they must torture Lena more.

“Better be some good fucking then,” Sam says teasingly.

Andrea follows up with. “I can’t believe you traveled to Queens for sex. Queens!”

Lena scoffs derisively. “You used to date some guy who lives in Paris.”

“Yeah, but that’s Paris.”

Lena rolls her eyes. She starts reaching out for her salad again, but is momentarily distracted by the buzzing of the phone intercom on her desk.

“Miss Luthor,” comes her assistant’s voice over the line. “There’s a Kara Danvers here with a delivery for you. Should I just have her leave it?”

“She drops by for lunch?” Andrea exclaims, her voice shrill on the last word in disbelief. “Seriously?”

Befuddled, Lena gazes toward the phone. “No, she’s never done that before. I don’t know what this is. But I can have her leave whatever it is, I’ll text her later.”

She looks back at her friends, just in time to see them exchange a knowing, conspiratorial glance. Lena meets their eyes and immediately sees right through them. She jumps up to rush for the intercom, but she’s too slow. Sam tackles her, pinning her back into her seat as Andrea rushes for the phone.

Andrea half-collides into Lena’s desk, scrambling for the intercom button. “Hey, Jess,” she says smoothly. “No, don’t have her leave it. Lena says to send Kara in right away.”

“No! What are you doing?!” Lena hisses.

Giggling, Sam lets her up. “You’ve met her friends. Why can’t we meet her?”

“Because!” Annoyed and petulant, Lena actually stomps her foot. “Kara and I haven’t talked about it! We can’t just ambush-”

The door to the office is pushed open, and Lena quickly shuts up. Kara Danvers, all sunshine and happiness, bounces in, practically skipping.

“Lena- ope!” Kara halts in her steps as she spots Andrea and Sam. “I’m sorry, were you in a meeting?”

“No, no, just lunch with my friends.” Reflexively, Lena’s taking a step forward to kiss the blonde on the cheek, until she remembers her friends’ presence. She settles for a quick hug instead. “Kara, these are my friends. Andrea. Sam.”

“Hi,” Andrea and Sam chorus.

Kara beams, as if she’s been bestowed with a great honor by meeting Lena’s friends. “Hi! I’m Kara. Oh, well, I guess Lena said that. Um, it’s nice to meet you. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch.”

Beating Lena to the punch, Andrea says, “Not at all. We were just talking about you, actually. Lena was showing us the video of the acapella ducks.”

Kara’s grin grows wider at the mention. “Yeah? Did you like it?”

“Oh, I definitely enjoyed it,” Andrea answers, quite honestly. Just maybe not in the way Kara thinks.

Sensing danger, Lena looks for a way to end the interaction. “Andrea and Sam were just leaving.”

“Were we?” Andrea asks cheekily.

Turning her back to Kara to face her friends, Lena shoots them her best death glare. Which, truthfully, is terrifying. “Yes, Andrea. You have a two o’clock with the J&J reps and I’d like you to go over the data with Brainy beforehand.”

Even as Andrea scoffs incredulously, there’s a victorious smirk on her face. “Are you actually bossing me around right now?”

“Well, you do work for me.”

“Details,” Andrea dismisses with a wave of her hand. She looks like she has more to say, but she’s silenced by Sam taking her by the crook of her elbow.

“Come on, we should go.”

They collect their things and head towards the door, Sam first, followed by Andrea, who’s lingering and looking Kara over at every opportunity. She makes her way to the exit by squeezing in between Lena and Kara. She pauses, takes a good look at Kara, then turns to Lena.

“Well, I do see why you put up with the nonsense.” She flounces out, leaving Lena silently glowering.

Kara waits for Andrea and Sam to leave, closing the door behind them, before she turns to Lena. “They didn’t really like the ducks, did they?”

Lena hesitates momentarily, then goes with, “It’s not really their taste.”

“And you hate it too,” Kara says, more in curious observation than reproach.

Lena steps towards the sofa to sit, taking the opportunity to think over her response. “Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate many things. Planes. Salmon. Tequila. Singing ducks don’t make the list.”

Kara follows Lena to the couch, choosing to sit right next to her instead of at the other end. “Okay, I know it’s a little cheesy. But what’s not to like about people making music with their mouths? It’s fun!”

Chuckling with fondness, Lena scoops up Kara’s hand in her own. “Don’t take it personally. We’re bitter New Yorkers. We tend not to like anything emotive. The only thing that’s important is that it made you happy. I’m glad that you were able to enjoy your Valentine’s Day.”

At that, Kara dips her head, looking suddenly abashed. “Yeah, um, about that…” she pulls back from Lena to reach into her tote, retrieving a thermos. “Um, you left so suddenly. I, I didn’t know what to say. I was hoping that we’d… well, anyway, I promised you hot chocolate, so.”

Wordlessly, Lena accepts the thermos. When Kara looks at her expectantly, it prompts her into action, unscrewing the lid and taking a slow, ginger sip.

“You’re right. It’s good.”

“I just, I just felt bad that I didn’t get to make you any,” Kara murmurs, looking down and fiddling with the straps of her tote. “I, um. I was… I was looking forward to spending the day with you.”

In the midst of taking another sip, Lena tips the thermos too far; her mouth is overwhelmed by sweet, just-too-hot liquid. She pulls the container away, pressing her lips together and running her sore tongue against the roof of her mouth.

“Me too,” she says gently. “But it’s better that you got to spend it with Mike, isn’t it?”

Kara nods, looks up, and flashes a smile that’s almost genuine. “Definitely. Yeah. Anyway, I just came by to give you that.”

“Thank you. I’m very happy you did.”

Kara’s smile stretches wider, more authentic in appearance. “So, um… when is your lunch hour over?”

With a mix of amusement and puzzlement, Lena quirks an eyebrow. “Well, I don’t exactly have a lunch hour. I kind of own the company.”

“Right, right.” Kara adjusts her glasses and glances at Lena out of the corner of her eyes, shyly. “Um. Well, I have another fifteen minutes before I have to head out. So. I don’t know.” She looks at Lena intently, who gives her nothing. “Do… you…” Lena smiles coyly, her eyes darkening in anticipation, but still silent. “Want to… maybe…” Kara shrugs, looking embarrassed but determined. “Make out?”

“Yes,” Lena replies swiftly.

Kara blossoms into a relieved grin. “Yeah?”

“Absolutely.”

Then Kara’s leaning over, invading Lena’s space, slotting their mouths together with no preamble. They dive right into frenetic embrace, greedy hands on the prowl as their tongues lap and lick. Lena feels the low arm of the sofa digging into the small of her back as Kara presses forth, and finds herself not caring one iota at the discomfort. They lose themselves in intoxicating pleasure, the time slipping away as easily as their self-restraint.

Kara’s phone chirps, breaking the spell. She withdraws and, with glasses still askew, fumbles with pulling out her phone to turn off the alarm. Lena sits back, leaning heavily against the side of the couch, chest heaving as she watches the blonde.

“I should go,” Kara says mournfully.

Lena hums in response, moving closer to give Kara a goodbye kiss. Which turns into two and three and so forth.

With agonizing reluctance, Kara draws back, just inches away. In a low whisper, she asks, “Can I come over tonight?”

Promptly, Lena answers, “Yes.” Then, with sincere regret, “Wait, I have a late night tonight. I need to be on a call at seven with a supplier in California.”

With zero hesitation, Kara offers, “I’ll wait.”

“I don’t know how long it’ll be. It might be an hour, maybe more.”

“I don’t care.”

Lena bites at her bottom lip, feeling guilty at the thought of inconveniencing the other woman, but then she sees the deadly serious look in Kara’s eyes and reaches a conclusion: they’re both stupidly horny enough for this that she shouldn’t feel bad. After all, she knows that she would do the exact same if the situation is reversed.

She stands up and strides to her desk, taking her purse and rummaging through until she finds what she’s looking for. She makes her way back to Kara, who’s watching her in patient but perplexed silence. Lena sits back downstairs and hands Kara what she’s come up with: her keys.

“You can go to my place after work. I’ll tell the doorman you’re coming. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Kara takes the keys, a goofy and delighted grin on her face. “I’ll be counting the minutes.”

As it turns out, Kara doesn’t have to wait that long. Lena gets on the phone with the manufacturer at 7:00 PM, and they conclude their business by 7:20. (Weeks later, Andrea will discover that Lena agreed to pay a somewhat inflated price on the contract they signed and scold her for not negotiating harder. To which Lena will explain that it’s a perk for owning the company. Andrea won’t understand, but it won’t matter.)

When Lena gets home, she finds Kara curled up on the couch with her laptop open. As soon as Lena’s through the door, Kara’s rising to greet her with a kiss on the lips. They order delivery from a local fast casual chain which specializes in Shaanxi cuisine, a region in Northwest China. Today’s menu features liang pi, cold, bouncy noodles doused in vinegar and chili oil, laced with crunchy vegetables and spongy seitan; spicy cumin lamb with hand-ripped noodles, al-dente, greasy, and hearty; and of course, dumplings, in this case, juicy lamb dumplings that are sour and spicy.

Kara pinches a long strand of noodle with her chopsticks. “Noodles in the street-” she stops, frowning in concentration.

After a long moment waiting for Kara to say something, Lena says, “Did you start talking before you knew how it was going to end?”

“I really thought that it would just come to me.” Kara stares at her noodle accusingly, as if it had somehow betrayed her. “Oodles? Poodles? Toodles? Strudel?”

“Canoodle?”

“Doesn’t have the same oomph.”

“Brutal. Kit and caboodle. No scruples.”

“Those are all terrible.”

Lena shrugs, digging back into her meal. “I’m not the one who insists on playing this ridiculous game.”

In mock horror, Kara drops her jaw, then pouts. “I thought you liked my game.”

“I do like your game. It’s adorable because it’s usually very bad.”

Kara huffs with over-the-top indignation. “Excuse you, they’re brilliant.”

“Brilliantly bad. And I did say adorable, didn’t I? You have no shame about how bad they are and lucky for you, I’m into that.”

Kara hums in acknowledgement. “Okay, if you want brilliantly bad, then: noodles in the street, oodles of canoodles between the sheets.”

“Adorable,” Lena says as she nibbles on a cucumber. “And after dinner, I’ll show you just how into it I am.”

Lena does make good on that later. Repeatedly.

Then it’s late and time again for Kara to go. When Lena asks if she wants to stay, Kara sputters something about having work the next day and not having anything to wear. Lena doesn’t argue. She just quietly puts on her robe, walks Kara to the door, and kisses her goodnight.

There’s something not quite right there, she knows. Some reason why Kara won’t stay, even though everything else she’s done so far suggests that she likes spending time with Lena, doesn’t mind the closeness of their burgeoning friendship, and there should be no reason for this behavior. And yet here they are.

Lena pushes the thought out of her mind as she climbs into bed. Maybe one day she’ll get to the bottom of it, but certainly not today.

***

It turns out that her chance comes just a few days later. On Friday afternoon, she gets a text from Kara. She’s meeting James and Winn for a drink after work at a bar nearby Lena’s office, and would Lena like to join them?

Lena quickly taps out a message agreeing.

She meets them at a loud, trendy bar full of suit-and-tie young working professionals. It’s a fun, easy evening. Neither James nor Winn seem too interested in delving into her relationship- no, arrangement- with Kara. But Winn does ask many, many questions on L-Corp’s bioinformatic tools, and she does catch James staring at her a few times, and she doesn’t know what to make of it.

But she has fun. She argues with Winn on the merits and drawbacks of Python and R, and why SAS is still a thing. She discusses and compares with James the works of Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe. All the while, she sits next to Kara, palming her thigh underneath the table. Uninhibited, uncaring, Kara leans heavily into her, arm circled around her waist, occasionally resting her head against the brunette’s shoulder. If Winn and James are bemused by this display, they hide it well.

At the end of the night, they all say goodnight, and nobody even questions that Kara’s following Lena home.

***

Naked and spent, they lie quietly side-by-side in bed, only just touching with the back of their hands. Lena’s heart rate has slowed and skin has cooled, and this would normally be the point where she falls asleep if it isn’t for what she knows is going to happen next.

Right on time, Kara stirs. “I should go.”

“You can stay,” Lena offers quietly. “If you’d like.”

Apprehension instantly overtakes Kara. “I, I don’t think I can.”

“Why not? Tomorrow’s Saturday. You don’t have brunch with Alex and that’s when we usually see each other anyway.”

Kara’s mouth flaps uselessly. Lena sighs and rolls onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.

“I, I just,” Kara stammers. “I, um, I think I left my dishes in the sink this morning. Um, I should go take care of that. Indigo’s going to lose her mind if I leave it overnight.”

Lena doesn’t move. Doesn’t look over. “Okay.” But when Kara starts shifting out from under the covers, the impulse breaks. “Why do you never stay?”

Kara halts. Lena, still lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling, can feel Kara’s eyes upon her, radiating panic and uncertainty.

“Um. I, I don’t, um, I, just, uh, well, I-”

Cutting through the incoherent stammering, Lena says, “You never stay over. Even though, at the beginning, you said you’d be fine with it.” She now turns her head to look at the blonde, who looks downright alarmed. “But you let me stay at your place the other night. You asked me to. So which is it? Are overnights okay or not?”

Kara rolls onto her side, facing Lena, curling herself up into a ball beneath the covers. “I, um, I don’t, it’s- well, in the beginning, I meant what I said at the time, uh, it didn’t seem like it’d be a big deal. But, um, I, uh, there was just some stuff that didn’t occur to me at the time.”

Copying Kara, Lena rolls onto her side, curling herself up and facing her bedmate. “Darling, I’m just trying to get some clarity. I want to know what your boundaries are. If you’re not comfortable staying here, please tell me. Or if it’s something that I’ve done-”

“It’s nothing like that,” Kara interrupts. “You have done nothing. It’s really, really not you and I want to stay, but, um...”

“Kara.” Lena reaches out and gently strokes Kara’s cheek. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. But I do wish you would. If there’s something that’s bothering you, whatever it is, I’d like to know.”

“Okay.” Kara fidgets and inhales deeply as she gathers her courage. “Um, so, the reason why I haven’t stayed over…” she trails off in a groan as she feels her embarrassment overwhelm her. She pulls the covers up, halfway across her face so that only her eyes, which are definitely not meeting Lena’s, remain uncovered. Her voice dropping to a low murmur, she continues, “So the thing is that…”

“It’s all right,” Lena says kindly.

Kara inhales sharply again. And lets it out. “Idomybusinessinthemorning.”

Lena blinks, unsure of what she heard and what it means. “You do… what?”

Burrowing her head under the covers, Kara moans, “Oh, god, this is so embarrassing.”

“I don’t understand.”

“My business,” comes Kara’s muffled voice from under the covers. “In the morning. That’s, when, you know, I… go.”

“Go… where?”

Kara huffs beneath the covers. “You know. Go. Like… in the bathroom. The… big one.”

As she starts to understand the reference, Lena finds herself even more confused. She grabs the edge of the covers and pulls back to reveal Kara’s head, who moans pathetically at the unveiling. “Are you talking about defecation?”

The groan Kara emits is deeply pained. “Why do you have to say it like that? That is like the worst possible word you could use.”

“Sorry. Uh. I don’t understand. What’s the issue?”

“I don’t, um, I feel weird about… um, you know, doing that here.”

“That’s why you won’t stay over?” Lena’s dawning realization is soon followed by disbelief and amusement. “That’s why you won’t stay over?! Because you don’t want to use my bathroom?”

“Just for that! I don’t, I don’t have a problem with other stuff. When we first talked about overnights, I didn’t think about the fact that I’d, um, well that I’d have to… use your bathroom in the morning… for- stop laughing!”

Lena, now quaking with laughter, places a placating hand on Kara’s waist. “Oh, Kara, darling. That is ridiculous! Do you think that I think you don’t have bowel movements? You’re not an alien. I’d be alarmed if you didn’t.”

“There’s a difference between knowing and… experiencing.” Kara turns bright red, and Lena cackles at the pure awkwardness of it all. “No, I just, just the thought of me being in there, and you in the next room, knowing what I’m doing- and like, the odor and- ugh, god, what if it clogs. It, it’s just, it’s mortifying!” As Lena positively howls with mirth, Kara continues, “You don’t understand! It’s a big deal for me! I have a sense of propriety about these things. I’ve known Mike all my life and it still took me like, seven months of dating after he moved to New York for me to do it at his place.”

Lena, gasping for breath, tries to restrain herself. “Here I am, expecting something so much more serious. Like a childhood trauma or fear of crossing boundaries or a promise to Mike or something - but you just don’t want me to know that you have normal bodily functions?”

“Ugh, Lena, look at you. You’re so gorgeous and put-together and just so you. And for whatever reason, you find me attractive too and I- I just want you to think of me as sexy and that is definitely not sexy.”

“But you let me stay over at your place,” Lena points out. “How is that any different?”

“Uhhhhhh,” Kara sounds, delaying explaining because she’s aware of how this is going to sound. “So, um, remember when I went to get you breakfast? Um, well, Alex lives two blocks away, so…”

Kara trails off as this new information sets Lena off into another round of hysterical laughter.

“You snuck out of your own apartment to use your sister’s bathroom!”

Groaning again, Kara draws the blanket over her head once more. “I told you that it was embarrassing!”

Lena stifles her laugher, and pokes at the shoulder-shaped mound on the blanket. “Kara.”

“Yeah?”

“Guess what?”

Kara pokes her head out. “What?”

“I poop too.”

Those words, coming out of Lena freaking Luthor’s mouth, highlighting the absurdity of it all, sends Kara into a giggling fit. She rolls into Lena; huddled close, the two of them chuckle with unrestrained hilarity, bodies vibrating against the other’s.

When they finally settle, Lena presses a kiss against the blonde’s bare shoulders. “Darling, I promise, I find you sexy and it won’t put me off to know that you have healthy bodily functions. I’d love to have you spend the night here. If you’re really not comfortable, that’s okay. But if you’re amenable, I’d like to try and make you comfortable with it. For example, what if you ran the shower? We’ll just pretend you’re taking a long shower. Would that make it less embarrassing?”

Kara emits a low, soft, curious grunt. “That’s wasting water.”

“A candle, then. They have bubble bath scented candles. You can use the bathroom attached to the guest room. It’s in a decentralized location, far away from where I’ll be in my room or the living room. And maybe you just ‘take a bubble bath’ in the mornings.”

“Okay, um, well, maybe,” Kara says grudgingly. “I mean, not tonight though. I wasn’t kidding about the dishes. Indigo gets really mad if they’re left in the sink overnight.”

“No rush,” Lena assures her. “If and when you’re ready.”

So that night, Kara returns to her own place, feeling simultaneously discomfited and elated at having shared something deeply mortifying for her. (And yes, she does the dishes, thereby avoiding a strained encounter with her roommate.)

Then it’s Saturday, their day. In the afternoon, Kara gets back on the subway headed for Lena’s apartment, optimistically (nervously) carrying a small overnight bag with her - just in case.

When she gets to Lena’s, she finds a giant bubble bath scented candle on prominent display in the living room. Alongside a hardcover children’s picture book titled Everyone Poops. Lena insists on reading it out loud, holding up the pages as she chases Kara through the apartment until the pair, shrieking with laughter, collapse into a pile on Lena’s bed, where they quickly forget about puerile play in exchange for prurient passion.

And that night, Kara finally stays over.

And maybe takes a bubble bath in the morning.

***

Kara hurriedly slides into the booth, twenty-five minutes late to meeting her sister for brunch. Alex is scowling, which only deepens when Kara tells her why she’s late.

“You. Stayed. Over.” Alex repeats in disbelief. “At Lena’s.”

“Yup.” Kara’s perusing the menu, as if she doesn’t know every single item by heart.

“You don’t do that.”

“I do now.” The amends, “Or with Lena I do.”

“It took you like seven months before you stayed overnight at Mike’s,” says Alex, utterly incredulous. “And you crashed my Valentine’s Day morning with Kelly to use my bathroom because Lena was in your apartment.”

Kara shrugs. “I guess I’m growing.”

“Growing or falling?”

“Not in love with Lena.” Kara wrinkles her brows as she studies the menu. “Do I want waffles or an omelette?”

“No, you’re not in love with her. You’re just comfortable enough with her to do things that you’ve never done with anybody else.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Kara agrees, entirely missing the sarcasm, maybe deliberately, maybe not. “She’s becoming a good friend.” She taps a finger against the plastic diner menu. “They make really good waffles, but I’m also craving an omelette right now.”

“A good friend. Who you sleep with. And spend a lot of time with. What does that sound like to you?”

“A really good friend,” Kara answers nonchalantly. Their server comes by, and Kara passes the menu over. “May I please have the waffles and the veggie omelette?” She finishes ordering and turns her attention back to Alex. “Who says I can’t have both?”

Alex squints at her in confusion. “Okay, I know you’re like trying to do a thing here, but you’re just going to end up proving my point when you make yourself sick trying to finish everything and failing. Also? Mike and Lena aren’t breakfast foods.”

“No, they’re total snacks.”

Alex gapes at her sister until finally, she lets out a long, long, tired sigh, like a slowly deflating balloon. “Let’s just talk about… I don’t know. Literally anything else.”

“Um. Okay. Can you believe the MTA’s raising the fare again?”

They don’t talk about Lena again for the rest of brunch. Their food comes. Valiantly, Kara tries to finish everything, but of course fails because these diner portions are outlandish. So when Alex gets up to use the restroom, she waves the server over and pays a twenty dollar bribe to have the food boxed up, kept behind the counter, and the dirty plates brought back to the table. When Alex returns to the table, she looks deeply skeptical of the suddenly empty plates, which had been at least half-full five minutes ago. Kara flashs an innocent grin. They leave the diner together, and Kara doubles back later to pick up her leftovers.

Kara goes ahead and counts this as a victory. The fact that she suspects Alex isn’t at all fooled doesn’t deter her in the least.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

“I’ll Be Your Mirror” - The Velvet Underground

 

“Would you like to go to the opera with me?”

Surprised, Kara looks up from her surf-and-turf dinner. (No ordinary surf-and-turf is offered here, a high-end, three-Michelin-star French seafood restaurant. This one consists of a piece of tender, buttery Wagyu steak accompanied by grilled melt-in-your-mouth escolar drizzled with a soy-lemon emulsion.)

“I didn’t know you were into opera.”

Lifting her glass of white wine by its stem, Lena replies, “I’m not an enthusiast, but I’ve seen my share. But this time, one of our board members is in town and he’s a fan. I usually leave the schmoozing to Andrea, but I like Niles. We have a box for six. I’ll be going, Niles is coming with his wife and Andrea’s bringing her boyfriend.”

“That leaves room for one more. I’m an excellent mathematician,” deadpans Kara. “I’d love to come. I’ve never been before. This’ll be so fun!”

As she sips her wine, Lena fondly peers over the rim of her glass at the woman before her, thinking that she’s never quite met anyone so easily enthused. Everything is an exciting event for Kara. Lena was half-surprised to discover that Kara doesn’t roll out of bed every morning and immediately break into song and dance. It’s like dating a puppy in human form.

No. Not dating. Something else.

She scrutinizes the woman before her, her mind busy trying to come up with a proper substitute when Kara glances up at her, all twinkling blue eyes and shy smile even though Lena’s the one who’s been caught staring.

And then the label just doesn’t seem to matter.

***

Lounging on Kara’s bed, Alex watches as her little sister riffles through her closet, pulling out dresses for her approval.

“Lena’s taking you to the opera. With her couple friends,” Alex recaps, sounding tired. “And this is all after she takes you to one of the fanciest restaurants in the city. Or, well, more than one, because it sounds like you two are working your way through all the best restaurants in the city.”

“Yup.”

Kara turns around, holding up a long beige dress with poofy shoulders, draping it across her body. Alex shakes her head, and she puts it back in the closet.

“Yup, just totally normal friends with benefits behavior.”

“Oh, like you would know anything about it.” Kara pulls out a salmon-colored dress with thin straps and a bow at the front.

Alex shakes her head again. “Am I seriously being made fun of for never having gotten myself in a ridiculous, emotionally stunted ‘friends with benefits’-” she breaks out the air quotes. “-arrangement when said arrangement is actually just dating?”

“I’m not making fun, I’m only pointing out that you’re not really the best person to say what normal looks like in this situation, because you don’t know, do you?” Kara pulls out two more dresses: an emerald-colored slip dress with a lace trim and a less revealing pink knee-length dress with an intricate lace overlay.

Alex makes a face and immediately points to the more conservative pink dress, which only brings Kara to put it back in the closet.

Annoyed with her little sister’s bratty defiance, Alex directs impatiently, “Wear the pink one.”

“I look really good in the green one.”

Alex sighs in resignation, rephrasing in a way that she knows will work. “Yes, you do, and Lena will love it, so save it for a special occasion. You’re going to the opera today, wear the less revealing one.” When Kara hums in agreement and swaps out the dresses, Alex mumbles, “Because having special occasions is a thing that makes sense for a casual hookup.”

But Kara’s skipping out of the room with her pink dress, giving no indication that she even hears Alex.

***

A limo picks up Kara at her apartment and takes her to Lincoln Center. Lena’s already waiting when the car pulls up, and steps forward to open the door for Kara, offering a hand to help her climb out. She’s in a form-fitting, off-the-shoulder black cocktail dress which dips at the cleavage, and completes the look with her hair pulled back in a severe bun. Kara turns bright red as soon as she gets a good look at her.

“Oh my god,” she mutters, trying and failing not to ogle.

Grinning in satisfaction, Lena tilts her head to the side, passing a hand over her dress. “You like?”

“Um. Yes. I like very much.” She forces herself to look up to meet Lena’s eyes. “You look, uh, I mean. Yeah. It’s unfair how good you look.”

Kara suddenly feels a bit inadequate. Standing next to Lena, who seems to somehow effortlessly exude grace and sex at the same time, she, in her pink lacy dress, feels like a little girl playing dress up as a Disney princess. But then Lena steps into her space, places her hands on Kara’s hips to tug her closer, and kisses her.

When Lena pulls back, she whispers, “And you look gorgeous.”

Keeping Lena close in her arms, Kara asks, “Do we really have to go in?”

Lena chuckles. “What’s the point of getting all dressed up and looking this good just to have you drag me home right away?”

“What’s the point of me looking this good if I can’t convince you to let me drag you home right away?” Kara counters.

Fondly, Lena runs her hand across Kara’s torso, brushing off imaginary lint for the sake of copping a feel. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

“So unfair. You know you can get me to do anything in that dress.”

“I’ll have to keep that in mind.” Taking Kara by the hand, Lena leads them inside.

They find their way to their seat, a box on the balcony level where Andrea’s already pitching Niles on a startup L-Corp’s looking to acquire, while her boyfriend chats with Niles’s wife. Introductions are made and small talk exchanged until the theater’s lights start flashing. They take their seats. There are two rows in the box, four seats in front and two in the back, which Lena and Kara end up occupying.

Lights dim. Music swells. The opera chronicles the life of an Egyptian pharaoh and Kara has no idea what they’re singing about. Not that it matters because the set and costumes are dazzling and the singing impressive even if incomprehensible. Kara’s mesmerized, but, judging by the way Lena’s fidgeting beside her, her companion is considerably less entranced.

When the lights come up at the first intermission, Kara asks, “Do you not like it?”

Lena gives a small shrug. “I’ve seen it a few times, that’s all.”

Lena chats up Niles during the break, and although Kara doesn’t quite follow the specifics of the project they’re talking about, she can at least tell that Lena’s pleased by the exchange. When the lights start flashing, they all retake their seats.

Halfway into the second act, there’s shuffling in the first row as Niles and his wife rise. As they leave, Niles whispers an apology to Lena, explaining that his wife isn’t feeling well. When they’re gone, Andrea turns and gestures at the now open seats next to her, but Lena shakes her head, leaving Kara puzzled at the declination.

Kara gets some clarification when she feels Lena’s hand upon her leg, working beneath the dress to touch skin. Lena caresses the flesh there lazily, almost absentmindedly. Stiffening at the unexpected gesture, Kara sneaks a glance. In the dimness, she can just make out Lena’s placid profile, gazing disinterestedly down at the stage as her hand makes its way to Kara’s inner thigh.

Nervously, Kara glances about. The boxes in this theater are only divided by a low wall. Still, they’re in the back row of the last box, with a low partition immediately in front of their seats, providing partial obscurity. The theater’s so dark that Kara can barely make out the people sitting in the nearby general audience section on the same level, but she knows that they’re there. That knowledge thrills her as much as it terrifies.

“Lena,” she whispers.

Still watching the stage, Lena whispers back, “I told you I’d make it worth your while. Would you like that?”

Kara could say no. She should say no. It’s the sensible thing to do here. But sometimes, a hot girl in a tight bosom-enhancing dress is all that’s needed for very sensible people to abandon said senses.

So instead of saying no, Kara leans back and slides down in her seat, spreading herself apart to give better access. Lena’s attention is still directed toward the show, but a small smirk crosses her face as she slides her hand higher up.

She slowly strokes and caresses, taking her time getting to her destination. It’s unsurprising that, when she finally gets there, she finds the thin barrier there already wet. Through the damp material of Kara’s underwear, she finds and rubs the hardened nub. Kara, choking back a groan, sinks further down in her seat. Lena rubs in agonizingly unhurried, delicate circles, occasionally pressing down firmly when she feels like it, eliciting squirms and stifled whimpers from the blonde.

Lena takes her hand away momentarily to grip the inside of Kara’s thigh, tugging it open as far as her dress would allow. She goes back to work. This time, she pushes aside Kara’s underwear and touches her finger directly to her clit.

Kara inhales sharply. Grabs her armrest. Fingers digging in.

When Lena pushes her fingers inside, Kara groans. Soft, but loud enough for Andrea to quarter-turn her head. Lena stills. Waits to see if Andrea will turn around. But after a brief pause, Andrea shifts, directing her attention fully back to the show.

Lena starts moving again. She perches forward on the edge of her seat to get a better angle, reaching slightly back to delve her fingers into Kara’s heat. Kara slides down further to direct those fingers where she needs them.

Lena leans over to whisper, “There’s a sustained note coming up. Pace yourself.”

As if Kara has any choice in the matter when Lena’s clearly calling the shots and Kara’s just helplessly along for the ride. Lena slows her ministrations and it’s all Kara can do to stop from crying. Impassively, Lena watches the opera, waiting for the right moment. She knows the piece well, and she knows Kara’s body well. When the time comes, she starts thrusting faster; the music swells, and Kara along with it.

Kara clamps both hands down over her mouth to stifle her moan as, on stage, the countertenor makes a prolonged and thankfully much louder cry of his own.

Lena withdraws her hand, carelessly wiping at the hem of her own dress.

Kara sits in a dazed slump for the remainder of act two.

When the lights come up for the second intermission, Kara’s recovered sufficiently to at least look presentable, wardrobe-wise, but not very much can be done about the stunned expression on her face.

“Should we get a drink?” Lena asks breezily, as if she didn’t just fingerbang another woman in the middle of an opera at Lincoln Center.

Numbly, Kara nods. She lets Lena lead her by the hand out their box to find the bar. While standing in line, Kara tells her (again) about the pitch she’s working on for CatCo.

“So what I’m really interested in is how the governor seems to have misused contingency funds, but I know CatCo’s not going to be interested in that angle,” Kara prattles off, staring off into the distance. Lena’s heard this before, but she says nothing. This is Kara’s process, working out some puzzle in her mind. “But I’m pretty sure that a small portion of the money went to a plastic surgeon and there’s been rampant speculation that the governor’s had work done on his calves. It’s not what I’d really want to write about, but if that’s what grabs people’s attention, maybe that’ll get them interested in the contingency fund.” Kara stops herself, finally realizing that she’s said all this before. “I’m sorry, I’m going on again. I know I’ve told you about this before.”

“Not at all. I love watching you work. You have a process and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Giddy and flattered, Kara presses a long, appreciative kiss to Lena’s lips.

At the concession stand, Lena gets them both wine, and a pack of cookies for Kara, because these operas are ungodly long and she’s going to need a snack if she’s going to make it through the third hour of this thing. They find a corner to tuck themselves away in, sipping their drinks and enjoying their snack.

“Cookie in the street,” Kara says, holding up a chocolate chip cookie pinched between two fingers. “Nookie between the sheets.”

Lena just blinks at her. “What’s a nookie?”

“Nookie! You know, like, um,” Kara gestures vaguely. “Gettin’ busy.”

“How are you constantly these making food-related sex jokes when you can’t even say the word sex?”

“I have layers. Like an onion.”

“Don’t drag Shrek into this.”

“Oh, that reference you get, but not nookie?”

“Of course. One is a reference to a work of art and the other is a word that you made up.”

“I did not make it up! Limp Bizkit did! I think.”

Lena wrinkles her nose in a display of skepticism. “Okay, now I know you’re making things up. That doesn’t sound remotely real.”

“What?! They were really popular back in the day. How have you never heard of them? Fred Durst? Backwards red baseball cap and terrible goatee? Any of this ringing a bell?”

Lena shrugs carelessly. “It vaguely sounds familiar, but I can’t say for sure. Guess we all have our blind spots. Should I look them up?”

“Oh, absolutely not,” Kara says quickly. “Stick with Shrek.”

Their conversation is cut short then, by a voice ringing out, “Lena?”

Although it’s unfamiliar to Kara, it’s clearly not so for Lena, who immediately stiffens.

Kara finds the source of the voice. The woman is slight, almost waifish, but nevertheless cuts an imposing figure. Her perfect posture, combined with the haughty expression on her angular, model-beautiful face, give her an aura of regality, even though she’s donning a slinky, decidedly un-regal dress which shows off her many tattoos.

“Veronica,” Lena greets. Her voice is steady and cool, but Kara notices her clasping her hands together before her, something Kara knows that she only does when she’s nervous.

Veronica knows it too. Her eyes drift down to Lena’s clasped hands, then smiles in satisfaction. “You look well.” She rakes her eyes over Lena’s body. “Very well.”

Kara clears her throat, steps closer and loops her arm through Lena’s. “Hi, I’m Kara.”

The glance that Veronica spares her is perfunctory, dismissive, and makes Kara feel like the smallest thing on earth. Veronica turns her attention back to Lena, completely ignoring Kara’s existence. And maybe Kara could be fine with that, but then Veronica looks at Lena like that. Like she knows exactly what Lena looks like underneath that black dress and she’s cherishing reliving the memory in vivid detail. And that triggers a feeling inside Kara, a feeling she’s unaccustomed to feeling: white-hot blind rage. She takes a reflexive step forward, ready to tell off this woman and her vulgar stare. Then she feels Lena’s touch. Lena covers Kara’s hand with her own, squeezing gently, reassuring. And Kara settles herself, deciding that this is a matter for Lena to handle.

Veronica, still with that predatory look, coos at Lena, “How are you, love?”

“Fine, thank you,” Lena answers crisply with polite detachment. “And you?”

“Better now.” The corner of Veronica’s lips quirks up in a semi-smirk. “I’m surprised to see you here. Haven’t you seen this one?”

“Business outing,” Lena says flatly, clearly uninterested in prolonging the conversation.

Far from deterred, Veronica only looks intrigued by the reticence. “Poor dear. Still on the clock? I wish you wouldn’t push yourself so hard. It would do you good to have some fun. Relax. Loosen up a bit.”

“Thank you for your concern.” Lena smiles, but there’s an edge to her tone.

Veronica rolls her eyes. “Sweetheart, don’t be like that. I’m just worried about you.”

Frosty and with a hint of spite, Lena returns, “But that’s not really your business anymore, is it?”

Her intrigue quickly morphing into irritation, Veronica scowls. “For god’s sake, Lena. I’m still allowed to care about your well-being, aren’t I? Can’t we be civil to each other?”

“Can we? Last time we saw each other, you called me an upright bitch.”

The corners of Veronica’s lips curl in a sneer. “Well, you were being an uptight bitch.”

“Fine.” Lena musters a wide, fake smile. “Thank you, Veronica, your concern has been noted. Have a good evening.”

Veronica’s lips press into a thin line, nostrils flaring as she breathes in sharply. “God, I’d almost forgotten how difficult you are. To think that I was happy to see you.”

Lena lets out a dry, sarcastic chuckle. “I’m sorry, do you expect me to be pleasant while you stand there and insult me?”

“I did no such thing,” Veronica hisses. “All I said was that you’re working too hard. Fuck me for caring, right?”

Growing heated, Lena’s cool demeanor cracks as she unloads, “Right, drab, joyless Lena. She needs to learn how to have fun, be fun, and stop being so uptight all the time. Believe me, Veronica, you made your opinion of me perfectly clear during our relationship.”

Veronica makes a great show of rolling her eyes. “Lena, you are, once again, completely blowing things out of proportion. You are so exhausting with your sensitivities.”

“And you’re relentlessly, unnecessarily critical.”

“Then give me less to criticize!” Veronica booms, drawing the attention of bystanders. “God knows there’s plenty of material there.”

“Okay, I’ve heard enough.” Kara steps in front of Lena, as if she could physically shield her from words. “Veronica, Lena’s said goodnight. I think you should do the same.” When Veronica continues standing there, glaring at Lena, Kara takes another step forward. “Do you still remember your manners or do I have to remind you?”

Finally, Veronica deigns to look at Kara, and does so with disdain. It’s obvious that she finds this situation ludicrous - was this Malibu Barbie, standing there in her pink frilly dress with her hands on her hips, seriously trying to intimidate her at the opera? It’s laughable.

But. Veronica also sees this look in Kara’s eyes, a stern sureness that tells her that, no matter how ludicrous she finds the concept, Malibu Barbie would in fact kick her ass in full view of everyone at Lincoln Center if she lingered. Her sense of self-preservation overrides her urge to poke at her ex.

She nods stiffly. “Good night, Lena.”

When Kara turns around, she sees Lena standing there, eyes glassy with gathering tears that she’s trying to restrain by not blinking. Kara gingerly takes her by the arm.

“Hey. Let’s get out of here.”

***

Still in her fancy dress, Lena’s curled up on the edge of her sofa, staring out the window at the cityscape before her. Kara emerges from the kitchen with a steaming mug of chamomile tea, which she sets on the side table. She takes a seat on the sofa next to Lena.

“You know that what Veronica said was nonsense, right? All that stuff about you being uptight or whatever, that’s completely crazy. I mean, you made me come in the middle of an opera. I promise you, that was not joyless for me.”

That elicits a small laugh from Lena, but the levity is fleeting and she soon looks forlorn again. “She’s… not entirely wrong. I’ve been known to be aloof. Reserved. My work has been my life, it hasn’t left me time for much else. I’m afraid that it’s made me rather dull.”

Kara frowns, disagreement written all over her face. “But you know everything. You always know what I’m talking about, no matter what the subject is. Well, I mean except for your bizarre blindspot to the existence of Limp Bizkit, but I really think that’s a blessing.”

“I read a lot and I read fast. That’s not the same thing as being interesting.”

Kara’s frown deepens, crossing from disagreement into complete incredulity, her face basically saying what the actual fuck. “You think you’re not interesting? You, Lena Luthor, the mega-hot genius billionaire who runs her own company devoted to developing cutting-edge, life-saving medicine and technologies, isn’t interesting? If you’re not interesting, then who the heck actually is?”

Feeling delighted but embarrassed by praise, Lena ducks her head. “There’s a difference between having interesting qualities that might make for a decent profile in the Sunday Times and being interesting enough to be around in person.”

“If that’s the case, then why am I hanging around you so much?”

“I ask myself that all the time.”

“No, Lena, stop.” Kara scoots closer, taking both of Lena’s hands in her own. “That’s not true and you know it.”

“Is it?” Lena questions in a low voice, almost to herself. She draws a deep breath, and offers an unconvincing smile. “Veronica has a way of getting under my skin. In case that wasn’t obvious.”

Softly, Kara asks, “Why is that?”

“I don’t know. Just our dynamic, I suppose. It always escalates. She says something, I say something, we needle at each other without meaning to, until it all boils over. Then we’re fighting. Or fucking.”

Kara hesitates as she contemplates whether she should ask this next question. Whether she really wants to know the answer. In the end, her curiosity trounces her reservations. “Do you love her?”

Lena emits a noise, half-hum, half-grunt. “I don’t know. Which I suppose might mean no. Our relationship was so volatile, I don’t know if love is the appropriate term for it. It often felt like I needed her even when I couldn’t stand to be near her. Does a junkie love heroin?”

“No. You can’t call that love,” Kara declares decisively. “Love isn’t supposed to destroy you.”

“Isn’t it? My mother loved my father, so much so that she willingly became a shadow, living off of the crumbs of his affection while he lived his life with his real family. Lionel loved Lillian, he tortured her by bringing me, his bastard daughter, into her house. He supposedly loved me too, but never bothered to tell me that he was my real father. Lillian loves Lex, he spends most of his time with his therapist talking about her. Lex loves me, but he also says things to me that hurts me more than anyone else ever could. If love isn’t supposed to be destructive, then no one in my family knows what love is.”

It may be a little late, but Kara remembers that, despite her orphan-girl background, her own life can nevertheless be considered idyllic by comparison. The difference being that Kara’s always been surrounded by people who love her, and who can do so kindly. It’s a blessing not afforded to everyone, and clearly not Lena.

“I don’t know what your family’s like,” she now says gently. “But I think I know you pretty well by now and… I think you do know what love is. Look at Andrea and Sam. You haven’t destroyed them, have you?”

With transparent hesitation, Lena asks in earnest, “Is that the same thing?”

“Of course it is. Whoever said love must be romantic or familial? I’ve seen the way you are with them. And… if I can be a bit presumptuous, the way you are with me.” When Lena’s hesitation immediately shifts to apprehension, Kara quickly adds, “I’m not saying that you love me. Just that, you’re so good to me. I just, I can’t imagine you being anything less than the generous, giving soul that you are when you are in love. You’re not destructive. It’s not who you are.”

Silence settles over them as Lena struggles to absorb those words, her heart wanting to, but some dark spot in the recess of her mind telling her that something that good about herself can’t be true.

“What’s it like?” She asks after a long moment. “For you and Mike.”

“Umm…” Kara’s suddenly drawing a blank. She’s never really thought about how to describe it. “It’s comfortable. He’s known me a really long time, so… there’s like a huge part of my life that nobody gets except him. Sometimes I don’t even know how I fit in here, in this city. Like everyone’s so sophisticated and in-the-know, and I, um… well, it can feel like I’m just a girl from Krypton who’s lost in the big city and out of my depth. And I think Mike’s the only one I know who really understands how that feels. Where we come from is just so different from where we are now. It, it’s almost like we’re aliens here, the last two of our species, just trying to survive.”

“You can really be yourself with him,” Lena says, halfway between a statement and a question.

“Yes,” Kara answers. Then: “Well, mostly. Sort of. He doesn’t… I mean, we don’t agree on everything, so sometimes there are things that I’ll only tell Alex or my friends. But I think that’s normal?”

Lena shrugs. “If you’re looking for the definition of normal, you’re looking in the wrong place. I really wouldn’t know what a normal relationship looks like.”

Kara is quiet then. She stares at the untouched mug on the side table, the steam rising from the top, waging an inner battle over what she’s about to say.

“Lena,” she tries, “have you thought about, um, well, if you think you’re ready, that is… have you maybe thought about trying to date again?”

Lena turns to her with an appraising eye. “What would that mean?” Lena juts her chin at Kara, gesturing between the two of them. “We stop?”

“I- I guess.” Kara stares down at her primly folded hands in her lap. “If you wanted to… um, find someone that you can build a connection with… well, you’d have to start dating again and then this probably wouldn’t help. So, yeah, we stop.”

Coolly, Lena asks, “Is that what you think I should do?”

“It’s really up to you.” Kara pauses as she wrings her hands, as if physical movement could help tame her instincts. But it’s no use. Reaching a resolve, she steadies her hands and looks up. “No. Selfishly, the answer is no, because I like what we’re doing and I don’t want to stop. But if that’s what you want, then I just have to be a good friend and support you.”

Lena reaches for her tea, wrapping both hands around the warm ceramic and taking a small sip. She stares out the window, turning the question over in her mind. Beside her, Kara sits, waiting for an answer, one hand curled up in a loose ball, fingers fretfully rubbing together.

At long last, Lena says, “I don’t think I’m ready yet.”

And Kara lets out a long sigh of relief, suddenly feeling like she can breathe again. She smiles so wide that her cheeks hurt. She knows that she must look silly, but she can’t find it within her to care. “Am I a terrible person to say that I’m relieved to hear that?”

“Not at all. Anyhow, I don’t see the rush. We have- what, three months before Mike gets home? We’re both enjoying ourselves right now. Why not make the most of it?”

Kara doesn’t even try to hide the giddy grin on her face. “Okay, then. We’ll continue enjoying ourselves.” They sit in companionable silence, watching the city night, Lena sipping away at her cooling tea.

They can enjoy the rest of their night like this, if only Kara’s able to move on. But she can’t. Not since she saw Veronica, and a million thoughts and questions burrowed their way into her way like parasitic worms, refusing eradication despite her best efforts.

“So… Veronica,” she starts slowly. “She’s um, she’s really pretty.” Lena, still staring out the window, unaware that anything’s amiss, hums in agreement. To Kara, the hum plays like a siren, screeching in her ears, and she says, “And… uh, confident. Bold. She walks around like she owns the place.”

“Well, she does, in a sense,” Lena replies. “Her family’s been a major donor to Lincoln Center for decades.”

“Oh,” Kara murmurs quietly. “She’s also obscenely wealthy. That’s… that’s terrific.” It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It’s fine that Lena’s ex is wealthy, intimidating, graceful, sophisticated, and a host of other things that Kara doesn’t see in herself. That’s. Just. Fine. She smiles to emphasize how Fine it is. “Well, good? Um, it’s nice to have common ground?”

Lena scoffs derisively at the idea. “That’s about the only thing we had in common. It’s a miracle we lasted as long as we did.”

Kara should let it go. There’s no use in probing. But by the time she thinks it through, she already hears herself asking, “So why did you? If you’re so different and she’s not very nice to you, then… why did you stay together?”

“Veronica…” Lena pauses, a small, wry laugh escaping her. “She… has her talents.”

“What does-” Kara cuts herself off as realization sinks in. “Oh, you mean, like with, um.” Lena smugly arches a brow, clearly having no intentions of helping her out. So Kara has no choice but to say, “You know, the nookie.”

“Darling, I really am quite fond of you, but if you keep calling it that, I’m not going to be able to have sex with you anymore.”

Kara wrinkles her nose, knowing that she’s been cornered. “Ugh, fine, sex. That’s what Veronica’s good at?” And when Lena nods with a reminiscing smile, Kara can’t help but follow up, “Um… how good are we talking about?”

And Lena sees right through her. “It’s not a competition. Anyway, it’s not the technique, it’s the attitude.”

To Kara’s mind, she doesn’t see how she’s not supposed to be offended by this. “What’s wrong with my attitude?”

Thinking that this would help, Lena replies, “There’s nothing wrong. It’s just different.”

“Calling something ‘just different’ is what people say when something’s clearly worse.”

“But it is just different. I have absolutely zero complaints about our time in bed.”

And for some insane, unknown reason, Kara presses on, “Then tell me what’s different about what Veronica does?”

Lena signs, resigning herself to the fact that she’s somehow triggered Kara’s competitive side. A side that she didn’t even know Kara had. “Veronica tended to be… well, dominating.”

“And that’s what you like?”

“Sometimes. I spend all day being the boss, telling other people what to do, and it’s nice to have someone else take the reins on occasion, especially after a stressful board meeting. I don’t prefer it all the time, but, of course, the problem there was that Veronica only had one speed.”

With perplexion and a dash of hurt, Kara asks, “Why didn’t you tell me that’s what you like?” Very pointedly, Lena looks her up and down. The girl in her pink, frilly, Disney princes dress. Kara gets it. “Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover.” When Lena gives her a look of complete skepticism, Kara huffs in concession. “Well, you could’ve at least let me try.”

“I didn’t want to ask you for anything you’re not comfortable with. And, like I said, I truly have no complaints. Let me amend that: I thoroughly enjoy myself. We have great sex, Kara.”

Yes, Kara can accept that and be done with it. But not aiming for 110% just doesn’t seem to be in her nature. At least not when it comes to this. “What are we talking about here? You like being told what to do in bed?”

Lena hums in the affirmative. “When the occasion calls for it. It’s like a form of stress relief. On those occasions, I like a bit of assertiveness. Aggression, even. But only on those occasions. And in case it’s not clear, I really love what we already do in bed. I don’t need anything more than what you’re willing to give.”

“But if I can do more, I’m willing to try.”

As much as the primal, lustful part of Lena is crying out for joy and eager to go down this road, her rational side dominates, and that side of her cares more about Kara’s comfort more than her own fantasies. “Is this about Veronica? Because I can’t emphasize enough what a non-entity she is to me. There’s zero competition between the two of you. You don’t need to do anything more to ‘measure up’ or whatever this is.”

“No, this is about you. Like I said, you’re so good and kind and wonderful, I just, I…” Kara falters, aware that I just want to do anything I can to make you happy seems to skirt the line of their established emotional boundaries. “I’d just like to try it out. So, on those specific occasions, what do you like?”

With an acquiescing sigh, Lena starts, “Okay. Um, well, I like having my hair pulled. And you can do it without asking. Tying me up, holding me down, that’s all okay. Being pushed around a bit, but nothing extreme.”

“That’s it?” Kara asks with a confounded frown. “I can totally do that stuff.”

“All right.” Despite what she says, Lena has a hard time picturing Kara being dominant in bed. This is the woman who has trouble saying the word sex. But if Kara wants to try, Lena certainly won’t stop her. “Maybe another night? I’m quite tired. Is it okay if we just go to sleep?”

“Yeah, of course! It’s more than okay.” Kara looks slightly scandalized that Lena even has to ask. She wonders, briefly, just how many people Lena’s been with have respected her boundaries. “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be more than happy to help you with your stress relief. But for now, do you want to go to sleep?”

And that’s what they do. They get ready for bed and crawl into bed together with practiced ease as if they’ve been doing this for years and not months. Lena curls up on her side; Kara is spooned against her, body contoured to hers, holding her tight as they both drift off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Come on now, try and understand
The way I feel under your command
Take my hand as the sun descends
They can't touch you now
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust

“Because the Night” - Patti Smith

 

 

“Kara,” Nia says.

She’s standing at the entrance of Kara’s cubicle, speaking at a normal volume, but Kara’s eyes are glued to her computer screen, giving no signs that she’s aware of Nia’s presence.

“Kara?” When that still doesn’t elicit a response, Nia taps the blonde on her shoulder. “Hey, Kara? Do you want lunch?” Kara finally grunts.

Curious now, Nia peers at the computer screen to see what’s entranced her friend.

“Veronica Sinclair,” Nia reads aloud. “Wow, she’s stunning. Are you booking models for the next issue? I thought Franklin was doing that.”

To Nia’s surprise, that shakes Kara out of her stupor as she finally pushes away from her desk, swiveling around in her chair, annoyance clear on her face. “Okay, she’s not that pretty.”

Nia regards Kara in puzzlement, and glances back at the screen to double check. No, this woman is that pretty. Also, the picture that Kara has on screen is definitely from a magazine. “So not a model?”

Kara’s agitation visibly heightens as she snaps, “Okay, fine! It looks like she’s done some modeling! I guess just for fun because it’s not like she needs the money. Whatever, she’s naturally amazing, okay?”

Nia folds her arms across her chest, now more concerned about Kara than curious about the woman on screen. “Uh, what’s happening?”

The question seems to shake Kara out of whatever rage-funk she’s in, and she instantly looks chagrined. Reluctantly, she shares, “That’s… that’s Lena’s ex.”

Suddenly, everything makes sense. “Ah.”

“I was just curious,” Kara says defensively in response to nothing. “We ran into her at the opera the other night. And… I don’t know. I was just curious.”

“I get it,” Nia reassures her. “I’d be curious too. And you know, you’re right, she’s not that pretty.”

“No, she is,” Kara says dejectedly, slumping in her seat. “You should see her in person.”

Nia’s at a loss for what to do. She wants to say something, anything, to console her friend, but she’s not sure what that something would be. Normally, she would emphasize the positive attributes of the relationship, “you’re the one Lena wants to be with” and so forth. But there’s no relationship here. At least not according to Kara.

She tries anyway: “Hey, she’s an ex for a reason, right?”

“It- it doesn’t matter.” Kara tries to chase away her dour mood with a forced smile. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“Lunch?” Nia suggests.

“Yeah, sure.” Nodding, Kara reaches for her purse.

Their journey out of Kara’s cubicle ends before it even begins, with the appearance of their boss, Snapper Carr, who strides over and leans over the edge of the cubicle’s low wall to peer down at Kara.

“Hey,” he greets gruffly. “That story about the governor’s secret plastic surgeon? Not terrible. Start scaring up some sources and let’s see what you can come up with.”

Most people - normal people - smile with their faces. Kara Danvers does it with her entire body, levity and enthusiasm infusing her whole being, bolting straight up in her seat as she grins maniacally.

“Are you serious? I’m getting the feature?”

Snapper curls the edges of his lips, wincing in disdain. “Cool it, ponytail. You haven’t gotten anything yet. Do the work, show us what you have, and if you can actually string a coherent thought together, we might think about considering it.”

Undeterred, Kara squeals loudly. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Snapper sighs. As he moves away, he mutters under his breath, “I regret this already.”

“Congrats!” Nia enthuses when her grumpy boss is safely out of earshot. “That’s amazing! We should celebrate! So, lunch?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kara’s nodding perfunctorily as she takes out her phone. “Hey, can I meet you downstairs in like ten minutes? I just have to call Lena first.”

Delicately, and as non-judgmentally as possible, Nia questions, “Lena? Why?”

“Oh, well, I’ve talked her ear off so much while I was working on this pitch, so…” Kara shrugs, thumb already hovering over Lena’s name in her favorites. “Um, she would just want to know right away.”

Nia resists every impulse she has to say what’s on her mind. Alex’s done more than enough of that. She simply nods.

“Sure. See you in ten.”

Unable to contain herself, Kara’s already dialed and holding her phone to her ear. As Nia walks away, she hears Kara’s perky, high-pitched, breathless, cloying, greeting to her so-called friend:

“Heeeeey! It’s me! Guess what?”

***

Alex finally loses it on a Friday.

The night starts pleasantly enough. Kara comes over for dinner. She helps Kelly in the kitchen, cutting up a head of cauliflower while Kelly prepares a garlic honey mustard dressing for their salad. Alex comes home from her shift at the hospital, takes a quick shower, and sits down at the dinner table with her people. Kelly tells them about her day at work. Alex tells them about an angry, unruly patient who tried to flush her stethoscope down the toilet. (“But it’s okay,” she tells them. “I mean, he is only four.”) Kara tells them about how Lena’s been in San Francisco for a work trip for the last couple of days and texting her pictures of burritos to make her jealous. Alex manages to listen without making any remarks about how weird it is for “friends” to keep such close tabs on each other.

Everything’s pleasant.

Until Kelly raises this: “Should we go out for dessert?”

Alex agrees. “I could go for some babka. Kara, you coming?”

“No, that’s okay, it’s getting late, I’m going to head to Lena’s.”

Which earns her a confused look from her sister. “I thought you said that Lena’s in San Francisco.”

“She is, but she’ll be back early in the morning. So I’m just going to spend the night at her place and we’ll see each other first thing in the morning.”

“Sure, that’s normal,” Alex says drily.

“Well, it’s Saturday,” Kara says defensively, as if that justifies everything.

“I don’t understand. How are you going over when she’s not there?”

“Oh, I have a key.”

Alex goes perfectly still. Her face slackens with shock. She stares at Kara. Beside her, Kelly lets out a small sigh, already knowing where this is going.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not a big deal. She gave it to me a while back so I could wait for her after work. She never got around to taking it back.”

In a low, somewhat unsteady voice, Alex asks, “You have a key to Lena’s apartment?”

Kara blinks, not quite understanding. “Yeah.”

Louder, an octave higher, Alex says, “You have a key to Lena’s apartment.”

Furrowing her eyebrows in confusion, Kara replies, “Uh… yes. I just said that.”

Louder still: “You have a key to Lena’s apartment! A fucking key!”

Exasperated and trying to stay calm, Kara says, “Yes, Alex, I have a key.”

Enraged and not at all trying to stay calm, Alex says- no, yells, “You have a fucking key! To your fuck buddy’s apartment! Fuck buddies don’t do shit like that! That! Is! Dating!”

“Well, Lena and I are more than just, um, ‘arrangement’ buddies,” answers Kara easily. “We’re also like really good friends now.”

“No!” Alex thunders, bringing two closed fists down over the table, ignoring Kelly’s attempts at hushing. “That’s not fucking normal! I know you know that that’s not normal! You can not be this obtuse!”

“Okay, honey,” Kelly intervenes with two quick pats to Alex’s arm. “Let’s take five.” Kelly half-drags Alex to her feet, and to Kara, offers an apologetic, “We’ll be right back.” Kelly turns the speakers up loud, and leads Alex into the bedroom, closing the door behind them.

Kara sits at the table, listening to the music, bopping her head along.

Beneath the music, she can hear occasional spikes of her sister’s frustrated cries from the other room.

“-completely insane-”

“-makes no fucking sense-”

“-ridiculous charade-”

“-fucking glutton for punishment-”

“Who does that?!”

At last, the door opens. Kelly emerges, turns down the music, and sits back down at the table. Alex follows momentarily, with a stiff smile on her face.

“Kara,” she says serenely. “I love you and I support you. I am here for you.”

“I love you too,” Kara replies. “Alex, I know you’re worried, but I know what I’m doing. Everything’s fine.”

“Sure,” Alex manages evenly.

Kara pushes away from the table, getting to her feet. “Okay, I’m off. I’ll see you later.” As she heads out the door, she mutters idly, almost to herself. “I wonder if I should get Lena some flowers for the morning.”

And Alex just smiles and smiles until it hurts.

***

Kara’s in Lena’s bed when she’s awoken by the feel of the mattress dipping. She stirs, rolling onto her back and finds Lena, seated on the edge of the bed, upper body leaning over hers. She’s still in her suit, looking worn from her trip, but extraordinarily pleased to see Kara.

“Hey,” Kara croaks out groggily.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Lena whispers, brushing hair out of the blonde’s eyes. “I was trying to sneak a kiss.”

“It’s okay.” Kara suppresses a yawn as she struggles to sit up. “How was your trip?”

“Good. Exhausting. Too many meetings. But it was productive. I can tell you later. You should go back to sleep.”

“No, I’m up now. Can I fix you something to eat?”

While Lena’s in the shower, Kara goes in the kitchen and makes her a sandwich. She surveys the available ingredients in the fridge and decides on an avocado tomato sandwich. It’s quick and easy, as simple as roughly cut tomato slices and avocado chunks haphazardly thrown together. At least when she makes it for herself. But a sandwich for Lena - well, that feels like a mission.

She takes the time to grate up a clove of garlic, slice up a lemon then squeeze out its juices, and whisks it all together with olive oil for a garlic aioli. She slices up a tomato, carefully ensuring that each slice is of equal thickness, then sprinkles it with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. She mashes up an avocado, gradually seasoning and tasting until it’s just right. She puts it all together on bread toasted to a perfect shade of golden brown, carefully spreading and arranging each ingredient with deliberate precision so that it stretches to every corner without spilling over. Every bite of this sandwich will have the perfect balance of ingredients.

Kara cuts the sandwich diagonally and sets it on the dining table with a bowl of cut-up strawberries, next to a glass of iced tea and a small vase of daisies she’d picked up earlier. Lena emerges from her room, clad in a fluffy, gray bathrobe, toweling her hair dry.

“Wow,” she says, taking a seat in front of the meal that Kara had prepared for her. “A girl could get used to this.”

“It’s nothing. I just threw something quick together,” Kara says shyly, as if she didn’t just make fresh aioli and painstakingly ensure that each ingredient is perfectly cut and seasoned.

Lena can’t help but recall all the other late nights/early mornings she’d had, coming home to an empty apartment from a work trip. It’d be quiet and lonely and she’d either go to bed hungry because she’s too tired to make herself something or eat a bag of kale chips watching crappy reruns. Now there’s this. A lovely girl who wakes up at 5AM to make her food and sit with her while she eats.

Under Kara’s eager eyes, Lena picks up and takes a bite of the sandwich.

“Oh my god,” she ungracefully mumbles around a mouthful of food, “This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.”

Kara chuckles self-consciously, a proud grin plastered on her face. “It was really nothing. It’s simple.”

As Lena eats, she tells Kara about her trip. The successful meetings, the frustrating ones, the absolutely useless ones.

“So, I think we’re going to be able to close the deal,” Lena says as she polishes off the last of the strawberries. “It took a lot of time, effort, and grief, but I do think this acquisition will be worth it. I’m mostly interested in their gene therapy trial for sickle cell, but they also hold some IPs that Andrea should be able to monetize, so that’ll make the board happy.”

“You don’t seem all that happy about it,” Kara observes.

“I am. I’m just tired. Their most brilliant scientist is a pain, which is practically a given, but he really redefines complete lack of social skills.” Lena lolls her neck about, trying to loosen some of the tension there. “It’s very frustrating to spend all day with a man who thinks I don’t even know what CRISPR is. He kept trying to explain it to me. I even asked him not to, even though it should’ve been perfectly clear from our conversations that I don’t need a primer. It’s like he couldn’t help himself.”

“Ugh, that is so insulting.” Kara wrinkles her nose in utter disgust. “I mean, even I know what CRISPR is. Yes, you had to explain it to me three times, but I get it now. It’s just so belittling that he would think you of all people would need something like that explained.”

Warmed by Kara’s visceral reaction on her behalf, Lena reaches over and pats her hand fondly. “It was. But I’ll get over it.”

“Well…” Kara is concentrating on her own fingers, tapping out an unknown rhythm on the tabletop. “If you’re interested and not too tired, I could… maybe help you relieve some stress?”

Lena watches her carefully, trying to figure out if she’s really offering what Lena thinks is being offered, even as a wave of arousal is already coursing through her body.

Hoarsely, she asks, “Yeah?”

Meeting Lena’s eyes, Kara gives a sure, firm nod. “Only if you want.”

Lena can’t say quickly enough, “Yes.”

Kara grins broadly, nodding. “Okay, um, I can do that. Just let me, uh, get into character.” She removes her glasses, setting them aside, then pulls loose her ponytail, shaking her hair out. She closes her eyes, bows her head, and takes in a deep breath.

When Kara looks up again, Lena swears that it’s another person looking back at her. The sweet, mild-mannered Kara Danvers has been replaced by some other woman who exudes pure confidence, even arrogance.

“Take off that robe and get on your knees.”

Hurriedly, while still trying to maintain some semblance of grace, Lena does as she’s told. She stands up, slips off her robe, letting it drop to the ground. Keeping her gaze trained on Kara, who sits in her chair with an impervious, bored look on her face, she sinks down to her knees. And waits.

“Get over here.” The commanding tone in Kara’s voice takes Lena by surprise, sending a jolt of desire through her.

Naked and on her knees, she begins to move, feeling the already-gathering wetness between her thighs with each movement. She comes before Kara, nestling herself between the blonde’s legs.

Roughly, Kara grabs her face, fingers spread across her cheek, thumb curved along her chin.

“You want this?”

Lena can only nod helplessly.

“Tell me your signals.”

“Traffic lights.”

Kara clicks her tongue impatiently, tightening her grip, fingers digging into the flesh of Lena’s cheek. “Quit fucking around. I asked you a question and I expect a straight answer. Tell me your signals.”

Lena moans heatedly, and wonders why she gets so turned on when a pretty girl is fucking rude. “Red for stop, yellow for slow, green for go.”

“Good girl.”

Kara rewards her by pulling her in for a rough, punishing kiss, lips crashing, tongue probing; she just scraps her teeth against Lena’s bottom lip, nipping just hard enough to sting but not enough to bleed. Suddenly, Kara lets her go with a small push, and Lena nearly falls backwards from the movement. Kara makes no effort to help her up. While waiting for Lena to right herself, she strips off her shirt, baring her chest.

She grabs the back of Lena’s head, getting a fist of wavy hair, still slightly damp. She thrusts her chest forward at the same time she pulls at Lena’s head, and orders, “Open your mouth.”

Lena complies; of course she does.

“Suck,” Kara directs, and of course Lena complies with that too. She takes as much of Kara’s breast as she can into her mouth, closing her lips around the soft flesh and lapping at a hardened nipple.

Kara gasps. Arcs her body. Tightens the hold she has on the brunette’s hair.

Then another command: “I want your hand on the other.”

Obediently, Lena moves her hand to the neglected mound, lavishing attention through kneading and pinching. Kara hisses at the contact, sighing in pleasure. She lets Lena carry on, occasionally massaging her fingers against the brunette’s head to signal her satisfaction. Every scrap of nail against Lena’s scalp sends a shiver down her neck and spine.

“Switch sides.”

And Lena does. She feels herself becoming increasingly aroused, not so much from the act itself (although it certainly helps), but the accompanying directions. There is something freeing about the lack of control. She doesn’t have to think. She doesn’t have to decide. All she has to do is please Kara, and she’s more than willing to do it. And please Kara she does. Every breathy sigh and moan from the blonde is pure sex to her ears, manifesting a course of lava oozing its way through her and pooling between her thighs.

She feels Kara suddenly jerking back on her hair, and she has no choice but to release the breast in her mouth.

“Go to bed and wait for me.”

Lena has to restrain herself from sprinting down the hall.

Kara didn’t say how she should wait, so she sits down on the edge of the bed. That proves to be too tempting, because she discovers that she can squeeze her thighs together for a quiver of pleasure, and the urge to start touching herself is overwhelming. She stands up and starts pacing, trying to take her mind off what her body is screaming for.

She waits. And paces. And waits. She grows increasingly impatient with each step. Just where is Kara? Some part of her is frustrated, maybe even infuriated, that Kara would get her all worked up, then make her wait with no determinable end. But then again, that irritation only serves to heighten her arousal.

She’s about to storm out of the room to look for her missing partner when Kara finally shows up in the doorway, now wearing Lena’s discarded robe.

When she sees Lena pacing the room with that look of annoyance on her face, she asks quizzically and without any of that earlier swagger, “What are you doing?”

Waiting for you, obviously.” Lena’s aware of just how bratty and childish she sounds right now, but doesn’t care.

Kara looks troubled by that. “Are we- did you want to, um- what light?”

“Still green,” Lena answers hastily.

“Oh!” Permission given, Kara clears her throat, getting back into it. “Well, then. I asked you to wait. I didn’t ask for an attitude.”

But the appearance of Kara’s regular bumbling self has dulled the effect, and it shows in Lena’s unimpressed expression and defiant posture, the crossing of her arms. So Kara decides that something more than words is needed. She stalks across the room, seizes Lena by the waist and tugs forcefully, crushing their lips together. She invades, kissing with ferocious need. She captures Lena’s lower lip, sucking hard with a hint of teeth. Her hands grope their way to Lena’s breasts, roughly palming and squeezing. With a sudden shove, she sends Lena tumbling back onto the mattress. It’s immensely rewarding to see Lena now looking back up at her with hunger and delight. Kara cups her hand between Lena’s legs, who moans wantonly at the contact.

“Do you want me to take care of you, babe?” Kara murmurs.

“Yes.” Lena writhes, bucking up to get pressure where she needs it, only to have Kara draw her hand back.

“You were mad, weren’t you? That I kept you waiting? Would you like to know why I kept you waiting?”

Lena could only nod. Slowly, Kara starts untying the knot on the robe. When the robe loosens and falls opens, Lena sees the reason why Kara made her wait. Kara’s sporting a harness from which protrudes a hefty pink dildo, shiny and glistening from lube. Just the sight of it makes Lena’s insides flex and clench at nothing, as another moan escapes her. (Idly, in the back of her mind, she wonders why Kara even owns a strap-on. Is it new? From a previous relationship? Or is it a toy she uses with Mike, as unimaginable as that is? At that, Lena quickly banishes the curious part of her brain. Nothing good will come from this train of thought.)

Now Kara stretches her body over Lena’s, the toy dipping down, teasingly grazing the insides of her thighs. “Still mad?”

“No,” comes Lena’s quick, eager answer, bordering on desperation.

Kara pushes her hips forward, the toy briefly brushing against Lena’s sex, almost breaching. “I feel like you don’t mean it.”

“No, I do,” comes Lena’s answer, now fully desperate. “I’m sorry I was impatient.”

Kara lets out a soft hum of satisfaction and delight. “You’d say anything right now to get me to fuck you, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” Lena says with zero shame.

Slowly, Kara presses a kiss to the side of Lena’s neck. She peppers soft, small kisses about the brunette’s pale, creamy shoulders, and says, “I suppose I could make you beg.” She pulls back to look at the expression on Lena’s face, pained and needy and hungry. Kara smirks. “Maybe next time.” She covers Lena’s mouth with her own, as she presses her hips forward, slowly easing the toy inside.

Lena gasps into Kara’s mouth, which turns into a sigh, and then a whimper. She shudders pleasurably at the sensation as Kara fills her up up and up at an excruciatingly slow pace. When the toy is finally fully in, Lena lets out a shaky sigh, her lungs burning in relief at the breath she had been holding in. Kara kisses her again. She starts moving now, starting slow to ease Lena into it. Lena’s body adjusts, adapts, then asks for more, angling up for deeper contact. Kara picks up the pace.

Unable to resist, Lena runs her hands up the side of Kara’s torso and up to her shoulders. With a soft grunt, Kara firmly seizes her by both wrists, her fingers digging deep into Lena’s flesh. She roughly pulls them up above Lena’s head and forcefully pins Lena’s wrists against the mattress. Testing the waters, Lena tries to move her hands, and is filled with a delightful thrill when she finds that she can’t. She tugs again, this time with all her strength, and she’s able to lift her arms about half an inch before she finds herself fully pinned down again. Kara is so strong.

And considerate. When she feels Lena struggling, even though they’ve previously talked about the scenario and she understands that this is probably a part of the game, Kara slows her movements. She lifts her head, making eye contact, checking in and searching for any sign of discomfort from Lena.

“Light?” Kara can barely utter that single word without her voice cracking. There’s no use in pretending that she’s not affected.

Lena’s body is aflame, screaming in protest at the loss in momentum, and so she chants, “Green, green, green, please, oh god, green.”

Assured, Kara picks it back up. Holding Lena down against the mattress, she begins to fuck her in earnest. She moves with purpose and power, assuredly driving her hips against Lena, over and over, at a punishing pace. This Kara, a Kara that Lena has never seen before, is forceful and authoritative and arrogant. And Lena decides that she likes this Kara very much.

Lena is just gone. Lost and adrift in a sea of pleasure, letting the sensations carry her away to a different plane of existence. It’s so, so good. Lena isn’t capable of much thought at the moment, but there is one refrain: my god, she is so strong, she can do whatever she wants to me. The thought is exhilarating, arousing, and the only thing better than this thought is this counterbalancing feeling: I have never been safer.

It’s freeing, giving up control. (Or, rather, the illusion of giving up control because Lena doesn’t think she could actually give up control.) Letting Kara dominate her, allowing this aggression, all the while basking in the security of knowing that Kara would not overstep her bounds. Like riding a rollercoaster, experiencing the thrill of free fall while retaining the comfort of safety.

“Baby,” Lena gasps out. “I’m close. I’m so close. I just, I just need-”

“I got you.” Kara brings her wrists together, pinning them down with one hand, freeing the other to reach down and seek out Lena’s clit. Two quick rubs and Lena gets there, screeching and wailing and bucking off the bed.

As Kara slows, she releases Lena’s wrists and kisses her through her high. When she finally relaxes, Lena lies there, eyes closed, heart pounding, mouth dry, wrists aching, sex tender, and blissfully spent. She barely registers Kara peeling off and away. Eventually, she feels Kara gently touching her shoulder. She rolls over to find Kara sitting on the edge of the bed, robe back on, holding a glass of water.

It’s regular Kara again, soft and demure, all kind eyes and sweet smile, with none of that aggressive swagger she held as she fucked Lena into an explosive orgasm. And Lena decides that she likes this Kara too. More, maybe.

“Here.” Kara helps her sit up and offers her the water. Lena takes it and gulps it all down quickly while Kara rubs her back. “How are you feeling?”

“Amazing,” Lena whispers, her voice still raw from screaming. “That was amazing.”

Kara’s smile blossoms into a delighted grin. “Yeah? That was fun?”

“Oh my god, yes.” Lena scoots up in bed, sagging herself down against the pillows, gesturing for Kara to join her. “How was it for you?”

Kara settles against the brunette, wrapping her arms around her waist. “Really fun. I definitely enjoyed bossing you around. Next time, I think I’ll tie you up and make you beg for it.”

Lena doesn’t mean to say it. She doesn’t. But it just comes out.

“You’re perfect.”

Kara’s eyes go wide, like she doesn’t know what to do with that. Lena doesn’t either. So they just awkwardly stare at each other.

Finally, with a small, self-conscious laugh, Lena says, “I think that was the orgasm talking.”

“R- right,” Kara stammers softly. “That, um, that makes sense.” Silence sets in between them. Then Kara interjects, “Although I don’t see the lie. I am perfect.”

Lena laughs, relieved to be able to laugh off her transgression. They let the moment pass, each happy not to analyze what just happened.

***

Lena grew up in New York City. But what that really means is that she’s lived and worked on the island of Manhattan her whole life with total disregard for the other four boroughs that comprise the whole of the city. There’s an occasional trip to DUMBO for an event or driving through Queens on her way to the Hamptons, but for the most part, New York meant Manhattan.

Then comes Kara Danvers, and Lena suddenly finds herself being dragged everywhere in search of good food.

In Brooklyn, they visit a vegan Ethiopian cafe which serves up gingery split pea curry and piles of injera, a tart, spongy flatbread made for scooping said curry, among other things.

In Queens, they eat Filipino food: the aptly named sizzling sisig, a heap of pork and chicken liver served on a searing metal plate; thick and savory oxtail kare-kare, a peanut stew over garlic fried rice; finished off with sweet cassava cake (with a pleased grin, Kara says, “Cassava in the street, Casanova between the sheets.” And with an amused smirk, Lena replies, “Casanova, you have custard on your chin.”).

In the Bronx, they overdose on heaps of pasta and fried chicken, which Lena complains about being unhealthy, but then eats everything anyway.

They even brave the ferry for Staten Island, where Lena tries Sri Lankan food for the first time, vegetable lamprais wrapped in banana leaves and hoppers, a crisp, edible bowl served up with curry.

And always, they take the subway. Hopping on and off green and red and orange and gray lines, zigzagging across the city from one end to another.

One late afternoon, as the sun slowly descends over the Western sky, they take the Q train from Brooklyn back to Manhattan. With each stop, more people get on the train. So Lena and Kara squish in at the end of the train. Lena leans her back against the connecting doors between the cars. Kara stands before her, one hand on the pole above, the other arm encircled around Lena’s waist to steady her. As the train sways and bumps, their bodies collide and brush up against each other. They let the motion dictate, neither making an effort to stop from touching.

At the DeKalb Avenue stop, a lone busker with a guitar boards the train. He starts playing an old love song, and, in a voice scratchy, soft, and sweet, he sings.

Wise men say only fools rush in.”

The tune reverberates in the car, the words swirling around the riders, some ignoring, some indifferent, others attentive. Then there’s Kara and Lena, bodies swaying from the train’s movements, almost in time to the song.

At the same time, they sneak glances at one another, just as the singer croons, “Darling, so it goes, some things are meant to be.

Absorbing the words, suddenly shy, they each look away.

It’s Lena who looks back first. She sees Kara staring out the window, cheeks faintly tinged with blush. Driven by impulse, she touches her hand to the blonde’s cheek, fingers curving under her chin, gently guiding her face forward.

Take my hand, take my whole life too.

Their eyes meet. Visibly, Kara’s breath hitches.

In an instant, Lena makes up her mind. Decisively, she leans in, presses her mouth full against Kara’s. Kara reacts, as she always does to Lena’s touches, driving her body into Lena’s until they’re flush together, fused by want. As the train passes over the Manhattan Bridge, against the towering background of the city skyline cast in the setting sun’s orange glow, they kiss their way through this spell, caution cast aside, recklessly indulging in the fleeting feelings of a stolen moment that they won’t ever talk about.

‘Cause I can't help falling in love with you.

***

The soft chime from Kara’s phone comes in the middle of an episode of The Crown. Kara, lying down on the couch, makes a soft noise, and Lena wordlessly grabs the phone off the side table to hand to her. Kara looks at the screen. And stares.

When Lena realizes that Kara’s no longer paying attention to the show, she asks, “Everything all right?”

“Yes,” Kara says. But something in her voice makes Lena hit pause on the remote. Kara sits up, still staring at her phone. “Um. So. I… I set up a calendar reminder for myself to start planning a welcome home party for Mike.”

Although she’s sitting perfectly still, Lena starts to feel a little lightheaded. “Oh?”

“Yeah, and um, I, uh…” Kara sets her phone aside, takes in a breath, and looks up. “I had set it for a month before his return.”

“Ah,” Lena answers neutrally. “And that’s where we are now.”

Quietly, Kara says, “Yeah.”

It isn’t as if Lena didn’t already know. The end date was always clear. But it’s easy to forget. Or to want to forget.

“All right. So. A month. That’s how long we have left?”

Kara instantly looks anxious. “I don’t like how that sounds. It’s- it’s not like the end of us, is it? Like… we can still hang out and do this. Just, just be around each other and watch TV? We, we’re still going to be friends?”

“Of course we are,” Lena’s quick to assure. “Obviously, the physical component of our friendship has to end. But nothing else has to change.”

“Okay,” Kara responds, sounding slightly mollified.

Lena picks up the control and turns the show back on. They face the screen, looking but not seeing, hearing but not listening.

Finally, Lena hits pause again. “You know,” she starts. “Olivia Colman will still be there for us in a month.”

Kara doesn’t hesitate. She rushes forward, lips first, hands already going to Lena’s waist to pull up at the edges of her shirt.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The summer's touch
I loved so much I played again and again
And in the end I wasn't innocent
but we can still pretend
Stars are falling, are we falling too?
Dawn is coming, what's this coming to?
On a night like this

“Night Like This” - LP

 

 

Lena’s never been much of a fan of team sports. She’ll occasionally attend a basketball or baseball game when it suits her business interests to do so, but otherwise, she doesn’t see the point. The arbitrary rules, the blind fanatical devotion to an arbitrary team based upon the city the team names itself after, the idolization of men who can throw balls very far — she doesn’t understand any of it.

But what she does understand is that Kara Danvers looks smoking hot in a sleeveless jersey and tight black pants. So here is she, sitting on a picnic blanket beneath a large tree nearby Central Park Great Lawn Field #3, watching a softball game that she otherwise has zero interest in. Lena’s not too proud to admit that she can be shallow. But, in her defense, Kara’s ass looks phenomenal in that uniform.

“Eww,” Alex says with a look of pure disgust on her face. “That is my sister. My baby sister. Why would you say that to me?”

Alex should be sitting with her team instead of towering before Lena, staring down at her. She should be watching Kara on second base, ready to make a run for third. But she’s not, because Kara’s on second base and therefore there’s no one to stop her from harassing Lena.

Lena shrugs unabashedly. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. You asked ‘why would anyone in their right mind go to their fuck buddy’s rec league softball game’ and that’s my honest answer. To stare at your sister’s phenomenal ass.”

Alex reflexively cringes at those words, before quickly shifting into a scowl. “You didn’t have to say it again.”

“I did not,” Lena answers breezily. “But I wanted to. Because extraordinary derrières should be acknowledged and appreciated.” Deliberately, she pauses, then adds as a feigned afterthought, “Outside the bedroom, that is. Kara already knows how admiring I am of her behind in the bedroom.”

That does the trick. Alex stomps off to rejoin her teammates behind the chain link fence as Lena tries to hide her victorious smirk. She turns her attention back to Kara just in time to see the blonde take off for third, then home as the ground ball rolls between the legs of the first base player. Lena applauds as Kara crosses over home plate, then watches with surprise as Kara keeps jogging, changing direction towards her.

Then Kara’s standing before her, hands on her hips, her head blocking the sun and giving the appearance of a glowing god. A glowing god with athletic, toned arms showcased by her sleeveless shirt and powerful calves wrapped in black stretchy fabric. And Lena thinks that she finally understands the appeal of team sports. Or at least their uniforms.

That glowing god now asks, “Having a good time?”

Making no attempt to hide her leering, Lena says, “Definitely.”

Kara shuffles her feet, shy but pleased by Lena’s indecent scrutiny. “I’m glad. And I’m also glad that you came.”

“Me too,” Lena replies, somehow managing to fit but I’ll be even gladder to peel your uniform off later into two words. Kara blushes, clearly absorbing the full meaning and entertaining similar thoughts herself. Actually, maybe they could sneak off—

“KARA!” Alex hollers from a distance as the rest of their team trots out onto the field.

“Oops. Okay, I’ll be back.” Kara takes off to take her place in the pitcher’s circle.

The stint doesn’t last long because the strikes come quickly and steadily. Even to Lena’s inexpert eye, it’s obvious that Kara is an unnaturally gifted athlete who probably shouldn’t be allowed to play in a recreational league. Soon the teams switch. While her teammates are up at bat, Kara jogs back and forth between the backstop and Lena, alternating between cheering on the batter and dropping lame jokes on Lena to keep her amused. (“Did you hear the joke about the pop fly? ...Forget it. It’s way over your head.”)

All the while, Alex throws annoyed glares at them with her jaw clenched tight and foot tapping rapidly. So it hardly surprises Lena that, when Kara’s called up to bat, Alex makes a beeline for her.

“You’re dating my sister.”

“Is that so?”

Yes,” Alex spits out. “This is dating behavior. You see each other just about every day now. You text all the time. You come to her softball game. She spends the night at your place. She has a fucking key to your apartment!”

Lena hums neutrally. “Kara mentioned that you were really fixated about that key thing.”

Alex throws up both hands in exhausted exasperation. “Because it’s crazy! Friends with benefits don’t do things like that. Maybe Kara’s a little too naive to see it, but you’re not, are you? You two are dating. You are girlfriends. And I can’t believe-”

“Okay, fine,” Lena interjects.

Taken aback, Alex stops in the middle of her sentence. “What’s that?”

“I said fine. As you say. Kara is my girlfriend. At least for the next few weeks.”

It takes a second for it to click; when it does, Alex narrows her eyes. “Okay, Luthor, I know what you’re doing and I don’t like it.”

“What am I doing?”

“You’re telling me what you think I want to hear to shut me up.”

“Not at all. I’m validating your viewpoint. If you’re more comfortable labeling Kara and me as girlfriends, then by all means. If it helps you, then why not? It doesn’t bother me.” Lena’s staring past Alex, watching Kara, who’s on first base now and casting concerned glances over her way. Lena smiles and waves, reassuring her that everything’s fine.

Alex, still with the disgruntled squinty-look, is momentarily thrown. Quickly, she pivots. “Okay, great, so we agree. She’s your girlfriend. And you’re in love with her.”

Unfazed, Lena throws back, “Well, I’m certainly besotted with her posterior. It’s just so firm and globular. It’s really nice to hold on to while I’m eating her out like a ripe, juicy Georgia peach.”

To Alex’s credit, her head does not explode. But she does gawk at Lena with abject horror like the witness to a bloody, senseless crime.

Alex opens her mouth to scream, yell, and otherwise loudly express displeasure, only to find that she can’t. The only thing that comes out is a high-pitched groan. What Lena said was so incomprehensibly awful, it broke her. So the only thing she can think of to do is make an about-face and walk away. Just walk away. Some disasters can’t be salvaged.

Alex does not approach Lena again for the rest of the game.

***

After the softball game (Kara’s team wins, of course; it wasn’t even close), Lena and Kara take a stroll through Central Park, hand-in-hand, making their way to Rumsey Playfield. In the summer, the city is inundated with music in a series of free outdoor concerts. Hundreds of concerts of different genres take place all over the city. Tonight’s concert featured a Spanish soul singer, an Israeli electro hip-hop group, and a Cameroonian blues singer.

A makeshift concert venue has been erected, although the music can be heard far and wide. They don’t go into the designated concert area, but opt for the surrounding grassy fields. The area is teeming with people, clusters of friends and families spread out on picnic blankets, dotting the field like scattered archipelagos. They find a spot far from the stage, where the crowd is thinner but the music still audible.

They unfold Lena’s picnic blanket. Kara scrounges up food from a nearby halal cart, bringing back containers of chicken and rice doused in mystery white sauce and eye-wateringly spicy red sauce. Lena makes a face and half-heartedly complains about the insane calorie count and overall healthiness of their meal, but eats it anyway because it’s delicious. After their meal, Kara lies down with her head in Lena’s lap and stares up at the night sky, listening to the music mixed in with the snippets of chatter from passersby.

“You can’t see the stars from the city,” Kara remarks idly. “Isn’t that sad?”

Lena tilts her head up, but of course she sees nothing but gray skies. Still, she says, “I’ve seen stars.”

“You think you’ve seen stars,” Kara rebuts. “Glimpses here and there from a rooftop. But it’s not like it is in the country. Not like in Krypton.”

Lena’s hand finds its way to Kara’s hair, gently combing her fingers through. “Tell me about it?”

Kara is momentarily silent as she thinks of how to start. From the distant stage, she can hear the Spanish soul singer, her sultry voice cutting through the night and the crowd, performing a jazzy flamenco song, singing words that sound beautiful but that Kara does not understand.

“My dad loved astronomy. Space was his thing. He used to let me stay up late and drive out with him to the edge of town to watch the stars. Sometimes he’d even get the Matthews to let Mike come with us. It’s incredible. I haven’t seen anything like that since I left Krypton. The sky out there is just covered with countless stars as far as you can see. It’s so beautiful, it’s almost… I don’t know, spiritual? Transcendental, maybe. And it’s… I don’t know, I don’t want to say quiet. Nature has its own sound, and it can feel loud because it’s everywhere, but it’s not noise, you know?”

And Lena doesn’t. Not really. But she knows that Kara is sharing something important, so she says encouragingly, “I can imagine. It sounds lovely.”

“Out there, with my dad, under that sky- it’s, well, it made me feel so connected to nature, the universe, everything around us. I’ve never felt peace like that since. But, well,” Kara tries for a light shrug. “That was before my parents passed. So. Different times.”

Lena is quiet as she contemplates whether to pose this next question. Finally, she makes up her mind. “Do you mind if I ask how they passed?”

“House fire.” Kara’s voice is soft and flat, volume so low that no pain is discernible. “I wasn’t home. I was sleeping over at a friend’s house. Apparently that was lucky. Or so everyone told me.”

Lena detangles her hand from blonde locks and moves it to Kara’s cheek, stroking gently. “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

In a barely audible voice, Kara says, “Yeah.” Then, after a long silence: “I love this city, but sometimes I wish I lived somewhere where I could see the stars. Sometimes… well, when I miss my dad, it’s kind of comforting to… be able to look up and see something that reminds of him. It’s nice. It hurts, but it’s nice, if that makes sense.”

“It does,” Lena answers softly, understanding all too well.

“At the same time, it um, it can be intense. Mike and I go camping upstate sometimes and um, I just never know how I’m going to react when I can actually see the stars. Sometimes I just, I just start crying and I can’t even say why.” She trails off, suddenly feeling self-conscious in her sentimentality, which seems banal and saccharine when said out loud. Shaking her head, she sits up, pulling away. “It’s silly. They’re just stars. I know that. I’m sorry. Mike says that dwelling on the past like that isn’t good for me. He always says that I need to focus on the good stuff and not the things that make me sad. And he’s right- I, I know that I’m being ridiculous but I can’t seem to help it.”

As Lena watches Kara shrink back, a sense of familiarity settles over her. She’s seen this behavior before. She’s lost count of the number of times she had cut herself off or ended the conversation as quickly as possible when she thought that she had reached the maudlin quota in the Dead Parent Talk. She pulls her knees up to her chest, and rests her head on folded arms. She studies Kara’s profile, who’s staring off towards the direction of the stage even though nothing interesting can be seen.

“I don’t remember much of my birth mother,” she volunteers. “I was young when she passed. But I remember her singing.” She has Kara’s attention now and Lena finds that now she’s the one who has to stare off into the distance.

“She had an Irish accent. As a child, I listened obsessively to Irish female singers simply because it evoked a good memory. To this day, whenever I feel like I’m missing my mother, I’ll listen to that music and it’s… comforting. It makes me feel closer to her. I think when you’ve suffered a loss like we have, it’s normal to hold on to whatever small bit of connection we had. We keep the memory alive however we can. Even if it’s all a bit of an illusion. Even if it hurts. Or especially if it hurts because that makes it more real, doesn’t it?”

Lena glances over and sees Kara watching her keen focus. Kara offers a nod and an encouraging smile. Lena feels a sudden burst of kinship, coupled with an intense desire for confession.

“You know that band, the Cranberries? They have this one song called ‘Ode to My Family’ that I’ve never been able to listen to without getting teary, but I still do it. Especially when I’m feeling sad. When their lead singer died a few years ago, I took it really hard. I cried for three days. So if you want to talk about the silly things one does to hold on to the past, I’ve got plenty of stories. So you go on being ridiculous all you want, because I’m right there with you.”

When she looks back at Kara, she sees a look of deep concentration on her face, mixed in with… not sympathy, exactly. There’s no sorrow or pity. There’s only understanding.

Kara reaches out, loosely taking a hold of Lena’s hand in her own. “That must be hard, losing her so young. I can’t imagine. I was a teenager when it happened and I… I don’t know, sometimes it feels like I lose more and more of them as time goes on. I forget. There are things I know I used to know, like… the smell of our living room or the color of our fridge. And I just, I just don’t remember that stuff anymore.”

“I think it might actually be easier because I was so young.” Lena shrugs, shoulders heavy. “You can’t miss something you never knew.”

“Sure, you can,” Kara says quietly. “If you can imagine it, you can miss it. Or at least long for it. It’s perfectly understandable to want to know what was or could’ve been. Your time with your mom is a part of you, whether you remember it or not.”

Lena had never thought of it that way. In an instant, Kara had articulated and validated a feeling that Lena’s had her whole life. A part of her had always thought that it didn’t make any sense for her to be nostalgic for a time so long ago; some part of her judged herself for being sentimental for something she barely remembers. The kind of grace she extended to other people, she had difficulty applying it to herself. It didn’t feel okay until Kara told her that it was.

Overwhelmed and not knowing quite what to say, all she could do in that moment was squeeze Kara’s hand. Kara, understanding, just holds her hand quietly.

The two of them sit like that for a bit, listening to the music, enjoying being in each other’s presence.

After a long while, Kara says, “You know, Mike named a star after me?”

Which is absurd to Lena. For one, star-naming isn’t actually a thing. For two, she’s not particularly keen to talk about Mike at the moment. Or ever. But Kara seems to want to talk.

So, carefully feigning interest, she says, “Is that right?”

“Yeah. My freshman year of college, I was so lost. I was having a really hard time being away from Eliza and Alex… I, I don’t know, I think going away to college made me feel like I was losing my family again. And Mike and I- well, you know how we’ve been on and off our whole lives. This time we were definitely off. He was supposed to visit me at Thanksgiving in California, but then at the last minute, he decided to go home instead. The thing was, he couldn’t work up his nerve to tell me until I was on my way to the airport to pick him up. He was already back in Minnesota.

“So then we had a really bad fight and broke up. We weren’t even talking to each other. I thought we were finally done for good. But then during Christmas break, he showed up in Midvale at my house in the middle of the night. He said that he had named a star after me, gave me the certificate and everything. He told me that he was sorry and said that he loves me. He didn’t have the money for a plane ticket, so he drove something like thirty hours from Krypton just to do that.”

“That’s…” Lena tries to search for the right word she feels comfortable using. “That’s sweet of him.” Even though, on the inside, she’s thinking that it’s absurd for someone to pay money for a meaningless piece of paper.

“Hmm. Of course, then Alex came out and yelled at him for ringing our doorbell at two AM. Then she called him a complete moron because you can’t name a star like that and that he basically paid $50 for a piece of paper.”

Which was, of course, the exact thing that Lena had been thinking, but nonetheless, to be supportive, she says, “It was still a nice gesture.”

“That’s what I said.” Kara sighs, moving to tuck her feet underneath her. “Alex’s never really liked him. I don’t know why. Yeah, he makes mistakes, but he always apologizes for his mistakes and tries to make up for them. He’s a good guy, but I don’t think she sees that about him.”

Truth be told, Lena doesn’t see it either. But she knows that it’s a terrible idea to critique, even ever so slightly, the boyfriend of the woman you’re sleeping with.

With a nearly natural smile, she asks with almost no trace of reluctance, “You really miss him, don’t you?”

Kara’s delicately picking off a knotweed leaf that’s blown onto their picnic blanket. She pinches it with two fingers, and, extending her arm over the edge of the blanket, lets go of the leaf to deposit it back to the field where it came. A slight breeze stirs, just enough to sway the plant back onto the blanket.

Kara watches until the knotweed has fallen to the cloth-covered ground, before answering. “Of course.”

Lena inhales sharply, smiling wider now. “Well. It won’t be long now before you’re back together.”

Kara, still staring at the intruding weed, says, “Yeah.”

***

For some reason, Kara insists on going out to Brooklyn for Vietnamese food, even though there are dozens of viable options in Manhattan. But Lena assumes that the restaurant must be special. She’s grown accustomed to Kara’s fanatical devotion to food.

But when they get to the restaurant, it becomes abundantly clear why Kara chose this place.

Kara sweeps her arm at the storefront, which has a red awning bearing the name of the restaurant.

With unbridled joy, Kara begins, “Pho King in the street-”

“Did you seriously drag me all the way out here for that?”

Kara grins proudly. “Uh-huh!”

“Is this place even any good?”

“I don’t know.” Kara shrugs carelessly. “Although the reviewers on google seem to have a recurring problem with finding plastic in their food.”

They end up getting empanadas from a food truck instead.

***

When Lena wakes, her bedside clock tells her that it’s just a little bit past 3AM and her cold, empty bed tells her that something’s amiss. So she forces herself out from under her warm, cozy comforter and makes her way down the hallway, where she finds Kara sitting before her laptop at the dining room table, shoulders hunched, hands under her chin.

Lena runs her hand along Kara’s shoulder, who relaxes slightly under her touch.

“Everything okay?”

“Y- yeah, I just woke up and couldn’t sleep.” Kara sighs in relief as Lena starts massaging her shoulders, alleviating some of the tension there. “It’s this article about the governor. CatCo finally likes a story I’ve pitched and I’m getting some good sources and quotes. But I just, I don’t know, I’m not sure where to go from here. There are so many threads, I don’t know which one to follow.”

“Why don’t you come back to bed and figure it out in the morning?”

“In a bit. My brain won’t shut off. I’m just going to go over these notes again. You go on ahead.” Lena bends down and kisses Kara on her temple. She walks off, but not in the direction of her bedroom, but towards the kitchen. Curious, Kara asks, “Where are you going?”

Lena pauses at the entrance to the kitchen. “I’m putting on the kettle for some tea. You can show me your notes and talk me through it. Maybe I can help unravel the thread.”

“Lena, no. It’s late and you have work in the morning.”

“So do you. At least I’m my own boss and I get to start at whatever time I feel like.” Which frankly, they both know is a lie because Lena’s going to be in the office before everybody else anyway. “Now, the only thing you should be concerned about is what kind of tea you want.”

Inundated by gratitude and drowning in affection, Kara resists the urge to name the sentiment she feels in that moment.

Instead, she just says, “Green, please. Thank you.”

With one last soft smile, Lena nods and disappears into the kitchen. Kara still stares at the spot she just vacated, heart so full she hardly knows what to do.

***

On a Tuesday night, the two of them are getting ready for bed when Lena casually asks, “I’m meeting up with Sam and Andrea tomorrow. Sam doesn’t have a sitter for Ruby so we’re going to her place. Do you want to come?”

Kara’s standing in the doorway to the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. “Oh, um…” Realizing that she’s speaking with a mouthful of toothpaste, she holds up a finger. “One sec.” She dashes back into the bathroom, rinses out her mouth, taking the time to think of what to say. She decides to be straightforward. So she marches back out into the bedroom and says, “I can’t tomorrow. Alex and I are going to Bushwick to check out this bar.”

Sitting on the bed, rubbing lotion on her leg, Lena replies easily, “Okay. Let me know if your plans change.”

Kara feels compelled to clarify, “Mike has a lot of friends in Brooklyn, and he’ll be staying with a friend in Bushwick when he gets back, so, um, we’re having his welcome home party there.”

Slowing her movements, Lena looks up, her expression neutral. “Oh. So this bar you’re checking out…”

“Yeah, we’re… we’re trying to narrow down a venue for Mike’s homecoming party.” Kara’s still standing in the doorway, hands uselessly tugging at the corner of her shirt. “It’s in two weeks.”

“Ah.” Lena turns her attention back to her lotion. “Right. I haven’t forgotten. Two weeks.”

Kara takes a few steps closer and gingerly begins with. “Lena, listen-”

“Have fun with Alex tomorrow,” Lena cuts in abruptly. She snaps close the container to her lotion, the click louder than one would think possible from something so small. She scoots off the bed and marches towards the bathroom, eyes forward, shoulders back, back straight, body imbued with confidence. Or some facsimile of it.

As she nears, Kara takes a half-step, not quite blocking the path, but enough so that her intent to talk is clear. Lena, heeding, stops.

“Do we need to talk about this?”

Evenly, Lena replies, “I thought we just did.”

The moment doesn’t feel right, and Kara’s at a loss of what to say. She doesn’t know what solution she can offer because she doesn’t even know what the problem is. Or maybe she does. Or maybe it’s that she hopes she knows what the problem is, even if she couldn’t admit it, not even inside her own head.

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t be planning this party for Mike?”

Lena’s response is quick and sure. “I can’t think of a reason for you not to.”

As her mind goes blank, Kara hears herself say, “Oh.” She also hears herself say: “Okay. Um. I’m glad.”

Lena smiles. She touches her hand to Kara’s forearm and places a soft kiss on her lips. “Enjoy yourself tomorrow.”

***

“Something strange happened with Kara yesterday.” They’re seated on Sam’s couch, each nursing a glass of wine while the owner of said couch is putting her ten-year-old to bed.

Andrea takes a sip of her wine and repositions herself to face Lena. “Yeah? What are we talking about? Did she call you papi in bed? Been there.’”

“Uhh. No. No. This was more… emotional.”

“Oh my god,” Andrea says, rolling her eyes, exasperated but vindicated. “She’s in love with you.”

“Who, Kara?” Sam, newly emerged from her daughter’s bedroom, plops down on the couch in between her two friends. Lena reaches for the third glass of wine on the side table and hands it over. “Thank you. And no surprise there.”

Lena shakes her head. “No. It’s not that. When I invited her to come tonight, she said that she was going to check out a bar as a possible venue for Mike’s party. Then she asked me if there’s a reason she shouldn’t be planning this party. I find that odd. Why would she ask me that?”

“Like I said,” Andrea responds impatiently. “She’s in love with you.”

Lena says, “No. No.” And for good measure, just in case the third time makes it true: “No.”

“Well, why else would she ask you that?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know what to make of it. The mood was… weird.”

Sam, with keen insight, questions, “Did the mood get weird or did you get weird?”

“I-” The answer is clear, even to Lena, so she stops there. “All right. Yes, it’s strange knowing that our arrangement has to end in two weeks. It’s been beneficial to me, so I can admit that I’m not excited about its conclusion. I don’t have feelings for Kara though. Not like that.”

“Are you sure?” Sam asks, with Andrea nodding along in agreement behind her. “You spend a lot of time with her. And you seem… happy?”

With a poorly suppressed look of exasperation, Lena retorts, “Not you two too. What Kara and I have isn’t love. I know that. She knows that. I wish that everybody else would understand that.” When Andrea and Sam glance at each other, Lena adds in irritation, “I saw that. That’s what I’m talking about. Stop looking at each other like I’m crazy. I know what I feel.”

“Okay,” Andrea offers in conciliation. “But you said yourself that last night was weird, so clearly something’s off. If you say you don’t have feelings, fine. But how are you so sure that Kara feels the same way?”

“Because.” Even Lena realizes that’s a poor excuse. “She would’ve told me. We have an agreement. The second she thinks she feels something, she would tell me.”

“Sometimes,” Sam puts delicately, “People don’t realize what they’re feeling right away. It takes, uh, time, maybe.”

“That’s very true,” Andrea says, nodding slowly, staring at Lena with laser focus. “And it might take some self-reflection. Or maybe a lot of self-reflection. Like, a lot.”

Lena hums in noncommittal contemplation as she stares off into the distance. Andrea and Sam exchange glances, sharing the same thought: at least she’s thinking it over.

But then Lena concludes: “No, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. You know, she was probably just asking me for party-planning advice without realizing that I’m not good at that sort of thing.”

Sam sinks against the couch, like her entire body is suddenly sapped of energy. She just barely has the strength to bring her wine glass to her lips and take a long, hearty gulp.

Andrea emits a sound halfway between a grunt and a sigh, fully infused with frustration. “Well, anyway,” she says shortly. “You should be careful. The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that Kara’s going to get attached. Better safe than sorry. You should end this thing before anybody gets hurt.”

Shrugging carelessly, Lena sips at her wine. “Why? Mike’s back in less than two weeks and it’ll all be done then.”

“Well, clearly you know what you’re doing,” Andrea mutters.

Lena doesn’t miss the sarcasm. She narrows her eyes, tilts her head, and is about to confront Andrea on her attitude when Sam intervenes as peacemaker, redirecting the conversation by not-so-casually bringing up a controversial law that was just passed in a conservative state far away from them. And if there’s anything that’ll bring New Yorkers together, it’s the crazy laws being passed in a red state that has nothing to do with them.

***

It’s late on Friday night when Lena gets Kara’s text. It’s 9PM and she’s still at the office, the last person in the building aside from the security staff. Lena hadn’t expected to hear from Kara that night. But here’s her message, asking if she can come over.

Lena quickly types out an okay and finally leaves the office.

When Kara shows up at her apartment door, Lena can tell that something’s off. Kara looks excited but nervous, and she remains the same as she comes inside, making her way through the living room to take her usual spot on the sofa.

“Is everything all right?” Lena asks, knowing full well that something has happened.

“Yes,” Kara returns emphatically. “It is. It’s just, um, there’s been, there’s kind of a- a setback? Uh, I mean, with Mike’s return home.”

Lena can feel her heart thumping in her chest at a quickening pace. “What happened?”

“Um, so, he uh, he called me earlier. Apparently the company changed their mind again. Now they want him to stay until the end of the year, so…” Kara gives a faint, unsure smile, paired with a small shrug. “He’s staying.”

“He’s staying,” Lena repeats in a daze. “He’s staying?”

“Just until the end of the year,” Kara hastily adds. “Then he’ll definitely be back.”

“Did he ask you if he should stay or did he tell you that he’s staying?”

“Uh… kind of the latter,” Kara admits. “But it’s fine. He said he told his company that this is the absolute last extension. But, um, yeah, looks like, um, it’ll be another six months before I have to plan that party.”

“Oh.” Realizing that’s probably not the appropriate response here, Lena tries again. “I’m sorry, Kara. I know how much you were looking forward to having him back.”

“Oh, um, yeah,” Kara nods. “But, um, I was also, like, just, uh, wondering…” Kara’s more nervous than excited now, shifting about uncomfortably in her seat. “So, uh, I know that you were- I mean, I know that we agreed to stop when Mike came back, so you were probably expecting uh, this arrangement to end in a couple of weeks. But um, now that Mike’s not coming back just yet, I was, I was just- uh, I was wondering what you thought about…” She takes a deep breath. “Well, I don’t know, maybe keeping this going a little bit longer? I mean, it, it obviously doesn’t have to be for another six months, but um, if-”

“Yes,” Lena interrupts.

And that’s probably quite rude, but you’d never know it by the way Kara’s face lights up.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” With a single finger, Lena slowly traces the contours of Kara’s arm, roving slowly from the shoulder down. “I could stand to keep you in my bed a little while longer.”

Kara lets out a long, happy sigh, releasing all the tension that she’s been holding since she walked in the door.

She leans in, kissing Lena with her entire body pitched forth, sinking against the brunette, melting into her like ice cream on a hot summer day. And Lena’s only too happy to embrace it.

***

The next day, Saturday, is, as always, their day together. They have a late brunch at a French bistro, then spend the day at the Central Park Zoo, followed by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the evening, Lena follows Kara back to Queens for dinner with Alex and Kelly. Kara’s offered to cook, so they pick up a few things from the grocery store and head back to Kara’s apartment.

As soon as they walk in, it’s immediately apparent that something’s different about the apartment. For one, Kara’s elusive roommate is home for once. Then there’s the little matter of the hundreds of origami cranes cascading from the ceiling. It’s impressive, beautiful, and borderline claustrophobic.

“Indigo!” Kara exclaims happily as she beholds the sight. “What’s all this?”

“I didn’t do it,” Indigo answers sourly. “Your boyfriend hired some girl off TaskRabbit to do this. I mean, a little warning would’ve been nice? I was dying my hair when she showed up.”

Kara is quick with the apology for something she didn’t do. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t know he was going to do this. He probably wanted to surprise me.”

“Whatever.” Indigo picks up her purse and starts moving for the exit. “Can you take all this down soon? It’s like a fire hazard.”

Indigo leaves without saying goodbye or acknowledging Lena at all. From Kara’s nonchalance, Lena gathers that this is a typical interaction.

Kara’s now moving around the room, examining the little paper birds. “Look! There are little messages on them! That’s so sweet.”

The wings of each crane are inscribed with messages, mostly preprinted punny platitudes like ‘my heart soars with you’ and ‘fly away with me,’ but there are a few handwritten notes with personal references and little inside jokes, like ‘12/04/2002: Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘Bears! Beets! Battlestar Galactica!’’

Kara surveys her new decorations, her face filled with sentimentality and conflict. Lena knows why already.

“You should call him.”

With a mixture of surprise and relief, Kara asks, “Really?”

“Yes, of course. He did a nice thing. You should thank him.” Lena gestures to the groceries they’ve set on the floor. “I can get us started on the veggies.”

“Um, okay then. I… I’ll just be a minute.” Instead of starting the call right there, Kara retreats into her bedroom, out of Lena’s earshot.

Lena’s just started unbagging the groceries when Alex and Kelly arrive.

“Whoa,” Kelly says as she takes in the cranes.

And Alex’s reaction: “What the hell?”

“Mike,” Lena explains, feeling proud that she sounds so casual about it. “They look nice, don’t they?”

Instantly, Alex’s good mood evaporates. She stands there, glaring at the birds like they’ve personally insulted her haircut. “He’s not coming back, is he?”

“Not just yet. He’s staying for another six months. Did Kara tell you?”

“She doesn’t have to. This-” Alex motions at the room. “-really says it all. Classic Mike Matthews.” The way she says it, there’s no doubt that it’s not a compliment.

Against her better judgment, Lena’s curiosity drives her to delve. “What does that mean?”

Alex opens her mouth, on the verge of spilling all her thoughts and feelings. Her rant is over before it even begins when they all hear Kara’s voice growing louder as she emerges from her room, trying to quickly end her call.

“Okay, I gotta go… yup. Yes. Okay… I’m sorry, I have to go… yeah, we can talk later… okay, okay, bye.” Kara hangs up the phone, looking a little flustered in her haste to end the conversation. She brightens when she sees her new guests. “Alex! Kelly!” She waves her hand at her new decor. “This is cute, huh? Mike did this.”

“Yeah,” Alex echoes unenthusiastically. “Cute.”

Kelly surveys the room. At the apartment covered in paper birds dangling from strings, covering just about every inch of the room. At Alex’s peevish expression. Lena’s stiffly serene smile. Kara’s shuffling awkwardness.

“Hey, you know what? There’s that new Brazilan place that just opened up down the street. I hear that they do a really amazing moqueca. Why don't we go out for dinner tonight?”

Immediately, there is resounding, unified agreement. They waste no time grabbing their things and heading out the door. Kara’s the last one to leave. She turns off the lights and shuts the door behind her with a heavy thud, sparing no last looks and leaving behind those hundreds of painstakingly folded and inscribed origami cranes fluttering and flapping uselessly in the dark.

 

Chapter Text

I should run on the double
I think I'm in trouble

“Trouble” - Lindsey Buckingham

 

 

The call comes twenty minutes before the board meeting; it’s their quarterly budget review and Lena’s deep into her prep, so she very nearly declines the incoming call from a number she doesn’t recognize. But when she sees the area code and the “Midvale, CA” display beneath it, she hits the green button to connect without really thinking it through.

“Hi, Lena?” comes from a somewhat familiar voice. “It’s Alex Danvers.”

“Alex. Hi.” It occurs to Lena that Kara’s cellphone has a Midvale number. And apparently, so does Alex’s. Maybe what Lena really wants to say is some variation of ‘how did you get my number’ or ‘why are you calling me,’ but because this is Kara’s sister, she comes back with a polite, friendly, “How are you doing?”

“I’ll just tell you why I’m calling,” Alex says, dispensing with the niceties. “I know you and Kara have dinner plans. Kara asked me to let you know that she won’t be able to make it.”

“All right,” Lena says slowly, unsure of what’s happening. “Is everything okay? Where’s Kara?”

“She’s here with me at my hospital. She’s in radiology right now. She had a fall and probably has a calcaneus fracture.” Alex sounds matter-of-fact about it, which should assure Lena that Kara’s injuries aren’t grave.

But it doesn’t.

“I’m on my way.”

“That’s probably not necess-”

“See you soon.” Lena hangs up and immediately starts gathering her things. Striding towards the elevator bays, she’s halfway through a text to Andrea when she runs into the recipient. “Andrea, good. I was just about to text you. Something’s come up. You’re going to have to run the board meeting.”

Andrea looks dismayed at the thought. She falls into step, following Lena to the elevators. “You’re going to make me do the budget by myself?”

“You are my CFO.”

“I just like the title, not the numbers.” Arriving at the elevator bays, Andrea punches the call button, then leans against the wall with her arms crossed. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Kara. Something’s happened. She’s at the hospital.”

“Is it serious?”

“I don’t know. Alex didn’t sound distressed, but just the same, I’d like to see how she’s doing.”

“Her sister’s a doctor, right? If she’s not worried, then Kara’s probably fine, right?”

“I’d still like to make sure she’s okay.” When Lena sees the look on Andrea’s face, she adds, “Come on, don’t make a big deal about it. I would do the same for you.”

There’s a ding, and the elevator arrives, its doors sliding open. Lena gives Andrea a short wave and steps in.

Just as the doors close, Andrea says goodbye with a cheery, “Have fun running to your fuck buddy’s side in a medical emergency!” When the doors close, Andrea sighs lightly to herself. “Oblivious dummy.” As she heads to the board meeting, she pulls out her phone to text Sam about what just happened.

***

Kara is, in fact, fine. Sort of. But when Lena walks in and sees Kara sitting in a hospital bed in that flimsy gown that would make anyone look weak and sickly, her instinct is to fix it.

The words just come rushing out. “I know the Chair of New York Presbyterian quite well. It’s the top hospital in the city. I can get you in to see the best doctors right away.”

“Um, excuse you,” Alex retorts from behind her. “This hospital, my hospital, is the top hospital in the city and we have the best doctors.” She points a finger at herself.

Lena silently berates herself for the unintended insult. Alex works at this hospital. As a doctor. Which she already knew. And even if she didn’t, Alex looks very much like a doctor, complete with the white lab coat, stethoscope around her neck, and impatient scowl.

“Of course. I’m sorry. I meant no offense.”

Unaffected by the apology, Alex makes her way past Lena to Kara’s bedside, still with an annoyed look on her face. “Anyway, even us lowly outer borough quacks know how to slap on a cast. She’s very lucky, she won’t need surgery. She just needs to rest up and heal. And not go around climbing up trees to save stray cats that don’t need to be saved because, it’s, you know, a stray cat.”

As Kara groans at the revelation, Lena’s only reaction is to blink. “Pardon?”

“Strays can need help too!” Kara protests. “More, actually. Nobody else is looking out for them!”

In exasperation, Alex says, “Kara, those guys have lived on their own their whole lives. They’re nearly feral. They know how to survive.”

“It was stuck!”

“It was not stuck. It was just an asshole baiting you for its own amusement.”

Kara scoffs dismissively. “Cats don’t do that.”

Wryly, Alex retorts, “Clearly you know nothing about cat culture.”

Deciding that someone needs to be the adult in the room before the Danvers sisters devolve into a round of cat-centric arguments, Lena asks, “So what’s next? For Kara, I mean. I assume the cat’s fine.”

“The cat is fine. Jumped out as soon as Kara got up there. As for this one?” Alex nods at her sister. “I put a cast on that foot and she goes on her merry way. Won’t take long.” Alex gives Kara a firm pat on the shoulder. “Lucky for her, her sister’s the best doctor in the city.”

Kara practically hisses, “Alex! Let it go!”

But Lena doesn’t care about Alex’s petty asides in defense of her own ego. What she cares about is this: “And where is Kara meant to go? Back to her five-story walk-up with her foot in a cast?”

From the expression on the Danvers sisters’ face, it’s clear that neither of them has considered this problem.

“Um…” Alex starts slowly. “You could come stay with me and Kelly? We have stairs, but it’s only the second floor?”

“Do you really want me on your couch for two, three months?” Kara asks rhetorically. “I’ll be fine. I can get food and laundry delivered.” A thought occurs to her, and she frowns as she contemplates the issue. “I’ll have to see what CatCo says. Maybe I can work from home. I really don’t want to go on leave when I’ve finally pitched a feature they like. Who knows if they’ll still like it in a couple of months? Oh, god, what if they give my feature to someone else?”

“I’m sure they won’t,” Alex reassures unconvincingly, hoping but failing to soothe Kara’s budding panic.

As Lena watches anxiety visibly rising in Kara, the solution comes to her. It’s so obvious, it seems like a foregone conclusion.

She blurts out, “Come stay with me.”

In the aftermath, there is silence.

Alex exhales sharply through her nose, her mouth firmly pressed into a thin line.

Kara, stunned, looks upon Lena with happy disbelief.

And Lena can’t quite believe it herself either.

“Really?” Kara asks. And somehow, the meekness and uncertainty behind the question only strengthens Lena’s resolve.

“Yes. Absolutely,” she nods. “It makes sense. I have room. I have elevators. It’s in Manhattan and closer to your office. If you want to go into work, we can get you a car service. Or, if you’d prefer, there are several bus lines to take you downtown. And I’ll be there to help you. L-Corp is so close, it only takes me a few minutes to come home if you need anything.”

With the way that Kara’s eyes are lighting up, it’s evident that she finds this idea enormously appealing. Stil, she looks to her sister, feeling that Alex must have something to say about it.

But Alex is stony-faced. Not happy, but at least not enraged. “Fine. I can pack up some of your things for you. I’ll bring it over later.”

Kara’s more than happy to take that as a blessing.

Later that evening, Alex meets up with Kelly at Kara’s apartment and the two of them pack a bag. They take the train into Manhattan, making their way to Lena’s place.

On the elevator ride up to Lena’s apartment, Kelly remarks, “You are taking this whole thing surprisingly well.”

Alex shrugs. “You know how the saying goes. You can lead a horse to water. But you can’t make that dumbass horse realize she’s in love with Lena.”

“Right, but Kara’s moving in with her. Even I find that extreme. What are they doing? They’re really going to be roommates with benefits?”

“Looks like it. They’re moving in together. As friends. And one day, they’re going to platonically plan a wedding together and get friend-married. Then they’ll probably get a friend-mortgage on a nice little house in Westchester, friend-adopt a bunch of babies, celebrate fifty friend-versaries, friend-retire together to Florida, and eventually get buried in the same friend-burial plot.”

“They won’t have a friend-mortgage,” Kelly points out. “Lena’s rich. She’ll buy Kara a friend-mansion.”

When they arrive at Lena’s front door, they find the sweet smell of baking cookies permeating the hallway even before Lena opens the door. Walking in, they find Kara comfortably propped up on the sofa. She’s under a fuzzy blanket, injured foot propped up, an insane mess of snacks and treats spread out on the coffee table before her.

“Looks like you’ve made yourself at home,” Alex observes as she drops Kara’s bag by the front door.

Kara offers up this pathetic defense: “Lena got this stuff for me.”

Right on cue, Lena appears with a plate of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven. She offers them up to her guests.

Under her breath, Alex mutters, “The hot billionaire bakes. Of fucking course she does.” But she takes a cookie and takes a bite. Its deliciousness only fuels her ire. With a disgruntled glower, she grits out at Lena, “These cookies are delicious.”

Lena, who isn’t used to menacing-sounding cookie compliments, smiles uneasily. “Thank you?”

Alex and Kelly stay a little while longer, keeping Kara company and eating Lena’s annoyingly delicious cookies.

But Kara’s had a long day, what with rescuing stray asshole cats and all. That’s evident by the way she sags against the couch, eyelids drooping, barely suppressing yawn after yawn. So Kelly and Alex soon say their goodbyes to let her rest.

“You go on to bed,” Lena instructs in a tone that allows for no disagreement. “I’ll clean up and bring your things to you.”

Too tired to protest, Kara hobbles down the hallway on her crutches. At the end of the hallway, she stops in between the gap between the master bedroom and the guest room. She’s suddenly unsure of where to go. Every time she’s stayed over, it’s been in Lena’s bed, for the obvious reason that she falls asleep after they have sex. This is different. She’s living here now, at least for the next couple of months. She has no idea whether Lena meant to share her bed that entire time, or if she meant for Kara to stay in the guest room. That is, after all, what she is. A guest.

She stands there for so long, caught up in indecision, that Lena finds her there.

“What are you doing?”

“Um.” Kara suddenly feels foolish. She should’ve just picked. But it’s too late now. “I, uh, I didn’t know where you wanted me.”

Lucky for Kara, Lena just seems amused by her awkward indecisiveness. Lena strolls past, carrying the bag that Alex and Kelly had brought, and drops it just inside the door to her room. She turns back to Kara.

Dropping her voice to a sultry whisper, Lena says, “Have I not made myself clear on where I want you?” She takes a step close, laying her hand upon Kara’s shoulder in a soft, lazy caress. “How I want you?”

Kara’s had a long day. Again, rescuing strays. She fell out of a frickin’ tree. But now that all seems to be in the distant past. Because the only thing that seems to matter is Lena. More specifically, Lena’s body and all the things she could be doing to it right now. Driven by impulse, Kara lurches forward to kiss her, nearly falling over in the process as she trips over her own crutches.

Lena catches her, laughing as she does. “Kara, I was joking. You’re hurt.”

Kara’s hands go to Lena’s waist, tugging loose the belt there. “Well, you should’ve thought of that before you came on to me.”

“I didn’t think I’d get you worked up. Aren’t you in pain?”

Kara lets the belt slide from her hand, which hits the floor with a clanky thud. “I hear that orgasms provide powerful pain relief.” Her fingers go to work, undoing the buttons on Lena’s blouse, starting from the bottom. “Did you know? The injury I have is also called a lover’s fracture. We should honor that, don’t you think?”

Lena’s breathing quickens as she feels Kara’s fingers graze against her skin. But she keeps her arms hanging limply at her side. “Is that right?”

“Mm-hmm. It’s commonly sustained by falling from a height, like someone jumping down from a balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet.” Kara’s halfway through the buttons. She takes a pause here to press her palm fully against Lena’s bare stomach, to feel the rise and fall as Lena’s breathing grows heavy.

“Or misguided attempts at cat rescue.”

Kara huffs in indignation, and starts in on the buttons again. “It wasn’t misguided. It was… heroic. Heroic and sexy.” She pauses again. “Unless you’re not in the mood?”

“It’s not that, darling. But you fell out of a tree today and broke your foot. You need rest.”

“Lena,” Kara says with utter solemnity. “I could fall from the Empire State Building. I could break every bone in my body. I’m still going to want you more than I want to rest.”

Lena doesn’t think there’s a soul in the world who could resist a line like that. She grips Kara by the collar of her shirt, dragging her into a hot, open-mouthed kiss.

Needless to say, Kara spends the night in Lena’s bed. And all the other nights after that too.

***

It’s not all perfect with sunshine and rainbows and cookies and sex. As comfortable as they’ve become with one another, they still have to adjust to the realities of living together. But a month in, they’ve settled into a comfortable groove.

Lena finds out that some of Kara’s habits clash with her own fastidious nature. She spends half a day being silently huffy about Kara leaving globs of toothpaste in the bathroom sink until Kara drags it out of her. In the end, Kara promises to rinse out the sink and Lena promises to tell her when she’s annoyed instead of bottling it up.

Kara learns that Lena sometimes comes home in a bad mood and doesn’t appreciate being accosted by a thousand questions and stories the second she walks in the door. She adapts by easing up on how she greets her. In turn, Lena gets better about politely excusing herself when she needs time alone, and when she’s ready, comes back to Kara with her full attention.

They both figure out that they need to start getting ready at least an hour before they need to go anywhere. Lena’s taken to helping Kara get dressed, but finds that they have trouble staying on task. At least a third of the time, Lena’s attempts in helping Kara put on her underwear result in the opposite of the intended result.

Kara largely works out of the apartment, and goes into the office a couple of times a week, taking the bus downtown to get to work. On the days that she works from the apartment, Lena often comes back for lunch. Lena also now leaves the office early, which for her means 6PM. At night, they order dinner or Lena prepares something quick. They eat, they talk, then they spend the rest of the evening reading, watching TV, sometimes working side by side. (And some nights, Kara talks to Mike. On those nights, Lena always manages to have forgotten something at the office and needs to take a trip in.)

On more than one occasion, Kara tries to make dinner or tidy the apartment, until Lena scolds her and makes her rest.

Alex stops by every couple of days to spend time with her sister and help out as needed. For the most part, she doesn’t say anything about the living-with-Lena situation.

Then one day, she observes in a casual tone, “You’re really settling in here.”

“Can’t complain.” Kara’s stretched out on the living room couch, bathing in the warm sunlight, gazing out the window at the cityscape before her. Alex sits on the opposite end of the sofa, having just finished checking up on Kara’s foot. “It was a little weird at first. Everything’s so fancy. I still can’t get over that Lena has a washer and dryer in here. And Lena has been the perfect host. She’s taking such amazing care of me. I’m getting so spoiled here.”

“So spoiled that you’re not going to leave when this thing comes off?” Alex rasps two knuckles against Kara’s cast.

Kara tries to laugh it off. “I wouldn’t do that to Lena.”

Despite the laughter, Kara’s looking down and away, wearing an expression that Alex can read all too well. “And what if she told you that she doesn’t mind? Or that she wants you to stay?”

“Oh. Um.” Color rises to Kara’s cheek. “N- no, she wouldn’t.”

“But if she did?” Alex persists. “What if she asked you to stay? What would you say?”

Kara’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Finally, she manages weakly, “Well, I- I don’t know. She wouldn’t ask anyway. So… yeah. It’s just a silly question.”

“I think that means you would stay.”

Kara waves her hand dismissively. “No, I didn’t say that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I can’t just live here indefinitely. My stuff is all in my apartment. And I’m still paying rent there.” There’s something else she’s missing. What is it? Oh, yeah. “And Mike! He’ll be back in a few months. We’re probably moving in together when he comes back.”

Alex fixes her sister with a scrutinizing stare. “Kara. Be honest. Are you glad that Mike hasn’t come home?”

Kara barks out a derisive laugh, too loud to be convincing. “What? No! That’s crazy. I’m dying for him to come home.”

“Are you? Are you saying that if world war three broke out tomorrow and Mike gets stuck in Germany forever, you wouldn’t be a little bit happy about that?”

The feeling in the pit of Kara’s stomach is unsettling. So she deflects. “Well, I would never be happy about a war breaking out. That’s awful.”

Impatiently, Alex pushes on. “Okay, fine, then say Mike’s company wants him to stay permanently and he does. If he never came back, would some part of you be relieved? Happy?”

Again, Kara’s mouth flaps silently, ineffectually. “I love Mike.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Kara laughs again, stiff and self-conscious. “Again with the silly questions. It’s all so pointless.”

“So you do want him to come back?”

“Of course I do!” Kara states vehemently, her voice rising, as if volume is a substitute for conviction. “A- and you know what? Even if I did feel another way about it - which I don’t - it doesn’t even matter because Lena doesn’t have those kinds of feelings for me.”

Despite the warning signs, Alex doggedly continues, “How do you know? Have you asked her?”

“I know she doesn’t, okay?” Kara snaps, irritation seeping in with a touch of soreness. “You just don’t get it. Lena would never feel that way about me. She’s beautiful and smart and selfless and so kind and - oh, yeah - a billionaire. She’s on a whole other level and you know what? I’m okay with that. I really am. I know that I’m just a distraction until the real thing comes along and I’m so, so fine with it. Please don’t make me not fine with it.”

To Alex, there’s so much wrong with everything that Kara’s just said, she hardly knows where to begin. She goes with the first thing that comes to mind. “I think you need to have an honest conversation with Lena.”

“Well, I think you should mind your own business,” Kara replies, fully irritated now.

“Kara-”

“My foot really itches,” Kara interrupts. “Can you get me the hair dryer and blow cool air inside?”

And Alex knows that the conversation has come to a hard stop. She touches her hand to Kara’s knee, offering her sympathies, not just for the physical discomfort.

“Of course. Anything you need.”

***

The New York City subway system isn’t designed to be friendly towards anyone with mobility issues. So now, they take car services to go out to dinner. It had taken a long, convoluted, forty-five minute conversation, but Lena was finally able to convince Kara to let her pay for these rides by arguing that this is actually a self-serving endeavor because the city collects taxes on these rides, which ultimately helps L-Corp, because they receive a grant from the city. (“By that logic,” Kara points out. “You would just pay for everything that’s ever taxed.” To which Lena readily agrees that she could do that.)

In the end, Kara’s not so much swayed by the awful logic, as she is by Lena’s hand creeping along her thigh. But it’s less embarrassing for Kara to say that she was convinced by terrible logic than it is for her to admit that her brain had shut down when Lena started using her low, raspy sex-voice and thrusting her chest forward. (“You’re doing it all wrong,” Kara complains even as she’s casting Lena’s bra off to the side. “Traditionally, hot women are accused of using their sexual wiles to get money, not to give it away.”)

Tonight, they’re on their way back from dinner from a fancy Italian restaurant at Columbus Circle, where they dined on charred, lemon-spritzed octopus; toothsome cavatelli tossed with sweet shrimp and crispy artichoke bits; an outrageously upgraded version of insalata caprese served with lobster and burrata; and a rich, creamy wild mushroom risotto (“Risotto in the streets,” Kara declares solemnly as Lena readies her eye roll. “Torpedo between the sheets.” Lena thinks about it for a moment, then replies, “You know, I’m impressed enough by your strap game that I’m willing to admit to the truth of that one.” To which Kara turns bright red and downs her entire glass of water.)

In the car, Kara asks, “Do you know what you’re going to wear to James’s exhibition?”

“Exhibition?” Lena frowns. “Is that this Friday?”

“It is.”

“I’m sorry, I completely forgot,” Lena says contritely. “I’m supposed to meet up with Andrea and Sam. But I can cancel.”

“No, don’t do that. You haven’t been out with them in a while.” Kara’s keenly aware that Lena’s drastically cut back on not only her work hours, but her socializing time with her friends, all to spend time with her. “You should go.”

“What about you?”

“I really should go to James’s thing. It’s a big deal for him.”

“Well, what if I invite Andrea and Sam along to the gallery? I think they’d enjoy it. And maybe we can all get a late dinner or a drink afterwards?”

“Yeah.” Grinning widely, Kara takes Lena’s hand, threading their fingers together. “That sounds lovely.”

At no point does it occur to either woman that they don’t have to rearrange their social lives around the other person.

***

James’s exhibition is taking place at a small art gallery in Williamsburg. Andrea half-heartedly grumbles at the prospect of venturing to another borough, but plainly enjoys herself when she gets there.

Especially when she huddles up with Sam in a corner and watches Lena glide through the space with her hand at Kara’s lower back, flitting from one photograph to another, chatting up fellow attendees and praising James’s work in flowery language. Some of those attendees would take her remarks to heart and purchase prints. Lena’s helping James make sales, for the sole reason that he’s Kara’s friend.

“She’s so good at this,” Andrea marvels. “It’s amazing how someone who is so intelligent and perceptive in a professional setting is just a complete idiot with zero common sense when it comes to her personal life.”

“Hey,” comes an offended-sounding voice from behind. They turn to find Alex Danvers standing there, looking peeved and dangerous. “You don’t know the first thing about my sister.”

Sam and Andrea exchange uncertain, awkward glances before Sam takes the lead with a gentle, “We were talking about Lena.”

“Oh.” Alex instantly looks chagrined. “I’m sorry, I just assumed…” She gestures towards Lena and Kara, standing arm-in-arm as they admire one of James’s photographs. “So I take it that you also think this ‘arrangement’ is insane?”

“I told Lena to break it off before anyone gets hurt,” Andrea says. “Apparently she heard that as ‘you should move in with Kara.’”

“Yeah, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told Kara that this is a bad idea,” Alex complains, grumpy but with a touch of gratitude that she’s finally able to commiserate. “I even tried talking to Lena. And I get nowhere because she just insists on telling me about what a great butt my sister has.”

Absent-mindedly staring at the subject in question, Sam replies, “Well, she’s not wrong.” Belatedly, Sam remembers who she’s talking to and perhaps that Alex is sick of hearing people discussing her sister’s ass. In a transparent attempt to change the subject, she nods towards Lena’s direction. “What’s Lena doing there?”

While Kara’s engrossed in conversation with James, Lena stands off to the side, holding a small plate of hors d'oeuvres and picking green leaves off of a mini taco.

Witnessing this, Alex grunts in irritated disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” When the other two women look to her for an explanation, she lets out a long, tired sigh. “Kara doesn’t like cilantro.”

No,” Andrea gasps, horrified by the sickening mushiness of it all.

But true enough, Lena hands the de-cilantro’d mini taco to Kara, who accepts it with a dopey grin and kisses her cheek in thanks. James arcs an eyebrow at the exchange, but then quickly moves on by pointing to a photograph on the wall.

Andrea grimaces at the display. “Eww.”

“Oh, god, it’s worse than I thought,” Sam mutters.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Alex replies, frustration imbued in every syllable. “How do these two idiots not see what’s happening? I’ve tried every angle there is with Kara. You can’t get through to Lena?”

“Lena doesn’t really take well to conversations like that. I once tried to tell her that her ex-girlfriend is a straight up psychopath, because she is,” Andrea says, with Sam nodding fervently alongside her. “She didn’t talk to me for a month and I’m her CFO! I am not putting myself through that again.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can get through to her,” Sam adds mournfully. “She just can’t be reasoned with when it comes to feelings.”

“It’ll be over with eventually,” Andrea says. “That boyfriend’s still coming back, right?”

Alex gazes at the other end of the gallery, where Winn has now joined Lena, Kara, and James in conversation. Lena says something, which evidently isn’t very funny, as James looks confused and Winn’s expression remains unchanged. But Kara breaks off into a loud cackle that can be heard all the way across the room.

Alex sighs. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

***

When Lena leaves her last meeting of the day, she walks into her office to find something unusual: Brainy sitting on her couch, something that she doesn’t think he’s ever done in all the years they’ve worked together.

“Hi,” she greets slowly, unsure of what to make of this. Brainy has never done this before, and he’s many things, but unpredictable isn’t really one of them. “Were you waiting for me?”

“You’ve taken to leaving the office early recently, so I thought it best to wait for you here if I wanted to speak with you.”

Slightly affronted, she answers, “I’ve been leaving at 6, Brainy.”

Uncomprehending, Brainy innocently returns, “Yes, that is what I said.”

Lena decides that it’s not the best use of anyone’s time to bicker with Brainy on what normal business hours are. One, it’s pointless and two, she’s the damn boss so normal business hours are whatever she says it is anyway.

She moves to her desk and takes a seat. “How can I help you?”

“I have a matter which troubles me and, well, you’re the smartest person I know. Besides me, of course, but I find it difficult to have a dialogue with myself.”

“Sure,” Lena says, unbothered by his slight. Just Brainy being Brainy. “What is it?”

For a moment, he looks deeply unsettled, something that Lena’s unaccustomed to seeing from him. But then he visibly braces himself with an inhalation of breath and soldiers on. “What does love feel like?”

Lena reins in the ‘pardon?’ that’s about to leave her lips. She knows what he asked, she just doesn’t know how to address it. “Why do you ask?”

“I believe that I… that I have developed very serious affections for Nia. And I wondered whether it is in fact love. You see, I’ve not experienced it myself before.”

“Oh. Uh. Well.” Lena knows that it’s possible - no, probable - that Brainy’s asking the wrong person. But Lena wants to try anyway, to be a friend. It’s so rare that he asks for help. “I… I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I’ve only recently been told that love doesn’t have to be an all-consuming, destructive force. But… I think that when you love someone, you care about their well-being. You want to care for them, do nice things for them, do things that’ll make them smile just because it makes them happy.”

Brainy struggles for something concrete to relate to. “Like how one would love a labradoodle?”

“Well, I would hope not, if we’re talking about romantic love.”

“Right,” Brainy says slowly, processing the concept. “So romantic love must encompass something more than carings acts if we’re to distinguish it from labradoodle love.”

“For a lot of people, sexual attraction would be a big part, which I would hope doesn’t apply to a labradoodle.”

“Is that all it is? Sex and unselfishness?” Brainy grows increasingly perplexed at the thought. “But not everyone has sex? And one can be selfless towards friends? And what if you’re friends who have sex? Is that love?”

Lena is dimly aware of a sense of unease rising within her. “Perhaps romantic love can feel and look very different from each person to the next.”

Petulantly, Brainy huffs. “Well, that doesn’t help me at all.”

Lena sighs lightly. Her patience is starting to thin, but she still wants to help. “I think there’s a heightened intensity to romantic love. Yes, you can be unselfish towards your friends, but for a romantic partner, you would do things for them you wouldn’t do for anybody else. I think there’s also a sense of comfort and security that sets them apart from other people. You can do and say things without fear of judgment, you can totally be yourself, like… like how you would be if you were home by yourself, except you’re not alone. Maybe that’s what love is: being with someone that makes you feel like you’re home.”

Brainy furrows his eyebrows quizzically. “Kara Danvers is living in your home.”

“I didn’t mean a literal home.”

“But she is there, is she not?” Brainy persists. “Have you been uncomfortable in your own home, Lena? That isn’t right.”

Lena shakes her head. “No, absolutely not. I’m very comfortable with Kara. You’re taking this too literally.”

“Well, I don’t understand. You were the one who brought up the feeling of home. And she is in fact, in your home right now. You say you are comfortable with her. You do special things for her, as you leave the office early everyday now and sometimes for lunch as well. And although you see her every night, I’ve also seen you call her just to - what was it, ‘check in’? I do not think you would do that for anyone else. And you are literally providing care to her.” Entirely as an afterthought, he supplements, “Oh, yes, and you are sexually attracted to her, are you not?”

The uneasy feeling is bursting now, rapidly expanding at an exponential rate. “It’s not like it sounds. I’m not in love with Kara.”

“That’s not love?” Brainy questions with genuine curiosity. “But that fits everything we just talked about. What more is there?”

“Well, there’s-” Suddenly, she’s drawing a blank. Then, when it comes to her, she straightens in her seat, almost lurching forward: “Passion! There needs to be passion!”

Poor Brainy looks absolutely baffled. “That’s different from sexual attraction?”

“Yes, of course. There needs to be an emotional passion. That’s what Kara and I lack,” Lena says, feeling relieved that she’s cracked it.

Brainy brightens as he thinks he’s finally gotten it. “Ah, you mean the sex is bad.”

“No. Definitely not,” Lena defends quickly. “It means that love can make you a little crazy. That person gets inside your head, under your skin. And Kara and I don’t have that. We’ve been doing this for seven months now and we’ve never even argued. Because we don’t care enough about each other to do that.”

Brainy’s back to perplexion. “You’ve never disagreed?”

“Of course we’ve disagreed, but we’ve always resolved it through talking and negotiating, like how you would a business deal. It’s detached and clinical, see?”

“No,” Brainy answers bluntly. “Why is an amicable resolution of differences a bad thing? Most of the time, Nia and I peacefully discuss and resolve our differences. I do not feel any less for her on those occasions. To the contrary, I feel… valued. She sees me and she hears me. She tries to understand me even though she doesn’t agree with me. And I hope I do the same for her. Why is that not desirable?”

“No, it is, but…” That unease is back again, more intense than before. “I don’t know, Brainy. It’s just not what being in love looks like.”

“But why not? Isn’t good communication a cornerstone of a healthy relationship? Or do you mean that you do not care about Kara?”

“Of course I do,” Lena returns vehemently. “But obviously not enough.”

Persistently, naively, Brainy continues, “But what does that mean? Why does ‘caring enough’ mean strife? Do I not care enough about Nia if I don’t fight with her?”

“No, but…” Lena can feel herself backed into a corner and she doesn’t quite know how to get out of it, which only contributes to her growing panic. “I don’t know, Brainy. Love has never felt like that for me.”

There’s an odd look on Brainy’s face, less confused and more concerned. “Lena, it seems to me like you associate being in love with volatility and pain. I’ll fully admit to not being an expert on this matter, but that does not seem right to me.”

“That’s not true,” Lena protests feebly, even as dawning realization and horror spreads within her.

“Have I misunderstood?” Brainy questions in earnest. “Because it sounds as if the only element missing from your and Kara’s relationship is anger. Or ‘passion’ as you call it. Is there something else I’m missing?” It’s telling that Lena can think of nothing to say. And she finally knows it too. She only manages a weak shake of her head. “Well, as you say, romantic love can be different for people. So perhaps love must encompass conflict for you, but I think I will choose to reject that for myself. Thank you, Lena. This has been most illuminating. It is clear to me now that what I feel for Nia is love. And I will tell her.”

He rises to his feet and starts for the door, evidently feeling like their conversation has concluded. Lena sits and watches him, looking as serene and impervious as ever, but a turmoiled wreck inside.

Just before the doorway, he pauses and half-turns. “Do you remember when I was working on the Ives project and I came to you with what I believed were outliers that I wanted to discard?”

“You mean that time when you called me at 2AM from the lab, screaming ‘this makes no sense, I must incinerate these results and cast its ashes into a live volcano for the good of mankind’?”

Brainy nods in approval. “Precisely. Do you recall what your advice was?”

“I believe that I told you to go home and get some sleep. Then I hung up on you.”

“Yes. You used more expletives, but yes. Then the next day, you sat down with me and helped me figure it out. You were the one who reminded me that it would be irresponsible to just delete a statistically significant outlier for which I can’t identify an error. You said that we shouldn’t discard anomalous data simply because it falls outside of the range of our expected variations. Sometimes it’s legitimate data worthy of inquiry. No matter how exhausting the process may be, it deserves thorough examination.”

Absorbing the meaning of his words, Lena lets out a soft, scratchy, “Right.”

Brainy nods again, this time in satisfaction, and disappears out the open door, leaving Lena alone with her thoughts.

Five seconds later, he pops right back in.

“Kara is the anomalous data,” he says. “Your past toxic relationships are the range of expected variations. She’s the confounding outlier that does not fit.”

Lena stares at him, confused by the explanation itself. “Yes.”

For some reason, Brainy feels the need to further clarify. “I was inviting you to challenge your assumptions about Kara and what she means to you, the same way that you did for me when I had a separate but relatable problem.”

“I understand metaphors, Brainy.”

“Oh.” His surprised tone suggests that he does not share the same understanding. “Okay. I wasn’t sure whether I was clear.”

“No, you were.”

“Oh, good.” Brainy looks downright pleased with himself. “Well, then. Have a good night.”

He leaves once again, this time leaving Lena alone for good.

 

Chapter Text

Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You're going to reap just what you sow

“Perfect Day” - Lou Reed

 

 

“I’m an idiot,” Lena says.

“Yes,” Andrea promptly agrees. “Wait, what are we talking about?”

They’re sitting in Sam’s living room, each nursing a glass of wine while Sam’s in Ruby’s room, helping the ten-year-old with her homework.

Lena simply says, “Kara.”

And Andrea understands right away. “Ah.”

Lena knows that it’s childish and irrational, but she’s peeved Andrea needs no elaboration. “You knew that I might have feelings for her?”

Wide-eyed, Andrea looks at her like she’s lost her mind. “Uh, yeah. We tried to tell you, remember? On this very couch, actually. And what do you mean might? How are you still not sure?”

“I- I don’t know. It’s very confusing.”

“It’s really not.”

Faced with Andrea’s nonchalance, Lena relents. “All right, I have feelings for her. But I don’t know how far it goes or what I want to do about it.”

For a brief moment, Andrea struggles with the impulse to smack her dear friend. But she controls herself. Slowly, as if speaking to a child, she says, “You could just tell her.”

“Is that the right thing to do?” Lena looks dubious at the prospect. “We have an arrangement. She has a boyfriend that she’s planning to spend the rest of her life with. How do I, in good conscience, put this on her when I don’t even know what I want?”

“You don’t want a real relationship with her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t even know if I know what that is. Apparently a relationship without drama and screaming matches is just what normal people would call a healthy relationship?”

This, to Andrea, is not only shocking to hear, but also deeply unsettling. Incredulous, she asks, “Did you not know that?” But then something clicks. “Actually, that explains a lot.”

Lena emits a soft groan, sagging her head back against the couch, closing her eyes. “I’m a bit messed up.”

Andrea snorts derisively. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

Staring blankly up at the ceiling, Lena ruminates aloud. “So how do I ask Kara to leave her childhood sweetheart for someone who’s never been in a healthy relationship or even recognizes what it looks like? Why would she even want that?”

“Maybe she loves you? Have you thought about that, idiot?” When Lena casts a glare her way, Andrea shrugs carelessly. “I’m just using your own words.”

“Well, I can’t ask her to uproot her whole life plans without figuring out what I want first.”

“But don’t you two have some rule about this? Something about telling the other person if you’re starting to feel something?”

In fact, it had been Lena’s rule. One that she was adamant that Kara adheres to. The hypocrisy of this doesn’t escape Lena. Not that it changes the outcome.

“We do, but I’m certainly not going to say anything while she’s injured and living with me. She’s vulnerable right now and I’m not going to take advantage of that.”

The way that Andrea looks at her can only be described as pitying. Lena doesn’t like it one bit. But knows that she deserves it.

“There’s a fine line between being noble and being stupid,” Andrea says. “Although, for you, that line seems to be non-existent.”

“Thanks for the support,” Lena mutters.

“I’ll be supportive when you stop being an idiot.”

Sam saunters back into the room and takes her place between the two women. It doesn’t take her long to notice Lena’s bratty glare in Andrea’s direction.

Nervously, she looks between her two friends, wondering who said something wrong this time.

“All right,” she says wearily. “What did I miss?”

***

For her birthday, Andrea rents out an entire floating oyster bar on a wooden mid-century fishing schooner docked on the Hudson River. With the sun setting over the Manhattan skyline, the guests down expensive cocktails and snack on dainty canapés. The crowd is congregated by the bar in the middle of the ship, but Kara is parked at the bow of the ship, at a long table designated as the best seat in the venue. Lena had arranged it, making an impassioned argument to Andrea that she should share the VIP spot because Kara needed a safe resting spot, since she was injured and defenseless and shouldn’t be jostled by the masses. (YES FINE WHATEVER, Andrea sends back. NOW STOP TEXTING ME AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOARD MEETING.)

Kara squeezes fresh lemon over an oyster and downs it in one slurp, sighing in satisfaction. “Oyster in the street, monster between the sheets.” She flashes Lena a wide, impish grin. “Are we testing the ‘oysters as aphrodisiac’ theory tonight?”

“Well, you can’t run an experiment if the hypothesized result already manifests in the subject without the test article.”

Indignantly, Kara huffs, “You make me sound like a sex fiend. I’m not always, um… frisky-minded.”

With a coy smile, Lena gratuitously brushes her hand along Kara’s shoulder. “That truly wasn’t a complaint, darling.”

“Okay, good, because I really like you in this dress.” Kara tugs at the edge of Lena’s dark green peplum cocktail dress.

“You say that about all my dresses.”

“It’s not my fault that you look hot in everything.” Kara shrugs, digging into another oyster with a small fork. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be mingling? You don’t have to sit here with me all night.”

“Nonsense, I came here with you. What kind of date would I be if I abandoned you?” Too late, Lena wonders about the propriety of ‘date.’ Because they’re not dating. Maybe that crosses a line.

But if it does, Kara doesn’t seem to notice. She’s busy sprinkling hot sauce over her next oyster. “I’ll be fine. I have food, I have sangria. Go talk to your friends. It’s Andrea’s birthday. You should spend some time with her.”

Although Lena’s reluctant to admit it, Kara has a point. It would be rude if she didn’t at least say hi to her friends. “All right. I’ll check back on you soon.”

She presses a kiss to Kara’s cheek, then gets up and joins the crowd at the bar. She does a shot with Andrea. She makes small talk with some people from L-Corp, and when she’s sick of that, she hides in a corner with Sam. She looks over to Kara from time to time, who always flashes her a broad smile and a thumbs up.

That is, until she isn’t.

This time, when Lena looks over, she sees Kara staring out at the water, her posture tense. She quickly excuses herself from the group conversation and hastily makes her way back to the bow.

“Kara? What’s wrong?”

When Kara turns, Lena can see the queasiness all over her face. “Um, it’s uh, it’s just the boat moving around and the sangria- it’s just hitting me all at once. I’ll be okay.”

The ship is indeed bopping vigorously on the water. A few people have stumbled walking along the deck and a couple of others are beginning to look nauseous as well. The perils of having a restaurant on the water.

Lena gently takes Kara by her arm. “Let’s get you home.”

“No.” Kara stills Lena by placing a hand over hers. “It’s Andrea’s birthday. I don’t want you to leave her party early because of me.”

“She’s had birthdays before and she’ll have them again. If you’re not feeling well, then we should get you home.”

Stubbornly, Kara insists, “I’ll be fine. Really.”

Realizing their standstill, Lena tries for a compromise. “What if we just go sit on the pier for a while? Get you on solid ground?”

Kara relents then, if only because she recognizes that Lena isn’t going to let this go. Lena helps her navigate the crowd as Kara carefully hobbles along on her crutches. They pass by the bar, where Lena pauses to grab a bottle of water before continuing on over the gangway and onto the pier.

Pier 25 at Hudson River Park, where this oyster bar schooner is docked, is a long stretch of a former industrial pier now converted to an urban park with a mini-golf course, beach volleyball courts, and an artificial lawn where a soccer game is now being played. On this warm summer night, it’s swarmed with people, but Lena finds them a relatively quiet spot on a bench facing the water at the end of the pier. She sits Kara down on the bench and settles it next to her. She twists off the cap from the water bottle and hands it over.

Kara accepts it with two hands. But she doesn’t drink from it. She sets it on her lap, and stares down at it like it’s a precious jewel.

“You’re so good to me.”

Kara looks up, and Lena sees the pure gratitude in her face. It’s startling. Unnerving, even. Because she’s just not the kind of person who’s accustomed to accepting thanks.

So she settles into what comes natural to her: self-minimizing. “All I did was open a bottle.”

“But it’s not just that. It’s… like everything, all the things that you do for me. I wouldn’t even know where to start. You let me stay with you. You run errands for me and bring me things so I don’t have to leave the couch. You listen so patiently when I’m rambling on and on about my job, Alex, my feelings about 90 Day Fiance, or just like why yellow Starbursts are the worst Starbursts. And now, we’re at your friend’s fancy birthday party and you’re still just trying to take care of me.”

Warmed by the words, Lena feels the compulsion to feel Kara’s skin against her own; she wraps an arm around Kara’s shoulder, hand loosely curled against her bare arm. “You do the same for me.”

“Yes.” There’s now an ardent sheen to Kara’s gaze, showcasing an emotion simultaneously tender and intense, so powerful that she would not be able to hide it even if she knew how. “I would. I do. I- I mean, I try. Because you’re… that is, you’ve become so very important to me. I know we started this… this arrangement as something casual, but it kind of doesn’t feel that way to me anymore. Does… does it to you?”

Lena, for all her erudition and innate intellect, does not have the words to describe what she feels in the moment. Or perhaps it’s not words she lacks but the ability to process all the competing, contradicting feelings rushing at her. Certainly, immediately, there’s joy. But that joy is quickly overshadowed by overwhelming doubt, followed by a host of other emotions.

If there’s a dramaturgical depiction of what Lena feels in those brief moments, this is what it would look like:

Positive Lena: She loves me! She’s telling me that she loves me!

Insecure Lena: Does she really? Are we sure? What if we’re misreading the situation? She’s told us over and over again how much she loves Mike.

Positive Lena: That’s not possible. Look at her. Listen to her. We should tell her how we feel.

Insecure Lena: And what if we’re wrong? Is it really possible that someone like Kara could have feelings for us? What if she’s just telling us how much she likes being our friend and we go unloading our undying love? What if she wants nothing to do with us after that?

Positive Lena: That can’t be true. Look at how well she treats us. She must love us back.

Mean Lena: Kara has the biggest heart ever. She treats us well because she’s a good person. We don’t deserve her. We’d just drag her down and ruin her.

Insecure Lena: Are we even sure that we feel what we feel? What if we change our mind next week?

Positive Lena: No, come on. We love this woman. She’s perfect.

Insecure Lena: She is, but are we? All these months and we didn’t even know how we felt about her. How sure are we now that this is real? Are we sure that this is what we want?

Mean Lena: Besides, there’s no limit to how badly we’re able to fuck up our relationships. We can’t ask her to leave her lifelong love for this dumpster fire.

So Lena finds herself saying, “No, darling, but that’s because we’ve become good friends. It’s perfectly natural to be fond of each other.”

She watches Kara’s face fall, and feels the Mean Lena inside of her stomp about in abject fury for being the cause.

Kara, looking sorrowful but still with a dash of hope, still asks, “Is that all it is?”

The invitation could not be stronger. And for a moment, Positive Lena almost wrests control from all the other gloomy, defeatist Lenas. But some things are hard to shake.

“What else could it be?” She manages a small shrug. “We’re friends, Kara.”

Kara quickly supplants her crestfallen expression with a smile, albeit a strained one. “Oh. Yes. Of course. This is… um, friendship. Yeah.”

They don’t say much after that. The evening ends unspectacularly. They go back on the boat for a little while before heading back to Lena’s. In silence, they get ready for bed and get under the covers together.

Lena kisses Kara goodnight, full on the lips. Kara responds, just barely. Then rolls onto her side and away from Lena, curled up on the far edge of the bed.

***

It could’ve been weird after that. But it isn’t. The next day, Kara seems back to her old self, the conversation forgotten. And Lena’s messed up enough to convince herself that Kara’s fine with everything. Maybe Kara’s changed her mind. Maybe Kara even regrets bringing it up at all. Maybe Lena would run through every excuse she can find before she’ll allow herself to believe that she can be loved.

For now, there’s a semblance of normalcy and that’s pretext enough to carry on as they have.

In August, Kara’s cast comes off, and despite her repeated protests, Alex makes her wear a splint. Kara can’t even get away with not wearing it outside of Alex’s presence, because her sister has enlisted Lena to ensure compliance. But, after a week, after a thorough examination, Alex relents and tells Kara that she can stop wearing the splint.

“We need to celebrate my foot’s freedom,” Kara says to Lena that evening. They’re in bed together, Lena tapping away on her cellphone, Kara lying on her side, watching her work.

Still composing her email, Lena asks, “What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. Something special.”

“Would you like a party?”

“No. I was thinking of something else. Um, maybe with just us.” Kara, eyes still trained on Lena’s profile, shifts, tucking an arm underneath and propping her head up. “I, uh, I thought it’d be nice to spend some extra time together before I go back.”

An ache spikes within Lena’s chest. She sets her phone down, looking to Kara at last. “Go back? To your apartment?”

“Well… yeah. My foot’s better, so…” Kara drops her gaze. “I can take the stairs now.”

Lena’s mind works quickly to rationalize a dissent. “I hardly think that’s true. You’re still in physical therapy. It can’t be very good for you to immediately go from having your foot in a cast to traipsing up and down five flights of stairs on a daily basis.”

Kara looks back up at Lena, trepidatious but hopeful. “Do you really think so?”

At least on this issue, where her heart isn’t in danger of exposure, Lena doesn’t mince words. “Yes. You should stay until we’re sure you’re 100% healed. Maybe until you’re finished with your physical therapy.”

“But that could take months.”

“I don’t mind. It’s not like I have any immediate plans to go anywhere. And I’d really prefer to see you completely healed before we make any changes. But of course, it’s up to you.” Lena shrugs, picking up her phone again and directing her attention back to the screen in an emulation of detachment. It only lasts for about ten seconds before Kara leans over, yanks the phone out of her hands, and sets it on the nightstand. “What’s this?”

Kara crawls on top, straddling Lena’s lap. “Wanna make out with you right now.” She drapes her arms loosely about Lena’s neck. “Is that okay?”

And Lena, with more meaning than perhaps she truly realizes herself, replies, “Always.”

***

Veronica is sitting in Lena’s office.

Veronica Sinclair is sitting in Lena’s office.

Veronica Sinclair, Lena’s borderline psychotic ex-girlfriend, is sitting in her office.

Lena decides that ringworms are to blame for this.

See, Jess is Lena’s longtime assistant. Jess knows Veronica, knows the history between Lena and Veronica, and knows that Veronica should never be allowed through the door. But Jess isn’t here today. Because Jess’s cat has ringworms and Lena was more than happy to have her assistant take time off and get a temp to fill in. A temp who does not know Veronica and who buzzes Lena with a hazy report of, “Someone’s here for you.” And maybe it’s Lena’s fault too, because she approves of the visitor without thinking much of it. She had assumed that it would be Alex, who’s in the area today, and would be dropping off some things for Kara.

So now Veronica’s here, sitting across from Lena’s desk, looking as sleek and serpentine as ever, wearing a form-fitting, low cut dress that she knows is Lena’s favorite. And Lena already knows that no matter what happens today, there will be repercussions.

In a futile attempt to defuse, she defaults to professionalism. “How can I help you?”

“How are you, Lena?” Veronica sounds so soft and cordial, it almost coaxes Lena into letting her guard down. But she’s not in the mood for pleasantries, not that that’s ever really a thing with Veronica.

“I’m doing well. What’s the purpose of this visit?”

Normally, this kind of stonewalling would raise Veronica’s ire. But she just smiles wistfully. “I was hoping that we’d talk.”

“What about?”

“I’ve been in therapy.” Faced with Lena’s skeptical expression, Veronica inclines her head in acknowledgement of how absurd that sounds. “Okay, yes, it was court-ordered. I got into it with this clerk at Bergdorf. The therapy is a condition of my probation. I thought it was bullshit at first, but it’s actually been good. I’m beginning to see how some of my past behaviors could be… well, a bit problematic.” Lena arches her eyebrows and Veronica rolls her eyes in self-deprecating defeat. “Fine, a lot problematic. I was a bitch to you, okay? I see that now. I’m here to apologize. I was belittling and cruel. You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”

Of all the things that Lena would have expected from Veronica, this isn’t one of them. She has never apologized in their year-long relationship, unless it was in sarcasm. So she could think of nothing to offer but a stunned, “Thank you.”

A coy, inviting smile forms on Veronica’s face, the kind of smile that used to get Lena’s heart racing and blood pumping. (Maybe it still does a little.) “But I made it up to you in other ways, didn’t I? It wasn’t all bad.”

Lena doesn’t see the harm in this one small concession. “No. It wasn’t.”

But Veronica sees this as less of a small concession and more of a resounding triumph. Emboldened, she rises, striding with confidence around the desk to Lena’s side, getting right in her space. Veronica half-sits on Lena’s desk, so close that their thighs almost touch. Lena leans back in her seat, but there isn’t much space to maneuver.

“What are you doing?” Lena tries not to sound accusatory about it. She’s not sure if she succeeded, but it doesn’t matter, because Veronica doesn’t seem fazed by it.

“I’ve missed you.”

Veronica looks serious, sounds earnest, and as she firmly presses her leg up against Lena’s, feels heated. The woman was born to be a seductress.

But Lena just lets out an incredulous, exasperated little laugh. “Oh, come on.”

Veronica looks cross at the response, but doesn’t pull back. To the contrary, she shimmies closer, placing her hands on the armrests of Lena’s chair. “I mean it, Lena. I’ve really missed you. Your warmth. Your laugh.” Slowly, Veronica slides her leg further in between Lena’s, brushing against her inner thigh. “Your body.”

Veronica is so close now that Lena can smell her perfume. She would be lying if she said the scent didn’t evoke pleasant memories. Sensual memories. That part was always good, when they were able to stop fighting long enough to get to it. Veronica shoving her against the wall of a dark closet. Veronica fingering her in the back of a taxicab while she tries to stay quiet. Veronica pushing her onto the bed; one hand over her mouth, the other ripping off her underwear.

So distracted by the memories, Lena doesn’t realize what’s happening until it is. Veronica’s lips upon hers, tongue gently probing, seeking entrance.

Quickly, Lena snaps back to reality, twisting her head away. She places firm hands upon Veronica’s shoulder and pushes back.

“I don’t think so.”

Still hovering close, Veronica looks puzzled. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not interested.”

But Veronica at least knows her well enough to see through a blatant lie. She leans back against the desk, giving Lena just the slightest bit of breathing room.

“It’s blondie, isn’t it? The one you had with you at the opera? Kiera?” Veronica wrinkles her nose. “She seemed so… pedestrian. Like, she wore a department store dress to the opera and not even like a Nordstrom’s.”

Well, therapy can only do so much. “Kara,” Lena corrects in a snippy tone. “Be snobbier, why don’t you.”

“Sorry,” Veronica says, clearly not meaning it. “I heard that it was just a casual fling.”

“It is.” The lie comes out smoother than she thought it would. But then, she’s had months of practice. “This has nothing to do with Kara. I’m just not looking to get involved again. Once was enough for me.”

Veronica frowns, her disbelief and aggravation on clear display. “I heard that she has a boyfriend.”

“Like I said, this isn’t about Kara.”

Veronica fakes a smile, saccharine with a hint of malice, and Lena, familiar with that look, dreads what’s coming.

“I guess I can’t be too surprised,” Veronica says serenely. “I just didn’t know that homewrecking is a genetic trait.”

Lena doesn’t quite flinch, but she feels and absorbs the words like a slap to her face. She shouldn’t even be surprised. It’s not the first time that Veronica’s said something viciously upsetting. It probably won’t even be the last. This is nothing new.

But this is: “I’m sorry,” Veronica adds hastily, seeing the expression on Lena’s face. “That was over the line, wasn’t it?”

Stunned by a second apology, Lena answers, “Yes.”

Veronica sighs, looking genuinely contrite, which is a bizarre, unfamiliar look on her. “I was trying to make a joke. I- my therapist says that I disguise meanness with humor. I lash out when I feel unwanted. It’s all because my stepmother was very emotionally withholding.”

“Uh-huh,” Lena say with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“Anyway. I know when I’ve overstayed my welcome.” Abruptly, Veronica moves away, circling back around the desk to gather her things. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

Out of politeness, Lena rises and walks her to the door. At the door, Veronica pauses. She turns to face Lena, taking a step forward and standing closer than is strictly friendly.

“For what it’s worth, I really did just come by to apologize. I hadn’t planned on anything more, but…” Veronica roams her eyes over Lena’s body. “Well, you looked good.”

Unable to pretend like this has no effect on her, Lena returns a soft, “Thank you.”

“Well. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.” With a fond smile, Veronica steps in for a full-bodied goodbye hug which lingers on.

It would have gone on longer if not for this:

“Am I interrupting?”

Lena pulls away to see Alex standing in the doorway, suspicion and displeasure all over her face. With zero shame or any sense of propriety, Veronica gives Alex a slow, leery once-over.

“I see that you’ve been busy,” she says to Lena. “I get it. Have fun with your harem.” Alex’s jaw drops loose in shock, mouthing ‘harem?’ in silent fury. “But my offer still stands. Call me whenever. Goodbye, love.” She quickly presses a kiss to Lena’s cheek and sashays out of the room.

When she’s well out of sight, Alex jerks her head toward the door. “Kara know about that?”

“There’s nothing to know,” Lena replies. Alex looks extremely annoyed by that answer, so Lena tries again. “If you mean whether Kara’s aware of her existence, then yes. If you mean whether she knows about Veronica’s surprise visit today, then no, because it just happened and Kara and I are not telepathically linked.”

“You’re going to tell her then?”

“There’s really nothing to tell, but sure, it may come up in conversation.”

Alex glares. Lena holds her stare until she starts to feel silly about it. She makes the first move, going to Alex and gesturing at the duffle bag she’s holding in her hands. “Is that for Kara? Thank you, I’ll take it.” Lena turns and goes back to her desk, depositing the duffle next to it. She’s hoping that Alex is gone by the time she turns around. But no such luck.

Accusingly, Alex asks, “It’s happening, isn’t it?”

“There’s no conceivable way I would know what you’re referring to.”

“You, just suddenly moving on from this ‘arrangement’ with Kara,” Alex is trying to sound calm and even, but the sharpness of anger and fear still pokes through. “This is what I’ve been afraid of. Maybe it’s that woman or maybe you’re bored or maybe you just feel like it. But the why doesn’t even matter because you don’t need a reason. You can just drop Kara on a whim because you don’t owe her anything. You get to walk away whenever you feel like it and it doesn’t matter how she feels.”

Lena’s denial comes swiftly, filled with knee-jerk intensity. “That is not what’s happening here. I am not ending it with Kara.”

“Then what was that I just saw? A friend? Like you and Kara are friends?”

“Veronica and I are definitely not friends,” Lena answers calmly. “And why am I being interrogated? I’m not the one with a boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Alex snorts derisively. “Kara hasn’t even seen that schmaltz-covered cornball for almost two years now. Maybe he has the title, but you’ve got the role. You’ve had it for eight months now. Do you know how happy she sounded when she called me and asked me to pick up her things for her? She was ecstatic that you asked her to stay.”

For Lena, some words are too good to be believed. Weakly, she parrots a line she’s heard often from the source. “Kara loves Mike.”

“Mike Matthews is the human equivalent of soggy toast,” Alex declares. “She wouldn't be with him if she knew that you were an option. So are you?”

Lena’s mind gropes and grasps for ammunition, any conceivable reason she has to reject this. It frightens her that she comes up short. All she can manage is, “Why would you encourage this? I thought you hated Kara being with me.”

“I hate the arrangement,” Alex says, injecting every syllable with disdain. “It’s idiotic and illogical and a recipe for disaster. But I like things that make my sister happy. And you do.”

Feeling lost, Lena leans her weight against her desk, gripping onto its edges for support. “I don’t know if I can keep that up. I… I don’t know if I know how to be in a healthy relationship.”

Alex looks unimpressed and purses her lips in a show of impatience. “So go to therapy like the rest of us. What’s the alternative? You stay alone and let Kara go back to Mike? Because that’s such an amazingly healthy relationship?”

Masochistically, Lena says, “They have history.”

“Yeah, so do me and Dr. Ross, my childhood pediatrician, but I’m not going to go see him for a pap smear. You can’t let history dictate your future. That’s nonsense.”

“Not for Kara. Mike is Krypton for her. It’s where she’s from. She’s never going to give that up for me.”

“Well, I think you’re wrong,” Alex says with a lackadaisical shrug. “I know my sister. I can tell how much she cares for you. She just needs to know that you feel the same way.”

Lena stands there, lips pressed firmly together into a thin line, knuckles white from digging her fingers into her desk, unable to talk, barely able to think. Alex takes her in. She understands, even if she doesn’t like it. Lena isn’t the only person with vulnerability issues.

“Okay,” she says softly in concession. “I’ve said my piece, so I’ll get out of your hair. But, Lena, if you want to be with Kara, you better tell her before Mike comes home. I’m sure that Kara has feelings for you, but she’s all marshmallows and cotton candy inside. It’s going to be so much harder for her to dump him if he’s here in person, batting his stupid Bambi eyes at her.”

“Right,” Lena replies numbly. “Thank you.”

When Alex leaves, Lena finally allows herself to sink into her chair in a fatigued slump, mind buzzing with possibilities, heart racing with apprehension and anticipation.

***

The next day is a Saturday and to celebrate her foot’s freedom, Kara wants to spend the whole day outside.

“Okay, where to?” Lena asks.

“I don’t know. Let’s just go outside and see what we see. I just want to walk.”

“All right, if that’s what you’d like,” Lena says, a bit flummoxed. “But I thought we were celebrating. I don’t see how spending a day outside is special.”

Without hesitation, Kara promptly answers, “Because I'm spending it with you.”

There’s just nothing that Lena can say to that without getting into trouble.

They go outside. They pick a direction and start walking, seeing where their whims take them. They head south, simply because that takes them away from Times Square. Without meaning to, they make a tour of the Square Parks. From Madison, where they get breakfast panini and cappuccinos from an Italian food hall; to Union, where they bob and weave through the throngs of people at the green market and bystanders watching old men playing speed chess; to Washington, where they stop to watch a young woman play “thank u, next” on a viola; and finally Tompkins, where they rest, armed with bagels from a nearby shop. They eat their bagels on a park bench, chatting aimlessly, watching the people, and shooing away vulture-like pigeons inching ever closer.

Then they make their way to a movie theater on Houston Street. They watch a German documentary about spelunking. Kara falls asleep fifteen minutes in. Which is probably for the best, because it lets Lena focus on the movie instead of thinking of ways she could defile Kara in the middle of the movie theater. (Okay, she still does. But less if Kara’s asleep.)

After the movie, they wander through SoHo, window shopping (although Lena repeatedly offers to take Kara real shopping) and popping into small galleries and museums they find along the way. They end up in Chinatown for dinner, at a crowded, noisy hole in the wall with roasted ducks and slabs of crispy pork hanging in the window. They eat wonton noodle soup, bitter melon, and a trio of roast meats. Exhausted from their day of walking, they take a cab back to Lena’s.

“Are you sure we didn’t overdo it?” Sitting on her couch, Lena has Kara’s feet in her lap, massaging the soles.

Kara, stretched out over the length of the sofa, shakes her head. She’s tapping away on her phone, putting in an order for chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. Despite the volume of food she had at dinner, she didn’t have dessert. (“If cows can have four stomachs, then I can have a separate stomach for dessert.” “They don’t have four stomachs, their ruminant digestive system has four compartments.” “Don’t ruin my fun facts with your real facts.”)

Kara sets her phone aside when she’s done ordering. “No, it felt really good to walk around. I feel fine.”

With a teasing grin, Lena asks, “So I can stop massaging your feet?”

“Maybe not that fine,” Kara replies quickly. She watches Lena quietly for a moment, taking in the other woman, intently focused on massaging her. “I had a really great day today.”

“Me too,” concurs Lena softly.

“It was… so amazing. I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect day. And I- I’m just thankful that I got to share it with you.” Kara lets out a light, happy sigh. “I wish everyday could be like today.”

“Well, I don’t know about everyday,” Lena starts slowly. “But… we could have more days like today if you wanted.” Her hands stop moving, coming to a rest at Kara’s ankles. She locks eyes with her. “We could have more days like this next week. Or next month. Next year or… even indefinitely.”

“Indefinitely?” Confusion clouds Kara’s expression.

“Indefinitely,” Lena confirms. Which doesn’t really help because she’s only repeating what she’s already said.

But Kara’s starting to catch on anyway, or at least let herself hope. Eyes boring into Lena, desperately searching for any hints, she prompts, “I need you to use more words.”

“I like being with you, Kara. I like it so much that I think-” It suddenly occurs to Lena that Kara doesn’t have all the information she should have. She hadn’t told her about Veronica. That should come first. “Let me back up. Veronica came to see me yesterday.”

That’s clearly not the direction Kara’s expecting this to go, and the immediate downshift in her countenance says as much. “What did she want?”

“To apologize. For her behavior when we were together. Apparently she’s working on herself.”

Knowing that there must be more, Kara asks quietly, “Is that all?”

“No. She… she said that she missed me.” Lena sucks at her bottom lip, wondering how this next part is going to land. “And… we kissed.”

At that, Kara recoils instinctively, drawing back from Lena, as if stung. “You kissed her?”

She kissed me,” Lena corrects, even as she wonders what difference that makes.

Kara’s eyes are wide and large, emotions swimming behind them, unnamed but visceral. “I see.”

“No, Kara. You don’t.” Lena edges closer and takes a hold of her hand. Kara lets her, but doesn’t return the grasp. “I shouldn’t have let it happen.”

Already, Kara’s looking to shift the blame away. “No, Lena, you don’t owe me anything-”

Lena squeezes her hand firmly. “But maybe I want to.”

Kara stares at Lena, awestruck, uncertain, and just a touch scared. “More words, please,” she croaks out.

And Lena finally takes a leap.

She starts, “Kara, I-”

It is perhaps unsurprising that she doesn’t get to finish that sentence. That’s not how these things go. The unwelcome interruption is the chime from Lena’s doorbell.

Kara glances at the door.

“My cookies,” she says, swinging her feet to the floor. “I’ll just be a second.”

“No, you rest. I’ll get it.” With a hand on Kara’s shoulder, Lena presses her back onto the sofa.

She makes her way to the door, stopping briefly to grab a cash tip from her purse on the dining room table.

As she moves to the entrance, her mind’s preoccupied by thoughts of her next move. Chess is a favorite game. It requires thorough, methodical planning, and Lena applies the skill to all other aspects of her life.

She thinks about what she’s going to say, picking out the right words to strike a (maybe non-existing) balance between “please be with me, I desperately love you” and “it’s okay to say no, we can still be friends.”

With each step she takes to the front door, her mind is evaluating, strategizing, analyzing, like she can plan her way around a relationship the way she can a chess board.

But this isn’t chess. And she didn’t plan, couldn’t have planned for this: when she opens the door, she finds herself confronted with a familiar face she’s never actually seen in person.

She takes a step back, face going slack with unpleasant shock as cold dread pours down her neck and spine.

“Mike?”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

New York isn't New York without you, love
Too few of our old crew left on Astor
So if I trade our 'hood for some Hollywood
Well, you're the only motherfucker in the city who would forgive me

“New York” - St. Vincent

 

 

Lena Luthor does not consider herself an unlucky woman.

Because, despite her tragic early start and tense family dynamics, she’s aware that she’s already won the life lottery in many, many ways. But still, in a moment like this, it’s hard not to feel like the universe is plotting to ruin her life.

“Mike?”

Mike Matthews grins, showing all his perfect, pearly-white teeth, exuding charm and warmth. Lena doesn’t think she’s instantly disliked anyone more.

“Hey, Lena! It’s so nice to finally meet you!” Then he’s stepping forward and hugging her. Like they’re friends. Like he’s not the last person in the world she wants to see. Lena stands there stiffly, waiting for the moment to end. It does, quickly, because he releases her when he looks past her shoulder into the living room, where Kara sits frozen in disbelief. “Kara!”

Finally, Kara reacts. She scrambles to her feet, hurrying towards him. He steps around Lena, speeding to Kara, and they meet in the middle of the living room, arms encircled around one another. He picks her up and twirls her around as she squeals in delight.

Lena feels positively sick. Dizzy, nauseous, short of breath. She wonders what disease she’d get if she searches for those symptoms, besides Terminal Idiocy.

Mike puts Kara down. Then, much to Lena’s horror, leans in to kiss his girlfriend. But with a self-conscious chuckle, Kara pulls him into another hug. When she steps back this time, she kisses his cheek in compromise.

“I can’t believe this! Mike! What are you doing here?”

“I’m back, baby.” Mike proudly beams at Kara, awaiting praise. “For good. I’m here now.”

Kara’s still smiling, but it falters slightly at this revelation as she stammers, “B- b- but your job.”

“I quit,” Mike answers breezily. “They called me in for a meeting, asked me to stay on for another year. So I quit on the spot.”

Kara’s smile fades entirely, replaced by disbelief. “What?”

Mike reaches out, resting both of his hands on Kara’s shoulders. “Babe, I made you a promise. I wasn’t going to stay there past the end of this year. I told them that already. But they told me that they wanted me there for another year. So I quit.”

“Uh, wow, okay. But… Mike,” Kara says weakly. “Why didn’t you talk to me first?”

Mike grins broadly, entirely self-satisfied. “Well, I wanted to surprise you.”

“Mike…” Gently, Kara pats one of his hands that’s resting on her shoulder. “Um, this isn’t really a good time.”

That chips away at Mike’s good mood. Concern clouding his expression, he pulls back. “What’s wrong?” Reflexively, he casts a sideway glance to Lena, who’s still awkwardly rooted to the same spot, watching it all unfold.

“N- nothing, I, um, Lena and I were just- we were- we were just kind of in the middle of a serious conversation?”

“Oh,” Mike answers casually, evidently thinking little of it and caring even less. “Well, were you almost done? I got us a hotel room. We should get you out of here.” He hooks an arm around Kara and flashes another winsome smile at Lena. “Hey, thanks for letting this one stay here for so long. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”

“Not at all, it was my pleasure.” Lena taps into her businesswoman side to maintain her polite, aloof facade.

Ducking and side-stepping, Kara squirms out from under his arm. “Hey, Mike, can you give us a couple minutes? Um- oh! I have some peanut butter and jelly Pop Tarts in the kitchen! On the counter. Why don’t you have some?”

“Fantastic!” He bounds off for the kitchen, nearly skipping.

With every step away, Lena finds it a little easier to breathe. But then she looks to Kara, sees those large, round blue eyes teeming with anxiety, and her breath hitches again. Kara inclines her head towards the other end of the living room, farthest from the kitchen. Lena nods. Kara makes her way over, to the oversized windows overlooking New York City, and Lena follows.

“Hey,” Kara starts in a quiet voice.

“Hi,” Lena returns without a trace of warmth.

Nervously, hopefully, Kara asks, “We were- um, you were trying to tell me something?”

Lena can hear humming from the kitchen. She glances over and sees Mike ripping open a packet of Pop Tarts with his teeth as he half-hums, half-sings to himself. She’s seen Kara do this exact thing countless times. She wonders who influenced whom. She wonders how many other little characteristics and habits Kara and Mike share, just by virtue of all the years and years they’ve had together.

It’s with that in mind that she says, “It doesn’t matter.”

Kara’s face falls. “It matters to me.” She steps closer, reaching out for Lena’s hand. But Lena moves, folding her arms across her chest. Kara lets her hand fall limply to her side.

“Mike‘s had a long trip,” Lena hears herself say. “I’m sure he wants to rest.”

Kara looks utterly confused. And more than a little dejected. Hesitantly, she offers, “I don’t have to go with him.”

Lena shakes her head. “You should. He came for you.”

Kara stares hard at her, as if she could crack the mysteries of Lena’s mind this way. “Are you sure?”

But of course Lena isn’t sure. She’s sure of very little these days. She looks back over towards the kitchen again, where Mike is ferociously munching away on a Pop Tart. He catches her eye, flashes a wide, dopey grin, then gives her a thumbs up.

Even from here, Lena can see that he has jam on his face.

Then all Lena hears inside her head is: I just didn’t know that homewrecking is a genetic trait.

She turns back to Kara.

“Yes.”

***

Kara knows how she got here, but the details are already blurry. In a daze, she had gathered her things in Lena’s apartment, collecting what she could in a bookbag and followed Mike out the door. They got on the subway to Mike’s hotel in Gowanus. Mike animatedly chattered the entire way. Kara did her best to stay engaged, but she ended up tuning out for half the stories.

Now here she sits on the bed in a modern and clean but cramped hotel room in the middle of Brooklyn, watching Mike move about the room, unpacking his things as he hums a tune.

He’s so familiar to her. The way he moves, the way he smells, the way he looks - she knows it all by heart. But at the same time, she’s beset by discomfort, unable to shake the feeling that this is a surreal dream which doesn’t feel quite real. It’s been so long since she’s seen him, she can’t quite remember how she’s supposed to be around him.

She knows the cause of it. And what she’s supposed to do.

“Mike?”

“Yeah, babe?”

“Um, can we talk?”

“Uh-huh.” Mike’s busy hanging up his dress shirts in the closet. He doesn’t look over, but he’s nodding away. “I’m all ears.”

“So, um, I’m really happy to see you. I’m- I’m glad that you’re back.”

“Me too,” he answers perfunctorily as he pulls out more shirts from his suitcase.

“It’s just, it’s just that- uh, it’s been so long. And, well…” The words haven’t even left her mouth, and she already feels the thorns of guilt prickling at her heart. “Things are… they’re different now.”

“Oh, for sure, babe.” Mike hasn’t slowed at all in his unpacking. He’s stacking his shirts into a drawer, unaware and unconcerned at where the conversation is going. “So much has happened since we last saw each other, right? I know we talked a lot, but it’s not really the same, you know? Hey, I’m flossing every day now. All on my own, without you needing to remind me. How’s that for different?” He throws her a proud grin, accompanied by a wink.

“No, that’s not what I-” Kara cuts herself off, taking a pause to regroup. “Mike, I just wish you had talked to me first before quitting your job. That’s- that’s kind of a big deal, you know?”

Mike shrugs. “Where’s the romance in that? Anyway, I don’t need a conversation for me to know that you’re a way bigger deal than any stupid job.”

“Okay, but… but maybe I- maybe I needed that conversation because, um, well…” She breathes in deep, gathering the courage. “Look, Mike, over these last few months, Lena and I-”

“Oh!” Mike exclaims abruptly as he reaches into his suitcase. “I almost forgot! I found this in a small record store in Munich.” He retrieves a DVD from his bag and brings it over to Kara, depositing it on her lap like a proud pet bringing his owner a dead animal as a trophy. On the cover is an unsettling image of a man’s head, mouth ajar in mid-scream, his face wrapped in black wire. Like the befuddled owner of a well-meaning but misguided animal, Kara stares at the object, unsure of what to do with it.

“Thank you?”

“It’s that band, Scorpions,” Mike says, as if that’s self-explanatory. “You remember, right? Your dad was really into them for a short while. There was that one summer he listened to this Scorpions live-in-concert CD like all the time. Well, it turns out that there’s a DVD version with all the concert footage and I found it. I thought we could watch it together.” With an impish grin, he teases in a joking-but-not-really way, “But on one condition now: you have to promise me that you’re not going to get all weepy on me.”

“I…” Kara squints at the cover, struggling to conjure the memory through the haze of time. “I don’t know that I remember this.”

“You remember,” he tells her with the utmost confidence. “It was that summer we all did family camp at Thunderbird. Every night your dad would insist on playing a song from that CD, and my dad would start arguing with him because he thought it was the worst music ever. Then my dad would break out his guitar and play Dylan as loud as he could, and your dad would just turn up the stereo.”

The scene comes rushing back to Kara all at once, so vivid and real that it seems impossible that she couldn’t remember just a few seconds earlier. She could hear the music, smell the crackling campfire their families gathered around, see her father and Mike’s dad hollering at each other as their mothers lounge on patio chairs, laughing at their antics.

“Oh my god,” she utters softly, almost to herself. “I can’t believe I almost forgot about that.”

“Ah, it was a long time ago.” Mike sits down next to her on the bed, and pats her leg. “That’s what I’m here for. Hey, I think my parents still have some photos from that trip in our basement. Next time we’re back in Krypton, I’ll have my mom get them out. Take a little trip down memory lane?”

“Yeah.” Kara nods. “T- that sounds nice.” She clutches the DVD in her hand, staring down at the hideous cover, suddenly finding it not so terrible to look at. “Thank you, Mike. This is really nice of you.”

He scoops up her hand, brings it to his lips for a quick kiss, then holds it in his lap. For a rare moment, he’s serious. “Kara, I know that it hasn’t been easy with me being away. I’m going to make it up to you. You’ve been so patient and so loving. You’ve stood by me this entire time and believed in me, even when I didn’t deserve it. I’m the luckiest man in the world and I’m just so grateful to have you by my side. I love you, Kara.”

For Kara, it doesn’t feel like she has any other choice but to say, “I love you too.”

***

Sun, Aug 22

Kara Danvers (10:11): Hey.

Kara Danvers (10:15): How are you?

Kara Danvers (14:21): Are you around?

Mon, Aug 23

Kara Danvers (07:45): Good morning!

Kara Danvers (23:00): Good night, Lena.

Tues, Aug 24

Kara Danvers (13:32): Hi.

Thurs, Aug 26

Kara Danvers (11:09): I think I left a sweater at your place.

Sat, Aug 28

Kara Danvers (09:58): Are you okay?

Kara Danvers (13:12): Can you call me when you see this?

Kara Danvers (13:12): Or text me?

Kara Danvers (16:55): Are you mad at me?

Lena Luthor (20:50): I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded. It’s been a busy week. I’m in San Diego. One of our labs had a literal meltdown. I’ll have Jess send you your sweater.

Kara Danvers (20:51): I didn’t know you were out of town. I’m glad you’re okay.

Kara Danvers (20:59): I was worried.

Kara Danvers (21:24): Don’t bother Jess about the sweater, I’ll just get it from you when you’re back.

Kara Danvers (21:55): When are you coming back?

Kara Danvers (23:01): Good night, Lena.

Sun, Aug 29

Kara Danvers (10:21): Good morning! It’s raining here today. How’s San Diego?

Lena Luthor (21:14): I’m told it’s nice but I haven’t been anywhere except work and my hotel. I didn’t mean to worry you. It’s been busy.

Kara Danvers (21:14): Oh no problem! I know how busy you get!

Kara Danvers (21:14): How was your day?

Kara Danvers (21:15): I went to brunch with Alex today and she told me this really gross story about amniotic sacs while I was eating poached eggs. So rude.

Kara Danvers (22:45): Good night, Lena.

Mon, Aug 30

Kara Danvers (09:21): Good morning!

Kara Danvers (12:35): What are you having for lunch today?

Lena Luthor (20:32): I skipped lunch, but I had a lovely caprese salad for dinner.

Kara Danvers (20:33): That’s not right. You have to eat lunch!

Kara Danvers (20:33): How was your day otherwise?

Lena Luthor (23:19): It was fine. I have to go to bed now. Have a good night.

Kara Danvers (23:21): Good night! Sleep tight!

Tues, Aug 30

Kara Danvers (12:06): So I know that you’re in San Diego for work, but I saw that there’s a Klimt exhibit at SDMA. You should go check it out!

Kara Danvers (12:12): And don’t forget to eat lunch today!

Kara Danvers (17:45): Did you manage lunch today?

Kara Danvers (19:02): I’ll just assume you did, for the sake of my peace of mind.

Kara Danvers (23:49): Good night, Lena.

Wed, Sept 1

Kara Danvers (09:11): Happy September 1st!

Kara Danvers (11:28): I’m getting Shake Shack for lunch. I hope you find a good burger place for lunch too.

Kara Danvers (14:55): Do you know when you’re coming back?

Kara Danvers (18:22): Let me know when you know!

Kara Danvers (22:42): Good night! Hope you had a good day!

***

Lena stares down at her phone, unsure of what to do. She had been so certain that, by now, Kara’s texting would taper off once she realized just how infrequently she gets a response. It doesn’t make sense. Mike’s back now. Kara should be focusing all her time and attention on her doting boyfriend instead of a former fuck buddy who’s deliberately made herself unavailable. Because while there is a crisis in their San Diego lab, Lena didn’t have to be the one to go, she has dozens of executives on her payroll for that. But when she received the news of the crisis, two hours after Kara left her apartment, it had felt like a sign. Or at least a chance to escape instead of sitting in her empty apartment, feeling sorry for herself.

This is the best thing for both of them, she tells herself. They both need to move on. Kara just needs time with Mike to remember why they’ve been together for so long. And Lena refuses to be the other woman. She won’t be the person who’s responsible for ending a lifelong love. And she sure as hell won’t be the pining mistress, grieving on the sidelines as her lover returns to their rightful mate. She is not her mother.

Lena taps out a quick good night - because she can’t find the strength to completely ghost Kara - then silences her phone and sticks it back in her nightstand drawer.

Kara’s messages will stop coming soon, she’s sure.

***

Wed, Sept 15

Kara Danvers (13:15): Hey, I just saw a couple walk down the street dressed like the American Gothic couple! You would’ve been so creeped out!

Kara Danvers (13:15): I wanted to get a picture for you but I didn’t want to be rude.

Kara Danvers (13:16): Anyway, hope you’re back soon.

Thurs, Sept 16

Kara Danvers (10:27): Are you coming back yet?

Kara Danvers (12:33): Ugh Snapper just gave me back edits of my draft. My whole screen is covered in redlines. Complete bloodbath.

Kara Danvers (12:33): I don’t think he liked a single thing I wrote.

Kara Danvers (12:34): But he did tell me to get another draft to him in a week so I think that’s good! Maybe they’ll print my feature in the end!

Kara Danvers (14:18): Hope your work day’s going better than mine.

Lena Luthor (22:59): It’s not my field, but I’ve read your work and I’ve read other CatCo articles. It’s always been clear to me that your writing surpasses the standards at CatCo. I suspect Snapper’s edits are designed to oversimplify a complex story so that it’s more palpable for the general masses, but that doesn’t mean your original draft wasn’t good. In fact, I’ve read this draft and I stand by my original comment that it was superb and needed no revisions.

Kara Danvers (22:59): ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Kara Danvers (22:59): You’re the best.

Kara Danvers (23:00): Do you know when you’re coming back?

Lena Luthor (23:43): I’ll be back this weekend.

Kara Danvers (23:44): OMG REALLY??????

Kara Danvers (23:44): FINALLY!!! WHEN? WHAT DAY

Kara Danvers (23:44): Do you need a ride from the airport?

Kara Danvers (23:45): I don’t have a car but I can figure something out.

Kara Danvers (23:45): I’m so excited!

Fri, Sept 17

Lena Luthor (00:11): I’ll be fine, but thank you. Good night, Kara.

Kara Danvers (00:11): Good night! Excited to see you soon!

Kara Danvers (09:37): Good morning!

Kara Danvers (11:22): When’s your flight?

Kara Danvers (11:27): Offer still stands to pick you up! Or I can meet you at the airport and ride back with you.

Sat, Sept 18

Kara Danvers (19:15): Back yet?

Kara Danvers (19:21): If you are, we’re having a girls’ night out tonight if you want to come.

Kara Danvers (19:21): Brainy, James, and Winn will be there too, but other than that, it’ll just be the girls!

Kara Danvers (19:22): We’re going to Burp Castle. Text me if you see this!

Kara Danvers (21:30): hey, just in case you’re back, we’re now heading to St Marks for karaoke. Come join us if you’re around!

Kara Danvers (23:03): I think we’re going to another bar. Not sure where yet. If you’re around just give me a call!

Kara Danvers (23:43): at PDT!

Sun, Sept 19

Kara Danvers (01:24): we’re calling it and heading hom

Kara Danvers (01:24): it I’ll still Elbe up for a while so you can call me if maybe you’re just getting in nkw and see this

Kara Danvers (01:24): I’mm crashing af Alex’s tonight

Kara Danvers (01:58): sorry you couldn’t make it out

Kara Danvers (01:58): ok and I know you’re probably still be away

Kara Danvers (02:00): I know it doesn’t make any sense that I keep texting when you're not even in the state

Kara Danvers (02:01): but I just keep hoofing that you’ve just landed and you’d come meet us and I can see you againn

Kara Danvers (02:14): hey my bday is soon

Kara Danvers (02:15): I really really hope you back by then I’d like to see you for my bday

Kara Danvers (02:17): I want birthday cuddles

Kara Danvers (02:19): respectful cuddles oc

Kara Danvers (02:22): you just smell really nice and cuddle really well

Kara Danvers (02:26): even your feet smell nice

Kara Danvers (02:27): and I find feet gross but yours arent nothing is gross about you

Kara Danvers (02:31): I wish you were here

Kara Danvers (02:31): I really miss u

Kara Danvers (02:31): even your nice gross feet

Kara Danvers (03:22): oh god how do you unsend texts

Lena Luthor (08:29): I just landed at JFK. Can I come by and take you out for breakfast?

Lena Luthor (08:31): Just realized that you’re probably still asleep. Let me know when you’re up and we’ll figure something out.

Kara Danvers (08:32): No I’m awake let’s get food now

***

It’s the guilt that does her in at the end. After almost a month of minimal communication from her, Kara hasn’t slowed at all in reaching out. That morning, after her plane landed and Lena took her phone off airplane mode, she saw the flood of messages from Kara. It warmed her as much as it scared her. And before she could think it through, she’s offering breakfast.

Okay, maybe it’s not the guilt. At least not just. She also really, really wants to see her. So she has her driver drop her off a diner in Queens instead of straight home.

The first thing that Lena notices about Kara is how exhausted she looks. It’s only been a month, but there’s a gauntness to her cheeks that Lena knows wasn’t there before. Still, when she sees Lena, her eyes shine bright with excitement and she leaps out of the booth to give her a hug. Lena returns the embrace. But only briefly. She breaks it off soon and slides into the booth. Kara looks momentarily lost and confused at the break in contact, but regains her smile as she takes her seat.

“Okay, so first, I just need to say that I’m sorry about all the texts last night,” Kara starts sheepishly. “Um, can we just forget all that?”

“Absolutely. And I owe you an apology too. I’ve been a terrible friend this last month. I know I haven’t been good about keeping in touch and I’m sorry about that. It’s incredibly hectic at work.” Which is true. But it’s also true that every time she started typing out a message, she froze up. Nothing she had wanted to say seemed appropriate. Then her mind would run rampant, wondering what Kara was doing in that precise moment. Or, more accurately, what she was doing with Mike. So half the time she stuck the phone back in her drawer without sending anything at all.

“It’s okay, I know how busy you get.” Kara hesitates, wondering what level of transparency their fragile quasi-friendship can withstand. “I… I thought maybe you were angry with me.”

“I wasn’t. I was…” Lena sighs, staring down at the table as she nervously and needlessly straightens utensils laid out on a paper napkin. “I’m sorry, Kara. I… I was unsettled. Mike showing up like that, out of the blue. I didn’t expect it. I’ve enjoyed our time together and to have it come to an abrupt end like that… well, I reacted poorly and I’m sorry. But I wasn’t angry at you.”

“I didn’t have to go with him.” Kara’s voice is so soft, it’s almost hard to hear her. But unfortunately, Lena hears every word. Feels every word. “I could have stayed. You could have… you could have said what you wanted to say to me before he showed up.”

“No,” Lena replies firmly. “I couldn’t have.”

Then Kara looks at her with a mixture of unease, confusion, and, despite her best efforts, barely concealed hurt. “You don’t want to tell me what you were going to say to me that night?”

Lena shakes her head. “I think we’re beyond that now.”

Kara’s eyes widen. She worries at her bottom lip, eyebrows creased with anxiety and despondency. “So y- you- I guess this, um, this means that you’ve changed your mind about… what you were going to tell me?”

“I have.” The sureness in Lena’s voice allows for zero doubt. And Lena is sure. She’s changed her mind about the decision to tell Kara about her feelings. But if Kara interprets that as Lena having changed her mind about her feelings - well, the misconception only serves her goal.

“Okay,” Kara says numbly, looking so lost that Lena can feel her resolve weakening.

So, changing tactics, she reminds herself why this is happening and twists that knife that’s been buried in her chest since the last time she saw Kara: “How’s Mike?”

There’s no change in Kara at the mention of her boyfriend, no spark, no excitement, not even a smile. (Lena refuses to read into it.)

“He’s good. Um, we’ve been staying at my place, but we’re… we’re moving out next week. We’re going to stay with a friend of his in Bushwick.”

“What about your apartment?”

“Oh, um, well, Mike hasn’t seen his friends in a long time, so he wants to spend as much time as he can with them, so… yeah, we’re going to stay in Scooter’s basement.” Kara shrugs sheepishly. “I mean, it’s fine. The five-story walk-up probably isn’t good for my foot anyway. So we’re just going to sublet my place. Plus, you know, Indigo and I never got along that well, so… uh, yeah, this is actually a really good thing.”

Lena is bursting with questions. ‘You’re moving away from Alex because Mike wants to hang out with his friends?’ ‘Why can’t Mike get his own place?’ ‘What is this about we’re subletting? It’s your apartment, not Mike’s.’

But she knows that she can’t ask any of those questions without sounding judgmental, so she retreats to safer territory: “Mike has a friend named Scooter?”

Kara lets out a laugh, releasing some of the tensions she’s been holding. Lena suspects that Kara’s already been getting an earful from Alex about this move and was expecting the same treatment from Lena.

“Believe it or not, he has two friends named Scooter.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a Scooter that I like,” Lena says. “It feels like a name parents give to their kids when they want them to grow up to be the prep school villain in a John Hughes movie.”

Kara nods in acknowledgement. “That’s not too far off for this Scooter. Mike calls him an acquired taste. Alex refuses to make eye contact with him. I like him though!”

“But is there anybody that you don’t like?” Lena questions teasingly, and before Kara can take an easy out, “And no, you can’t name Nazis or war criminals.”

Kara tilts her head as she seriously thinks over the question. “Um, okay, well, I mean, there’s… there’s Ursula.”

“Ursula? You’ve never mentioned her before.” Intrigued, Lena leans forward on the table. “Tell me, what is it that this Ursula did to earn a rare spot on Kara’s ‘Do Not Like’ list?”

Apparently not expecting to be questioned, Kara starts haltingly, “W- well, she’s um, she’s manipulative and deceptive. Um, really not someone you can ever trust. She’s uh, she’s ruthless and greedy and self-serving. She’ll use really underhanded tactics to get what she wants.”

“Hmm. Tactics like turning herself into a beautiful woman and hypnotizing a handsome prince into forgetting your existence so that you turn back into a mermaid?” When Kara’s admission comes in the form of a sheepish shrug, Lena chuckles heartily. “You can’t pick a Disney villain!”

“You didn’t specify!”

“Well, I didn’t think I had to.”

“Hey, I answer the questions as posed. It’s not my fault that you left a loophole.”

“I’m going to need to hire a lawyer to draft conversational topics for us.”

In response, Kara just smiles, gazing upon Lena with an overt keenness that makes Lena delighted and flustered. Quietly, Kara says, “I’ve missed this.”

“Me too,” Lena responds with equal wistfulness. Then, realizing that they’re toeing the boundaries of intimacy, she quickly adds, “But I’m back now. We’ll see each other more and now that things have settled at work, I’ll be better about communicating.”

“We’re still friends then?” Kara asks, hope so stark on her face that it’d be impossible to say no even if that would have been Lena’s answer. (She would be lying if she said that she had never considered the possibility. Going scorched earth is a familiar Luthor move. Lena’s pragmatic side says that cutting Kara out of her life completely is probably the sanest, wisest thing to do. But it also feels like the worst idea she’s ever had, an idea so repugnant that it nearly makes her physically ill to think about.)

Of course we are,” Lena returns emphatically. “We’re friends, Kara. We’ll always be friends.”

***

“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Andrea looks pissed. The kind of Really, Actually Pissed intermingled with Deep Annoyance and Worn Patience that one reserves for a very stupid loved one who’s done yet another stupid thing.

They’re seated around Sam’s dinner table, Lena poking at her falafel as Andrea glares at her, fingers flexing over her plate of tabouli, as if restraining the urge to dump the whole thing over Lena’s head.

“Are you seriously - seriously - not going to tell her how you feel?” Andrea looks positively flabbergasted. “What in the name of sweet baby Jesus is wrong with you?”

“I’m not a homewrecker,” Lena answers defensively.

“There’s no home to wreck, they’re not married.”

“For the length of time they’ve been together, they might as well be.”

“As children,” Andrea enunciates, as if speaking slower would somehow help convey the message. “She would leave him in a heartbeat if you asked.”

“You don’t know that,” Lena returns snappishly, her fervent tenor revealing a deep-seated insecurity. “What happens when she says no? We’re not going to be able to stay friends after that.”

“Which should happen anyway! You can’t stay friends with someone you have feelings for.” Andrea looks to Sam for a sanity check. “Sam, come on, help me out here.”

Sam feels helpless, knowing that this battle’s already lost, but she tries anyway. “It might be worth the risk. It’s better than whatever it is you’re trying to do with Kara now.”

“I’m just trying to be her friend,” Lena says calmly, despite her irritated expression. “Look, Kara is a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. If she wanted to leave him, she would have by now. And if she doesn’t want to leave him, I’m not going to persuade her otherwise. I’m not going to be that woman.”

“You’re once again confusing nobility with stupidity,” Andrea tells her bluntly. “What are you going to do instead? Sit around and pine after her forever like a lovesick puppy?”

“My feelings for Kara will fade with time.” If only Lena could feel as confident as she sounds. “Having these feelings doesn’t give me the right to destroy somebody else’s relationship just because it might make me happy.”

“I get it,” Sam says gently. “You don’t want to be an undue influence on Kara. If she’s going to leave him, you want it to be entirely her decision.”

“Frankly, I’m surprised that Kara hasn’t already dumped his ass and come running back to you,” Andrea remarks flippantly. “He must have a really big coc—” The door to Ruby’s bedroom abruptly swings open, and out runs Sam’s ten-year-old daughter. Sam coughs loudly and Andrea emits a series of sputtering noises. “—lee-a. Uh, cochlea. He must have a really big cochlea, because that’s what women look for in a partner. Good listening skills.”

Ruby looks deeply skeptical, but Sam distracts her by urging her to sit and eat before her dinner gets cold. They shift the conversation into kid-friendlier territory.

At the end of the night, Lena says goodbye to her friends and heads back home. She takes the subway and gets off a few stops before so she can take a long walk home. It’s a warm night and the city feels stifling, swarming with people, the energy and incessant buzz of urban life bringing Lena none of its usual comfort. Still, it’s better than the alternative which, despite her slow pace and meandering route, she reaches too soon.

Her home, her apartment which she has cherished for many years, feels empty. She doesn’t turn on the light when she walks in. There doesn’t seem to be a point. It’s just her and she knows where everything is. In the dark, her way illuminated by the mixture of moonlight and city lights pouring through her windows, she fixes herself a glass of whiskey. She settles on the couch, curled up in a corner, her feet tucked beneath her. She takes in the view. The city is vibrant, skyscraper after skyscraper stretching across the horizon, bright lights shining and sparkling as far as the eye can see, and it’s gorgeous and astounding and breathtaking and so, so lonely.

She takes a large gulp of her whiskey. She holds it in her mouth, letting it coat her tongue and run over every taste bud; she allows the faintly sweet bitterness to soak in, savoring the burn.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

If I tell you that I'm sorry, would you stay here with me?
Going round in circles, how d'you think it's gonna end?
I'm gonna ruin your night again
Stirrin' up a hurricane, oh it is a losing game
You should just forget my name
Stirrin' up a hurricane, I'm gonna ruin your night again

“Ruin Your Night” - Sorcha Richardson

 

 

Motherfucking Bruce Springsteen.

That’s Lena’s refrain tonight.

Because you can blame it on the rain that’s trapped her in this bar, blame it on the night that no one seems to want to end, blame it on the alcohol that’s loosened Lena’s carefully suppressed instincts, blame it on the Tetons tank top Kara’s wearing which accentuates her toned arms, but at the end of it all, Lena places the blame for her current miserable, painful, hyper-libidinous state on one person.

And that’s motherfucking Bruce Springsteen.

She has nothing against the man, nothing against New Jersey, nothing against good ol’ working-class heartland rock. He can write a tune. But he needs to work on his lyrics.

Because, right now, Kara’s bouncing up and down in the middle of the bar, singing along to the repetitive chorus playing on the jukebox at the top of her lungs.

I’m going down, down, down, down.

And those are just words that Lena really doesn’t need to hear coming out of Kara’s mouth.

Lena checks her phone again, trying to see if she can get a car to take her away from this place. The rain seems to have monopolized all cars available for hire, leaving her stranded at a party she didn’t want to go to in the first place. It’s Kara’s birthday. Lena had planned to drop by, make an appearance, then leave as soon as it’s socially acceptable. As much as she wants to spend time with Kara, she knows that Mike will be there and that is not something she’s ready to handle just yet.

But Kara’s plans for a birthday picnic on Governors Island was derailed by an unexpected rainstorm, which is how they all ended up in a dive bar at the edge of Red Hook, far from subway stations. At least there’s one saving grace: Mike isn’t here yet, delayed by inclement weather.

Lena would be happy to spend this time with Kara. If it wasn’t for motherfucking Bruce Springsteen, whose music has Kara singing, dancing, gyrating, her tank top riding up her toned abdomen. Lena tries not to look. Tries not to think. Tries to pretend that she doesn’t remember every inch of skin underneath those clothes, how it feels, how it tastes. Kara, oblivious Kara, is a threatening, tantalizing tripwire, and the only defense Lena has is a tall glass of whiskey soda which she clutches with both hands and sips at gingerly, a prop she holds up in excuse every time Kara sidles up close and asks if she wants to dance.

I’m going down, down, down, down.

Yeah, and those words aren’t helping.

The song comes to a merciful end. But then Kara loudly proclaims, “Again!”

Winn, dutifully posted by the jukebox, drops in more coins and pushes some buttons. The song starts again and Lena can’t suppress the pained groan that escapes. There Kara goes again, dancing up a storm in the middle of the bar with Nia and Kelly.

Lena takes a huge gulp of her drink, thinking it might quench her metaphorical thirst. It doesn’t. Just the opposite, when the alcohol burns through her, it gives her a small jolt, emboldening her to glance at her personal temptress. The sight of the blonde swiveling her hips nearly liquefies her on the spot.

“Can you not?” comes the tense complaint of Alex Danvers as she approaches the bar. “Stop looking at my sister like she’s a piece of meat.”

“I’m not,” Lena rebuts defensively, unconvincingly. “I’m… looking at her normally.”

“Well, then, stop being ‘normal.’ It’s gross and I don’t need to see that.” Alex catches the bartender’s attention and holds up the empty glass in her hand. While the bartender gets her another drink, she turns her attention back to Lena. “So. Were you about to tell Kara that you have feelings for her, only to kick her out of your apartment the moment Mike showed up, then run off to the other side of the country, ghost her for a month and finally come back with a ‘oops, nevermind’? And no, Kara didn’t put it like that. She was much more circumspect about it. Even complimentary because you somehow come off like a saint in her story. But reading between the lines, I think that’s what happened. Am I wrong?”

“Well that’s…” Lena’s on the verge of issuing another defensive, unconvincing rebuttal, but thinks better of it. “No, that’s what happened.”

Alex growls - literally growls - and scrunches up her nose in a near-snarl, resisting the urge to throttle Lena on the spot.

“You- you- my god! What the hell, Lena? You know what? Mike doesn’t deserve my sister, but neither do you.” Winn’s passing by, on his way to the restroom, and Alex calls out, “Hey, Winn, do you want to date my sister?”

Winn stops abruptly, startled by the sudden attention. For a moment, he seems intrigued. He glances at Lena and when he sees the expression on her face, stolid and stern, he hesitantly answers, “Uh… Lena’s face says no.”

“Don’t look at her, look at me.” Alex snaps at him. “Do you want to date my sister?”

Nervously, Winn glances at Lena again. “Uh… can I be excused from… whatever this is?”

Alex tsks impatiently and waves him off; Winn’s only too happy to comply, scampering off quickly.

“I can’t,” Lena says now. “I can’t do that to Kara. Or Mike. I won’t come in between them. If Kara wants to leave him, she will. But I’ll play no part in it.”

“But you do have feelings for her?”

This is dangerous territory. Lena has no doubt that whatever she says to Alex will make it back to Kara. Telling Alex is as good as telling Kara, and Lena has already resolved to keep her feelings to herself.

“Last we spoke, I told you that I wasn’t sure if I knew how to be in a healthy relationship. That’s still very true. I know that you have your issues with Mike, but he’s made her happy for years before I came along.” Lena shrugs in helpless defeat. “Maybe that’s what’s best for her.”

A flash of frustration crosses Alex’s face, but it’s soon replaced by a knowing smirk. “Fine. Stick around a little longer tonight. Let’s see what happens when Mike shows up.”

“Why? What’s going to happen?”

The bartender returns with Alex’s drink. Alex thanks the bartender, takes the drink, and uses the opportunity to take a long, slow sip for no other purpose than to make Lena wait.

At long last, she responds cryptically, “I don’t know. But something always does.”

Lena doesn’t get the chance to push Alex on it. The song’s ended again. Mercifully, Kara doesn’t ask for a replay. Unmercifully, she decides to amble on over and accost Lena by throwing an arm over her shoulders and pulling her in for a side hug.

“Lena! Where’ve you been all night?! Are you having fun? Do you want to dance? Can I get you another drink? Or a snack? Wanna dance?”

“Uhh.” Lena awkwardly pats Kara on the back, and moves away a little so that their bodies aren’t flush up against each other. “Someone’s having a good time.”

“Yeah, but I’d be having a perfect time if you’d dance with me,” Kara responds in a slight whine.

“I don’t dance. Believe me, it’s for your own good. I’m terrible at it.”

Kara’s too drunk to feign politeness, and pouts at the soft rejection. “Aww!” she groans with theatrical disappointment. She tightens her hold on Lena, pulling the brunette close against her. “It’s my birthday! I just wanna dance with my friend.”

Lena’s genius brain flails and fails to come up with a way to extract herself from this painful, irresistible embrace. She shoots a panicked look at Alex, who rolls her eyes and grudgingly intercedes with, “Hey, let’s go back to the table. Lena’s going to bring over the next round.”

Kara cheers, and lets herself be corralled back to the table. Lena takes her time ordering at the bar, giving herself the chance to reset and forget how much she enjoyed the feeling of Kara’s body against hers. When she returns to their table, she’s glad to see that Alex has arranged herself between Kara and the open seat meant for her. Lena’s grateful for the buffer. And at the same time, she wishes that Alex would go away so she can scoot closer to Kara. Maybe give her a hug. Brush against her thigh. Lean against her shoulder. Feel the firm muscles there.

Or she needs to stop this line of thinking. Friendly thoughts, she tells herself. Friendly thoughts. She tries to pay attention to James, who’s telling a story about a photoshoot gone terribly wrong. For a minute, a full minute, she’s successful; she pays attention and chuckles along with the group at the appropriate moments.

Then. She notices what Kara’s doing.

Which is frankly nothing. She, like everyone else, is listening to James’s story. But she’s also absentmindedly tapping and tracing her fingers across the tabletop. The medieval-style long wooden table has a strip of round decorative nails running around its edges. Kara is fiddling with one of the studs, circling her index finger around the raised bump.

Lena watches intently, not quite sure why she’s fascinated. Kara taps two fingers against the round protrusion, and Lena flushes, suddenly catching on to her brain’s unconscious association. She doesn't look away. She sits there, eyes trained on Kara’s fingers, watching her rub, circle, and tap away at that nub, wishing those fingers were somewhere else, like the lower part of her that’s growing heated and throbbing.

She needs a cold glass of water. Maybe a cold shower. No, what she needs is for everybody else to clear out, Kara to throw her on top of the table, rip off her pants, and go to town. And she shouldn’t have allowed herself to go down that train of thought, because now she can feel wetness pooling between her thighs and she can not look away from Kara’s hand and its innocently arousing ministration.

Alex, casually glancing over, spots the fervent intensity on Lena’s expression, the tenseness in her shoulders, and concernedly leans over, whispering, “Hey, you okay?” Lena nods dumbly, unable to take her eyes away from table porn. Curious, Alex follows her line of sight and sees what Kara’s doing. She doesn’t get it right away because, unlike Lena, her mind doesn’t automatically turn to filth when she looks at Kara. But then it registers, what’s going on in Lena’s head, and she’s instantly filled with revulsion. “Oh my god, Luthor.”

Reaching out with a darting hand, Alex stills Kara’s movements. Confused, Kara looks over, because of course she’s oblivious to what she’s been doing and how it might look.

“Hey, let’s go dance,” Alex says to her. Kara blooms into a smile and she’s already looking to Lena to extend an invite, reaching over to take her hand and pull her along. Alex acts quickly, gently slapping away Kara’s hand before she can make contact. Lena is simultaneously disappointed and grateful for the intervention. “Nope, just sisters this round, okay?”

Kara lets Alex drag her away without much protest. Lena’s able to enjoy a reprieve, at least for a short while. But soon, after a few songs, while Lena’s chatting with Nia and Brainy, Kara finds her again.

“Leeeeenaaaa,” she whines, sounding drunker than she did before. She pulls Lena into a tight, full-body hug. “What are you dooooing all the way over here?”

By this point, Lena’s tired of fighting it, and she’s had enough drinks to not care so much about boundaries. She returns the hug, wrapping her arms around Kara’s torso, her whole body melting into the embrace. Nia averts her gaze, mumbles something about getting another drink and pulls Brainy away.

Kara buries her face in the crook of Lena’s neck, inhaling deeply, and lets out a contented sigh. “God, I’ve missed that,” she whispers. She locks her hand around Lena’s waist. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’m right here,” Lena murmurs back. She could stay like this forever. She wishes they could. But then, there’s always that one guy with awful timing who ruins everything.

“KARA!” Mike booms from across the room. He’s just stepped into the bar, shaking off his umbrella, the edge of his sleeves and pant legs dark from rainwater. He’s staring at Lena and Kara, coupled together in a snug hold, and his smile is wide but somewhat strained. He quickly strides across the bar, reaching them just in time as Kara and Lena reluctantly part. Mike slides himself right between them, bumping up against Lena as he does. He cups Kara’s face and pulls her in for a deep, tongue-filled kiss. Lena takes a very, very big step back. She knows when a man is marking his territory.

Kara kisses him back briefly, then squirms away. It’s only then Mike looks at Lena with a satisfied smirk and greets in an off-hand way, “Oh, hey, Lena.”

“Hi, Mike.” Lena musters every ounce of self-control she has to sound detached.

Kara’s trying to discreetly wipe away at the wetness by her mouth. “Um, do you want something to eat? They let you bring in food here. There’s a BBQ place down the street that has really good pastrami bacon.”

“Oh, no.” Mike pats his belly. “I had a protein shake when I left the gym. I’m good.”

Dumbfounded, Kara says, “But… pastrami bacon.”

“Aw, babe, you know I don’t care about that stuff.” He starts pulling at her arm. “Now c’mon, let’s go dance.”

“Oh, but I was-” Before Kara can finish her sentence, Mike whisks her away.

Lena retreats. What she wants to do is escape, rainstorm be damned, she’s just waiting for the appropriate amount of time to pass so that it doesn’t seem like she’s leaving the second Mike shows up. She finds safe haven in a corner of the bar with Brainy and Nia, where she can sit facing the wall. But although she can avoid looking at the happy couple, she can’t avoid hearing them, Mike’s loud guffaws and Kara’s giggles.

She makes the mistake of glancing over her shoulder. Kara and Mike are the only two people dancing now. Mike is a terrible dancer, but he embraces it, uninhibitedly twirling and prancing about with goofy, exaggerated moves, uncaring of how he looks.

Not like you, her inner Mean Lena berates. Joyless Lena, too awkward and self-conscious to dance with Kara even on her birthday.

She watches them, Kara eating it up, giggling at his goofy moves, letting herself be twirled round and round. In that moment, Lena’s absolutely convinced that she’s made the right decision in keeping her feelings to herself. Kara belongs with Mike, someone who’s as sociable, cheery, and carefree as she is.

It churns her stomach. She’s half-rising out of her seat, an excuse about to leave her lips when Alex materializes, pressing a hand down on her shoulder and placing a gin and tonic down in front of her.

“Patience,” she murmurs lowly before taking a seat, scooting over to make room for Kelly.

So Lena stays. And waits for she’s not quite sure what. She’s having a pleasant enough time, but in her current state, all she wants to do is go far away from Mike Matthews, crawl in bed with a quart - not a pint - of ice cream and eat herself sick.

But an hour and two drinks later, she’s just done, her social tank completely depleted.

Turning to Alex, she says, “I really do have to get going.”

“Okay.” Alex nods at something behind Lena. “But you’re going to miss the end of act one.”

Kara and Mike are now standing near the bar. Kara has her arms folded across her chest, leaning away from Mike, who’s still smiling, but looking like it’s taking him great effort to do so. Alex grabs Lena by her elbow and drags her over, parking her at the bar a few feet away, close enough to eavesdrop.

“Babe, come on, just let it go,” Mike says, irritation in his voice, his smile starting to fade. “It’s your birthday. Let’s not get into it.”

But Kara won’t be dissuaded. “No, I want to know what you meant.”

All vestige of good humor gone, Mike heaves a long, exasperated sigh. “You know what I meant. I’m not even saying that I agree with it, I just understand why the Beltrami vote came out the way it did.”

“They banned refugees from resettling in the county. People who have nowhere else to go. It’s disgraceful.”

“Beltrami is one of the most impoverished counties in Minnesota. They can barely take care of their own problems. It’s not fair to add to that. And do we really have to talk about this right now?”

“They’re not problems,” Kara returns with disdain on her tongue, ignoring Mike’s question. “They’re people. And they weren’t even resettling in Beltrami in the first place! Like, how heartless and paranoid do you have to be to ban refugees who aren’t even coming?”

“It’s not ‘heartless’ and ‘paranoid’,” Mike says, visibly annoyed at Kara’s tone and choice of words. “It’s self-preservation. There are no jobs in Beltrami, no growth. They’re just trying to look out for the people who already live there.”

“I don’t buy that. Nobody’s resettling in Beltrami! It’s just fear-mongering. You know why this is happening. If the refugees were coming from Canada instead of Somalia-”

“Oh, come on, don’t make this a racial thing,” Mike scoffs derisively. “There’s no evidence of that. This is about money. Don’t muddy the waters with bad faith arguments.”

“Right, because Beltrami’s the bastion of social progress,” Kara says sardonically. “How do you justify-”

“You just don’t get it,” Mike cuts in sourly. “We have Americans trying to survive, scrapping by on minimum wage jobs, no health insurance, no education, no safety net. And what are we doing for them? Bringing in more people to compete for the same jobs who’s willing to work for less money?”

“Why does it have to be one or the other? We can address those problems without shutting the door on people whose lives are at stake. What kind of country would we be if we left these people to the wolves? Who would we be if-”

Impatient, Mike raises his voice and talks over her. “Because that’s just not how the world fucking works. Grow up, Kara. You can’t magically make everyone happy. There’s only so many resources to go around. We just don’t have the money to help everyone. And don’t even get started on cutting military spending, okay? We both know you’re not good with foreign policy.”

Although Kara knows better, knows that sarcasm will only exacerbate the situation, her annoyance stops from her taking the high road. “Yeah, you’re the expert here because of your Economist subscription. Go ahead and wow me with the facts then.”

With a patronizing sneer, Mike snaps, “Okay, well, at least I don’t delude myself with fucking stupid ideas about world peace and how we can all just hug out our problems.”

Kara’s anger flares, she tightens her jaw and glares at her boyfriend. But she tamps it down, managing a calm, “I don’t like it when you call me stupid. I’m not and it’s mean.”

“I didn’t call you stupid, I called your ideas stupid,” he replies coolly.

His bullheaded response pushes her over the edge, and raising her voice, she yells, “That doesn’t make it better! You can’t just-”

Mike breaks in, “You’re being way too emotional about this. I’m trying to have a nuanced discussion based on facts and logic. You’re just, like, arguing with me based on your feelings. It’s ridiculous.”

The way that Kara’s staring at him right now, that would frighten most people. But Mike isn’t most people. He knows her too well. He knows the limits of what she’ll do and how much he can get away with. He knows that she won’t actually punch him in the face, no matter how much it looks like she wants to.

Finally, she says, “I need to… not be next to you right now.”

As she moves away from him, Mike shouts out the last word, “I told you that we shouldn’t get into it!”

A few feet away, Alex turns to Lena. “Still think she’s better off with that dopey weenie? No, wait, I’m sorry, a hot dog has flavor. He’s more like a pile of uncooked oatmeal." Alex frowns as she rethinks that. "That seems unfair. Oatmeal has nutritional value."

Lena hardly knows what to say about the trainwreck she just witnessed. “That… escalated really quickly.”

“You should see what happens when the Second Amendment comes up.”

Lena nods at Kara, who’s moved to the far side of the room, joining James and Winn at a table. “I should check on her.”

“Oh, I don’t know if you want to get that close for act two,” When Lena looks at her quizzically, Alex says, “Just trust me. I know this show by heart.”

A few minutes later, Lena finds out what Alex means when she sees a contrite-looking Mike approach Kara, pulling her aside. She’s too far away to hear what he’s saying, but she knows groveling when she sees it. He has his head bowed close to Kara’s ear, his hand on her upper arm, and it looks like he’s apologizing profusely. She sees Kara nod stiffly, pat him on the shoulder, then turn and walk away, evidently not quite ready to forgive. Mike looks dejected and slumps off.

“Don’t get excited,” Alex says. “There’s still act three.”

Act three comes soon enough. Lena doesn’t need Alex’s cue to know when it’s starting. Because Mike’s climbing on top of the bar, holding a microphone that he managed to scrounge up from the bar staff.

“Excuse me, everyone,” he says into the microphone, his voice piping out from the bar’s speakers. “Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to take a moment to wish a very happy birthday to my girlfriend. The most amazing, most beautiful, kindest, smartest, funniest woman in the world. And she’s a hell of a dancer too. Kara. You were right. I was wrong. I was a huge asshole tonight and I’m sorry. Now, I’m just a simple country boy. I don’t know very much, but I know that I don’t deserve you. I know that I’ve cashed in all the karma points I’ve had or will ever have just for the privilege of knowing you. I can’t believe how lucky I am that you’re mine. I love you so much.”

The crowd coos and awws, looking to Kara for her reaction, whose face is bright red but not exactly displeased. Alex scoffs. Her arms folded across her chest and leaning against the bar, she’s screaming out just how little she thinks of this performance without the words.

Mike continues, eyes on Kara, making this a very public conversation. “I’m asking for your forgiveness, whenever you find it in your heart to do that. In the meantime, I’m throwing myself at your feet for your mercy.” He pauses for effect, throwing out one of his charming, megawatt grins. “And your entertainment.”

He nods at James by the jukebox, and James hits a button. The music starts to play a pop song that Lena doesn’t recognize. Judging by the excited expression on Kara’s face though, she immediately knows what it is.

Before he begins his impromptu karaoke, Mike glances over at Lena, maintaining eye contact for two brief seconds. She finds it an extremely strange gesture until she hears the opening lines to the song:

She don't care about my car
She don't care about my money
And that's real good cause I don't got a lot to spend
But if I did it wouldn't mean nothin’
She likes me for me

Mike’s getting into the song, singing off-key and dancing on top of the bar. The crowd cheers him on. (Mostly. There are a few irritated audience members deeply unappreciative of having their evening hijacked and shouting out, “Shut the fuck up!” and “Get off the bar!”) Kara claps along, grinning wildly. Lena stands there, frozen and horrified, thinking, things like this don’t happen in real life. Yet here they were, in the middle of what feels like a theatrical climax, and what might seem cute on screen is excruciatingly awkward to experience in real life. At least it is if you’re Lena, who has zero interest in these grandiose public displays. And then there’s that tiny matter where she wants Mike to be slingshotted into the sun. That doesn’t help endear her to the scene either.

When the song comes to an end, Kara rises and moves towards the bar. Mike hops down and meets her halfway, and they embrace with a kiss to the background cacophony of cheers and applause. Which lasts all of three seconds before it dies quickly, everyone eager to get back to their own business.

Lena has the sudden urge to burn the entire fucking bar to the ground. Surely she can do that. She’s a billionaire. She’ll buy this building - this whole city block - and raze it to the ground.

Alex grumbles sardonically, “Well, that’s another ‘90s pop song ruined for me.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“More than it should.” Alex turns towards Lena, her solemn expression tinged with weariness and a touch of sadness. “Here’s the thing about Kara. She’s capable of infinite forgiveness. She’ll give people chance after chance after chance beyond all semblance of what’s rational or reasonable. Then you take a perennial fuck up like Mike Matthews, throw in a lifetime diet of romcoms, and this is what you get: a neverending cycle of absolving mistakes with grand romantic gestures.

“Stand her up on your anniversary to go to a hockey game? Hire a skywriter. Leave her stranded at a bus station all night because you passed out from drinking with your frat brothers? Flood her dorm with flowers for weeks. Move to Germany on a whim and miss yet another Valentine’s Day? Hire some acapella-singing ducks. It’s sweet and romantic and she forgives him and everything’s fine until he does it again. So he can be thoughtless and selfish and do what he wants, when he wants, with hardly a thought of how it affects Kara. But then he’ll do something big and romantic and thoughtful and dashing, then she has to forgive him.

“Because that’s the problem with a grand romantic gesture. There’s a hidden price tag to it, an emotional debt that has to be repaid. When someone does this huge, indulgent thing, putting in so much thought and effort for you, you’re expected and obligated to be thankful and let them off the hook. How could you not? It’s just so sweet. So she’ll forgive him. Again. Kara thinks he’s a good guy because he always apologizes for his mistakes. But apologies are meaningless if there’s no follow through.”

“But Kara puts up with it,” Lena points out. “She chooses it for herself.”

“Yeah,” Alex concedes with a pained grimace. “He’s got a hold on her. It’s all that history. Kara, she- she’s lost so much and he’s the last little bit of a life she used to have. She just can’t let it go. I guess I get it in theory, but at this point, it’s become so masochistic that I don’t really understand it.”

“I think I do,” Lena answers softly.

“Yeah, I know,” The way Alex looks at her, it can almost be described as fondly. “Two stupid masochists fucking up your lives. You’re perfect for each other.” When Lena scoffs and makes a face, Alex affably nudges her with her shoulder. “Come on. I’ll get you another drink.”

“I really do have to go,” Lena says apologetically. “I have an early meeting.”

This time, Alex doesn’t try to make her stay.

Kara does though. And she does it in a much more tactile way. She throws her arms about Lena’s neck, her whole body sinking into her as she buries her nose against Lena’s shoulder blade.

“Just ten more minutes,” whines Kara, too drunk for propriety. “I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you tonight.”

It’s Alex who manages to peel Kara off. “Kara, come on. Lena has to go.”

Kara pouts, but reluctantly nods. She says goodbye to Lena. Then, before Alex can stop her, rushes forth and pulls Lena into a tight hug goodbye. She grips onto her firmly, and if Lena didn’t step back, it’s uncertain that she would have ever let go.

Someone has to say something. Alex would rather that it isn’t her, but if not her, who else?

She waits until Lena’s long gone and Kara marginally sober. They’re standing outside the bar with Kelly, waiting for their ride. Mike had already left, off to meet his friends at another party. Normally, this is the type of thing that Alex would give him grief for, but tonight, she lets it go because it gives her a chance to talk to Kara without him lurking in the background.

Kara’s pacing in a small circle along the sidewalk, craning her neck to look for their car. She’s twirling and toying with a pretty heart-shaped pendant around her neck, a birthday gift from Mike.

“Hey,” Alex starts. “About Lena-”

The necklace slips from Kara’s fingers as she straightens up, a glimmer of interest in her eyes. “Yeah?”

“Maybe you should- I don’t know, cool it with the touching?”

It’s like she’s speaking a foreign language, because Kara just looks totally lost. “What do you mean?”

“You touch her a lot. Like, a lot.”

Kara’s perplexed frown deepens. “I like hugs. I hug you all the time.”

“Yeah,” Alex says slowly. “You really don’t hug me like you hug Lena.”

Kara’s starting to catch on. And with clarity comes anxiety. “Have I been inappropriate?”

“Maybe a little? You’re still touching her like the two of you are still… uh, well...” Alex really hates her life sometimes. Luckily, her girlfriend comes to the rescue.

“You’re still interacting with Lena as if there’s still a physically intimate component to your friendship, but that’s not the case anymore,” Kelly explains. “That might be confusing for Lena. Probably you too.”

“I, I didn’t realize.” Kara shakes her head. “Or maybe I did. I guess I didn’t think about it much. We, we spent so many months being close and now suddenly… things are different and I, I, um, I don’t know…”

“You needed time to adjust,” Kelly supplies for her. “It’s a big change. It was sudden. Neither of you expected your relationship to change so soon. It’s okay to need a bit of time to get used to the new normal.”

Kara nods in short, rapid movements, staring hard at the ground, absorbing every word. “I do. I need to adjust. Lena is one of my favorite people in this world and I would never, ever want to make her feel uncomfortable.” She places her palm flat against the side of her face, rubbing hard. “God! What a total creep I must have been to her all night, with all the unwanted touching!”

“Uh, yeah, I wouldn’t say that it’s exactly unwanted,” Alex quips. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it resonates with Kara. She drops her hand, and looks upon her sister with intense interest.

“What does that mean?” she asks, hope and excitement already seeping in. “Alex, did she say something to you? Does she still like me?”

Contritely, with sorrow that she cannot provide the answer her sister so desperately wants, Alex replies, “Oh, Kara. I don’t know. I’m not sure. She’s definitely still attracted to you and I think she’d be crazy not to have romantic feelings for you, but… to be honest, I don’t know her that well and I don’t think I’d really understand her even if I did. It’s clear to me that she cares about you a great deal, but as to what that means...” she shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know, Kara. I wish I did.”

Kara, the walking personification of the adage hope springs eternal, asks, “But do you think she might? You said that it’s not exactly unwanted. So, maybe… maybe she still has feelings for me? Do you think she’s changed her mind again?”

“Even if she does, it doesn’t matter,” Kelly answers, her voice kind but firm. “Not if you’re still with Mike.”

Kara visibly deflates; in acknowledgement, she dips her head, accompanied by a quiet, despondent, “Right. Y- yeah, no, I get it.”

Witnessing her sister’s downcast demeanor, the resulting dull ache in Alex’s chest prompts her to suggest not-too-subtly, “You can change that, you know.”

But Kara, already accepting her defeat, shrugs sadly, “It doesn’t matter. We’re just friends. I know that. I mean, look at her. She’s an absurdly hot genius billionaire and I’m- well, I’m-”

Alex cuts in, “Only the sweetest, most awesome, most all-around-amazing person on the planet?”

Kara chuckles, pleased but a little embarrassed by her big sister’s praise, and dismissively waves her hand. “Never mind. Let’s talk about something else. I don’t need to dwell on this any more than I already have.”

“Okay,” Alex agrees, then unsubtly pivots to an adjacent topic. “You and Mike got into it tonight, huh?”

Which isn’t exactly what Kara had in mind when she asked to talk about something else. She sighs, knowing what’s coming. Reflexively, she touches a hand to the pendant around her neck. “Alex, can we not? It’s my birthday.”

For once, because it’s Kara’s birthday, Alex backs off. “Okay.”

But then it’s Kara who’s not ready to move on. “He already apologized. And anyway, it wasn’t all his fault. He did ask me to not get into it. But I, I just had to keep pushing.”

“Because it’s important to you.”

“But it isn’t to him. He didn’t want to talk politics tonight and I should’ve respected that,” Kara replies stiffly.

“You want me to hold you responsible too? Yeah, fine, you shouldn’t have brought up an emotionally charged political debate when you’re born half-drunk at a bar in the middle of the night. But does it matter who started it? The point is things got out of hand really quickly and that’s not a good sign.”

“Whatever,” Kara mutters, so low that it’s barely decipherable. “We don’t have to agree on everything.”

“Of course you can disagree, especially on hard issues. Kelly and I bicker on a ton of things. But you have to be able to do it respectfully.”

With a dismissive wave, Kara says, “We’re working on it.”

“As if you haven’t already had twenty-something years to work on it?”

Kara rolls her eyes on exasperation, clearly more annoyed than influenced by Alex’s comment. “People can grow, Alex. You just need to give them a chance.”

Kelly intercedes with, “I think Alex just means that ‘working on it’ isn’t the only option you have in this situation.”

“That’s right,” Alex says. “You have choices here, Kara.”

Although Kara hums in acknowledgement, it’s not clear whether she’s really listening. She’s standing with one foot off the curb, craning her neck and scoping down the street, watching and waiting for their car to show up.

So Alex says again, “You have choices, Kara.”

“Oh!” Kara exclaims in excitement. “There’s our ride. Finally!”

Then Kara’s skittering off to the car, leaving behind her sister and any indication that she’s absorbed anything Alex just said. Alex sighs wearily, and Kelly places a placating hand upon her shoulder. She doesn’t even need to try to lie that everything’s fine.

 

 

Chapter Text

So am I wrong
For thinking that we could be something for real?
Now am I wrong
For trying to reach the things that I can't see?
But that's just how I feel

“Am I Wrong” - Nico & Vinz

 

 

In a taxicab zipping along the Williamsburg bridge, Lena rubs at her temples, attempting to relieve the pressure there as she stares at the barrage of incoming text messages from Sam and Andrea. The messages are variations on the theme of ‘why the fuck are you going to your ex-fuck buddy’s housewarming party for the place she shares with her boyfriend?’ It’s a valid question, but Lena has no answer. No rational one, anyway. She knows. She knows that this whole thing is a disaster. She knows that she shouldn’t. That every day, every moment, every second she spends with Kara is just another hook burrowing its way beneath her skin, past her rib cage, and into her heart.

Lena silences her phone as the cab pulls up to a brick rowhouse, its red exterior darkened with varying layers of grime. Even from inside the cab, Lena can hear the booming bass of the music coming from inside. It’s a far cry from the scene she usually finds herself in, but her nervousness has nothing to do with her environment.

She gains admittance easily, although she doesn’t recognize the man who answers the door. The man makes no introductions either, just waves her in, and it’s not clear to her whether this man lives there or if he’s even an invited guest. She finds herself in the middle of what feels like a frat party. It looks like a frat house too. Red solo cups everywhere, rescued curbside furniture, a neon light of a topless barmaid hanging on the wall. It’s strange for Lena to be here, and even stranger to think of Kara living here.

Luckily, it’s a small place and it doesn’t take her long to find familiar faces. Or, more accurately, one particular familiar face finds her, picking her out of the crowd like a Lena-seeking missile.

“Lena!” With her arms outstretched and poised to come in for a hug, Kara lurches to a sudden stop, enthusiasm extinguished by apprehension. And although Lena wasn’t privy to the conversation Kara had with Alex about physical boundaries, she nevertheless arrives at the correct conclusion as to the cause of Kara’s strange behavior. She is, after all, an intelligent woman, even if her interactions with Kara seem to suggest otherwise.

“We can hug.” In demonstration, Lena closes the gap between them and gives Kara a quick, friend-appropriate embrace. “So. This is your new place?”

“Well, the basement is. The rest of the house belongs to Scooter and his roommates. Hey, come on, there’s something I want to show you.” Kara loops her arm around Lena and starts guiding her.

They’ve barely taken two steps when Mike seemingly materializes out of nowhere and throws his arm around Kara. “Hey, babe, there you are.” He swoops down and kisses Kara full on the mouth. When she nudges him, he backs off, and only then feigns surprise at seeing Lena. “Oh, hey, Lena. What are we up to?”

Kara answers, “I’m just taking her downstairs.”

It’s barely noticeable, but Mike’s smile falters slightly. “You’re going to show her the thing that I couldn’t look at earlier?”

A flash of annoyance crosses Kara’s face. This is clearly something they had discussed already, evidently not pleasantly. “Mike, I’ll show you later.”

Mike shrugs and starts backing away. “Fine. Come find me when you’re done.”

Kara takes Lena down to the basement to her new bedroom, which is spacious - at least by city standards - though sparsely furnished. Lena sits down on the bed, the only place there is to sit, and Kara retrieves a thick manila envelope from her dresser. She takes a seat next to Lena and hands her the envelope.

“This came earlier this week. Um, I wanted- I wanted you to be the first to see it.”

Lena turns the envelope over. She sees the CatCo stamp on the upper left hand corner, and that triggers a wave of realization and excitement. “Is this what I think it is?”

Kara hums noncommittally, but she can’t hide her giddy grin. Lena delicately breaks the seal and slides out the envelope’s content: an advance copy of the latest CatCo magazine. A blonde actress graces the cover. On the side, one of the cover lines prints the governor’s name and the promise of a scandal. Lena quickly flips through the pages to find the article in question.

“There it is.” She touches her hand to the page, fingers running over Kara’s name. “This is incredible. Congratulations, Kara.”

For a woman who’s seeing her name printed on the byline of a feature article for the first time, Kara seems less interested in looking at the proof of her achievement than she is at Lena’s face.

“I wanted to share this moment with you. Helping me with my pitch, listening to my babbling, reading my drafts… I, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“I didn’t do anything.” Lena’s still running her hand over the page, awed and proud of what Kara’s accomplished. “I cheered you on from the sidelines, that’s all.”

Very softly, Kara says, “Yeah, but that’s what I needed.”

When Lena lifts her head and sees the affection shining in Kara’s eyes, she forgets herself. She forgets where she is and what’s happened between them. The only thing she can remember is what it feels like to kiss Kara; the memory is so strong and alluring that Lena very nearly goes for it. Another second, and she might kiss her, press her down on the bed she shares with Mike, and make love to her right there. And with the way Kara’s looking back at her, she thinks that maybe Kara would let her.

She doesn’t know how much more of this she can take. Her feelings for Kara haven’t diminished at all. And ever since the night of Kara’s birthday party a couple of weeks ago, she’s starting to think that maybe the homewrecker title wouldn’t be so bad when said home might be a decrepit, rundown shack on a mud foundation.

But for now, the word is still stigmatic enough to ward her off.

“Hey.” Even as the words are leaving her mouth, Lena already regrets saying them. “Let’s go back up.”

***

Mike cracks open another bottle of beer and flops down on one of the beanbag chairs littered around Scooter’s bedroom, right between their other friends, Chaz and Lennon. Sitting on his bed, Scooter kicks Mike in the shin to get his attention.

“Hey, someone said that there’s a billionaire running around my house,” he says to Mike. “What’s that about?”

Mike takes a long drink from his bottle before answering. “Yeah, Lena.”

“The chick that your girl was banging?” Chaz asks through slurred words.

“Kara’s fucking a billionaire?” Scooter kicks Mike again, harder this time. Mike grunts but otherwise doesn’t react. “Why the fuck are you in my basement then? Get her sugar mama to put you up.”

Was,” Mike replies through gritted teeth. “They’re not doing that anymore. And fuck off, I don’t need her money.”

Scooter snickers. “Dude, you’re unemployed. You need everyone’s money. If the rich lady wants your woman, you might as well Indecent Proposal the shit out of this.”

“Seriously, fuck off. Don’t talk about Kara like that.” Mike finally launches a kick of his own, getting Scooter directly on his shin bone, who groans pathetically in pain.

“I saw that Lena woman earlier,” Lennon says. “She’s hot. Nice tits. I’d fuck her.”

“Well, she can afford them,” Scooter cracks, before directing to Mike, “So this woman’s hot and rich? I can’t believe Kara’s still with your ugly broke ass. Ya nervous?”

Mike’s able to laugh it off. For now, anyway. “Fuck, no. Kara’s not shallow like that. She has nothing in common with some hoity-toity billionaire. I don’t think Lena even knows what a grocery store is.”

Mockingly, Scooter says, “It's one banana, Michael, what could it cost, 10 dollars?”

The boys break into laughter, which comes to a sudden halt when Chaz coughs loudly and deliberately, nodding at the doorway. Standing there are Lena and Kara, one looking unperturbed, the latter outraged.

“Oh, when I want a banana, I just tell my butler to buy a banana farm,” Lena responds lightly. “That’s how you do it, right?”

The men laugh, delighted that she’s going along with it. But there’s one person who won’t be appeased so easily.

“Mike.” Kara’s voice is as cold as ice. “Can I talk to you?”

Mike’s friends ooh like school children as Mike staggers to his feet and follows Kara into the hallway.

“Babe, listen-” But Kara keeps walking, down the stairs to their basement bedroom. Realizing that she intends for this to be a much more serious conversation than a two-minute hallway chat, he follows, stomping along in petulance. As soon as they’re downstairs and Kara has finally stopped, he preemptively says, “You’re blowing this out of proportion. We were joking around. Scooter’s just quoting Arrested Development.”

Kara folds her arms tightly across her chest and leans away from him, telegraphing how this conversation’s going to go. “No, you were being mean and you know it.”

Like a little kid, Mike protests indignantly, “I wasn’t even the one who said it! Scooter did!”

“I heard what you said before that!” Kara returns, her anger in full bloom. “What the hell, Mike?! Lena’s never done anything to you! Why are you being mean?”

“It was just a joke! Jesus! And you know what? It’s also true!”

“No, it’s not!” Kara’s thankful for the booming bass music upstairs, covering up the loudness of her vehement protest. “She’s my friend, Mike. She’s-”

Mike cuts her off with a sharp, derisive scoff. “Oh, come on, Kara. She’s a literal billionaire. You want to come at me about how Beltrami treats refugees? How about your friend, huh? How many people could she help if she wasn’t so goddamn greedy?”

Incensed, Kara shouts back, “She’s not! At all! She’s done so much good. She gives away an insane amount to charity and it isn’t even that simple! Her net worth’s all tied up in her company-”

“Kara,” he interjects, gawking at her incredulously. “Listen to yourself. What are you talking about? This is exactly the kind of rich people nonsense that you called out as bullshit before you met her. Now you’re buying into it?”

Somewhat deflated but unwilling to give even an inch where defense of Lena is involved, Kara retorts, “You have no idea what kind of person she is. You have no clue how generous and caring and compassionate she is!”

“Oh, please.” Mike laughs, loud and obnoxious. “And I was just telling Scooter that you wouldn’t fall for this as shallow, materialistic shit, but maybe I was wrong. Because I don’t get it, Kara. Why are you going to bat for her like this? What do you really have in common with Lena Luthor? You and I, we’re normal folks down here on earth and she’s up in the stratosphere. She knows nothing about you or where you’re from. Remember when we were kids, we thought that going to a fancy restaurant meant going to the Cheesecake Factory? Lena’s probably never even set foot in one because it doesn’t have caviar on the menu. Kara, she’s an Edina cake eater and she wouldn’t even know what that meant if I said it to her face.”

“She’s not like that,” Kara spits out, her hands balling up into fists. “You don’t know anything about her!”

“Then explain it to me! Help me understand! Why is she still hanging around, Kara?”

“Because I like her!” It comes out as an explosion, a bursting confession that Kara already knows is not true enough. Collecting herself, she now admits, very quietly, “I- I more than like her.”

Mike goes still. Very slowly, without taking his shell-shocked eyes off his girlfriend, he sinks down to sit on the bed they share. “What?”

“I…” Her heart’s beating so fast, Kara swears she’s on the verge of a heart attack. “I love her. I- I’m in love with Lena.”

Although some part of Mike already suspected, maybe even knew, this still feels like a surprise stab in the gut. “What?”

Kara’s guilt, which had been kept a low and steady simmer for weeks, boils over, erupting as a corrosive acid, burning her insides and twisting her up. In her life, she had made mistakes, said and did unintentionally hurtful things, entertained unkind thoughts, but before this moment, she had never really thought of herself as a bad person. She does now.

She stands before him, anxiously wringing her hands, and it comes rushing out: “I- I’m sorry. I fell for her. I didn’t expect it to happen, but it did. I know I should’ve said something sooner. And I- I’m sorry, Mike. I’m so sorry.”

He watches her numbly, at her anguished expression, the tears that are now rolling down her cheeks, and he feels absolutely sick.

“Is this a joke?” Kara shakes her head; it’s sad and weak and barely perceptible, but to Mike, it’s the most violent move he’s ever seen. The pain in his chest is so acute that he finds it hard to breathe. “But how- I mean- it can’t…” he sputters uselessly, trying to make sense of something that simply doesn’t to him. “But do you, do you still love me?”

“Yes...” It comes out so hesitant that it sounds like a question to both of them. “I do,” she adds desperately. “I do. But it’s just… Lena, she… god, Mike...” She goes hoarse, her voice swallowed up by guilt and grief. She doesn’t want to be saying any of this. But she knows that he has to hear it. She tries again. “I- I can’t stop thinking about her. Every moment of every day. When I wake up, when I go to sleep, when I’m brushing my teeth or just walking down the street- I, I just think about her all the time, I wonder what she’s doing. And these are things that I should be thinking and feeling about you, but I, I… I feel them for Lena. I tried to pretend like I didn't because I thought it’d go away. I really did. If we just spent more time together, if we moved in together, but it hasn’t gotten better. So I, I had to tell you. Because I can’t- I can’t be with you if I feel this way.”

For some reason, up until this moment, it hasn’t occurred to Mike that this is what the conversation is leading up to. Now alarm and dread seize him as he finally realizes that his whole life is about to disintegrate right before his eyes.

“No no no. No, Kara. No. Look, babe, you’re just a little mixed up right now.” As Kara starts to sputter out a protest, he takes her by both hands and pulls her down to sit beside him. “No, listen to me, okay? This isn’t your fault. I know I’ve been gone. I haven’t been here. I know that and I’m so sorry. You were lonely and you needed someone. Of course you latched on to her. But it isn’t real. It doesn’t compare to what we have.”

She leans back, pulling her hands away. “No, Mike, I-”

“It’s not real,” he cuts in hastily. “Not like us. Lena’s not real. She- she’s like this city, Kara. She’s like New York. She’s glamorous and exciting and seductive, and it’s so enticing because it fills you with false promises and delusions of grandeur. Everything’s so over the top, you can’t help but get caught up in it. It makes you feel invincible, like you can do anything, achieve anything. But it’s not real and the novelty will wear off and then all there’s left is filth and noise. This city and Lena, that kind of life, it’s only going to grind you down. She’s a nice little vacation, but you can’t stay forever. Sooner or later, you have to come home. To me.”

There’s so much there to refute, she doesn’t even know where to begin. And what could she say about Lena that won’t twist the knife further?

In that moment, overwhelmed and guilt-stricken, all Kara can think of to say is, “I… I like this city.”

“I don’t,” he returns bluntly. “It’s filthy and crowded and loud and it smells like piss everywhere.”

“That’s not true,” Kara rebuts, even as she realized that it might be a little bit true. “Okay, maybe, but that’s not all it is. There’s art and culture and food and-”

“I don’t care about any of that,” Mike interjects. “I don’t need any of that. All I need is you and me. Honestly, Kara, I only moved here for you, because I’d follow you anywhere. Would she?” Mike can read Kara well enough to know when he’s landed on an exploit. So when she looks vulnerable and unsure, he follows up with, “She’s a fantasy. Is she going to give you the life that you want? I know that one day you want to live in the suburbs, be married with two, maybe three kids. I can give you that. I will give you that. Will she? Does she want to get married? Or want kids? Kara, you’ll be thirty soon enough. You don’t have time to waste on someone who doesn’t know what they want. There’s so much you don’t know about her. Is she going to eat fried butter with you at the state fair? Or take you camping to see the stars? Would she quit her job for you? Or would you always come second to her billion-dollar company? Hell, does she even love you?” Instantly, he can tell that he’s landed the killing blow. He sees the hurt all over her face. Victorious, he says, “Well, I love you, Kara, and I’m not afraid to say it.”

Weakly, she responds, “But it’s not fair to you that I-”

“You let me decide what’s fair to me,” he interrupts. “You know what’s unfair? Throwing everything we’ve built together over a fantasy, a silly temporary infatuation. It’ll go away, Kara, once we’re back in Krypton, Lena and this city, they’ll just be distant memories.”

This is certainly news to her. “Back in Krypton? What are you talking about?”

He looks caught off-guard, like he hadn’t intended on sharing that, but it’s too late to take it back now. He visibly swallows before pushing on. “I think we should move back home. Soon. Like, early next year, maybe.”

What?”

He sighs, getting to his feet, and starts pacing in agitation. “I’m sorry, I was going to tell you soon, I just, I wasn’t sure how to…” Finally gathering his courage, he comes to an abrupt stop. “It’s, um, it’s my dad. He’s not doing so well. You know how he can be, he’s got his little quirks and sometimes he’s just in his own world. But… over the last year, it’s been getting worse. And uh, a couple of days ago, we, we finally got a diagnosis. It’s-” He gets choked up, and the rest of his sentence dies in a whimper. He coughs loudly and tries again. “We confirmed it. Early onset Alzheimer’s. We don’t, we don’t know how fast it’ll progress. Uh, my grandpa had it too and it went pretty fast for him. Three, four years and then he was totally gone. So… well, I’d like to be with him while still I can. My mom’s going to need help and then there’s my dad’s store… someone’s got to take care of all that.”

It’s shocking. Almost unthinkable. When Kara thinks of Mike’s dad, she thinks of tall, broad Mr. Matthews, vibrant and joyful, yes, a little arrogant, but always so kind to her.

“I- I’m so sorry.”

“I’m… I’m scared,” Mike confesses, his eyes now red-rimmed as he sniffles a little. He looks so lost and frightened, in a way that Kara hasn’t seen since they were small. He stands before her, shuffling his feet about, nervously taking his hands in and out of his pockets. “I don’t… I don’t know how I’m going to do this. My dad’s going to disappear and I have to learn how to take care of him, but I-” The panic and sorrow overtake him, and he breaks off in a whimper. “Kara, I need you. I can’t do this on my own.”

Stunned, shaken, and sad, she says simply, “Right.”

“Look, I know we’ve talked about maybe moving back some day so we can raise our kids in Krypton and it always seemed like a ‘down the road’ kind of thing, but now… now my dad needs help, I don’t have a job, and then there’s Lena Luthor.” He shakes his head, disdain on his face just from speaking her name. “Kara, I think it’s time. I know it’s sooner than either of us expected, but there’s nothing left for us in this city.”

Kara’s list in contradiction comes to her swiftly and easily. Alex. Kelly. Nia. James. Winn. CatCo. Pizza. Black and white cookies. The New York skyline. Museums. Mochi donuts. The theater. The subways and ferries. Art galleries. That place in Flushing with chocolate xiaolongbao. And of course, Lena, who commands a separate list all on her own. But looking at Mike, who’s already looking so devastated, she doesn’t know how to say any of that to him.

“I- I don’t know what to say.”

“Say that you’ll think about it.” He looks so hopeful. After everything that’s transpired, Kara can’t bear to dash his hopes right now.

“Y- yeah, I can think about it.”

He heaves a huge sigh in relief and smiles with complete and utter gratitude. “Thank you.” He drops to his knees, placing his head down on her lap. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Unsure of what else to do, she pats him on the back. When he looks back up at her, there are tears in his eyes. “I love you, Kara. You’re my whole life. I couldn’t live without you. I just wouldn’t survive. I love you so much.”

Unthinkingly, habitually, as if by rote, Kara replies, “I love you too.”

***

Kara’s been gone for a long time, far longer than Lena had expected. She almost goes looking, but the thought that she might find Kara and Mike in an intimate moment puts an end to that. At least she’s managed to get away from Scooter and the other two Stooges and locate a more familiar crowd. Kara’s friends — the usual crew minus Alex, who has a shift at the hospital — are huddled together in a corner of the house, socializing amongst themselves and barely interacting with other houseguests. Evidently, Kara’s friends don’t mix well with Mike’s friends.

Lena feels a tap on her shoulder. She’s immensely relieved to find that it’s just Brainy and not one of Mike’s friends whose gaze tends to drift downwards while in conversation.

“Good evening,” he greets. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Well enough. You?”

“Very good, very good.” Brainy’s acting strange. Well, stranger than usual. He’s nervous and fidgety, but he’s not bowing to her, so at least Lena knows that he’s not drunk. “And… how… is… Ms. Danvers?”

“Kara? She’s… fine, I think. What’s going on?”

“I just wanted to… check and see if… ah, your newfound friendship...” Brainy glances down at the floor, then quickly looks back up. “Has been satisfactory.”

What are you doing?”

Brainy isn’t even savvy enough to come up with a straightforward denial, and can only stammer incoherently. But Lena’s already halfway figured it out. She reaches for his hand, grabbing and pulling out the cellphone he was trying to hide in his sleeve. She sees the texts coming in from Andrea, with directions like ‘Remind her that she’s being an idiot’ and ‘Ask her how she really feels about Kara.’ Wordlessly, she hands his phone back.

“She’s worried about you,” Brainy explains. “She thought that I could be of assistance. She says that we both have the self-awareness of a potted plant and the social skills of a rabid bat, so that means I’m the perfect candidate to try and talk some basic common sense into you.”

“This is silly.”

“I thought so too!” Brainy exclaims happily. “Why, we’re the two most sensible people I know. Nobody can calibrate the micropipettes like we can.”

“That’s… not really the kind of thing Andrea’s referring to.” Maybe Andrea has a point after all. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Everything’s fine.”

“Where is Kara? Have you seen her?”

“She’s downstairs with Mike.” As soon as she says it, Brainy’s tapping away on his phone. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Oh, I’m in full agreement that this is silly,” Brainy says apologetically. “But Andrea is terrifying, so I’ll report to her as instructed.” Brainy’s phone buzzes and he glances at the screen. “Will you be telling Kara that you’re in love with her tonight?”

“This is ludicrous. No, of course not. We’re at the housewarming for her and her boyfriend!”

Dutifully, Brainy types out that exact response. When his phone buzzes, he reads out the response. “Then when will you tell her?”

“Brainy, put that phone away.”

“Refused to answer,” Brainy mutters as he types away. “Subject is deflecting.” When he gets another text, he looks up at Lena. “Andrea wants to know why you insist on torturing yourself.”

Lena knows that she shouldn’t respond. That would only encourage these antics. But she can’t seem to help herself. “I’m not. Kara and I are fine. We’re friends.”

Brainy types all that in. When his phone buzzes again, he makes a face, but obediently reads aloud, “How does it make you feel to know that Mike’s likely pleasuring Kara with his penis right now?”

“Okay.” Lena snatches his phone away again, this time turning it off and slipping it into her pocket. “You get that back at the end of the night.”

“Oh, thank god,” he sighs in relief. “I hate texting people. It’s so… personal.”

Lena decides that it’s easier just to pretend to understand what he means. “Sure.”

“I do apologize for facilitating Andrea’s delusions.”

Which is an odd choice of words. So Lena questions, “Delusions?”

Brainy looks confused at her confusion. “That you’re in love with Kara. Because clearly you’re not.”

“Oh. Yes,” Lena agrees, before curiosity gets the best of her. “Why ‘clearly’?”

As if being asked the color of the sky, Brainy states matter-of-factly with a hint of exasperation, “Well, because you would have already told her if you were. You would not deceive your friends.”

“I wouldn’t call it a deception.” Lena knows that it’s not a good idea to try and defend herself. But she’s been doing so many irrational things lately, so what’s one more? “It’s preservation. Sometimes it’s prudent to withhold information to save something more valuable. Like a very rare, very important friendship.”

Brainy only looks perplexed by that explanation. “How important can a friendship be if you must hide such a fundamental part of yourself? Isn’t that dishonest? I thought honesty was an integral part of friendship. Do friends lie to one another?” At the thought, Brainy glances at their friends — Kelly, James, Winn, even Nia — rising distrust and panic on stark display.

“Well, not necessarily lie, but you don’t expect your friends to tell you everything.”

“I certainly do if it involves me.” He’s still squinting distrustfully at his friends, as if they might all be harboring horrible secrets. “I rely on my friends to tell me the truth. It would not be much of a friendship if they had intense feelings for me, be that love or hate, and did not tell me. How could you ever trust your interactions? Are they friends with me because they like me or because they think I’m, as Nia puts it, ‘super bangable’?”

“I… I don’t see it that way.” It’s a weak argument and Lena knows it too. Even Brainy sees through it.

“Then you are in love with Kara?”

“It doesn’t matter. She has a boyfriend.”

“All the more reason to be honest. I would not be happy to learn that James has been in love with Nia all this time. I’d feel like a damn fool. I would like to know such things. As would Nia.” Brainy now turns his distrustful gaze to Lena. “Are you in love with me?”

Momentarily thrown, it takes Lena a second to recover from the shock of the question. “No, Brainy. I’m not.”

“Okay,” he says slowly, clearly not quite convinced. “What about Nia?”

“No.”

“I want to believe you, but we’ve already established that you lie about such things. And Nia is perfect.” He narrows his eyes at her in his best attempt at intimidation. He only ends up looking like a constipated chihuahua. “You just keep your eyes to yourself.”

“Brainy, I promise you, I’m not harboring any secret crushes or romantic feelings for you or Nia.”

Still with the squinting, suspicious glare, he retorts, “Yes, but you would promise the same to Kara Danvers and clearly that isn’t true. When do the lies stop with you, Lena?”

Feeling badgered, Lena blurts out, “It’s just Kara! She’s the only one I have feelings for, okay? And I’ve never lied to you. I wouldn’t.”

“Preposterous! So you only deceive the person you love? You don’t expect me to believe that, do you? That’s utterly illogical.” Brainy shakes his head, incredulous at this defense. Across the room, Nia’s now gesturing for him to come over. “Nia requires my attention, so I must go. Please try not to ogle as I walk away. Alex says you have an obsession with posteriors. I know I have a fine one and evidently there’s a chance that you’re in love with me when you say that you are not. So I must ask you to conduct yourself respectfully. I am flattered, but I am a taken man.”

Brainy nods by means of a goodbye, then walks away. Or rather, he side-shuffles away, keeping his body at an angle to protect his precious behind from Lena’s lecherous, lovelorn leer.

Lena watches him go, but she’s too battered by their exchange to be amused.

So you only deceive the person you love.

She exhales shakily.

“God damn it, Brainy.”

***

By the time Kara finishes reassuring an increasingly weepy Mike and makes her way back up the stairs, it’s late, half the guests have already left, and the other half are getting ready to leave.

She catches Lena on her way out the door.

Right away, she apologizes profusely. “I’m so, so sorry. Mike and I-”

Lena really doesn’t need to know what she and Mike were doing. “It’s all right. Things come up.”

“But you came all the way out here to see me and we hardly spent any time together.”

“That’s okay,” Lena says kindly. “We’ll have plenty of other chances. I’ll see you at the Frick tomorrow?”

“Oh… right.” Kara thinks she makes a valiant effort in pretending that she didn’t completely forget about their prearranged visit to the museum. “Yes, of course. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Later, when everyone else is gone, she apologetically tells Mike about it.

“There’s a special Vermeer exhibit at the Frick and we got tickets for it weeks ago. It’s for tomorrow morning. But I’ll just, I’ll cancel.”

But, much to her surprise, Mike says, “You should go. I know how much you’ve been looking forward to this exhibit. I don’t want to take that away from you.”

“B- but after what I told you tonight?”

“I don’t want to make you suddenly cut her out of your life. She’s still your friend and I know she’s been important to you. I trust you. Just... come back to me.” (Acutely aware of the fragility of things between them, he thinks to himself, If I say no, she would only resent me. Kara must be handled delicately. Bit by bit, he would woo her and chip away at her hesitance until she’s fully his again.)

It helps that they both think Lena feels nothing more for Kara than friendship.

So in the morning, Kara meets Lena at the museum. They spend their morning with the old masters, occasionally whispering to one another, but mostly just enjoying the art in companionable silence.

After the museum, Lena suggests coffee and croissants. Kara doesn’t say no even though a part of her briefly wonders if Mike would be okay with it. It’s one thing to go to a special exhibit that they already have tickets for, it’s another to linger on, talking, joking, spending time together, all the things that made her fall for Lena in the first place. But it’s just coffee, it’s harmless, she thinks.

They get their coffees and croissants from a bakery on 64th street, then make their way into Central Park. They eat their pastries and sip their coffees as they stroll past the zoo and make their way up the Mall. The path is lined with benches adorned with small plaques bearing inscriptions from people who’ve paid a handsome sum for the privilege. As they walk along this road and chat about nothing and everything, they read these messages, sentiments frozen in time. There are names, memorials, commemorations, quotes, the occasional joke, and many, many declarations of love.

They reach Bethesda Fountain, then turn off one of the side paths curving around the lake. The path is shaded by trees and more benches facing the lake. It’s a lovely scene, so they stop and rest.

Kara finishes telling Lena about the latest drama at work. “It’s so awkward. Now William and Mackenzie won’t even talk to each other. Their cubicles are next to each other but they make Franklin pass messages back and forth when they need to talk about work.”

“They need time to sort it out. It sounds like they were good friends before, and they can be again once they’ve had some time to heal.”

“I certainly hope so.”

The topic having reached a natural end, there’s a lull in conversation. It’s a comfortable lull, peaceful and pleasant for two people who simply relish being in each other’s company. And Kara thinks, This is fine. This is good. We can be friends.

But then Lena gives a dimpled smile, and the sight of her lovely face gives Kara a rush, some happy cocktail of dopamine and serotonin that makes her heart squeeze so tightly with affection that she thinks it’s about to burst. Then as the rush fades, she finds herself once again ashamed and uneasy, thinking of Mike and his broken-hearted puppy look. She’s filled with self-loathing. Mike is having an awful time, his dad’s sick, and here you are sitting with another woman, thinking about kissing her.

“This is nice,” Kara says simply for the sake of saying something and disrupting her train of troubled thoughts.

“It is. I’m glad we have this time together.” Lena’s staring out at the lake before them, flicking at the cardboard sleeve around her now-cold cup of coffee. “I… I had something that I wanted to tell you.”

“Oh! Then I’m really glad we have this time.” Kara half-turns to give her friend her full attention, excited to be distracted by friendly conversation. Lena will tell her about an ornery scientist or her brother’s latest insane email, and everything will feel fine. Nothing has to change. And eventually, she’ll have normal, friendly thoughts about Lena instead of what it feels like to be between her legs. “What is it?”

“Okay.” Needlessly, Lena clears her throat. She starts again. “So.” But she’s still just gazing out over the calm surface of the lake, one finger nervously tapping against the side of her cup. “The time that we’ve spent together…” She trails off when she realizes that she doesn’t know how to finish that thought. She tries again. “When I first met you-” No, too far back. “You’re so incredible, and…” No, that doesn’t work either. “God, I should’ve written this down.”

Now concerned, Kara scoots closer and, in a bid for friendly reassurance, takes Lena’s hands in hers. “Lena, what’s the matter?”

Then Lena finally looks at Kara. She’s looked at her thousands of times before; she’s spent hours studying, kissing, caressing that face, memorizing its contours, learning its feel. She’s done it thousands of times and there’s really no good reason why this time is different, but it is.

Maybe it’s that she had finally decided to be honest. Maybe it’s this fine September morning, with its leaves turning autumn orange and romance in the air. Maybe it’s just time. Whatever it is, the result is the same. This time, when she looks at Kara, Lena feels an explosion of love; she embraces it, accepts it, and knows that she cannot keep it a secret; with it, comes a surge of bravery she had rarely experienced when it comes to matters of the heart.

So it comes tumbling out, the slowly amassing pressure finally reaching its breaking point, propelling her secrets forth in a jet-like eruption:

“I love you.”

Kara draws back, shock flooding her face, and before a stunned ‘what’ can escape, Lena pushes on.

“I love you, Kara. Not best friend love, not sisterly love, not labradoodle love, but romantically, sexually, passionately, ‘I want to be with you forever’ love. I’m in love with you and I think I have been for a while now. You are so imperfectly perfect, and I love every bit of you. I love your warmth, your gigantic heart, your patience, your funny jokes, your lame jokes, your compulsion to rescue stray cats, your irrational obsession with potstickers and dumplings and food in general.

“You have made me so unbelievably, deliriously happy. I think maybe that’s why it took me so long to recognize it. Before you, I don’t think I truly knew the meaning of joy. And now it’s inconceivable to me that I ever even had a life before I met you. Because everything I’ve ever had, everything I’ve experienced, none of it compares to what I get from a single minute with you. You are a once-in-a-lifetime defining moment. And no matter what happens from here, my life has been indelibly marked by you.”

The silence that follows probably only lasts seconds. But to Lena, it’s eons. She watches as Kara’s eyes brim with tears, her face contorting as a million conflicting emotions war within her.

If there’s a dramaturgical depiction of what Kara feels in that moment — well, no, there won’t be. Sometimes words just aren’t enough.

And Lena waits. But not for an answer. She waits for her heart to be broken.

Because she already knows how this is going to end. And that’s not Insecure Lena or Mean Lena or Pessimistic Lena or any of her dozen negative traits talking. That’s just Lena knowing Kara, knowing her character, knowing what all those little micro expressions mean.

So she’s hardly surprised why Kara finally lets out in an unsteady, pained voice, “God, you have the shittiest timing.”

But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.

With her heart in ashes, she bows her head in defeat and acknowledgement. “Yes. I know.”

“No, you really don’t.” Kara spits out, voice laced with anguish and anger. “You have no idea. W- why didn’t you say something before? At any point over the last several months? O- or at Andrea’s birthday or the night Mike showed up or when you came back from California or even at my birthday. But you, you waited until now when Mike’s…” At that thought, she breaks off, shaking her head vigorously. “W- what am I supposed to do here? What about Mike? Am I just supposed to dump him when he needs me the most because now you want me?”

“I…” Lena stares down at her coffee cup, concentrating on the lipstick-and-coffee stained lid. “I don’t have any expectations here. I want you to be with me, but I also want you to make the right decision for yourself, and I’ll respect it, whatever it is. I just wanted to be honest, even if it’s late. But you should at least know that I have always wanted you. Even if I wasn’t always brave enough to say it.”

These are words that Kara’s been waiting so long to hear. But now that she hears them, all she can think of is the horrible, crushing guilt weighing on her.

So much for just coffee, she thinks.

It’s the guilt that drives her to lash out. “Well, great, you made a personal breakthrough. Good for you. But now what? What would happen if I did abandon Mike in his darkest hour? What does a future with the two of us even look like?”

“It would look a lot like these last few months.”

“Would it? Or were these last few months just a vacation from our lives? Can we really keep that up? You’re a genius billionaire who’s changing the world and I’m just some girl from Krypton, a junior reporter at a dying fashion magazine. You’re curing cancer while I’m fact-checking stories about Selena Gomez’s dogs. What do we have in common? We have such different lives, Lena. My friends and I, we do birthdays in dive bars, we don’t book fancy ships with an open bar and then call it low key. And there’s still so much we don’t know about each other, like kids and marriage and can I get a dog and a cat or are you allergic a- and are we going to take camping vacations or are you going to want to fly to Monaco on a private plane or- or have you ever even been to the Cheesecake Factory?”

Now utterly lost, Lena hesitantly answers, “I… maybe when I was in college? I don’t know. What does that have to do with anything?”

“You see!” It sounds like a triumphant cry, but Kara’s tone is saturated with distress. “You don’t understand these things. You don’t know.”

And although Lena thinks that there’s something else at work here and that nothing she could say would really matter, she tries anyway. “I could learn.”

Kara just shakes her head, unable to verbalize the torment her conscience is suffering through, unable to shake the image of Mike sobbing with his head in her lap, unable to stop hearing his broken, pleading voice, saying “I couldn’t live without you.” She thinks about how scared he looked last night, talking to her about his dad. Then, in that moment, with guilt at the helm, all she can think about are the years that they’ve spent together. The times that he has been there for her. The time that he told off her fifth-grade bully. The handwritten letters he sent to her every week for months after she moved to California. The great lengths he goes to for one of his romantic gestures. But Mike’s already learned, she thinks to herself then. He’s already put in the time and he knows so much about me. What happens to him? Who does he have if not me?

“My answer is no,” Kara finally says. “I, I think you know how I feel about you. But I… I can’t do this. I can’t do this to Mike. I’m sorry.”

Kara rises unsteadily, every movement infused with hesitance, like some part of her knows that this shouldn’t be happening, that this is very, very wrong.

Lena sees it. And if she’s a different sort of person, she would use it to her advantage, spout pretty words or desperate pleas to sway Kara to her side. She could do it. And it would work.

But Lena’s not that sort of person. So all she offers is a quiet, “Okay.”

Kara nods, half-apology and half-goodbye, then goes, leaden-footed and heavy-hearted. Her movements are slow and reluctant as she moves away from Lena, but she doesn’t look back. And Lena doesn’t call her back.

Lena sits a while longer, feeling chilled to the bone in temperate fall weather. When, at last, she’s sure that she can move without crumbling, she rises from the bench.

It’s only then that she notices the plaque mounted to it. An optimistic declaration to the world left by some romantic long ago. She stands there for a moment, staring at the message, her rational mind telling her that this is a meaningless coincidence, but her hopeful heart saying that perhaps it’s an auspicious omen.

She stands there looking at the plaque for a few minutes, until the hope in her heart has been extinguished by darker thoughts, her insecurities winning out to interpret the plaque’s message as ironic mockery, at least for now. But later, when her desperate, broken heart is sorely in need of relief, she’ll think back on this. In her despair, she’ll cling on to the thought that maybe this is a sign from the universe and that there’s something to hope for.

She leaves finally, but the phrase lingers with her. It’ll stay with her for the rest of her life. Over the many, many years to come, Lena will have some tough moments, as life tends to bring. Then she’ll think back to this period, where things seemed bleak and she felt nothing but dark sorrow, and how this simple message on a bench gave her some small relief. So, on an occasional late night, after their kids have all gone to bed, Lena will sit with her wife on the couch and, over a couple of glasses of red wine, she’ll retell this story about her discovery and reading the plaque’s message. She’ll talk about the hope she allowed herself to feel in that moment, and how her mind would return to it when it needed comfort. And her wife will listen patiently, even though she’s not exactly fond of the story herself, because she knows how much it means to Lena. And one day, on their twentieth anniversary, she’ll give Lena a bracelet with this phrase etched on its inner band, not only as a sign of her complete love and devotion, but also as a reminder that hope will sustain until better things come.

But that’s all far down the line.

For now, Lena walks away, carrying and repeating the plaque’s inscription as both an ameliorating balm and a caustic irritant:

...And she will one day say yes.

 

Chapter Text

Staring out the window like I'm not your favorite town
I'm New York City
I still do it for you, babe
They all warned us about times like this
They say the road gets hard and you get lost when you're led by blind faith

“False God” - Taylor Swift

 

 

There’s almost two weeks of silence.

Two long, impossible weeks in which Kara wakes up every day, kisses her boyfriend good morning, then goes to work, where she then spends her time thinking of another woman. She goes home. She has dinner with her boyfriend. She watches TV. She talks to her sister on the phone. She feels utterly joyless through it all.

Mike notices.

“I love you,” he tells her everyday.

Sometimes she says it back. Sometimes she doesn’t. And when she doesn’t, fear and insecurity grip him and drive him to say something more.

Something like: “I know how hard it’s been for you. I want to thank you for everything. You’re the only thing that’s getting me through this whole thing with my dad. I’d be so lost without you, Kara.”

Half the time, she would smile and say “I love you.” The other half of the time, when she doesn’t say it back, he feels compelled to say something else. He’d tell her about how his dad’s doing and how his mom’s been asking about her. That’s almost always guaranteed to get her to hold his hand in sympathy, rub his back, kiss his cheek, and for the moment, that’s good enough for him.

Then one day, Kara says to him, “It’s Lena’s birthday tomorrow.”

He responds placidly, “Is that right?” When she says nothing more but looks ashamed and sad, he offers, “Do you want to wish her a happy birthday?”

“I, I don’t know,” Kara murmurs unconvincingly. “I… I don’t even know if she wants to hear from me after how I left it with her.” She tries to resist it, but the tears come anyway. Along with a flood of guilt that she’s crying over another woman in front of her boyfriend, and so, penitent, she turns and hides her face, trying to discreetly wipe away the tears. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t feel like this. And I, I wish it was different, but these last couple of weeks have been so hard. And I feel so bad that I feel like this. I, I don’t know, I know that you need support right now but it seems to me like we shouldn’t be together anymore if-”

Alarmed by where Kara’s heading, Mike acts quickly to disrupt her train of thought. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re adjusting. That’s fine. I’m okay with it. I’m more than okay with it.”

Mystified by this reaction, Kara could only haltingly question, “You… you are?”

“Of course I am. I want you to be happy, Kara. And I know that ultimately, that’s going to be with me but in the meantime, you can do what you have to do.”

Uncertainly, Kara asks, “What are you saying?”

“Look, when I went to Germany, I told you that opening up our relationship would be healthier for both of us in the long run. Well, maybe that’s still true now.” He shrugs lightly, carelessly. “If you need something from Lena, you can get it from her. I’m fine with it. As long as you come home to me at the end of the day.”

“I… I don’t think you know what you’re saying.”

“Of course I do. I’m saying that if you want to keep sleeping with her, you should. I can say that because I know you and I know that you’re not in love with her. You think you are, but you’re not,” he says confidently. “So you can do what you have to do while we’re still in New York. You’re on vacation. Have fun.”

“Mike,” Kara begins weakly. “I, I don’t know.”

“I want you to be happy, Kara.” He places an arm around her, clutching her tightly against him. “And I know that you’ll be happiest with me in the end, so I’m not bothered if you need to scratch an itch right now.”

She’s silent for a long moment, her skepticism battling with temptation; at last, there is a victor, and she shakes her head. “I- I can’t do that. Even if you’re okay with that, I know that Lena won’t be. She wouldn’t want that.”

Which Mike had suspected would be the case anyway. His gambit having paid off, he nods in satisfaction and triumphantly declares, “Well, that’s because she doesn’t love you like I do. I would do whatever it took to keep you in my life. I would make whatever sacrifice I have to if it only makes you happy.”

Kara opens her mouth, on the verge of rebuttal, then thinks better of it. She touches his knee in reassurance. “Okay, Mike.”

“I love you,” he says. “You can’t imagine how much. I would be completely, absolutely destroyed if you weren’t mine anymore. I just don’t know what I would do without you. You’re everything to me.”

“Okay, Mike,” Kara mutters numbly, stroking his back in a futile attempt to reassure. “Okay.”

***

On her birthday, Lena is kidnapped.

She is swiftly, brutally abducted from her home, her former safe haven now breached and defiled, never to be the same again.

“Okay, you’re being really dramatic right now,” Andrea says from the front passenger seat. “Have you always been this dramatic? Or is that your IBS flaring up again?”

Sam, at the helm of the car, reminds her, “Maybe let’s not start that again. Last time you told her that she had Insufficient Boning Syndrome, Kara happened.”

“Which was great, because then she was perfectly pleasant for months!”

“Yeah, but now she’s worse than ever. Post-Kara Lena is far mopier than Post-Veronica Lena.”

“Maybe we should call Veronica,” Andrea says contemplatively. “At least there were brief moments of sanity with her, right? And nothing is as bad as Post-Kara Lena.”

From the backseat, Lena asks, “Can I be included in this conversation about me?”

“No!” Her friends respond in unison.

“I’m sorry.” Through the rearview mirror, Sam casts an apologetic glance at Lena. “It’s just that you’ve made some really terrible personal decisions this year. So Andrea and I are putting our foot down. You’re grounded.”

“We’re making your decisions for you now,” Andrea adds. “So no, you can’t just sit at home and feel sorry for yourself on your birthday. We’re going out and I’m going to make you have a good time even if you hate it.”

They take her to the pier, where they board a private yacht that sails them up the Hudson River. They stop at a small tourist town upstate and a hired limo takes them to a winery. After an absurd amount of wine, the limo drives them back to the city and they have dinner at an exclusive, invite-only restaurant. Lena sits through all of it, patient and polite, but also preoccupied and phlegmatic. By the time their main courses arrive, it’s clear that Lena’s just waiting for the evening to end. So they skip dessert and take her back home, dropping her off in front of her building.

Watching Lena go in, Andrea turns to Sam and remarks dispiritedly, “Well, that was a failure.”

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” Sam says optimistically. “I think we at least got her mind off of Kara for a little while, right? That’s progress.”

If only they had walked Lena up to her apartment door.

Because when Lena walks into the lobby of her building, who does she see sitting in the waiting area other than the very woman Andrea and Sam have been working all day to get her to forget?

Kara’s chatting animatedly with the doorman when Lena comes in. When the doorman spots her, he coughs and nods, causing Kara to turn her head. The doorman mutters something about counting packages and disappears into the backroom, leaving the lobby to the two women. Kara gets to her feet and hesitantly moves forward. In her hands, she holds a small, rectangular present, tidily wrapped in glossy silver paper with a bow on top.

And it’s not polite, not the way she was raised, but the first thing out of Lena’s mouth is, “What are you doing here?”

Kara falters and takes a step back, looking small and unsure. She scrambles for an appropriate response, then finally, nervously holds out the present.

“I just, I just… it’s your birthday, so…”

“Okay. Is that all?” It’s not that Lena means to sound cold, but it’s just what she has to do to survive this encounter.

“I… I didn’t like how we left things when we last talked.” Kara pauses, then corrects herself. “I didn’t like how I left it. Lena, I- I said some things that I really regret.”

“There was no other way we could have left things,” Lena replies bluntly. “I asked you to be with me and you said no, so it could only end one way. Are you still with him?”

Looking like it’s taking her great pain to do so, Kara winces and admits, “Yes.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“I, I don’t know. I just…” Kara clasps her hands together, one hand tugging at the fingers on the other. “I miss you.”

An adage intrudes into Lena’s mind: sticks and stones may break my back, but words will never hurt me.

And Lena thinks, that is so fucking stupid.

Tiredly, she says, “Kara…”

“I know, I know,” Kara says hurriedly. “It’s not fair. I shouldn’t say things like that to you. But I-”

“Then why are you here?”

Limply, as if suddenly enervated, Kara drops her hands, and her shoulders sag from the weight of her burdens. “I, I don’t know. You… you said that we would still be friends.”

“That was before I knew what this would feel like. What is it that you want from me, Kara? Am I to pretend like nothing’s wrong? Go to parties at the house you share with him? Watch him kiss you and touch you and love you and pretend like that doesn’t hurt me?” Watching her former lover, Lena can see how, with each word, the frown lines on her face deepen and a little bit more anguish enters her eyes. Kara stands there, too sad, defeated, and overwhelmed to muster a response. Then Lena suddenly wishes she had said nothing at all. She shakes her head. “Please. Just go.”

She starts to go, making her way past Kara toward the elevator bays, not bothering to take the present that Kara had brought with her. She’s halfway to freedom when Kara finally rouses from her stupor.

“I haven’t done anything wrong.” Unable to summon the hard-heartedness to keep walking, Lena stops and turns back. Kara, standing there looking feeble and desperate, continues, “Everyone’s so mad at me. You, Alex, Mike, but I- I haven’t done anything wrong! I, I haven’t lied, I haven’t led anybody on. I just, I’m trying to do right by you and Mike. I don’t know what else I should’ve done.”

“I’m not mad at you,” Lena answers in a low, exhausted voice. “I’m heartbroken, Kara. I need time to heal and I can’t do that if I’m around you.”

“I… I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.” The last syllable is swallowed up by high-pitched squeak as the lump in her throat swells.

“I know.” It takes all of her energy just to talk. Lena is so tired. It’s been a long day. A long week. Long several months. “Look, I don’t blame you for anything that’s happened. I want you to be happy, and if Mike’s the one who makes you happy, so be it. I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t hurt, but my pain isn’t your burden. The last thing I want is for you to feel guilty about this or like you owe me something. You have to do what’s right for you. And I have to do the same for myself, which means I have to try and get over you.”

Every word only amplifies Kara’s pain, like salt poured upon a festering open wound. Lena is so good, so gracious, so kind. She had never met anyone like her and probably never will again.

“Lena, you don’t understand. I- I care for you so much. So much. I wish things were different. But it’s just, it’s such bad timing right now but if you could just-”

“Don’t.” Lena’s tone is cold, sharp, and completely foreign to Kara’s ears. “Please don’t blame it on timing or circumstances or tell me how much you care about me. That’ll just give me hope and that’s the worst thing you could give me right now.”

Chagrined, Kara deflates, chin nearly down to her chest, yielding with a barely audible, “Yeah.”

Lena knows she should turn and go upstairs, shut herself away in her tower. But she finds herself rooted to the spot, every instinct in her screaming at her to go to Kara, comfort her, and chase away her woes. She understands all too well why Kara has come tonight. The pull between them is too great. One of them has to do the hard thing and sever it, and Lena knows it has to be her.

“Please,” she says to Kara, quietly pleading. “I need you to leave me be. Do you understand?”

This time, Kara doesn’t have the words. She doesn’t even have the strength or fortitude to look Lena in the eyes. Meekly, she nods. With the unwanted present tucked under her arm, she turns and goes, leaving Lena for what she thinks may be for good.

***

Somewhere between hours nine and thirteen of Kara’s marathon crying session, Alex Danvers decides that she’s going to murder Mike Matthews.

“No, you’re not.”

She could do it. Easily. She has the medical expertise.

“You sure do, but you’re not going to.”

Halloween’s next week. She can walk down Fifth Avenue covered in his blood and entrails and nobody would even bat an eye.

“Okay, honey, dial it back now.” Kelly patiently rubs gentle circles on her girlfriend’s back, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb Kara, who’s finally asleep on the couch. “But I’m not into conjugal visits and Franky Doyle isn’t a real person, so there goes your prison girlfriend. And then where does that leave you?”

“He’s ruining Kara’s life,” Alex gripes.

“It’s not his fault that his dad’s sick,” Kelly reminds her gently.

“Whose side are you on?!”

Unaffected by Alex’s biting tone, Kelly responds placidly, “Hey, you know that I’m not Mike’s biggest fan. He’s a Midwestern white boy who unironically tells me that it’s ‘deadass brick’ outside. He might be the embodiment of total cringe, but I still feel sorry for him. Dementia is a horrible disease. It’s so tough on the families, watching a loved one disappear like that right in front of your eyes. It’s not easy.”

“Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t excuse the years of shitty behavior from him. I’m sorry that he’s going through this, I really am, but why does this have to be Kara’s problem?”

Kelly gives a slight shrug, sympathetic but resigned. “Conscience does make cowards of us all. Kara’s too good to leave him in his time of need.”

“Well, she can stand to be a little less good.”

“But that’s not who she is.”

“Which is why I have to kill him. So Kara can be happy.” Alex looks so deadly serious, Kelly’s almost starting to believe her. “It’s the only way she’ll be free of that gooey-eyed goober.”

“But knowing Kara, she’ll just frame herself for his murder and go to prison for you. So maybe try something less drastic first?”

“Like break his kneecaps?”

“Less drastic than that too.”

“You’re no fun.”

“Fun doesn’t keep you out of prison.” Kelly wraps her arms around Alex’s waist, pulling her close. “Kara’s going to be okay. She’s a smart girl. She’ll figure it out. Eventually.”

“Maybe,” Alex responds skeptically.

Even Kelly has to acknowledge the truth of that. “Maybe.”

***

Now here’s an unusual scene: Alex Danvers and Mike Matthews, sitting across from one another in an empty bar in the middle of a weekday, with Kara at work and unaware of this meeting. Despite the unusual circumstances and the glower on Alex’s face, Mike’s still grinning at her like she’s an old friend.

“Hey! So what’s going on?” he asks, upbeat as ever, like he’s genuinely excited to be sitting here with her.

Alex is in no mood for his golden retriever antics. “You need to break up with Kara.” He chuckles, clearly taking it as a joke. “I’m serious, Mike. You have to end it with her. You’re making her miserable.”

His smile fades, replaced by slack-jawed astonishment and disbelief. “What are you talking about?”

Alex doesn’t see the point in beating around the bush. “She doesn’t want to be with you anymore. But she still cares about you and she doesn’t want to hurt you.”

Mike sits back in his chair, staring at Alex with his mouth still hanging slightly ajar, his brows knitted together in concern, for once looking unsure. But then it all fades quickly and he’s once again all certainty and optimism.

“You’re wrong,” he declares definitively. “Kara loves me. Yeah, she’s a little confused right now because of that messy business with Lena, but that’ll all pass. Kara, she just got caught up in all the glamor of it, you know? Lena’s beautiful, she’s filthy rich, they’re running around this crazy city doing exciting things. But that’s not a real life. It’s just a vacation.”

Mike’s so naive about this, Alex almost pities him. Almost. “You really don’t get it. Kara’s in love with Lena. Your girlfriend is in love with another woman. She would’ve dumped you a long time ago if you didn’t have all that history together. And now? If it weren’t for what’s going on with your dad, she would leave you.”

“That’s ridiculous. Kara would never choose Lena over me,” Mike says, brimming with confidence. “She’s not shallow like that. She’s not going to be tempted by Lena’s money or all that fancy shit.”

“Mike, if you haven’t figured out by now that your raging mediocrity is like the only reason that Kara’s still with you, then there’s really no hope for you. If you and Lena were in the same socioeconomic class, there’d be no competition. Zero. But as it stands, you’re a broke, unemployed sad sack with a sick dad and Kara’s not going to dump someone in such sorry circumstances for a hot billionaire. Because she has everything and you have nothing. It’s easier for Kara to stay with you because you’re so damn pathetic. You’re like a stupid fucking feral stray cat stuck in a tree and my idiot sister just can’t help herself.”

Mike grimaces, shrinking at the harsh words. “God, Alex. I’m a human being. I have feelings, you know.”

Alex merely shrugs, not even bothering with a half-hearted apology. “Kara’s only staying with you because she feels sorry for you. Is that what you really want?”

“You’re wrong. Kara and I are soulmates. We have been ever since we were kids. What’s Lena Luthor? Nobody. She’s a temporary distraction, that’s all.” There isn’t even a trace of doubt in his voice. “Kara wouldn’t pick Lena. Things don’t happen that way. The rich city slicker doesn’t get the girl. Rose picks Jack Dawson, the penniless artist, not Cal the steel magnate.”

“Uh, counterpoint: you are not Leonardo DiCaprio.” It’s mind-boggling to Aex that she even has to say that. Mike certainly isn’t lacking in self-esteem. “You’re the band who kept playing when the ship’s sinking. Except they were trying to boost morale, you’re just sowing chaos and misery.”

Finally, something cracks. The facade crumbles. And then Mike’s not the happy-go-lucky aw-shucks country boy he tries to be; here is someone anxious, angry, authentic.

“I’m fighting for me and Kara. That’s what you do for love. You fight.” He leans in, his hands splayed over the tabletop, his eyes wide and wild with intense, unprocessed emotions. “What would you do if you were in my shoes? What if one day, the love of your life wakes up and tells you that she doesn’t want you anymore? And everything you’ve planned together your entire life, your Hawaiian honeymoon, the color you’ll paint your first house, the children you’re going to have, they’re just gone, up in flames, destroyed. You’d fight for it too, Alex. You would do anything to save your future.”

For the first time, Alex thinks that she sees Mike. Beneath the fury, she sees fear. She sees someone young, frightened, on the verge of entering unknown territory, and lacking the emotional tools to handle it. He’s had a relatively easy life and for once in his life, things look bleak for him. He thinks he’s about to lose everything he’s ever known and he would do anything to save it.

As gently as she could, Alex says, “But you’re the only one who still wants that future. Kara’s in love with someone else.”

“Kara wants it too. She just needs to be reminded. Deep down, Kara loves me. Forty years from now on, we’ll be married, retired, playing with our grandkids and none of this is going to matter. This is just a rough patch.”

“You two have had a lot of rough patches.”

“Yeah, but that’s love. Who wants easy? Nobody celebrates the love that comes easy.”

At first, Alex thinks that he’s making a joke. But he’s serious and earnest and if Alex wasn’t utterly horrified by the thought this man is dating my sister, she’d laugh. “That is an incredibly toxic mindset.”

Though there’s a flash of annoyance, Mike doesn’t dwell on the insult. “What would you have me do? Break up with Kara? Come on, Alex. Have you ever seen a movie where the guy gets the girl because he walks away? No, because that’s not how it works.”

That makes any last bit of sympathy Alex had for him disappear. “This isn’t a movie, you croissant dildo. This is real life. This is my sister’s life.”

Mike just scoffs derisively. “So you want me to step aside so that someone else can have my happiness? That's insane. Who would do that?”

“Kara would. She would do it if the situation was reversed.”

“All the more reason I need to do everything in my power to keep her. She’s one in a million.”

Alex is on the verge of another rebuttal when she’s struck by an overwhelming sense of futility. What is the point? Nothing she could say would change his mind. He’s a desperate man, a drowning man at sea clinging on to Kara as his life raft, the symbol of his all-American dream; she’s the suburban house with white picket fence, two kids and a dog, a minivan and a sedan in the driveway, Sunday cookouts, and Disney vacations; everything that he’s envisioned his whole life and maybe even feels entitled to. Nothing is going to dissuade him from it.

Taking her silence as an admission that he’s won her over with his flawless logic, Mike gives a toothy, triumphant smile, all sunshine and pep again.

“We’re going to be family one day, Alex,” he says as a cheerful promise but sounds to her like an ominous threat. “You’ll see. I’m going to make her so happy. I promise. You’re going to feel so silly about all this when I’m the father of your nephews.”

As soon as he leaves, Alex pulls out her phone and texts Kelly.

Alex Danvers (14:02): I need to make a sandwich. Do you know if we have any of that good prosciutto left at home?

Kelly Olsen (14:03): We sure do. Are you working late tonight?

Alex Danvers (14:03): No, but I’m taking a road trip. Your way didn’t work. So now I’m going to get a car, drive that emotional vampire toddler upstate with a shovel and some duct tape, and dispose of him in the Catskills.

Kelly Olsen (14:07): Let’s talk about this later.

***

No, Alex does not kill Mike. For one thing, that would create a lot of soul-crushing self-flagellation in Kara and nobody needs that level of angst.

What happens is just what always happens: time passes and people move on. Alex vents to Kelly, fantasizes about leaving Mike buried in a shallow ditch, but nothing comes of it.

At least Mike’s on his best behavior. He starts bartending and he’s good at it, bright smiles and insipid small talk at the ready. His evenings are busier now, but he makes sure to always leave one night free for date night. Now he checks in with Kara before he goes out with his buddies. When he thinks about visiting his family in Krypton for Christmas, he actually asks Kara about it first instead of surprising her with plane tickets for both of them. And he never, ever fights with her. The phrase “you’re right, I’m sorry” is now a common refrain.

Alex isn’t entirely sure that this is healthy and she has her doubts on how long it’ll all last. But it’s not like anyone’s listening to her.

Especially Kara, who’s made it very clear that she’s not interested in discussing this any longer.

“Lena was a fling,” she says at their usual Sunday brunch, her head bowed over a plate of eggs and hash. “And now it’s over. I just want to move on.”

That’s all well and good in theory.

But then it’s Thanksgiving, Eliza’s visiting, they’re all crammed into Alex’s apartment with their friends, and there’s a Mount-Everest-sized heap of candied yams on Kara’s plate, so she should be the epitome of happiness, except she’s poking at her food like it’s a science experiment gone wrong.

Eliza doesn’t say anything, but in moments when Kara’s distracted by a joke from Mike or a story from Winn, Alex finds her mother watching Kara, concerned and contemplative.

When the guests are all gone, Eliza asks, “Kara, is everything all right?”

After a quick, silencing glance to Alex, Kara hurriedly squeaks, “Yep! Everything’s great!”

When Eliza looks to Alex, she only gets a dispirited shrug from her oldest daughter in response.

At the close of the weekend, Alex escorts Eliza to the airport.

Before she goes through the secure area, Eliza starts, “Your sister...”

Feeling a spike of intense emotions, some combination of frustration, guilt, and helplessness, Alex cuts in with, “Mom, I tried. I really did. I’ve reasoned, I’ve pleaded, I’ve threatened, but nothing - nothing - is getting through to her.”

Eliza is quiet; with soft, sympathetic eyes, she takes in Alex’s tense demeanor, the worried frown lines and grimace, and she feels it all as deeply as a dagger in her own heart. She might not know all the details of what’s going on, but she knows her daughters well enough to make an educated guess.

“Is it Mike?” When Alex nods, Eliza sighs resignedly, not exactly thrilled to have her suspicions confirmed. “Your sister’s such a wonderful, kind soul. She always sees the best in people. But when you look at the world through rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to see the red flags.”

“And Mike just makes it worse too,” Alex says darkly. “Their combined relentless optimism is toxic and borders on delusional. I don’t know how to make Kara see that.”

“I know that you feel responsible for Kara. That’s the fault of your dad and me. We were so protective of her when she came to us, we put too much of a burden on you to look out for her. But your sister’s an adult now, and there’s only so much you can do for her.”

As the tears well in Alex’s eyes, Eliza emits a small noise of sympathy and pain, and drapes her arm over her eldest daughter’s shoulders like a mama bird shielding her chick under her wing. And Alex, tough, fierce, doctor Alex Danvers, folds into her mother, letting herself be cradled in the middle of LaGuardia Airport.

“Sweetheart, Kara has to make her own choices. You can’t badger someone into making good decisions.”

Turning her face into her mother’s shoulder, Alex mumbles plaintive complaints. “I just don’t understand why she’s being so stubborn about this. She’s not even happy with him.”

“Some things are just hard to let go of. It’s always easier to end a relationship when it’s not yours.” Eliza shifts slightly back, just enough to look Alex in the eyes. “Hey, you’ve already done such a phenomenal job looking out for your little sister. You’ve done your best. That’s all you can do. The rest is up to her. And I have no doubt that Kara will find her way, and that’s all because she had you in her ear all this time. She’s always listening to you, Alex, even when you think she’s not. I’m very happy that Kara is here with you.”

Then Alex loses it. She buries her face into her mother’s shoulder and sobs, allowing herself to fully feel all the frustrations, stress, and feelings of inadequacies that have been building up over the past year. All the times she tried and tried and tried to talk sense into Kara, the endless, fruitless, pestering and lecturing and sermonizing, all to try and protect her little sister’s heart. And how much she felt like an abject failure when it all went to hell anyway.

Eliza, intuitively understanding the situation, just holds her.

***

As part of his Boyfriend Reformation Plan, Mike comes up with a thoughtful, extravagant Christmas present for Kara: a night at the museum. More precisely, an adult sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History, where people pay hundreds of dollars to spend the night and sleep under the museum’s iconic 94-feet blue whale.

When Kara finds out, she squeals excitedly and flings her arms around him. And for the first time in months, Mike feels like he’s done something right.

The pricey tickets included champagne and a buffet dinner. Mike intends to make full use of both. As the evening kicks off with dinner, he already has three flutes of champagne and two full platters before him. They’re in Cullman Hall of the Universe, where dinner tables have been set up around the futuristic room, awash in sparkling blue lights.

“Hey, we’re going to Krypton in a couple of days,” he says excitedly after downing another flute of champagne. “I’m pumped to spend Christmas at home. It’s going to be great. It’s been a long time since you’ve been back, huh?”

“Yeah, I think it’s been a few years.” Kara’s daintily picking around her plate, more out of politeness than anything else, just waiting for dinner to be over so she can explore. “It’ll be interesting to see how everything’s different.”

“Not that much is different. You’ll see. There’ll be plenty of places you’ll recognize. We did get a second Caribou in town. That was exciting.” Mike prattles on, relaying to Kara about how his mom has sworn off Caribou Coffee after getting into a shouting match with the barista. Kara listens intently. Until she catches sight of a familiar figure.

At first, she’s not sure what she sees, or rather, doesn’t want to believe it. Because she’s dreamed and thought of her so often in the two months since they last met, sometimes her imagination gets the best of her and she’ll think that she sees her in a crowd, but it’s not her. But there’s no mistake this time. That’s Lena, across the room, looking imposing and alluring in her three-piece purple suit and high-collared black dress shirt that never fails to make Kara dizzy and desperate with want.

And there’s Veronica Sinclair right beside her, an arm around Lena’s waist.

Kara doesn’t feel like she’s about to die. She just wants to.

“Mike,” she voices shakily.

“Yeah, babe?” Kara doesn’t reply, so he follows her line of sight to see what has her mesmerized. When he sees Lena, he blurts out, “Aw, shit.”

Kara turns to him, barely able to suppress her heartache and anguish and anxiety and all the terrible things she knows she doesn’t have the right to feel at seeing Lena with somebody else, but does anyway. It only compounds her misery when she sees Mike looking lost and pained. Now she feels like the worst fucking person on the planet.

Desperately, she pleads, “Can we go?”

He hesitates. “Babe, I paid a lot of money for these tickets and it’s such a rare event. Who knows when we’ll get another chance like this? Can we hang out a bit longer? It’s a big place, we can just avoid her.”

“I… I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” Correction: she knows that it’s a bad idea.

“Come on, just try. You can ignore her.”

It’s meant to be encouraging, but the words just feel like pressure. So Kara, still guilt-ridden over her emotional infidelity, nods in acquiescence. She can do this. She’ll get through dinner quickly and go explore - Mike’s right, it’s a big place, she can find somewhere to hide.

It’s a solid plan, if it weren’t for the fact that Lena’s now looking right at her.

Kara freezes, feeling her heart ricochet wildly in her chest, blood rushing in her ears, her nerves on the fritz. Lena doesn’t look much better off, her poise and composure entirely erased with one look.

Veronica notices. And now she also notices Kara. Then, with a sly smirk, she grips Lena by her jaw and pulls her in for a hungry, sloppy kiss.

Now Kara feels like she’s about to die. The pang in her chest is constricting, searing, excruciating, and she suddenly wishes for another bone fracture if only to serve as a distraction from the sharp, jagged pain inside.

You have no right to feel this way, she tells herself. None at all.

But it doesn’t matter what her rational mind says. Her heart still hurts, and hurts so much that her instinct is to flee.

She leaps out of her seat. She mumbles something about needing the bathroom and hurries away.

As she flees, she can’t help but think of the times when the situation was reversed, and Lena had to watch Mike kiss her. She wonders how Lena had survived it. As the realization sets in about how bad it must have felt for Lena all those times, Kara is filled with self-loathing, feeling like the lowest, bottom-of-the-heap, scum of the fucking earth. Who maybe deserves every bit of pain she feels now.

She blindly escapes, rushing through deserted corridors and empty rooms. Eventually, she finds herself in the Hall of North American Mammals. The hall is lined with life-size dioramas, displaying taxidermied animals frozen in time. It’s very dim; the room’s only light sources emanate from the dioramas. Like all the other rooms she passed on the way, it’s completely empty since it’s still dinner hour. It makes the taxidermied animals all the more creepy, but Kara’s more than willing to take creepy if it means she can be spared heartache.

She wanders down the hall, curving around the corner to a little alcove where she takes a seat on a broad, long wooden bench before one of the dioramas. Its inhabitants are a quartet of Grizzly bears. One of the cubs is a few feet off the ground, hugging a tall tree stump and looking over its shoulder at the ground below.

“Look at you up there,” Kara finds herself remarking to the cub. “Looks like you’ve gotten yourself into something you don’t know how to get out of.” She feels a little silly, talking to an inanimate object. But it makes her feel a little bit better, so she carries on. “I know how that feels. You look back at everything and you wonder what you should’ve done differently, at which point you could’ve stopped it or fixed it or if such a thing is even possible. But that’s hindsight for you, isn’t it? It’s hard to see your mistakes when you’re in the thick of it. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re stuck in a tree.”

“Kara?”

For one split, delirious second, Kara thinks the bear is talking back. But of course it isn’t. Normally, that’s a good thing because otherwise it means that Kara’s absolutely lost her mind, but given the identity of the speaker, Kara half-wishes for insanity instead.

“Lena?” Kara struggles to sound neutral, tries to suppress the shock and nervousness she feels. But she already knows she’s failed.

Stepping around the corner into the alcove, Lena stops a couple of feet away, careful not to get too close. She looks around, and seeing no one else there, asks, “Were you… talking to the bears?”

“No,” Kara immediately denies out of reflex. Then: “I was only talking to one of the bears. The others are just… in the vicinity.”

“Are you okay?” Lena asks of a woman whom she’d just caught talking to a taxidermied bear.

“Yeah, yeah, sure.” The quickness of Kara’s response only undermines her message. “You didn’t have to check on me.”

Very quietly, Lena replies, “Of course I did.”

“I, um… well, thank you. I… I didn’t know you were going to be here- um, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t have…”

Testing the waters, Lena gingerly takes a step forward, then stops. She waits until Kara gives permission with a nod, then comes to take a seat on the bench. There's a respectful distance between them, but Kara still finds her body thrum with desire at the proximity. This is the closest she’s been to Lena in months.

Lena starts, “Veronica and I…”

At the sound of Lena speaking her name, Kara’s eyes well and she struggles to remember how to breathe, and at the same time, furiously berates herself for her feelings. No right at all, she thinks to herself.

“...we’re not together, you know.”

So eloquently, Kara answers, “Huh?”

“Our foundations jointly fund a fellowship program at the museum. This year’s fellows are here tonight as tour guides and they’ll be talking about their research projects. We’re here to support them and the museum gets to show off what they did with our money. Veronica’s a flirt and I let her because it feels nice. But it hasn’t gone beyond flirting until she saw you and thought it’d be funny to get a rise out of you.”

If anything, this explanation hurts more. Lena is so, so good to her, so protective, so careful with her feelings, it overwhelms her with guilt. As if she didn’t already feel enough of that.

Forcefully exhaling a deeply despondent sigh, Kara says, “Lena. God, you do not have to explain yourself to me. I don’t deserve it. I don’t.”

“Maybe it’s not about you,” Lena counters lightheartedly. “I just don’t want anyone running around with the misconception that I’ve gotten back together with Veronica. The horror.”

That gets a small chuckle out of Kara, who’s staring down at her feet, studiously avoiding Lena’s gaze. “Yeah, um… you wouldn’t want anyone to think that you’re dumb enough to go back to a relationship that wasn’t working.”

Lena immediately picks up on the latent meaning. Softly, she asks, “Are you happy?”

“Oh. Um…” Kara tries to think of an honest way to answer that. She finds that she can’t. At least not without making the situation worse. “Y- y- yeah. I mean, I… no, um, yeah. Things are… good?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

Kara keeps her eyes trained on the floor, still refusing to look at Lena. “I, um… uh, telling you?”

It’s a bad idea, but Lena seems to have zero self-restraint around this woman. She scoots closer, laying her hand over Kara’s hand that’s resting on the bench. It could even be interpreted as friendly. But Kara’s body doesn’t read it that way; maddening desire spreads, heat coils in her lower half, visible goosebumps rise on her arms.

“Kara. The only thing that’s made any of this bearable for me is the thought that you were happy with him. But if that’s not true, then… what are we doing?” Lena ducks her head, trying to catch the blonde’s eye. Heeding, Kara looks up. Even in this dim light, Lena can see tears glistening in her eyes, shimmering and shining like clear, turquoise water by a shallow seashore.

“I, I, I’ve tried. I thought… I don’t know, that I could remember how it used to feel with him and then everything would be fine. And I want everything to be fine because he needs me so badly. But I, I just think about you all the time. I think about how much I miss you a- a- and I think about how much I’ve hurt you and I hate myself for it. And I know I shouldn’t even be saying that to you. It’s not right. It’s not fair to you and not fair to him and I wish I knew what I was doing but I don’t- I don’t.” Kara looks down, and with the back of her free hand, wipes away at a tear rolling down her cheek. “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m always saying that but at the same time, I’m not saying it enough. I just, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do or how to feel. I don’t know anything except that I want you and it hurts to want you.”

It’s quiet then. Kara drops her gaze. She stares hard at the floor beneath her feet, too afraid to look at Lena and see what she thinks will be rightful anger and annoyance.

“Kara.” Lena’s voice is low, but there’s a soft, sure, inviting quality to it which prompts Kara to look up. Lena’s moved closer now, so close that Kara can count the strands of her long, dark eyelashes. In a hoarse whisper, she says, “You know very well that if you want me, you can have me.”

The resulting noise from Kara is a strangled, high-pitched grunt, embodying all the pent-up frustrations of her want, her denial, her self-flagellation. Her resolve, fragile and brittle to begin with, shatters utterly; so with a shuddering sigh, she swoops forth, crushing her lips against Lena’s.

Lena, energized and enthused the second their lips touch, responds ferociously: one hand cups Kara’s face, the other encircles her waist, and in tandem they tug the blonde towards her until their bodies are pressed firmly, tightly together. There’s a hectic moment of push-and-pull, each woman blindly and fervently trying to get closer, until the stronger woman wins out. As Lena yields and allows Kara to lower her down, she shrugs off her suit jacket and drops it to the floor. Kara carefully topples Lena over, her hands going to work on clothing, undoing the buttons on Lena’s vest, tugging free the shirt underneath and starting in on those buttons. (In some deep recess of Kara’s mind, a small portion untainted by blinding lust, she idly curses the inconveniences of getting Lena out of her dapper outfit.)

Setting Lena down on the bench, Kara lays her own body on top, mouth feverishly working against Lena’s as her hand pushes aside Lena’s undone blouse to caress the bare skin underneath. Driven entirely by want, Kara moves against the other woman with singular purpose. There is no thought, no hand-wringing conflict, nothing but desire. In this moment, she exists only for Lena.

They break apart momentarily, just brief enough for Lena to pull Kara’s cardigan-and-shirt over her head and toss it to the side. Clasping her hands against Kara’s bare shoulders, Lena pulls her down, latching her mouth at the swell of her breasts. Kara moans, grinding her hips down at whatever she can make contact with.

“Oh god,” she hisses as she feels Lena sucking hard. “Lena.

Hearing Kara say her name like that breaks Lena’s last tendril of self-control. Grabbing Kara by the sides of her face, she pulls her down into a full-mouthed kiss.

In between kisses, she gasps out, “I love you.”

Kara, unthinkingly, naturally, instinctively, wholeheartedly, says, “I love you.”

And right then, right there, Kara can think of no better way to show that love than to make Lena feel good.

Her hands fly to the waistband of Lena’s pants, and with a series of fluid movements, unbuttoning, sliding down, slipping in, pushing aside, her fingers quickly find their way to the heated dampness. She doesn’t tease, doesn’t delay, and applies pressure right where Lena needs it most, inwardly rejoicing at the guttural sounds the brunette expresses in response. Lena writhes and pants and digs her fingernails into Kara’s shoulder blades and she’s on the verge of screaming when-

“Wait, do you hear that?”

Kara stops abruptly. “What?”

There it is again, the unmistakable sound of approaching footsteps.

Then they’re scrambling, trying to separate, even though they can tell from the sound of the footsteps that the interloper is close, too close to make a difference.

Kara’s just barely withdrawn her hand when Mike steps around the corner.

It’s dead silent.

He stares at them. Them, at him. Nobody moves.

Scanning, he takes in their untidy, half-dressed appearances.

In this low light, with his face half in shadows, his features are obscured and it’s hard for Kara to tell what he’s thinking.

“Kara,” he says softly, sounding serene. “Can I talk to you?”

Numbly, not knowing what else to do, Kara nods.

Turning on his heels, Mike marches back down the hallway he’d just came from. The two women sit there frozen in shock and indecision. Mike’s retreating footsteps reverberate in the hall, gradually growing faint as he moves further away. When, at last, there’s nothing but silence, Kara finally stirs and shakily starts gathering her clothes, moving slowly, her heart filled with dread. Lena watches, heart racing and head spinning, unsure of what to make of what just happened.

As Kara picks up her shirt, she starts stammering out an apology. “I- I- I’m sorry. I- I don’t want to leave you like this, but I, um, I- after what he just saw, I, I have to talk to him.” Kara tugs her shirt on and steps next to Lena, still sitting half-naked on that bench, and cups her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay? I just, I’m just going to talk to him first, but I’ll be back.”

Despite the foreboding that she feels, Lena nods faintly. Kara offers a small, sad smile in response. She leans in, pressing one last kiss to Lena’s lips before stepping back. She goes then, attempting to fix up her disheveled appearance on the way out.

Lena sits in that dim hall, still only half-dressed, allowing the cold air to cool her overheated body as she listens to the sound of fading footsteps, counting each step as Kara walks away, trying to calm her inexplicably nervous heart.

 

Chapter Text

Won't you please let me go?
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I'm not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I'm not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to

“Age of Consent” - New Order

 

 

In the movies, there’s always a long stretch of hallway for the death row inmate to march down towards her doom, and everything is quiet except for the inmate’s thudding footsteps and thundering heartbeat. Kara thinks of that now as she follows Mike down the hall. Except, instead of prison guards, she’s surrounded by taxidermied moose and bison.

They exit the Hall of North American Mammals and into the main hallway, where it’s still relatively quiet, with only a few people passing through. Kara expects Mike to stop so they could talk, but he keeps going, and she feels compelled to follow. He takes her back to Cullman Hall where they had dinner. Dinner hour is winding down, but there are still plenty of people milling about. Kara doesn’t get it. It’s the strangest place to pick for an intense heart-to-heart conversation about their relationship.

Mike stops at the meteorite display near the center of the room and waits for Kara to join him.

When she does, before she can say anything, he drops down to one knee.

Then her heart drops too.

“What are you doing?” she whispers furiously at him.

“What I should’ve done a long time ago.” This can’t be happening. It can’t be. But he’s holding a small red jewelry box in his hands and everyone is looking at them. “Kara Danvers-”

Her eyes go wide. “Ohhhhhh no no no no no.”

“-You are the love of my life. You are the reason my heart beats-”

“Mike, no,” Kara says in a hushed, panicked voice. “Please, get up.”

He freezes, uncertainty and confusion all over his face. “What’s that?”

A little louder, trying to ignore the stares from everyone in the room, she hisses, “Get! Up!”

He climbs to his feet, still looking confused as he pockets the ring box. Kara turns and rushes - no, flees - up the stairs, making a beeline for the nearest exit.

She bursts out into the cold December night, uncaring of how the chill feels against her jacketless body. Mike follows close behind her.

Spinning around to face him, she shrieks, “Are you out of your frickin’ mind?!”

With his jaw hanging loose in surprise, Mike asks with genuine bewilderment, “What?”

“What? What?!” Even to Kara’s own ears, her voice sounds shrill. “You just caught me with my hand down another woman’s pants! And your response is to propose?! What the hell, Mike?!”

“Well, that wasn’t the impetus,” Mike responds, making himself sound very reasonable about it. “I was already planning on doing it tonight. It’s perfect. You love museums and space stuff.”

“Then what you just saw back there should’ve made you change your mind!” Kara shakes her head, feeling weary and exhausted. “Mike, this isn’t working. We- we have to break up.”

Mike furrows his eyebrows quizzically. “What? What do you mean? Why?”

“What do you mean ‘what do you mean’?!” Kara’s starting to feel like she’s losing her mind. “I just cheated on you!”

Breezily, Mike responds, “You didn’t cheat on me.”

Now Kara’s wondering if Mike is the one who’s lost his mind. “Uh. Yes, I did.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“You literally caught me on top of Lena ten minutes ago!”

“Yeah, but I said you could. Remember? I gave you a hall pass for her ages ago. So.” He shrugs lazily. “It doesn’t count if it’s Lena. We’re all good.”

In astonishment and near-delirium, Kara blinks owlishly at him. “Okay, but the fact that I thought it was cheating and then I went ahead and did it anyway? That’s bad, Mike. That’s really bad.”

“Oh, I don’t see it that way.” He looks and sounds so placid, as if none of this bothers him in the slightest.

“Mike.” Kara scrambles for something that’ll snap him out of this. “I’m in love with Lena, okay?”

“I know that you think so. We’ve talked about this, Kara. It’ll pass. Once we’re back in Krypton, none of this is going to matter.”

“Mike, seriously,” says Kara, pleading now. “This is, this is crazy. It’s not healthy. We shouldn’t be together anymore.”

Turning contemplative, he scrutinizes her carefully, strategizing his next move.

“Hey, I’ll tell you what.” With an easy, carefree smile, he steps closer, resting his hands on her shoulders. That move used to feel reassuring, it had always calmed her in moments of panic. Now they just feel like weight. “Why don’t we put a pin in this for now? When we get back from Krypton, let’s talk. I mean really talk.”

Krypton?” Kara’s aghast that he’s even still thinking about their trip. “I can’t go back home with you after this.”

His smile fades, replaced by dumbfounded perturbation. “But you have to. We’re leaving in two days. We bought plane tickets. We’ve been packing. We’ve done all this stuff already.”

“I, I can’t go to Krypton with you. It’s-” The reasons why she can’t go seem so obvious, she doesn’t even know where to begin. “I just can’t.”

He looks like a kicked, wounded puppy. “But Kara, my parents are really looking forward to it. It’s all my dad’s been talking about. He really wants to see you. Come on, babe. Can’t we just get through the holidays? It’s Christmas.” He, of course, knows how much Kara loves Christmas. And he’s right. Kara hesitates then. The idea of breaking up with him right before Christmas does seem a little harsh. But how long does she have to wait?

Reading the apprehension on her face, Mike adds, “I think my dad really needs this. You know how… how he can’t remember things so well these days. But seeing you, talking about your parents, how things used to be, I think that would be really, really good for him. Just… can we just have one last really good Christmas? Please, Kara. Next year, he… well, he might not be himself by next Christmas. Please. He’s been looking forward to this so much. Let’s give this to him.”

That’s a clincher. Kara deflates, knowing that she’s been beaten. Mike knows it too and grins broadly. “Great, then it’s settled. We’re going to go to Krypton together, as a couple, and when we get back, we can talk about this.” He pulls her in, wrapping his arms securely around her. Kara doesn’t return the hug, but that doesn’t seem to matter. “Thanks, babe. I love you.”

And Kara just can’t think of anything to say in return.

***

She finds Lena in the same spot where she had left her. Lena’s fully dressed now, but sits primly on the same bench, staring at the quartet of Grizzly bears behind the glass, trying to quell the unease inside. You seduced someone’s girlfriend, her Mean Lena taunts. You homewrecker.

But it’s Kara, she tells herself. Kara makes it all worth it. She could bear the homewrecker moniker because Kara makes it worth it. Or so she keeps repeating to herself.

She hears Kara before she sees her, instantly recognizing the sound of her footsteps. When she sees Kara coming around the corner, she lights up with hope and anticipation.

“Is it done?”

Kara stops short. Lena takes in her countenance. Her eyebrows tightly knitted together in worry, the desperate despondency in her eyes, the downturned, downtrodden corners of her mouth, the shoulders drooped in defeat, the hands joined together in anxious fiddling. For what seems like the hundredth time, Lena feels her heart break.

She looks down and away, blinking back tears. “Right.”

The explanation comes rushing out in one long, anxious breath. “No, Lena, it’s not what you think. I love you and I want to be with you. But, right now, it- it’s just- I need some time. I- it’s complicated. Mike’s dad is really sick and we have to leave for Krypton in a couple of days, so… but I, I just need a few weeks. Three weeks. When we come back, I’m going to talk to him and it’ll be over for good. Please, Lena. I just need a little bit more time.”

But it wouldn’t have mattered if Kara had asked for three extra seconds, let alone weeks. That fierce Luthor pride kicks in, igniting petulance and fury, extinguishing any last bit of patience she has. She feels like a fool. A complete, utter fool. Having put her heart on the line twice now, anything short of immediate reciprocation feels like a rejection.

“Three weeks, three months, three years,” Lena answers flatly. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for you, Kara. I won’t be your mistress. I’m not going to live in the shadows, waiting for crumbs of affection, hoping that you’ll finally make up your mind. My mother wasted her life waiting for the wrong person. I won’t do the same.”

“That- that’s not the same thing! This isn’t- I mean, I, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“But you are.” Lena rises from her seat, smoothing her palm over her suit jacket, the simple motion conjuring her corporate front. “I deserve better than what you can offer. I’m not going to be an option for you to exercise when it’s convenient for you. You chose him. Again. That’s all I need to know.”

Kara wants to beg. She wants to sink down and plead for Lena’s patience. Just a little bit more time. Just three weeks. But she doesn’t beg. Not out of pride or some other such foolishness, but understanding that everyone has a limit and it looks like Lena’s reached hers. She won’t talk Lena into anything. She knows how bad that feels.

Seeing that Kara has nothing else to say, Lena sighs. “That’s it, Kara. I’m done. I have to be. I can’t keep going in circles with you. I don’t want anything to do with this anymore, this relationship or arrangement or friendship or whatever you want to call it. I don’t want anything to do with you at all.”

All Kara can do is nod faintly and return hoarsely, “I understand.”

A pause, in which Lena holds Kara’s gaze, and for that briefest of seconds, feels her resolve shake and nearly break. Then the moment passes, and Lena steels herself.

“Goodbye, Kara.”

***

“...and then she left.” Kara finishes with a helpless, tired shrug. “So that’s… that’s it. It’s over. Um, again. But, uh, I think for good this time.”

Kara is curled up on the couch in her sister’s living room, flanked by Alex and Kelly, with Nia in a chair on the other side of the coffee table.

Silence follows, as the other three women struggle to think of something to say.

Then Nia asks, “Can you go back to the part where you had sex with Lena in front of a bunch of dead bears?”

“They weren’t dead bears!” Kara protests. “They were like… preserved figures. They’re basically just big dolls. And we didn’t, um, we didn’t really, get to, um, you know.”

“Only because you were interrupted,” Nia points out. “And do you think it sounds better to say that you almost had sex in front of taxidermied bears? Because it doesn’t.”

Alex, looking pained, mutters, “We really don’t have to talk about this.”

But Nia continues, “What was it like? Did it feel like the bears were watching you? Oh, wait - is that why you did it? Are you guys into that?”

Turning red, Kara sputters, “N- no! I- I didn’t- I didn’t even notice any of that! I wasn’t thinking about anything but Lena. My mind was, um… well, Lena’s very distracting!”

“Yeah, I bet Lena’s very distracting when you’ve stripped her half-naked.”

“What are you going to do about Mike?” Alex asks quickly before Nia can force her to listen to any more discussions of her sister’s ursine sex habits.

“I… well, he needs me right now,” is Kara’s feeble non-answer.

Bluntly, without an ounce of sympathy, Alex says, “I don’t care what he needs.”

This candor only upsets Kara, who shifts and repositions herself in agitation. “Alex, come on. That’s so cold. He’s losing his dad and he’s scared.”

Interceding, Kelly says gently, “Kara, we just don’t want to see you prioritize Mike’s needs over your own well-being.” Alex nods along in agreement. “You can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. If you’re not happy with him, you have to do what’s right for you.”

Kara nods. “Y- yeah. I, well, Mike knows that when… when we get back from Krypton, we’re going to talk.”

“Talk? Kara, there’s nothing to talk about!” Alex resists the urge to grab her sister and shake sense into her. “End it. End it now. End it now and go be happy with Lena.”

“You didn’t see her,” Kara retorts in a shaky, cracked voice. “She wants nothing to do with me after that, Alex. Of course she doesn’t. Not after everything I’ve put her through.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Nia says gently. “She was angry. Sometimes we say things that we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. Maybe now that she’s had some time to calm down, she feels differently?”

“Look, forget Lena for a second,” Alex says. “No matter what happens with her, you still have a Mike problem.”

“He’s not a problem,” Kara returns tiredly. “Alex, there’s no need to be so mean to him all the time.”

“Yeah, well, he deserves it,” grumbles Alex darkly.

Looking to de-escalate, Kelly adds, “Alex just means that Mike’s put you in bad spots before. Even if you think he meant well. Like now, insisting that you go to Krypton with him when he knows that you want to end your relationship. I understand that he needs emotional support during a difficult time, but he should be getting that support from someone other than a girlfriend who’s tried to break up with him three times now.”

Feeling her frustration beginning to rise, Alex inhales sharply, trying to rein in her ire. “Kara, if you go to Krypton with him, he’s going to do something big and romantic or big and sad. Either way, he’s going to come up with something so that you don’t leave. You’re going to be stuck in Krypton forever. Is that what you want?” As a horrifying thought occurs to her, Alex mutters lowly, “Oh, god, that idiot’s going to buy her a house. Kara, do not let him buy you a house! Surprise mortgages aren’t romantic!”

“He’s not going to-” Kara stops short when she realizes that she can’t be totally sure that Mike wouldn’t do something like that. “Well, I’m not going to be ‘stuck’ in Krypton. You make it sound like such a horrible thing, but it’s not! It’s a nice place, Alex.”

Nia raises her hand to grab the sisters’ attention. “Wait. Let me get this straight. So your choices were to stay in New York City with a beautiful billionaire who’s madly in love with you or… go back to middle-of-nowhere Krypton, Minnesota and live the rest of your life in strip mall suburbia with… Mike?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that!” Kara cries out, directing her irritation at Nia in a way she had never done before. “I had a lovely childhood, a lovely life. Krypton was good to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without Krypton- without Mike! And yeah, I know he has his faults, but… he loves me. You don’t see all the things he does. He makes me laugh, he goes to all these restaurants with me even though he doesn’t even care about food, he buys me flowers just because. He, he’s a good person.”

“Okay, fine, he’s a good person,” Alex says, making a concession she doesn’t quite believe in. “But is he your person? Because he might be the greatest person in the world and it wouldn’t matter if you‘re not right for each other. What do you really have in common besides Krypton?”

“Alex, you don’t get it, none of you get it,” Kara snaps at them. “It’s so easy for you to dismiss it because you think Krypton is just some dinky town. But it’s so much more than that. I had a life before you, Alex, and as much as I love you and mom, I loved that life too. I had parents, I had friends, I had a stuffed sea lion named Wally and all of that is just gone now. But not when I’m with Mike because he remembers. He’s the only one that does.”

Kelly delicately starts, “Kara, we understand that-”

But Alex sits up straight, raising a hand up, telling her girlfriend I got this without the words. Wordlessly, Kelly sits back, letting Alex take the reins.

“I hear you, Kara. I’m not going to pretend like I really understand what Krypton means to you, but I hear you when you tell me that it’s important to you. And you know what? If you tell me that being with Mike in Krypton is what you truly, truly want, then I’ll support you, one hundred percent. I’ll buy plane tickets, I’ll help you pack, I’ll start planning my vacations to include a trip out to Minnesota every year.

“Because you can pick Mike or Lena or neither, you can live in Krypton or New York or Tulsa or Tunisia, that doesn’t matter to me. I’ll support whoever you want to love and I’ll come visit you wherever you want to live. Kara, I don’t care what you choose as long as you do. I just need to know that this is you choosing for yourself and not just you acquiescing to the life you’ve always known. Choose the life you want, Kara. That’s all I’m asking.”

Kara sits in a speechless stupor, staring at her sister as her mind races and races, struggling to process all the thoughts and emotions she feels. Everyone sits quietly, waiting for her.

“Yeah,” she says at long last with a soft exhale.

***

When Andrea storms into Lena’s office, waving her cellphone around, Lena thinks that something terrible has happened to the company.

But instead, Andrea spits out, “Why is Kara Danvers on her way to the airport with her boyfriend?”

Already feeling a headache coming on, Lena leans back in her chair. “Why do you even know that?”

Andrea shakes her head dismissively. “Sam and I started a group chat with Alex where we gossip about sad, useless gays. It’s basically a Lena Luthor fan club. Don’t change the subject. Why is Kara Danvers leaving and why aren’t you doing anything about it? Alex is legitimately worried that Kara might not ever come back. She thinks that the boyfriend’s going to have some trick to make her stay in… well, whatever bumblefuck town she’s from.”

“What am I supposed to do about it? She made her choice.”

“You’re supposed to put up a fight and not just roll over and play dead. Especially when you know that you’re the one she loves. But I’m hearing that you told her that you don’t want anything to do with her? Because she asked you to wait a few weeks?” In emphasis, Andrea gesticulates wildly with her phone-clad hand. “Woman, are you serious?”

Struggling to remain calm, Lena replies, “I am. I’m not going to be a back-up for her, just some option she takes when it’s easy for her.”

“That is clearly not what’s happening here.”

“Okay, we’re at work right now. We’re not going to sit around and gossip about my personal life.” Lena nods at the door. “And you’re going to be late for your meeting with Rutgers if you don’t leave now.”

With a quick glance at her phone, Andrea confirms that Lena’s right. She gives a small stomp of her foot. “Fine. But we’re not done talking about this.”

Andrea rushes out, and Lena turns her attention back to her computer, trying to focus on work. It very nearly works. She’s almost managed to read through an entire email without thinking about Kara when there’s a knock on her door.

“Andrea, you better-” She looks up, ready to scold, but the figure at the door is an even more unwelcome one than Andrea. “No, no, no. You can just get out of here right now.”

Brainy freezes, his fist still raised in mid-air, poised to strike the open door, looking perplexed. “Pardon?”

Feeling frustration coursing through her body, Lena defensively folds her arms across her chest. “I know what you’re here to do. Andrea sent you in here to ‘talk some sense into me.’ Kara’s on her way to the airport and the two of you somehow expect me to do something about that. Well, I’m not going to and I won’t change my mind. Your ‘I’m just asking questions because I don’t understand social customs’ schtick is not going to work here today.”

“All right,” Brainy answers mildly.

“You don’t just get to waltz in here like some kind of Spock-Yoda hybrid and pretend like you don’t understand anything and probe and question and get me to rethink everything,” Lena continues fuming. “I know what you’re going to ask too. How can I be so hard on Kara for taking three weeks to help Mike with his sick dad when I kept my feelings to myself for so long? And yes, I’ll accept my share of blame here for my earlier indecision. If I had said something sooner, maybe all this could’ve been avoided. But you know what, Brainy? Someone has to call it quits at some point. Enough is enough.”

“Okay,” is all that Brainy has to say.

“Oh, but now you’re going to ask me why I gave Veronica a million more chances and I can’t give one more to Kara. Well, because it didn’t hurt as much with Veronica. Whenever I gave Veronica another chance, I knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t work out and I was fine with that. But, god, if I try again with Kara and she says no again, I- I don’t know if I could bear it. And yes, I know what that means, and yes, I know that you’re going to ask if it’s worth it for me to turn my back on the greatest love I’ve ever known because I’m letting my traumas and fears dictate my actions. But you don’t get to judge my trauma, Brainy. You don’t get to tell me what’s okay for me to do in response.”

Still standing at the same spot by the door, Brainy nods solemnly. “I would never.”

“Yes, you would! You do! And if I gave you the chance, you’d be asking me if I’m overreacting now because I’m so afraid of turning into my mother. And then you’d ask me if I’m being rational about this because, deep down, I know that the situations are different. And you’d ask me if I really think that Kara is actually choosing Mike this time- and no, I don’t, okay? She’s just trying to be a good person and I know that, but that doesn’t mean it hurt any less when she told me that she can’t be with me right now. So then you’re going to ask me if I’m not just being prideful. You’ll ask if I’d really be happier in the long run cutting Kara out of my life. And I, I don’t know, Brainy. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know what I’m expected to do here. Run off to the airport and stop her from leaving? That’s ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly. So that’s why I need you to just go away and ask me nothing.”

“Right,” Brainy says slowly. “Can I just ask one thing?”

Lena sinks back in her seat, sapped and tired from her ranting. “Fine.”

Brainy holds up a piece of paper in his hands that Lena hadn’t noticed before. “Can you sign off on this incident report? I broke another centrifuge and Andrea says she won’t sign them anymore.”

Taken aback, Lena nods numbly. Brainy approaches, circling around her desk and carefully laying the paper down on her desk. With a trembling hand, Lena picks up a pen and signs her name.

“Thank you,” Brainy responds cheerily.

Wordlessly, she picks up the form and hands it back to him. He takes a hold of the form but doesn’t take it away, prompting her to look up at him. Brainy sees the expression on her face. In a rare, maybe unprecedented moment, he understands everything.

Kindly, he poses one last question to her. “Would you like me to call a car for you?”

Lena’s already reaching for her purse. “Yes, please.”

***

Kara sits in the waiting area for her gate at JFK Airport, listening to the PA system periodically broadcast instructions to the masses, guiding them to where they’re supposed to go and what to do. Pushing through the throngs, Mike heads towards her, holding a paper bag in one hand and pressing his cellphone to his ear with the other.

As he approaches, Kara hears what he’s saying. “It’ll be fine… yeah, no, I’ll make sure… yup, we’ll be there soon... Okay, mom, see you then.” He plops down in the seat next to her, pocketing his cellphone. “That was mom. She’s excited!”

“That’s good,” Kara says quietly.

“Here, I got us some food.” He takes out two paper bowls from the bag, removes the lid from one of them and passes it over to Kara. As he starts in on his own food, he looks around the waiting area for a distraction. “Oh, nice, they have the Wild game on.”

Kara stares down at the offering, a bowl of cilantro-lime chicken and rice. She’s been raised to be appreciative of gifts, no matter how small. But still, she couldn’t help but remark, “There’s cilantro in this.”

Mike has his eyes glued to the hockey game on the TV, mindlessly eating away. “Hmm? Take it out then.”

“I… I can’t, it’s all mixed up in the rice.” She’s looking at him, but he’s still staring at the TV. “Mike, did you remember that I don’t like cilantro?”

Finally, he tears his focus away from the game. “Oh… yeah. I guess I forgot. Sorry, babe.”

“You forgot,” Kara says flatly. “We’ve known each other all our lives. I eat everything and there’s only one thing that I don’t like.”

He sighs. “Don’t make a big deal, okay? I just forgot. It happens. I’ll get you something else if you want.”

Kara stares at him. His handsome, familiar face has always imparted a sense of comfort and roused feelings of affection. But in that instance, it’s like a veil has been lifted. Suddenly, he looks different to her even though nothing has changed. The features that she knows so well are all in the right place, exactly as she’s always seen them, but now they somehow felt wrong. Because looking at him no longer filled her with contentment. Truthfully, it hasn’t for a while now, although it’s taken her this long to admit it.

She says, “Mike, it’s over.”

He blinks at her, uncomprehending. “What?”

“I’m serious. We’re done. As of this moment, we are no longer in a romantic relationship.”

He rolls his eyes, obviously not taking her seriously. And why should he? They’ve had this conversation before. “All right, babe, I know you’re mad-”

“No, Mike. This isn’t a discussion, let alone a negotiation. I am breaking up with you. I can be your friend and if you need me with you in Krypton, I’ll go, but I’m getting a hotel and I’m not lying to your parents about us. I’ll go see your parents as your friend and nothing more.”

Then it starts to sink in that Kara might actually follow through this time. Mike scoffs in disbelief. “Are you serious? You’re breaking up with me? Over fucking cilantro?”

“It’s not really about the cilantro, Mike. You know it’s not.”

“It’s Lena, then? What, was she so careful and perfect about every single little preference you have?”

“You know, she really was,” Kara replies evenly. “But it’s not about her either. She doesn’t even want anything to do with me anymore and I can’t say I blame her. But even if Lena never talks to me again, it wouldn’t matter, because this is about me and what I want. And… it’s not this.”

Visibly, Mike struggles with this, his mouth flapping ineffectually as he tries to make sense of everything. “W- wha- so- I mean, is this about going back home? You don’t want to move to Krypton? Because I think you’re being hasty. You’re going to see how much you love Krypton on this trip. And if somehow, you don’t, we can talk about it, you know? We can make it work. Do you want to live in the Cities instead?”

“No, Mike. This-” she gestures in between the two of them. “-is what I don’t want.” She draws in a deep breath, steadying herself for this next part. She hadn’t wanted to do this, get into the details and point out all the things that made her unhappy. Perhaps that’s naive. He won’t let it go until he knows. And maybe not even then. “This isn’t the kind of love that I want. Because it’s not about you forgetting what I like, it’s about the hundreds of other little things you don’t remember about me, don’t care to remember, the things you do without asking me, the decisions you make for both of us, and all the other ways you don’t prioritize me.”

“Don’t prioritize you?!” Mike exclaims indignantly, looking insulted. “What are you talking about? I quit my job for you! I moved to New York for you! I built my whole fucking life around you!”

Faced with this vitriol, Kara reacts instinctively, snapping back, “I didn’t ask for any of that!” She takes a moment then to pause and take a calming breath. “Look, Mike, you’ve done some wonderful things for me, some really big, romantic things. But it’s easy to do a big thing every once in a while, it’s harder to be consistent everyday with the small things. But the small, consistent things are what’s important to me. I want someone who cares if I’m feeling comfortable at a party with their friends, someone who loves listening to my boring work stories, someone who’ll pick cilantro off a taco for me.”

At that, Mike just looks confused. “You’re a grown woman. Why can’t you pick off your own cilantro?”

Kara sighs, shaking her head. “That’s- that’s what I mean, Mike. We’ve spent so much of our lives together and you know so much about me. You might know more about me than anybody else in this world, but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t understand me. And I, you. We value different things. This relationship isn’t good for either of us. We’ve been together for so long. We’ve had so many obstacles, never being in the same place at the same time, and we’ve worked so hard at being together that I don’t think we ever stopped to ask ourselves whether we should. Are you really happy or are you just clinging on to what you’re used to?”

“Yeah, Kara, I am happy,” he retorts, decidedly un-happily. “Because I love you. I’m committed to you. To us. So I don’t even understand where the fuck this is coming from. Jesus. And right before we’re about to get on a plane to see my family for Christmas? Fuck, Kara, that’s awful.”

Her placid demeanor finally cracking, Kara returns sharply, “Okay, let’s not pretend that this is the first time I’ve tried breaking up with you.”

“Well, then, we’ve worked it out all those other times, so what’s the big deal?” He shakes his head, making no attempts to conceal his frustration. “Come on, Kara. This is so shitty, why would you do this right now? And right after I finally told my mom that you’re coming?!”

“Hey, I didn’t plan it this w-” Her brain finally processes what Mike just said, finding it incompatible with what she already knows. “Wait, what do you mean you finally told your mom that I’m coming? You told me that they were looking forward to me visiting.” As he goes ashen, Kara jumps to her feet; he follows suit, scrambling to his feet and backing away. “Mike. Did you just tell your mom about me coming? When you were on the phone with her just now?”

“Uhh…” With each step Kara takes, he matches her, retreating timidly, holding up both hands as if trying to soothe a wild animal. “Okay, yeah, so you know how my mom gets. She’s always had this weird thing where she’s not always totally thrilled at seeing you? So, uh… yeah, I might not have told her until just now? But she was totally fine with it! She wasn’t mad!”

“Well, I am!” Kara barks, uncaring that she’s starting to draw attention. The agent at the boarding gate is watching the pair with concerned interest. “You told me that your dad was excited for me to visit! No, that he needed me to visit!”

“And he is! Or, uh, he would be if he knew. Which he does now!”

And it’s not so much that Kara cares about being lied to per se, it’s more the devastating realization of what she did because of his lie.

“Oh, god. I broke Lena’s heart for this,” Kara moans, feeling her chest tighten with grief. “For you, because you made me think that your dad needed this. You lied to me!”

Mike backs up against the wall, out of space to run. “It was just a white lie! And I only did it because I knew that you’d be so happy once we were back in Krypton. Y- y- you’d see how wonderful things could be with the two of us back home. Please, Kara, once we’re back, you’ll see what I mean. Then you’ll get why I did this.” The PA system comes on, announcing that their flight is now boarding for their section. Mike smiles brightly when he hears the announcement, pointing an index finger up at the ceiling. “Hey, that’s us. Let’s board before all the overhead space is gone.”

Kara gapes at him, unable to believe what she’s hearing. “You have completely lost your mind. There is no way I’m getting on that plane with you now.”

And Mike has the gall to look surprised and crestfallen. “Oh, Kara, let’s not do anything crazy. We’re already here. Let’s just get on the plane and we’ll talk about this.”

“No!” That response doesn’t feel quite strong enough. “Make that a hell no. I’m not going to Krypton with you. Not as a girlfriend, not as a friend, not as anything, not now, not ever. Bye, Mike. Have a good flight and a wonderful life.”

She turns and starts walking away. Mike yelps loudly, circling around her and blocking her path. “Wait, wait. Where are you going? What are you going to do? You’re here, your luggage’s already on the plane, you booked time off from work- you might as well just come.”

“I’m going to pack up my things and move out of Scooter’s basement so that I’m gone by the time you get back and we don’t have to see each other again.” She’s blunt and her tone clipped, no longer caring to try and dull the force of her words.

“No! You can’t go!” Mike cries in distress. “I- I’ve got a surprise waiting for you in Krypton, you have to come back with me! Oh- here-” Mike pulls out his cellphone and pulls up a picture of a happy-looking beagle puppy. “Look. He’s yours. I got you an engagement puppy. He’s waiting for you in Krypton!”

“You- what- I-” Kara feels like her brain has short-circuited, suffering from information overload. “Are you seriously trying to bribe me with a puppy right now?”

Mike, evidently only now realizing how absurd it sounds, mutters a quiet, chastened ‘no’ and attempts to discreetly tuck his phone away.

“Oh my god,” Kara moans sadly, quietly, desperately as it all finally sinks in. Like a rotted-out pillar finally succumbing to the ravages of time and decay, in its shattering, it levels the entire structure it had been precariously supporting for so long. In the aftermath, amidst the rubbles of their relationship, there is painful clarity.

“I am such an idiot. I am such a fucking idiot. I- I’ve wasted my life on you! The guy who thinks that it’s okay to lie to get me to Krypton and gets me a puppy to- to do what, exactly? Get me to stay there? My god, Mike. I’ve always, always stuck up for you and I made excuses for you time and time again. Because in my mind, you were that boy who I grew up with, who defended me when the older kids picked on me, who always let me have the icing-half of the Oreo at lunch even when I lost the twist-off game, who snuck into R-rated movies with me. And maybe that’s the problem. You’re still that boy, because you haven’t grown out of that stage where you act so selfish and manipulative to get what you want.”

Red-faced and squirming, Mike stammers, “I, I, I’m trying to protect our future here.”

“And in the process, destroyed mine. The one that I wanted. With Lena.” Kara shakes her head, disgusted with herself. “I have to go. I have some groveling to do.”

But Mike isn’t done with his own groveling yet. When Kara moves around him, he grabs a hold of her forearm, pulling her back.

“Kara, you can’t just go. Let’s stay and talk about this.”

Incensed that he dares to physically restrain her, Kara forcefully shoves him in the chest and pushes him away.

“Do not touch me,” she seethes at him.

Which doesn’t make any sense to him, because how is he supposed to make her listen to his side if she’s trying to leave?

He reaches out for her again. “Kara, come on-”

She slaps his hand away before he can reach her. “I’m serious. Don’t do that.”

But he doesn’t believe her. Because in his mind, he knows Kara and knows that she doesn’t mean it. He comes right back and this time, he’s quick enough to seize her arm again.

Kara wrests her arm away and takes a big step back. In a clear, firm voice, she tells him, “Mike. If you touch me again, you’re going to regret it.”

Mike scoffs. Kara’s being dramatic right now, but this is all just a big misunderstanding. He just needs to calm her down and get through to her. He goes to an old, familiar move which he’s done to placate her dozens of times before: he clamps down on her shoulders with both hands, pressing firmly, as if driving her into the ground.

“Okay, babe, you’re just really emotional right now-”

It happens fast.

In one fluid motion, Kara shrugs, heaving his hands off of her shoulders. Reacting, driven purely by emotions, she reels back with her right arm and swiftly delivers a powerful jab to the center of his face. Her fist connects squarely with his nose, which crumples like flimsy tissue paper.

Mike cries out as searing pain rips through him. He stumbles back violently, only to trip into someone behind him; the back of his head snaps against something soft and fleshy. There’s a second sharp cry, then a heavy thud.

The gate agent, an would-be intervenor to the fight, is lying on the floor under Mike, his hands clasped against his mouth which had been struck by Mike’s head, with blood already starting to ooze. Mike moans in pain, his hands flying to his nose, and rolls off, curled up on the ground in a fetal position. Blood flows freely from his twisted nose and seeps through the cracks of his fingers, dribbling down his chin and staining his shirt.

Kara gawks at the scene before her, at the two writhing, injured men on the floor. Stunned, she opens her mouth, but nothing comes out.

***

So that’s how Kara finds herself detained in a small, windowless room at JFK Airport. It’s a plain, nondescript room, holding a simple wooden table with two chairs on one side and one chair on the other. She’s been sitting in there for a long time, waiting for something to happen. She had been escorted here by security and then left there to pace around in the small room, her mind running rampant with the possibilities of what could happen to her now. You don’t mess around in an airport, let alone a New York City airport. Would they allow her to hire a lawyer for the terrorism charges or are they going to just throw her in a dark cell somewhere, never to see the light of day?

When the door to the room creaks open, Kara flings herself up against the far wall, thinking that this is the moment when soldiers will swarm in, bound her in zip ties, throw a black hood over her head, and disappear her forever.

But only one person enters. A familiar figure whose presence instantly brings Kara some much needed relief and joy.

“Alex!” Kara crosses the small room in three quick steps, throwing her arms around her sister. “Oh my god. I thought I was never going to see you again.”

“Um. Okay.” Startled by this greeting, Alex slowly pats her sister on the back. “Why?”

Kara steps back and tries to explain. “Um, well, I punched Mike. And someone else got hurt in the process - um, an airline employee. Isn’t that a felony or something? I mean, that part was an accident, but… still… and, we’re at an airport…” As she says it out loud, Kara starts to realize that maybe she had let her imagination run a little bit wild. “I just, I just thought that I was in a lot of trouble.”

“You could be. I warned you about this. I told you that I don’t have the money to fight the TSA.”

Kara frowns. “What are you talking about? When did you say that?”

“Remember when I set up those three jars for you? Twizzler fund, ice cream fund, bail fund?”

“Oh my god, Alex. That happened almost a year ago and like a million things have happened since then. How do you expect me to remember that?”

“All right, fine, ruin my joke,” Alex mutters.

“What are you even doing here? How did you know?”

“Mike called me. It was a little hard to understand him through the broken nose, but I got the gist of it.”

At the reminder of what she did, Kara rubs her hand over her face, feeling that ever-familiar guilt creeping up. “Oh, god. Mike. I broke his nose. Alex! I can’t believe I did that!”

“Well, I don’t know the exact details, but he was apologizing profusely to me on the phone, so I can only assume that you had a good reason for punching him in the face and even that dense dillweed knows it.” Dropping her voice, she whispers in a conspiratorial tone, “It felt really good, didn’t it?”

Unthinkingly, Kara answers, “Oh my god, it really did.” Her conscience instantly kicks in and she grimaces at what she just said. “I mean, no! That was wrong. Violence is not okay and I should have handled that differently.”

Alex just shrugs. “Yeah, you should’ve waited until I was around so I could see it for myself.”

Alex.

“Okay, okay, fine. I’ll bite my tongue. Anyway, you’re not being arrested. We can go.”

“Really?” Kara asks, astonished that there doesn’t seem to be any consequences. “I- how can that be? What about that gate agent? And all that commotion I caused?”

Alex shrugs. “Airline’s dropping it.”

“What? How? Why? What did you do?”

“Me? Nothing. Like I said, I don’t have that kind of money. Or rather, the kind of connections that come with having money.”

The penny drops. “Lena?” Kara doesn’t know whether this is a good thing or not. “You called her?”

“I ran into her,” Alex corrects with a barely suppressed giddy grin. “She was already here.”

Although Kara has an inkling of why Lena would be at the airport, she doesn’t dare to let herself hope so brazenly, so she asks, “Why?”

“Ask her yourself.” Alex opens the door, then steps aside, revealing Lena, looking glamorous and impeccably dressed as always, but with a nervous expression and fidgety hands clasped in front of her.

“Hi,” Lena greets shyly.

Kara’s speechless, staring at Lena like she’s a precious apparition, terrified that one wrong move will break the spell. Alex glances in between the two women. It’s impossible to miss the tension.

“I’ll give you two a minute.” Alex steps outside, closing the door behind her.

Then there’s silence and stillness, neither woman knowing what to say.

It’s Lena who makes the first move, nodding at the seats. Kara consents with her own nod and Lena takes the seat closest to her. Kara then chooses to forgo the single chair by her and rounds the table to sit in the chair next to Lena.

“You- so I- um, h- how- that-” Kara stops, takes a moment to collect herself, and tries again. “Thank you. I don’t know what you did, but thank you for getting me out of trouble.”

“I didn’t do much. I just had to make some connections. Lex golfs with the airline’s CEO, so that was just a five minute call. It took only slightly longer to get a direct line to the superintendent of the Port Authority police. It wasn’t a difficult conversation given that there’s no complainant. Mike’s not cooperating and the airline employee wasn’t seriously hurt. He just bit his lip but he’ll be fine. So I think this whole thing would’ve been dropped eventually anyway. All I did was save everybody some time.”

“That gate agent- he must be really mad though?” Kara asks anxiously. “God, I feel so bad.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, he’s actually quite happy. He wasn’t thrilled initially, to be sure, but he’ll be getting a generous paid ‘medical leave’ for his lip, so he’s satisfied.”

“Because of your five minute call with his CEO,” Kara guesses. Accurately, as it happens.

Lena just shrugs casually. “It’s not as big of a deal as you’d think.”

Kara drops her gaze, unable to look her in the face any longer. “You’re still helping me, even everything that I’ve done…”

“You’ve done nothing except try to do the right thing,” Lena returns sharply.

Kara snorts, soft and derisive. “Yeah, but it wasn’t the right thing at all. All I did was prolong everyone’s misery. I didn’t want to hurt Mike, but then I end up breaking his nose right before we’re flying out to see his family for Christmas. That’s like the worst possible way this could’ve gone. I should’ve broken up with him a long time ago. But I didn’t and I made a huge mess out of everything. And… worst of all, I hurt you and that is unforgivable.”

“I didn’t exactly make it easy,” Lena returns quietly. “I should’ve been upfront with you about my feelings. I knew how you felt and you gave me so many chances to say something, but I… I thought I was doing the right thing by letting you go. So you weren’t the only person doing the wrong thing for what you thought were the right reasons.”

“I guess we both just should have been upfront. Alex was right.” Kara sighs, heavy and resigned. “God, she’s going to be insufferable about this.”

“Mmm,” Lena concurs with a light hum. “She’s earned it though.”

“Yeah. I definitely owe her an apology too,” Kara mutters. “I’m really sorry, Lena. I’m so sorry for hurting you. I… I just want you to know that it was never about choosing Mike over you. It wasn’t about him. Or even you. It was just…”

“Krypton,” Lena finishes for her. “I know, Kara. I get it. We’ve both done very silly, very ridiculous things to hold on to the past. I’m right there with you.”

“Well, mine was just slightly more destructive than sitting in the dark listening to the Cranberries,” Kara replies sardonically. “I loved my old life, I loved Krypton, my family, and all the memories I have, but I screwed everything up trying to keep that connection alive. But I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m completely done with Mike on every level and I’m not going to Krypton. It’s not my home anymore and it’s about time that I move on.”

Delicately, Lena asks, “So you and Mike… that’s permanent?”

“Very. Breaking someone’s nose really solidifies a break up, you know? My only regret is not doing it sooner. I mean, the… breaking up part. Not the punch-to-the-face part. I have a lot of good memories with him but that’s all it is. Just memories. We weren’t right for each other. I should’ve seen that a long time ago.” Kara pauses, then adds dryly, “Plus, I’m starting to suspect that he can be kind of an ass?”

Lena lets out a polite, noncommittal hum, as non-judgmentally as she can muster. Kara laughs, seeing right through her feigned diplomacy.

“Yeah, okay, and I feel like an ass too, for not having seen it earlier. I feel so incredibly stupid.”

“Don’t. You’re not the first person to find themselves stuck in an unhappy relationship and you won’t be the last. At least you finally handled it.”

“By breaking his nose,” Kara reminds her.

“I didn’t say that you handled it perfectly.”

Kara chuckles lightly. “No, definitely not.”

In the silence that follows, Kara notes Lena’s demeanor. Yes, there’s relief and hope, but Kara also sees the apprehension. And she knows what Lena’s thinking.

So, reassuringly, she adds, “I didn’t do it for you, you know. You didn’t break us up. That relationship wasn’t good, and it wasn’t what I wanted. It was just what I was used to. I wasn’t happy and I didn’t even know it. I ended it for me, for my own good.”

Silently, Lena takes in Kara’s words as the absolution she so desperately needs. She takes a moment then to work up the courage to take her turn at honesty. Kara sits next to her quietly, waiting patiently for her to be ready.

Hesitantly, she starts. “So… I suppose I should explain why I’m here.”

Kara hums in agreement. “That would be nice. Because from where I’m sitting, it looks like you rushed to the airport to stop me from leaving.”

“Well, yes. But… also no?” That doesn’t help clarify anything. Lena clears her throat and tries again. “I didn’t come to try and stop you. I just came to tell you that I think I was reacting pridefully out of hurt the other day and I… I said some things I didn’t mean. You add value to my life and I… I’d like to keep you in it, in whatever capacity that works for both of us.”

“You could’ve just texted me,” Kara replies wryly.

Lena lets out a small chuckle, ducking her head in sheepish acknowledgment. Maybe rushing to the airport was a touch dramatic. “I wanted to tell you in person. But I also want you to understand that this isn’t some grand romantic gesture. This is a… small platonic gesture. There are no expectations and no obligations here. I’m not asking you for anything. Really. Because I don’t want to feel like the reason you’ve left your boyfriend and you just came out of a long-term relationship. You know how I feel and I know how you feel, but… this past year has been turbulent for both of us. I think maybe we both need to hit pause on all the romantic dramatics. After everything that’s happened, maybe it’s time to… take a breath.”

“Okay,” Kara says slowly, letting Lena’s words sink in. The disappointment comes swiftly but dissipates just as soon. As the idea settles with her, she finds herself actually relieved. No pressure. No expectations. No need to do or feel something to match or appease another person’s feelings. “So… then, where do we go from here?”

Lena thinks it over. The answer comes to her quickly. “You know, I’m a little hungry, and I suddenly have the strongest craving for momos. Do you know where I can find some good ones?”

A full smile blooms on Kara’s face, dazzling and alluring in its utter, unrestrained joy.

“Yeah, I think I can help with that.”

 

 

Chapter Text

This is going to take a long time
And I wonder what's mine
Can't take no more
Wonder if you'll understand
It's just the touch of your hand
Behind a closed door
All I needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day
And all I ever knew
Only you

“Only You” - Yazoo

 

 

They rebuild slowly.

They’ll grab coffee, sometimes lunch, maybe the occasional dinner. Usually somebody else is there, Alex or Andrea or Nia. Always in public. They don’t discuss it - don’t really need to - but they both know that they’re not ready to spend time together alone in private. But bit by bit, Lena and Kara restore their friendship, letting last year’s heartaches fade and heal.

Kara moves out of Scooter’s basement and onto Alex’s couch. She’s there for a month until Alex’s gruff landlord comes through for them and finds Kara a studio apartment in the neighborhood owned by an equally gruff friend of his. Kara gets a good deal on it and finally finds herself living alone for the first time in a long time, but Alex is just around the corner.

Alex helps her move into her new place. In the midst of taking out dishware from a cardboard box and stacking them in kitchen cabinets, she asks with feigned casualness, “So… how are things with Lena going?”

Kara’s unpacking her clothes, which go on an open freestanding closet in lieu of a real closet in this tiny space.

“Good!” Kara answers cheerily. “We just had lunch the other day. You know, I don’t care what anybody else says, Katz’s still has the best pastrami. Hey, pickles count as a serving of vegetables, right? Lena says they don’t but I think that’s crazy. Of course they’re vegetables.”

Alec scrunches her nose as she contemplates the question. “I think cucumbers are technically fruits? But your diet’s probably already in trouble if you’re trying to classify pickles as a vegetable serving, so you should listen to Lena.” Remembering that this isn’t the point of the conversation, Alex shakes her head. Fix Kara’s love life first, then her diet. “No, wait, we’re talking about Lena right now. What’s going on with you two?”

Kara shrugs. “Nothing. Things are going well though. We’re both happy with where we are. We talk, we hang out, it’s all good.”

“Yeah, but don’t you want to…” Alex clears her throat, searching for a euphemism she would be comfortable with. “...do extra-friendly things with her?”

“Well, of course I do,” Kara answers in exasperation, as if it’s perfectly obvious, as if she hasn’t spent the past month being platonic buddies with Lena. “But she said she wanted to hit pause on the romance and I have to respect that. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with taking things slow.”

“So you are planning on asking her out at some point?”

Busy shaking loose a sweater from her suitcase, Kara answers nonchalantly, “Sure, when we’re both ready.”

“You mean when Lena’s ready.”

Kara deposits her sweater back in her suitcase, stopping her unpacking to give Alex her full attention.

“Alex, I hurt her. I hurt her a lot. Giving her some time is the least that I could do.”

But because this is her baby sister, Alex’s going to take Kara’s side, whether she wants it or not. “But you didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I don’t think that matters. Damage is damage. I’m just happy that she still wants me in her life after all that. So, yeah, I’m going to let her set the pace here.”

Alex huffs. It’s not that she disagrees. She’s just impatient waiting for her sister’s happy ending. “Your endless mutual respect for each other is going to be the death of your relationship. No, sorry, the death of your non-relationship.”

“It won’t get that far. I promise. This is nothing at all like last year. Besides…” Kara picks up her sweater again, lowly muttering this next part that she knows Alex won’t like. “I, um, I just want to make sure my last relationship is really dead and buried before anything happens with Lena. She deserves a new start with me that doesn’t come with all this baggage.”

Alex heavily sets a mug down on the shelves with a thud as she scoffs incredulously. “That’s still going on?”

As it turns out, breaking up with your childhood sweetheart takes more than just a single fight at the airport. Even if that fight included a punch to the face and a broken nose.

First, there were the late night phone calls, which Kara took out of residual guilt. Mike had asked for a second chance, which Kara swiftly and firmly shot down. Next came the texts and emails, ostensibly about division of assets. “I think you still have my favorite hoodie, can I have it back?” and “Remember the really nice bike you bought me last Christmas? I feel terrible keeping something so expensive, do you want to use it some time?” Finally, Kara told him to make a list of everything he wanted back and to keep or throw away anything of hers he thinks he still has. And now he’s asking to meet one last time. For ‘closure,’ whatever that means.

“This is the last thing,” Kara says. “He knows that.”

“And if it’s not, you’re going to file for a restraining order, right?”

“No, but I did tell him that if he tries to contact me again after this, I was going to leave him locked in a tiny windowless room with you.”

Alex hums in approval. “Good enough.”

***

She’s five minutes early to meeting Mike at a generic, unremarkable, coffee shop in Lower Manhattan, a neutral territory that holds no meaning for either of them. Mike’s already there, a half-empty cup of coffee before him. She waves hello, buys a cup of tea, and brings it to the table. They exchange pleasantries, hello, how are you, how’s work, all the polite things people start with in an awkward meeting.

Then Mike asks, “How’s Lena?” It’s clear that he means for it to be small talk, but it’s the wrong small talk. When Kara visibly stiffens, he quickly retracts. “No, nevermind. I shouldn’t have. Uh, look, I’m leaving on Saturday. I’m moving back to Krypton. I just wanted to say goodbye… and I wanted to… here.” He leans over, rummages through his bookbag that’s sitting on the floor, and comes up with a shoebox which he sets down on the table and pushes towards her. “When I was home over Christmas, I, uh, I went in the basement and dug up all the pictures we have with your family. I thought you should have them. There’s some other stuff too, postcards and Christmas cards your folks sent over the years. And my mom found some recipes that your mom shared with her ages ago. They’re in there too.”

Kara pulls the box in front of her and gingerly takes off the lid. It’s filled almost to the top, with photographs and writings that look achingly familiar. Just seeing her mother’s carefree, loopy Y’s fill her with happy melancholy.

As she sifts through the box, Mike continues, “When I was home, my dad had good days and bad days. I’m watching him struggling to hold on to bits and pieces of his life and I… it just struck me that’s what you were trying to do for so long and how important it is to hold on to your memories. So I… I think you should have this. I hope it helps.”

Feeling overwhelmed, feeling grateful, Kara musters a feeble, emotional, “Thank you.”

“And I’m sorry.” He chuckles then, self-deprecatingly. “I feel a bit like the boy who cried wolf because I’ve apologized to you so many times for so many things, I don’t know how to tell you how deeply sorry I am this time. But I am. I- I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I know I haven’t always been a good boyfriend, but the last few months we were together, that was something else. I lost my mind, Kara. I was so scared of losing you, and the things I did… I mean, you punched me. You broke my nose. I never thought that you would do that. I never thought that you could.”

Despite what Alex’s told her over and over again, Kara just doesn’t think she’ll ever stop feeling bad about that. Not for the first time, she says contritely, “Y- yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I- I shouldn’t have done that.”

Mike just looks aghast at the apology. “Kara, no. I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean that for you to do something like that, that means that I pushed you way past your limit. And I didn’t even know. Or I guess I didn’t want to accept it. All those times that you told me that it wasn’t working, I just didn’t believe you, because I was so sure about us. I was so convinced that I could make you happy in the long run that I didn’t see how much pain I was causing you. I’ve spent my whole life loving you and you’re everything to me. I am still so crazy for you because you-”

“Mike,” Kara breaks in gently. “Stuff like that is how we got here in the first place.”

He bows his head, chastened. “Yeah. I guess I thought I was being expressive and honest with my feelings. I thought I was being romantic about what you mean to me. And maybe it would be if you felt the same way, but… uh, well, you don’t. It never occurred to me how hearing stuff like that would make you feel. Anyway… I’m sorry.”

And Kara just nods. They both have enough regrets from this relationship to last a lifetime. Sometimes it’s best just to move on.

She says, “Mike, we can’t be in contact again. No calls, no texts, no emails, no social media. You get that, right?”

He manages a small, sad nod. “Yeah. I get that.” He slouches back in his chair and sighs, trying for levity but missing the mark entirely. “But, hey, maybe someday, like ten years from now, we can be friends again?”

He smiles at her, and for a moment, he looks like the boy she had fallen in love with so many years ago. Then it’s easy for Kara to picture this future: in ten, fifteen years, she visits Krypton with her wife and children and meets up with Mike, his wife, and their kids. They go out to dinner, reminiscing about old times. Mike drives them around in his pick-up, they talk about all the people they used to know and how different Krypton’s become and how it stays the same. It’s tempting. It would be wonderful to think that one day they could be friends with no pain or regret. To have someone who remembers her parents. To keep that connection to Krypton alive.

But Kara knows very well how poisonous hope can be, how a tantalizing, unfulfilled promise can hang about like a cursed specter and cast a pall over the future. She also knows that the woman who has her heart still harbors, may always harbor, deep-seated insecurities over her relationship with Mike. And she would give Lena zero reason to be doubtful, not even for a second. Their relationship might not have technically started just yet - in fact, Kara doesn’t even have any guarantees that there would ever be a relationship - but regardless, she’s ready to protect it at any cost.

She makes her choice. It’s not a hard one.

With a slight smile, she tells him, in a kind but firm tone, “Not a chance.”

***

It was bound to happen sooner or later. When it finally does, they’re three months into their newfound friendship.

It’s Thursday night, and Kara’s out with Lena and her friends out at a small jazz bar in the West Village. Everyone’s having fun, enjoying the music, joking and chatting.

Until Andrea, with a pointed glance at Kara, asks: “What's going on over there?”

They look over. Lena’s at the bar, ordering drinks for everyone. She’s waiting for the bartender to make their orders and it looks like she’s struck up a conversation with a fellow patron, a striking woman with short, dirty-blonde hair and a sly, confident smirk.

Kara downs the rest of her half-full beer with one long drink. She coughs a little when she comes up for air.

“You okay?” Sam asks with genuine concern.

“Yes!” Kara exclaims, a little too loud.

“Oh, good, denial,” Andrea remarks sarcastically. “That’s a color we haven’t seen on you.”

“No, I mean…” Kara gestures uselessly as she struggles to explain this. “Look, Lena and I… we’re friends right now. I’m not saying that’s all we’ll ever be but that is what we are right now.”

“So that-” Andrea nods at the bar, where the short-haired woman is inching closer into Lena’s personal space. “-doesn’t bother you?”

Kara looks over, quickly discovers that’s a mistake, and turns her attention back. “Well, I’m not going to lie and say that I love it. But… we’re friends. We have no claims to one another. She’s not doing anything wrong.”

“Isn’t this hard?” Sam questions. “Being just friends when you have feelings for her?”

“I don’t know. I guess it should, but it isn’t?” Kara pauses, trying to find a way to describe it. “It’s like… I just really love spending time with her, no matter what we do or what we are. I liked the, um, well, the physical stuff, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Lena and I, we have a wonderful, unique connection, with or without romance or benefits. Our relationship is always going to be special no matter what state it’s in.”

“Aww!” Sam coos.

Andrea winces. “Eww.”

In admonishment, Sam delivers a playful slap to her knee.

Andrea accepts the judgment stoically and offers Kara a quasi-apology. “Hey, for what it’s worth, I’m completely supportive. Mostly because I don’t need you and your ‘special connection’ coming in here and encroaching on my territory. I already have to share the ‘best friend’ job with this one.” She jerks a thumb at Sam. “Girlfriend? Fine. But Lena can’t have three best friends. I won’t stand for it.”

“I’ll make sure to plan my love life around your friendship hierarchy,” Kara responds drily.

“I’m glad we understand each other,” Andrea returns with a satisfied nod.

“Well, that sounds like trouble.” Lena interjects as she arrives with the drinks. Eying Andrea with great suspicion, she sets the tray of drinks down on the table. “Should I be concerned?”

“Not as concerned as I am about you and that blondie with the K-pop mop over there.” Andrea gestures at the blonde at the bar, who’s looking over her shoulder in their direction. “What’s her deal?”

Lena shrugs carelessly, more preoccupied with handing out the drinks than the beautiful woman at the bar smirking in her direction. “I wouldn’t know. We just chatted about whiskey briefly.”

“Did I see her give you her number?” Sam asks.

Deliberately, Lena doesn’t look in Kara’s direction. She’s nevertheless very aware of her, aware of the stiffening in her posture.

“I didn’t take it,” Lena replies, ostensibly to Sam. “By the way, how did Ruby do on her volcano project?”

It’s not a subtle segue, but it’s an effective one. The conversation steers itself to Ruby, and from there takes on a life of its own.

At the end of the evening, Lena walks Kara to her subway stop. They walk side by side, a polite distance between them. It’s then that Kara finds the courage to broach the topic. Because, as unpleasant as this is, as Kara’s learned the hard way, it’s better to talk things out rather than let it fester.

“Hey, about- um, back there, with the woman at the bar?” She starts hesitantly, ignoring her nervous, pounding heart. “I just… I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to do anything- or, um not do anything for my benefit.”

Without breaking stride, Lena casts an amused glance at Kara. With mischievous mirth, she teases in a lilting tone, “So I should’ve taken her number?”

Kara’s reply is completely sincere and devoid of any hesitation. “Yes. If you wanted to.” When Lena glances at her in surprise and a touch of skepticism, Kara relents with a sheepish shrug. “Yeah, okay, I mean I’m still going to hope that she has really terrible breath and kisses like a piranha. But, um, I just want to make sure you’re like… not holding back from doing anything you want to do because you feel like… you can’t or you shouldn’t or anything like that. You don’t owe me anything, Lena. And more importantly, I can handle it. I’m not going to be upset with you living your life. I’m still going to be your friend no matter what.”

Lena doesn’t say anything right away. They continue toward their destination, the sound of their synchronized footsteps drowned out by the relentless buzz of the city, the background traffic, the shouts and chatter of crowds never too far away.

At last, she answers, “I appreciate that, Kara. And I promise you that I’m going to do exactly what I want to do.” Genially, she nudges Kara with her shoulder. “Which, at the moment, is spending time with you.”

“Right,” Kara says quietly, trying to tamp down the giddiness in her heart. “I suppose I should’ve known better. You’re stubborn and immune to influence.”

Lena chuckles faintly in amusement. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

Kara, keeping the same pace and staring down at the sidewalk, says very softly, in a voice so low that it’s almost a whisper, “I remember every moment with you.”

Taken aback, Lena falters, falling behind slightly as Kara continues on. It only takes a second and she recovers quickly. She resumes her steps, quickening to catch up to Kara, until the two of them fall into sync once more.

***

Alex Danvers would like to think that she’s not a stupid person.

She would like to think of herself as a sensible person who makes logical, rational decisions. She would like to think such things, and yet the evidence to the contrary is right there, fucking up her proposal plans.

Because Kelly Olsen, love of her life, is going to walk through their apartment door soon and the set up is still nowhere near ready. It’s not ready because Alex has made the terrible, awful, no good decision to ask Kara and Lena for help decorating the apartment. And with their mighty powers combined… nothing is accomplished. Kara isn’t really paying attention to the flowers she’s supposed to be scattering and Lena isn’t in a hurry to hang up the strings of lights around the apartment. Instead, they’re busy chatting, cracking jokes, and making eyes at one another.

To be fair, Lena was Alex’s fourth choice to enlist for help, after Nia, Winn, and James all said they were unavailable (excuses were, respectively: work, date, out of town). It’s not that she doesn’t like Lena, it’s just that it never occurred to Alex that she could ask Lena for help. She wouldn’t even have thought of it if it weren’t for Kara’s suggestion. After all, surely a woman like Lena has something better to do on a Friday night than trek out to Queens to help decorate an apartment for a woman she barely knows?

But no. Obviously Lena Luthor, the very busy, very important genius billionaire CEO, has nothing better to do with her time than randomly hang out with her platonic buddy and said buddy’s sister for no particular reason.

“Clearly just best friend vibes here,” Alex mumbles to herself.

Kara, clear across the room, looks up. “What’s that?”

Alex clears her throat. “Uh, I just realized that I forgot Kelly’s favorite champagne.”

“I’ll go out and get it,” Kara is quick to volunteer.

“It’s so hard to find.” Alex flops down on the couch in resignation. “Forget it. We’re not going to finish this in time.”

“No, come on, just let me try,” Kara pleads in earnest. “You two keep working. We have like five liquor stores within a ten block radius, one of them is bound to have it. I’ll be right back!”

Then Kara’s jumping to her feet, speeding out the door, on a mission to rescue her sister’s big proposal.

“You’re lucky to have a sister like that.” Lena’s sitting at the dining table, untangling the string lights a little faster now that she isn’t giggling incessantly at Kara’s lame puns. “Lex wouldn’t even have shown up to help.”

“That I am. I feel very lucky to have Kara.” Alex is now sprawled out on her couch, studying Lena intently. “Do you?” Lena doesn’t slow down in what she’s doing, but her lips press into a thin line. So before she can deny it, Alex grumbles, “Please, spare me the ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ charade, okay?”

Lena busies herself with the string lights before her, studiously avoiding Alex’s gaze. “Well, I don’t. Kara and I are doing very well.”

“Yeah, as so-called ‘friends’.” Alex air-quotes mockingly. “Just a couple of fabulously single, platonic gal pals who gaze longingly into each other’s eyes and endlessly talk about how much they mean to each other. What am I supposed to do with that? Nobody’s buying that as strictly platonic.”

“All right, yes, there’s an attraction,” Lena admits grudgingly.

“You literally exchanged ‘I love you’s.”

Lena clears her throat awkwardly. “And yes, there are… feelings involved.”

“So then why is nothing happening?” Alex sits up, draping her upper body against the back of the couch to peer at Lena. “Are you still mad at her for what happened with Mike?”

That finally elicits a reaction. Lena drops the lights and turns to face Alex, looking peeved and serious. “Absolutely not.”

Alex rises from the couch, circles around, and crosses the space in between to the dining table and takes a seat next to Lena. “Look, I’m really not trying to meddle. But one of you has to make the first move here and Kara, she’s waiting for you now because you’re the one who asked for friendship. So at this point, I think Kara’s going to need some kind of encouragement from you if anything’s going to happen.”

Feeling cornered, Lena does what she does best. She pivots. “Well, first you want me to stop sleeping with your sister and now you want me to make a move,” she says lightly. “Make up your mind.”

“I have, and it’s ‘make my sister happy.’ It’s been five months since she broke up with that turd nugget and nothing’s happened. If you just need more time, I understand that and I’ll butt out. But right now, I’m a little worried that maybe nothing’s happened because you’re not interested anymore and Kara doesn’t know that. And if that’s the case-”

“No,” Lena breaks in sharply. “That’s not it.”

Alex looks so confused and helpless. “So… what is it then?”

Staring down at the table, Lena rubs at the back of her neck, feeling overwhelmed and discomfited, yet oddly compelled to continue the conversation. Like maybe she needs to talk about it and is half-glad that someone is dragging it out of her.

“Kara’s going to be the last woman I ever kiss,” Lena says now. “At least that’s the intention and if I’m lucky. Once we get started, we’re going to be embarking on something that lasts. I know that, Kara knows that, we all know that. And that feels so… daunting.”

Alex’s not quite sure what that means, but she tries. “Okay, so you’re scared of the commitment?”

Lena shakes her head. “No. Not at all. I’m afraid that I’m going to screw it up. This is it. Kara is it for me. And a part of me is so excited for our future to start, but then another part of me is just terrified that I’m going to mess it all up. I can be a good friend, but a good partner- that, I don’t know.”

“Yeah,” Alex replies with a soft exhale. “I get that.”

“You do?” Lena had honestly expected a slap to the face. Or at least mockery.

Alex scoffs derisively. “Uh, I’m about to ask Kelly to marry me. You think I’m not terrified? The woman is a goddess. Of course I’m afraid of messing it up. But that’s not going to stop me, because I’d be crazy not to lock that down.”

Nodding along in understanding, Lena tries to steady her nerves by breathing in deeply. “Yes. No, of course, you’re right. It’s irrational to let my fears get in the way of something good.”

“Of course I am,” Alex replies with confidence that borders on smugness. “It’s about time you people start acknowledging how right I always am.” She lays a hand on Lena’s shoulder, more friendly than threatening. Mostly. “And also because if you don’t make a move soon, I’m going to start bringing my single work friends around. You’re really not going to like that. My hospital has an improbably high concentration of ridiculously beautiful people and they’re all horndogs.”

“Beautiful horndogs,” Lena repeats in a clipped tone, inwardly shuddering at the thought of Kara being wooed by one of Alex’s impossibly good-looking coworkers. Anyway, Alex’s just joking. She thinks. “Got it.”

Ridiculously beautiful horndogs,” Alex corrects. “Now hurry up with those lights! Kelly’s going to be here any minute!”

With redirected focus, Lena gets to work.

Alex’s luck starts to turn then. First, Kara returns triumphantly, elusive champagne in hand. Then Nia turns up, with Winn in tow. They all work together to decorate the apartment as Winn regales them all with stories of his terrible date.

Together, they just manage to put the finishing touches on the decor just as Kelly’s coming down up the stairs.

Out of time, everyone except Alex piles into the bedroom to hide. This leaves Alex standing in her living room illuminated only by lights hanging from the ceiling, rose petals strewn throughout the apartment, creating a path that leads to a rose petal heart with Alex standing in its center, waiting for her love and tightly clutching a ring box behind her back.

In the bedroom, Kara paces back and forth anxiously. “Nia, can you hear what’s going on out there?”

Nia, seated on the bed and five feet away from the door, gives her a strange look. “How would I hear anything?”

“I don’t know! You have hearing like a dog!”

Lena’s seated on the bed next to Nia, and when Kara passes by, she reaches out to take her wrist. “Darling, relax.” She pulls Kara down to sit beside her. “We’ll find out soon enough. Not that I think we’ll be surprised by the answer.”

Fretfully, Kara nods. So, seeking to soothe, Lena lays her palm against her back and rubs in firm, broad strokes.

“It’s all right,” she whispers reassuringly.

Kara makes a noise halfway between a contented sigh and a pleasurable groan. And Nia suddenly feels the urge to join Winn on the far side of the room next to the windows.

Winn’s fully facing the window, elbows braced against the sill. He’s gazing longingly outside at the ground below, as if calculating whether he would seriously injure himself if he jumped out. When Nia joins him, she adopts his position, directing her body and attention completely away from the non-couple on the bed.

“Hey,” Nia greets flatly.

Keeping his eyes squarely focused out the window, Winn replies in a sotto voice, “If I hear a moan back there, I’m diving head first out the window.”

“They’re not even dating,” Nia whispers back.

“Oh, god, it’s going to be so much worse when they do start.”

Fortunately, their misery comes to an end when the bedroom door slams open with Alex standing in the doorway.

Unable to restrain her excitement, Kara instantly jumps to her feet and demands, “Well? What’d she say?”

With an inscrutable expression, Alex responds calmly, “She said no.”

Kara emits an impossibly high, indignant squeal. “WHAT?!”

Kelly appears in the doorway behind Alex, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Sweetheart, don’t tease my future sister-in-law like that.” To Kara then, she says, “Of course I said yes.”

With Kara still grumbling about her sister’s trickery, they all go back into the living room to uncork the champagne.

While Kelly and Alex call Eliza and then James to spread the good news, the speculation begins.

“Do you think it’ll be a long engagement?” Nia poses to Kara.

“I doubt it. They’ve been together for so long. They’ve pretty much already worked out all the details. There’s this nonprofit bookstore cafe in Manhattan that doubles as a wedding venue and gives its proceeds to the homeless living with HIV. They’ve had their eye on that space forever, so they’ll probably just grab the next available date.”

“What a lovely thought,” Lena remarks. “Put your wedding costs towards a worthy cause. The main branch of the New York Public Library does the same thing.”

“Yeah, but that costs like twenty times more than the bookstore,” Kara says.

“Well, perhaps if money isn’t a factor. It’s a beautiful space. Funding the public library is certainly a worthwhile endeavor anyway. So I don’t think it’s an outrageous venue if that’s what’s desired.”

“Yeah, but that seems more fitting for a huge high society event. I do find the idea of a nonprofit venue appealing, but personally, I like small, intimate weddings,” Kara returns. After a brief pause, she quickly adds, “But I mean, I would understand if someone needed to have a big wedding because of social obligations.”

“No, I love small weddings. I have a small circle of family and friends myself. Larger affairs never appealed. There’s the Botanical Gardens. Still a worthy organization and not quite as extravagant.”

“Oh, yeah, the Brooklyn one is amazing,” Kara says contemplatively. “Oh! A lot of the museums serve as venues too. Have you been to the City of New York museum?”

Winn turns to Nia, and, in the faintest voice he can muster, questions, “What’s happening now?”

Turning her face towards him so as to further quiet her voice - not that Lena or Kara are really paying them any attention - she answers, “I… think they might be planning their wedding?”

Winn’s absolutely befuddled. “Are we sure that they’re not dating?”

Nia sighs helplessly. “Who the hell knows?”

***

Kara throws Alex and Kelly an engagement party at a trendy, vaguely Korean, celebrity-chef-owned restaurant in the East Village. The party’s in full swing; Kara’s flitting from one end of the restaurant to the other, chatting up the guests, hugging her friends, and squealing uncontrollably every time she passes by Alex and Kelly. Despite this exuberance, she perks up even more when Lena walks through the door.

“Oops. Sorry, sorry,” she apologetically throws out at Winn, who is mid-sentence telling a story to her and Brainy. “I just have to-”

The guys don’t hear the end of that sentence because Kara’s already taken off, tearing her way through the crowd straight for Lena. She comes to a skidding halt a few feet before she reaches her, as she realizes that Lena’s wearing Kara’s favorite dress. That form-fitting, off-shoulder slinky black dress which accentuates Lena’s cleavage and arrests all of Kara’s higher functions.

“Uhhhh.”

“Hello to you too,” Lena returns, voice oozing with indecency.

“Hi!” Kara squeaks back, her mind repeatedly stuttering look her in the eyes look her in the eyes look her in the eyes.

And Lena, of course, knows exactly what’s going on inside Kara’s head. With great flourish, she gestures at her dress, pulling Kara’s gaze downwards over her body.

“You like?”

“You know I do.” Kara’s openly ogling now. It takes her a moment to right herself. And her brain. And her body. But eventually she comes to her senses. “Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat? Here, you have to try the lettuce wraps.”

Kara flags down one of the servers walking around with a tray of food. The restaurant’s star dish is bo ssam: juicy, tender bits of a slow-roasted pork shoulder, a briny raw oyster, and spicy kimchi, all wrapped up in lettuce leaf, giving a crisp, satisfying crunch that sets off the richness of the other ingredients. Kara takes a small plate from the serving tray and hands it to Lena. Lena accepts gratefully. She’s taking her first bite when Kara’s struck with inspiration.

“Lettuce wrap in the street,” Kara says. “Let us strap between the sheets.”

That, predictably, leads to a choking, coughing fit from Lena. Kara quickly hands over her own drink, which is quickly downed.

Lena clears her throat. “Excuse me. That kimchi was… spicy.”

Nervously, Kara fidgets with her fingers. “Um… too spicy?”

Lena holds Kara’s gaze for a beat, a look loaded with latent meaning. “No,” she answers, the single syllable coming out slow, low, and bawdy.

Kara doesn’t understand, will never understand, how Lena can reduce her to a simpering puddle with one look and a simple word. But here they are. Clearly picking up on how Kara’s feeling, Lena arches an eyebrow, haughty and flirtatious, which only further encourages the primal portion of Kara’s brain busy mentally undressing her good friend.

But before she has the chance to react, James appears. “Hey, Lena. Kara, the manager’s looking for you.”

Kara resists the urge to throw a tantrum.

“I’ll be right back,” she says apologetically to Lena.

“I’ll be counting the seconds,” Lena murmurs, bringing Kara’s drink to her lips again and taking a long sip.

Kara turns away, stomping a little as she walks away in petulance, muttering under her breath, “Oh, for the love of…”

But that “be right back” turns out to be not quite true, because one event after another keeps Kara from returning to Lena’s side. First, there’s a hiccup with the menu, and Kara spends some time with the restaurant manager working out replacement dishes on the fly. Then, one of Kelly’s aunts stops her to thank her effusively for arranging the party, which then devolves into a series of probing questions about her personal life as she tries to suss out whether she can set Kara up with her son. When Kara escapes that, she walks right into a petty squabble that’s somehow erupted between her cousin Clark and Jonn, Alex’s friend from work. She spends another fifteen minutes playing referee, which is eventually resolved when she basically orders the two men to shake hands and play nice.

When she finally has time to go back to Lena, she finds her standing alone in a corner of the room, nursing a nearly-empty wine glass.

“I’m so, so sorry,” Kara says immediately. “It’s been chaotic. I hope you haven’t felt abandoned?”

“Not at all, I’m completely fine. You don’t have to look after me. I was talking to Brainy and Nia just before you came over.”

“Well, then, I guess my services aren’t needed here,” Kara quips lightly, mockingly making a show of turning around to walk away.

Laughing, Lena takes her wrist and tugs. “Come on now, you know that I prefer your company.”

Kara lets herself be dragged back easily. Lena pulls until Kara’s right next to her, standing much closer than is strictly friendly. When Kara stills, Lena still doesn’t let go of her wrist.

Coyly, breathlessly, Kara whispers back, “Do you?”

Their eyes lock. Kara feels her chest squeeze pleasantly in delight. She finds herself drawing slowly towards the other woman, drifting ever closer like a boat pulled by the currents back to shore.

As the gap between them narrows, Lena’s eyes drift to Kara’s lips as she softly exhales, “Above all others.”

Kara’s so close now she can feel Lena’s breath on her face. Her eyes are fluttering closed when Lena clears her throat, backing away and breaking the spell. She lets the blonde’s wrist slip from her hand, leaving Kara’s skin tingling and missing the warmth and contact.

“Oops,” Lena says breezily, waving around the nearly-empty wine glass in her hand. “Looks like I need a refill. I’ll just be a moment.”

Lena rushes off for the bar, leaving Kara feeling lost, confused, and more than a little turned on.

Maybe she’s wrong. Maybe she’s misread the signs. Because she had thought that Lena was ready for their relationship to move forward. But obviously not.

Which is… fine. She can be patient. She will be patient because Lena’s worth it.

So Kara brushes off the rejection and prepares herself for friendly interactions for the rest of the evening.

Except that Lena’s now making that difficult because every time Kara gets close to her, she seems to need another drink or finds something else to do on the other side of the bar. Kara’s at a complete loss. Lena’s behaving very strangely. It’s all very odd and unsettling, because this whole thing feels a lot like her birthday party last year, when she was still with Mike and completely oblivious as to how Lena felt. She would not risk having her suffer in silence again. So when she sees Lena heading towards the bathroom, she follows, then hangs back and waits until the brunette steps back out into the hallway. As soon as Lena emerges, Kara’s right there, questions at the ready.

“What’s going on?” Kara’s choosing to dispense with any preambles. “You’ve been avoiding me all night. Did I do something?”

Startled by this ambush, Lena instinctively takes a step back, bumping up against the bathroom door. She steps to the side, leaning against the wall there.

“You haven’t done anything,” Lena assures her, sounding so genuine that it’s almost enough to dispel Kara’s anxieties.

“A- are you sure? Because you’ve been really off and I- I just want us to keep being upfront with each other and… um, well, I kind of thought that you wanted me to kiss you earlier, but then you…” Realizing that it might sound accusatory if she continued, Kara dismisses the rest of her thought with a wave. “I mean, it doesn’t matter. It’s totally, totally fine if you didn’t want to. Really. I just, I just didn’t want to… I mean, if I misread the situation, I’m sorry, I didn’t- I really didn’t mean to offend.”

“You didn’t. And you didn’t misread the situation at all, I just…” Lena inhales, feeling vulnerable and a little scared, as she tends to when forced to be emotionally honest. “I didn’t mean to be so standoffish. Truthfully, I was nervous. I was… well, I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to ask you to dance.”

Out of all the things that Kara thought could be wrong, she certainly didn’t anticipate dancing to be the root problem. “What? Why?”

“You’ve been so kind and patient these last few months with me, waiting for me to be ready. And so, now that I am, I feel as though… well, maybe it sounds foolish, but I feel as though I should do something to start us off right. Some kind of nice gesture to show you how I feel about you. You love to dance and I thought that it’d be nice if I could manage this one thing for you. But I’m so self-conscious and awkward about it…” She shakes her head, feeling embarrassed. Lena Luthor, bested by the thought of dancing in public.

“Lena,” Kara says softly. “Lena. I don’t need you to dance with me. I don’t need nice gestures or bold gestures or romantic gestures or any other kind of gestures. I just need you to kiss me.”

Accompanied by a gentle exhale of realization, Lena says, “Oh.” Then: “Well, all right.”

Then she acts. She whips her arms around Kara’s waist, tugging forcefully, dragging the blonde in for a hot, open-mouthed kiss infused with all the pent-up energy of months and months of repression and temperance. Now unleashed, it manifests itself in hungry, fervent kisses and eager, impatient hands. Kara reacts in full measure; without really meaning to, with the force of her need propelling the act, she shoves Lena up hard against the wall as she presses her body against the brunette.

Lena feels her body instantly engulfed with flaming desire, her sex throbbing with painful want. A soft, strangled keen escapes her throat, but the sound is almost immediately extinguished by Kara, her mouth, her lips, her tongue. But then Kara shifts her attention to Lena’s neck, suckling hard, and the next sound escaping Lena’s throat makes it out, resulting in an indecent, guttural moan. The moan pulls Kara slightly out of her lust-filled trance. Suddenly remembering that they’re in the hallway of a small restaurant filled with people, she eases off. She pulls her lips and body away, but leaves her hands planted on Lena’s hips, an inch of space left between them.

Lena looks at her. A little confused, a little impatient, a lot needy. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, but we’re, um, we’re in public.”

With a flirtatious smirk that threatens to melt Kara on the spot, Lena replies with a playful tug at the collar of Kara’s shirt, “Never stopped us before.”

Although already heated from their make out session, Kara feels her cheeks grow even warmer. “B- but this is, um, different. Everybody I know is here.”

“I’ll kick them out.” Lena sounds very serious about it. “I will buy this restaurant. I will buy this entire building and kick every single person out right now.”

It’s hard for Kara not to feel flattered. Logical, rational Lena Luthor, resorting to wildly impractical ideas just so she can have her now. “You know, I really think it would be faster for us to get a cab to your place.”

And although Lena really, really wants Kara right this very second, she’s still sensible enough to know that’s true. “All right. Let’s get out of here. I’ll meet you outside.”

Lena gently maneuvers Kara away. She kisses her one last time, a slow, lingering kiss, then departs, sashaying away without looking back, but knowing full well that Kara’s eyes are glued to her ass.

Kara stands there, captivated, heart ricocheting wildly in her chest, staring until Lena’s out of view. She finally shakes herself out of her stupor. Then she’s moving and moving fast. Down the hallway, out into the main dining room, weaving through throngs of guests, ignoring those who call out to her. Except one person. But mostly because that person steps squarely in Kara’s path, deliberately blocking passage.

Alex gently takes a hold of Kara’s arm. “Hey, there you are. For some reason, Kelly’s aunt is looking everywhere for you.” Piecing together Kara’s hurried movements and flushed cheeks, she narrows her eyes in suspicion. “Wait, what’s going on? Are you going somewhere?”

“Oh. Um.” Now Kara remembers where she is. At her sister’s engagement party. Which she threw. Embarrassed now, she lets out a high-pitched, self-conscious laugh. “Nooooo. I, uh, I’m not going anywhere. No no no. It’s your engagement party! I would never leave halfway through. What kind of terrible, terrible sister would I be if I did that?”

Maybe not leave, Kara thinks then. Just a break. A quick break. Forty, forty-five minutes. Oh, but it’s probably a twenty minute ride to Lena’s place. That leaves me five minutes at Lena’s. I can do this. Yeah. I only need five minutes!

“You have lipstick on your face,” Alex observes. She glances over her shoulder, sees Lena hovering by the exit. Then it all makes sense. She turns back to Kara, grinning. In the most obnoxious, smug way possible, she says, “Ohhhhhhh. I see what’s happening here. You’re just ditching me on one of the most important occasions of my life for a hot girl.”

Kara barks out a loud, sheepish laugh. “No. Nope. I would, I would never think of such a thing.” Still, her eyes wander to the other side of the room, gazing at Lena with pathetic longing.

Folding her arms across her chest, Alex sighs, regarding her idiot sister with an affectionate but exasperated smile. “Whatever, just go.”

“No!” Kara protests indignantly, so fierce that it’s almost believable. “It’s your engagement party! I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Alex sighs, rolling her eyes, feeling impatient but also touched by Kara’s need to pretend like she’s not dying to leave. “It’s fine. Really. You already put this amazing party together for me. I don’t care if you leave now. In fact, I think I’d prefer it. Because you have this… look on your face right now and it’s just not appropriate. This is supposed to be a family-friendly event.”

Although Kara desperately wants to tear off for the exit right now, she still asks hesitantly, “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alex answers casually, waving a hand about. “You two dumb-dumbs have waited long enough. Go. Go and do what you have to do before something else absurd happens to keep you apart, like a dead fiancée shows up or one of you gets drafted and shipped off to war.”

“But, Alex-”

“Kara, I swear to god, if you don’t start listening to me, I’m going to do something bad to you. Like, that cave-aged cheddar you’ve been saving for a special occasion? I’m going to eat it all. Every last bite. And I’m not going to savor it with a bit of wine and some fancy crackers. I’ll throw it into a pot with Velveeta and cottage cheese and make an unholy mac and cheese with it. With ramen noodles. Now will you please get out of here? Your whole… uh, ‘excited’ vibe is really uncomfortable for me.”

Kara nearly recoils in revulsion at the threat. But she knows that Alex would never do anything so cruel. “Thanks, Alex,” she says quietly. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Alex replies. “But I’m not going to hug you right now.”

***

For the first time in months, Kara finds herself in Lena’s bedroom.

With an adoring, adulatory gaze, she sighs in contentment at the stunning sight before her.

Hello, beautiful.”

As Kara continues standing in front of Lena’s floor-to-ceiling windows, admiring the view of the Empire State Building, Lena watches from the bed, thoroughly unimpressed.

“This isn’t really what I had in mind when I said I have something for you in the bedroom.”

“It’s not my fault that your room has such a nice view.”

“Maybe I could find you a better view.”

“Oh? Like from the roof deck?” When Kara turns around, she sees Lena shrugging off her unbuttoned blouse, unveiling bare shoulders and a lacy black bra. ”Oh.” And just like that, the Empire State Building becomes a useless, meaningless garbage heap of metal and glass to her.

Kara scampers onto the bed, hurrying to Lena on her knees. She nearly flings herself on top, eagerly finding Lena’s lips with her own. They kiss passionately, lips and tongues dancing and dueling, leaving only enough space between them for sharp gasps and low moans. Frantically, their hands rove against each other’s bodies. Kara presses her palm against Lena’s bare stomach, relishing the emanating heat.

With a tense grunt, Lena grips the bottom of Kara’s shirt and roughly tugs it up and over her head. She rolls them both over so that she’s on top, then goes to work on Kara’s pants, stripping them off. As she’s throwing the pants to the side, Kara’s fingers fly to the zipper of Lena’s skirt, unzipping and tugging them off. Unable to wait another second, Lena pushes Kara back down on the bed, kissing with desperate, urgent need. Her desire blinds her, makes her illogical and contradictory: even as she grinds her hips hard against Kara’s, her fingers are tugging at the edge of Kara’s underwear. Finally realizing that these two actions in tandem may be counterproductive, she grudgingly lifts her hips off the blonde to aid in the de-clothing effort.

But then Kara stops her with a hand to the wrist.

“Hey, wait a sec.”

Lena instantly stills. She tries to give Kara some space, but Kara stops that too, circling an arm around Lena’s waist and firmly keeping her on top.

“Everything okay?”

“Um, yeah, yeah. I just, I just wanted to ask- that is, I just want to clarify- um, I definitely want to do this either way, but I, I’d just like to know… uh, what this means to you? Like, are we doing the benefits thing again o- or is this going to be a one-off for now or maybe you’re ready, um, to date… uh, I mean, it would be nice to know what this is, just so I…” Finally realizing that she’s rambling on with no meaningful goal, Kara tapers off lamely, “uh, know.”

Lena frowns, confused by where this is coming from. “Darling. Surely by now you know how I feel?”

“Well, I mean…” Embarrassed, Kara distracts herself by rubbing her thumb against the pulse point on Lena’s wrist. “I think so? But um, it’s been a while since we last talked about it and… I don’t know, after everything that’s happened, I just want to make sure that we’re being transparent and honest. Just so there are no more misunderstandings or things left unsaid.”

“I see.” Lena breaks her wrist free from Kara’s loose grasp and, with both hands, brushes the hair away from Kara’s face. “So you want to know what this means.” One hand lingers against Kara’s cheek, thumb grazing along her bottom lip. “All right. How’s this. In the interest of transparency, I’d like to make love to my girlfriend in a monogamous, exclusive relationship, which I fully intend to be long-term, to the point where I may have occasional idle daydreams of moving in with her, getting engaged, getting married, and starting a family, but I know I need to wait a socially acceptable amount of time before bringing any of that up so I don’t come off as overbearing and crazy. So that’s what I’ll do, but honestly, I’m so very excited for all the possibilities of our future together.”

Stupefied and affected, Kara meekly ekes out a stunned, “Oh.”

“Does that clarify things for you?”

“Well. I don’t know,” Kara quips. “You could just be saying that to get into my pants.”

“Somehow I get the feeling that I don’t have to say much of anything for that to happen.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kara mutters absently, her response lackluster because she’s preoccupied in that moment with staring at Lena’s lips. She pulls the brunette down, kissing her again.

They finish undressing each other slowly, their intensity tempered now. After that exchange, this feels less like a carnal need to be fulfilled savagely and immediately, but a precious occasion to be savored. After all, they’ve had plenty of the former. So when Kara slips Lena’s bra strap off her shoulder, she follows with a string of soft kisses along her shoulder blade. And after Lena tugs Kara’s underwear off, she unhurriedly strokes her hand against her thigh. She kisses Kara languidly, starting from her lips to her neck to her breasts to her hips, lazily making her way down, taking the appropriate pit stops on her journey. She comes to a rest between Kara’s thighs; she gently parts them.

When Kara feels her tongue, she hisses, sharply arching her hips. She digs her fingers into the bedsheet, gripping so hard she can almost feel her fingernails dig through the fabric and into her palm. She’s utterly at Lena’s mercy; all she can do is hold on tight. At least Lena’s in a charitable mood. She doesn’t dally, doesn’t delay, and gives Kara everything she wants.

But when Kara feels herself getting close, she stops Lena with a touch to the top of her head.

“Wait,” she rasps. “Come up here. I want to see you.” Lena obligingly crawls up, lying down on her side next to Kara. “Let’s try to come together.” Kara’s hand dips in between Lena’s thighs. “I’ll catch you up.”

Not that that takes long. Three quick rubs and Lena’s already canting her hips, ready for her first orgasm of the night. Kara eases off, just a little, so it doesn’t go too quick. Lena whimpers. She then slides her own hand down, fingers slipping through the wetness between Kara’s legs and finding their way to where Kara’s most sensitive. When they do, Kara gasps at the sensation but doesn’t slow her own movements.

As they touch, they keep their eyes trained on one another. Lena sees the look in Kara’s eyes, the pure, immeasurable adoration, so devoted and reverential. It fills her with unspeakable joy, a sublime, euphoric feeling that she is sure she had never experienced like this before: what it feels like to be, all at once, truly loved, cherished, desired. And by the wide-eyes, awe-inspired way Kara’s looking back at her, she can tell that Kara feels the same way.

It’s not like it needs to be said, but Kara does anyway. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

They kiss again, leisurely and lazy at first, then quickening as their hands do the same. As their pleasure builds, their kisses grow frantic, their hands unrhythmed.

It doesn’t quite happen at the same time, but it’s close enough. Kara comes first, with a desperate wail, but Lena follows as soon as she feels Kara’s walls clench around her fingers. They kiss each other through the high, slowing as the crescendo fades. They withdraw their hands but don’t separate. They snuggle closer. Lena tucks her head beneath Kara’s chin, feeling the rise and fall of Kara’s chest as her breath evens out, the stickiness of her skin as it cools.

Naked and nestled, bodies intertwined, they stare out the window, enjoying the silence and just soaking up the blissful intimacy of this perfect moment. The evening cityscape is stretched out before them, endless towers dotted by hundreds of square-rectangle windows, illuminating the whole city.

And it’s not quite a star-covered Kryptonian night sky, but it’s the most peaceful Kara has felt in a long, long time.

***

When Alex arrives at Sunday brunch, she’s surprised to see that their usual booth is already occupied. But as she approaches and sees the woman’s profile, the surprise quickly dissipates.

“Lena,” she greets. “I didn’t know you were joining us.”

Lena smiles, almost bashfully. “I hope that’s all right.”

Alex grins. “I take it things went well last night?”

“Things went very well,” Kara replies as she slides in her side of the booth. The booth is wide enough for three people on each side, but Kara chooses to slide in all the way, until she’s right up against Lena. She faces Lena with a dopey grin. “Hey, you,” she says, like she didn’t just see Lena five minutes ago before she went into the bathroom.

“Hey,” Lena flirts back. It’s simple but enough to prompt Kara to lean in and give her a kiss, which quickly turns into two then three then four.

Alex clears her throat loudly.

Reluctantly, Kara backs off.

“Sorry,” she says without an ounce of sincerity.

Normally, Alex would be grossed out and scandalized by this PDA. But she has more important things on her mind. Like gloating.

“Well. Look. At. That. You listened to me for once and look what happened.” She folds her arm across her chest, looking very pleased with herself. “Now, remember what I said when this whole thing started?”

Kara rolls her eyes, knowing what’s coming. “Just say it.”

Gleefully, Alex slams both hands down on the table, a maniacal grin on her face. “I told you so! I told you so, I told you so, I told you so.”

“I know, I know,” Kara acknowledges with good humor. “You were right about everything.” As an afterthought, she adds, “Well, not the part about how our endless mutual respect would be the death of our relationship. We worked it out in the end. Respectfully.”

“Yeah, thanks to me,” Alex reminds her. “You two didn’t just need a push. I practically had to hogtie you and drag you to each other to make this happen!”

“We would’ve gotten there eventually,” Kara protests.

Would you though?”

Kara glances at Lena. They exchange sheepish shrugs, each acknowledging that it might have taken a little longer without intervention.

“Thank you, Alex,” Kara then says, a little over-the-top but with an undercurrent of earnestness. “You were right. About everything.”

“It’s about time my hard work is recognized,” Alex retorts smugly.

“Yes, thank you,” Lena says. “And you’re right, we need to listen to you more. But I finally took your advice. You said that I need to make Kara happy. So I did. Thoroughly.”

Alex groans miserably, sinking into her side of the booth.

“Thanks to you,” Lena continues, grinning unabashedly. “I respected the hell out of Kara last night.”

Alex groans louder still, sliding down her seat, as if inviting the earth to open up and swallow her whole.

“Six times,” Kara adds. “She respected me six times last night.”

“Why are you helping?!” Alex screeches at Kara, who just giggles along with her girlfriend in torturing her older sister. “Oh, god. I’ve created a monster.”

“Oh, no, we got the Monster from Babeland,” Lena replies without missing a beat. “Great toy. Curved at just the right angle.”

“Stop stop stop stop stop,” Alex cries frantically, covering her ears with her hands. “You’re ruining my victory lap.”

Attempting to stifle her giggling, Kara says with feigned solemnity, “That’s the price you pay for being totally, completely right about everything.”

She looks at her little sister, leaning against Lena with her cheeks flushed, a dopey, delighted grin stretched from ear to ear.

Then Alex surrenders with a glad, resigned sigh.

“Yeah, okay.”

***

They spend the rest of the day traveling around the city. They visit an outdoor sculpture park in Queens, then take the ferry down to an outdoor food market in Williamsburg. They eat elote, sweet grilled corn dusted with chili powder and slathered in a creamy, tangy Cotija cheese and lime juice sauce. At Kara’s insistence, they split a spaghetti donut followed by a pizza cupcake even though Lena does not understand why anyone would try to combine these things. After that, they head north, taking the train up to the Cloisters, spending their afternoon with medieval art and sweeping views of the Hudson River from Fort Tryon Park.

When the sun starts to set, they hop on the subway to make their way downtown to Lena’s apartment. It’s not discussed, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Kara’s spending the night.

Their subway car is sparsely populated. They take a two-seater at the end of the car. Lena against the wall, an arm around Kara, Kara’s head perched against her shoulder. They ride quietly, basking in happy fatigue from the busy day.

“I had a good day today,” Kara says.

“Me too, darling.” Lena turns slightly, kisses Kara on the forehead. “And we’ll have many more like it.”

There they sit and ride, lulled by the gentle swaying of the train as they listen to the deep, low rumbling of the train. It’s a small thing, finding a moment’s peace in this chaotic city. But it’s the small things that count. So they enjoy it. In companionable silence, they relish and revel in this tranquil, gratifying moment, capturing it as a treasured memory as the train rolls on, carrying them home.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Red velvet, vanilla, chocolate in my life
Funfetti, I'm ready, I need it every night
Red velvet, vanilla, chocolate in my life
I keep on hoping we'll eat cake by the ocean

“Cake By the Ocean” - DNCE

 

1. Saag Paneer

“Look, Lena, it’s the Leaning Tower of Paneer.” In the middle of her plate, Kara has stacked up four cubes of paneer. She has the fifth cube pinched between her chopsticks and she’s slowly lowering it down to extend her tower.

“Well, that’s going to end poor-” Before Lena can finish her sentence, the tower collapses, sending the cheese cubes tumbling into the surrounding pool of saag, sending small globs splashing across Lena’s dining table.

Lena nonchalantly grabs the roll of paper towel she’s taken to keeping on her dining table for a year now, ever since she started dating Kara. With practiced ease, she tears off a piece and wipes away at the mess.

“Sorry!” Kara squeaks. She looks down at her white blouse, now splattered with flecks of green. “Ugh, that was my last shirt.” She glances at the clock on the wall and sees that it’s already past 9 PM. “I’m going to have to run home. It’s going to be so late if I come back here tonight. Maybe I should just meet you at the museum tomorrow morning?”

At the thought of Kara not spending the night, Lena works quickly for a solution. “We can throw your clothes into the wash. Or you can borrow one of my shirts.”

“Good idea, let’s do that,” Kara replies immediately. But then this occurs to her: “Oh, but we’re going to Andrea’s party tomorrow night. I need to go home and pick out something to wear anyway.” She pulls a face at the thought. “What a pain.”

Looking down at her plate, Lena drags her fork through her chana masala, pushing a chickpea around in the sauce. In a deliberate offhand manner, she remarks as casually as she can, “You know, if you kept more of your things here, you wouldn’t have to run back home so often.”

Amused, Kara chuckles at what she thinks is a joke. “Yeah, right, I’ll just move all my things in.” But Lena’s not laughing along. She looks up at Kara, expression serious but with her eyebrows slightly quirked in question. When Kara catches on, her own laughter dies out. She looks back at Lena, stupefied. “I’ll… just move all my things in?”

“Only if you want,” Lena answers, in an uncharacteristically meek and soft way. It’s a big step, and she wants Kara to feel zero pressure about it.

But Kara doesn’t even hesitate. As her smile blooms, she reaches across the table, taking Lena’s hand and interlocking their fingers together.

And she says to Lena, not for the first time and certainly not the last time, “Yes.”

***

2. Chocolate Eclair

They compromise a lot, in a good way. For example, Kara loves the outdoors, but for Lena, the idea of eschewing modern comforts to voluntarily sleep outdoors underneath a flimsy tarp surrounded by parasitic insects and carnivorous wild beasts is nothing short of insanity. So when they go on vacation, they split the difference. They take a trip to Banff, camping for two nights and staying in a fancy resort for three nights.

Lena thinks that she did pretty well, all things considered. She braved mosquito bites, she relieved herself in the woods while doggedly ignoring the thought ohmygod what if something crawls up there, and she hardly screamed when that black fly flew into her mouth. Plus, watching a flannel-clad Kara bust up firewood with her hatchet is a massive turn on. Nonetheless, Lena much prefers waking up in a hotel room, air conditioning on full blast, buried beneath a freshly laundered goose down comforter. Especially when it’s accompanied by this view.

She sees Kara’s naked silhouette in front of their oversized windows, curtains pulled back, looking out at the sweeping landscape. The window overlooks a valley flanked by shale gray peaks set against a clear, cloudless blue sky; at the valley center runs a vibrant turquoise-blue river nestled between lush green pines. Then there’s Kara herself, hair damp from her shower, soft, smooth curves on display.

Then Lena feels utterly at peace.

So, in this perfect moment, she could think of nothing better than to ask, “When do you want to get married?”

There’s a weird sort of strangling noise. Lena’s puzzled by it, until Kara turns around and Lena sees that she has a chocolate eclair in her mouth. Kara’s face is turning red as she sputters around her mouthful of sugary breakfast.

“Oh!” Lena leaps out of bed, grabbing a glass of water off the nightstand and rushes to Kara’s rescue.

Kara eagerly takes the water and gulps, washing down the eclair stuck in her throat.

After a few forceful coughs, she manages, “Thank you. I- uh, I think the custard went down the wrong pipe there.”

“I’m sorry. I should’ve- I didn’t do this right at all, did I? I don’t even have a ring with me. That was impulsive. I’m sorry, this isn’t how you should be proposed to, but I can-”

“No no no,” Kara says rapidly, clasping her hands over Lena’s. “I love that you were impulsive. You’re never impulsive and when you are, it’s to ask me when I want to get married. I love that and I love you.”

Although reassured, Lena still smiles shyly. “I… I shouldn’t have done it when you have a pastry in your mouth. I can do it again. Differently. Maybe even with a ring.”

“No, don’t.” Kara drapes her arms around Lena’s shoulders and presses her bare body against her. “You know what, I think it’s absolutely appropriate that we get engaged when I have a pastry in my mouth. It’s perfect. I don’t want to redo it.” She presses a kiss to Lena’s lips. “I always kind of wanted a fall wedding.”

Then Lena returns the favor, kissing her fiancée full on the mouth. “Fall wedding it is then.”

***

3. Twizzlers and Ice Cream

When Alex comes home from work, she finds her little sister camped out on her couch with a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a half-eaten family size bag of Twizzlers.

Alex drops her jacket and bag on the floor. Without taking off her shoes, she makes her way to the couch where she flops down next to Kara.

“Come on, give,” she instructs.

Obediently, Kara hands over her ice cream and the story. “Lena and I had a fight. We were at dinner with Andrea. We were telling her about the wedding planning and how much work it is and she made this little joke like, ‘hey, if you need help, my cousin’s in family law, I’ll have him do your prenup and take one thing off your plate.’ I mean, she was clearly just joking around but… but, um, it got us talking and…” Kara shrugs despondently. “Turns out Lena and I aren’t on the same page about this stuff. And we- ugh, we started getting into it, but then Andrea got a call about some L-Corp deal going south, so she and Lena had to leave and I, I came here.”

Having silently worked her way through the ice cream while Kara told her story, Alex now sets the container aside and places a reassuring hand on Kara’s knee. “Oh, Kara. Hey, I know it must have felt really bad, but I'm sure Lena didn’t mean anything by it. In the environment she grew up in, probably everybody gets a prenup. She probably just asked for one because she thought it was the thing to do. It doesn’t mean she has doubts about your relationship.”

Kara turns to Alex with a befuddled expression. “Yeah, I know. She didn’t want the prenup. I did.”

Alex sits back, frowning in perplexion. “You wanted the prenup? Why? What assets are you trying to protect? Your collection of Gossip Girl DVDs?”

“Well, it’s like you said, everybody in Lena’s world gets one. It doesn’t mean anything to me to sign one because we’re never going to need it. And I just know that Lillian and Lex are going to have something to say if we don’t have one. They’re never going to let it go. I can just see it, like thirty years down the line, Lex is still going to be cracking little jokes like ‘careful, Lena, don’t make the wife mad, you don’t have a prenup.’ And it’s not just them, there’s going to be all this gossip and whispers from that circle. I couldn't care less what they say about me, but Lena…” Sighing, Kara fidgets with her fingers, examining her cuticles. “I just, I don’t want to be the cause of any negativity in her life.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to let people like Lillian and Lex influence how she lives her life,” Alex suggests.

“And I get that, I do. But it’s not just her life now, it’s ours. She already gets so much crap from them about the stupidest things, this is just going to make things so much worse. So if me signing a piece of paper gives them one less thing to moan about, then I’m happy to do it. I can help here. I just wish Lena would let me.”

Alex hums in contemplation. “It sounds to me like it’s not about the prenup itself since neither of you seem to care about it. So it seems that you and Lena aren’t in conflict. The real problem is between the two of you and her family and how you as a couple are going to address it. But you and Lena are on the same team here.”

“Yeah,” Kara agrees with a tired sigh. “We’re just not on the same page right now.”

“Yeah, right now,” Alex emphasizes. “But you can get there if you keep working at it. With stuff like this, there’s never going to be a neat resolution. It’s just a series of give-and-take. Sometimes you’ll do it her way, sometimes you’ll do it your way. It’s a balancing act. So talk to your teammate. Figure out the balance.”

Kara regards her sister for a moment in quiet gratitude. “You know, you’re a lot wiser now that you’re married.”

Alex barks out a loud laugh. She reaches for the ice cream, intending on fully commandeering it this time. “Yeah, right. I’ve always been like this, it’s just taken you this long to recognize my wisdom.”

Kara’s phone buzzes and she looks down to see the grinning face of her fiancée looking up at her.

“That’s my cue.” Kara rises to her feet, grabbing her purse. “Thanks, Alex.”

“Mm-hmm,” Alex mumbles around a mouthful of ice cream.

As Kara heads towards the door, she hits the answer button.

“Hey,” she says into the phone as she starts for the door. “I’m sorry about how that went… yeah, I know you are… Okay, yeah, I’ll meet you at home. And let’s talk about it.”

***

4. Tea-smoked Duck Breast with Plum Glaze and Squash Purée

Moments after the reception starts, Lena finds her bride - no, wife now - by the seal pool.

“Mother doesn’t want the smoked duck as her entree anymore,” she says, a note of panic in her voice. “She wants the vegetarian option now.”

Kara, still in a dreamlike trance from their fairy tale wedding ceremony, followed by this mind-blowing reception at Central Park Zoo, where she gets to watch freakin’ seals frolic in their seal pool in the middle of her wedding party, turns to Lena, all zen-like and unbothered.

“Okay, that’s no problem, right? I’m sure the caterer made extras.”

“Yes, but now twelve of mother’s friends all want to do the same.”

“Twelve?!” Kara exclaims. “Why?”

Lena sighs. “They were at the parrot exhibit. I suppose they started feeling guilty about eating Polly’s distant cousins.”

“Oh.” Kara thinks it over, seriously pondering the parrot-duck connection. “In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have had meat-based options on the menu of a zoo wedding.”

“Well, who knew that my mother would suddenly develop empathy?” Lena’s pacing anxiously now. “No, this is mother punishing me. She thinks that the zoo wedding thing is gauche, so she’s trying to sabotage it to teach me a lesson.”

“Wait, zoo weddings are gauche?” This is the first Kara’s heard about this. From the moment she suggested the venue, Lena had been nothing less than enthusiastic. “Even the Central Park Zoo?”

“Any event below eight figures is gauche to mother,” Lena deadpans.

“That’s insane.”

Lena tsks her tongue in agreement. “That’s mother for you.”

“So then… who cares what she thinks?” Kara shrugs. “There’s no pleasing crazy anyway, so who cares? She can just suck it up and eat the duck. Geez, let’s just shoot the darn parrot and feed that to her.” When Lena grimaces, Kara nods quickly. “Yeah, too far. I realized that like, five words in.”

“You’re right. There’s no pleasing crazy.” It warms Lena that Kara always knows just what to say and how to say it.

And now she gets to have this for the rest of her life. Affectionately, she nudges Kara with her shoulder. “Hey. Thanks for marrying me.”

“Oh, well, you know,” Kara replies breezily. “I wasn’t doing anything else today anyway.”

***

5. Peanut Butter Salami Sandwich with Pickles and Raw Onions

“This… is an abomination.”

Alex watches as Lena carefully layers sliced raw onions on top of a bed of pickles, salami, and peanut butter on toasted whole wheat bread.

Without slowing, Lena replies, “Oh yeah? What do you have there?”

Alex looks down at the plate before her. Crackers with mustards and sardines. And a small dish of chocolate syrup on the side.

“Touché.”

Alex had been happy when Kara announced her pregnancy. But then, two weeks later, she and Kelly found out about Kelly’s pregnancy and Alex was simply beside herself with ecstasy. Alex and Kara, in sisterly pregnancy-fueled joy, rented a house in Lake Tahoe as a joint babymoon. A nice, relaxed vacation for everyone before the babies came. At least that was the idea. That was before The Cravings hit.

So now it’s one AM, and Alex and Lena find themselves in the kitchen, putting together snack plates for their pregnant wives.

“Don’t get near Kara with that,” Lena warns sharply as she nods at Alex’s plate. “She has a strict no-fish policy. The smell makes her sick.”

“Kelly is eating nothing but fish these days. How are we going to get through having meals together?”

Lena considers the problem. “We’ll just have to eat separately. We can have dessert together. Unless Kelly wants fish with that too.”

“Uhh.” Alex gestures at the chocolate syrup. “You tell me. I really don’t know what this is.” She sighs tiredly. “This is exhausting. Kelly keeps having these random cravings in the middle of the night. Do you know how hard it is to find natas at three AM? I had to drive out to Jersey City last time. And by the time I got back, she was asleep.”

“At least she craves things that are actually in existence. Kara once woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that she wanted an ‘ambrosia and butterbeer cupcake with unicorn sprinkles.’ What am I supposed to do with that?”

“I don’t know. What did you do?”

Lena shrugs. “I got up and baked her cupcakes. What else? But she had to settle for chocolate cupcakes with a caramel center and rainbow sprinkles.”

“Pregnancy is miserable,” Alex complains, delighted that she’s found a like-minded soul to commiserate with. “Couple weeks ago, we drove 90 minutes to Connecticut to see Kelly’s cousins. We stopped six times for her to pee.”

“I can’t wear any perfume anymore because they all make Kara sick.”

“Kelly tosses and turns all night. And she’s taken all the pillows in the apartment. I sleep on a folded-up towel stuffed in a pillowcase now.”

“Kara’s insanely hormonal. I never know what I’m going to get when I come home. Is she going to be sobbing over a cat food commercial? Or is she waiting to jump me and-” Lena sees the expression on Alex’s face. “-cuddle.”

“Good save,” Alex mutters appreciatively. “Thanks.”

They stand there in companionable silence, gladdened to be able to share their burdens.

Then Lena says, “But you know, it could be worse. We could be growing a literal human being inside of us who is siphoning all of our nutrients, wreaking havoc on our bodies, only to come tearing out of us in a few months.”

The pair of them reflect on the accuracy of the statement. Suddenly, their complaints seem awfully petty. At the same time, they pick up their respective trays of abominable snacks, each ready to hurry off and tend to the needs of their suffering wives.

“Yup, okay,” Alex says on her way out. “Good talk.”

***

6. Irish Soda Bread

Kara’s alone when she wakes up in the middle of the night, but she hears the distant din of clattering pans coming from the kitchen. She rouses herself from the bed, panting slightly at the exertion. Running a hand over her protruding belly, she feels her child deliver a sharp kick.

“Shh,” she whispers softly. “It’s all right. Let’s go find your mommy.”

She finds a small disaster in the kitchen. Pots, pans, and white powder everywhere. The smell of burnt bread in the air. Her wife stands at the center of said disaster, pajamas and cheek dusted with flour, looking frazzled as she stirs a long wooden spoon in a mixing bowl.

Quietly, Kara approaches, laying a hand on Lena’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”

As if awakening from a dream, Lena first looks at Kara in surprise and confusion. Then she looks around the room and surveys the mess she’s made; she deflates, sinking down to the kitchen floor. Awkwardly, Kara sets herself down next to her.

“I was trying to bake bread.”

“At three in the morning?” Gently, Kara nudges Lena with her shoulder. “Tell me.”

Lena rests her head against the cabinet door behind her, like she’s too sapped to even hold her head up.

“Our baby’s going to be here soon.”

“Mm, you don’t say?” Kara pats her belly, feeling another well-timed kick.

“I was… I was lying awake, wondering how I’m going to do this. I don’t know the first thing about babies or kids. And I’m not… I’m not exactly a nurturing person. I’m not known for my patience or playfulness. What am I going to do when he’s here? What can I do for him? What do I have to offer, besides my wealth which I didn’t even really earn? I only got to where I am because a fortune was handed to me.”

It’s not the first time Kara’s heard this kind of talk. It boggles her mind and hurts her heart every time. Because, to Kara, it’s an objective fact that Lena is the embodiment of human perfection, her one and only flaw being that she can’t see it for herself.

“What about your complete genetic perfection? I stand by what I said when we started this: it would be a literal crime if we didn’t use your egg to pass on those genes and I say that knowing how much it annoys you with my figurative use of literal.”

Lena shakes her head. “Genetics doesn’t make a parent. Look at my father. That’s exactly what I don’t want to be. Contribute some DNA and money and call it a day. So I… I wanted to be able to pass on something more, some tradition or history or some bond. But the only Luthor tradition we have is glaring and sniping at each other over Christmas whiskeys. That’s not the kind of heritage I’d like to pass on. There’s my mom- my birth mom. But I remember so little about her. I have vague memories of her making bread. I don’t- I don’t even remember what kind, I thought maybe soda bread. I thought if I figured it out, I could… maybe pass on something good,a nice tradition. But it just isn’t turning out right. I don’t know where I’m going wrong and there’s only about six ingredients.”

“Well…” Kara starts slowly, nodding at the ingredients laid out on the countertop. “I’m no baker, but it might help if you used baking soda to make soda bread instead of baking powder.”

Lena looks up. When she sees her mistake, now so glaringly obvious, she can’t help but break off into a loud, sharp cackle which ends ungracefully in a snort.

“Oh, god,” she chokes out when the maniacal giggles have subsided. “That’s what I get for trying to bake at three AM.”

“Hey,” Kara now says quietly. “You know, I’m scared too.”

Lena looks back at her with wet eyes, seeking more confirmation. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, of course I am. It’s scary, bringing a child into this world. But we have each other. I’ll be patient when you’ve run out of yours, and you’ll be on homework duty when my brain hurts. And if you want to figure out this soda bread thing, great. But if you don’t, then that’s fine. We can make our own traditions. Maybe you’ll teach him chess or how to extract enzymes or talk about dinosaurs all day. But we’ll figure it out together. So… next time you’re feeling anxious about the baby in the middle of the night, just wake up your pregnant wife to talk about it. I don’t want you burning down the kitchen in the middle of the night.”

Lena nods, feeling warmed by Kara’s reassurances.

“I love you,” she tells Kara.

“I love you too.”

***

7. Naked Banana

“I! DON’T! WANT! BANANA! NAKED!” The child is red-faced, eyes squeezed tightly shut, furious tears streaming down his cheeks as he screeches as loudly as his toddler-sized lungs would allow. Which is to say, very, very loudly.

Struggling to keep her cool, Lena tries reasoning with her son. “Sweetie, you asked for a banana. We have to peel the banana if you want to eat it. Do you want to help mommy peel it?”

Which works as well as… trying to reason with a toddler. “NO! I DON’T WANT BANANA NAKED!”

“You don’t want to eat the peel, do you?” The toddler, even through his loud sobs, shakes his head. “Well, then we’re just going to take it off so you can have some yummy banana, okay?” That only sets him off and he cries even harder. “So you don’t want the banana?”

Through devastated wails, the boy screeches, “NO NO NO I WANT A BANANA!”

“Well, then we have to take the peel off.” When the child screams, Lena sighs wearily. “You cannot possibly demand to eat a banana while demanding that it remains unpeeled. Surely you see the logical inconsistencies here.”

Kara walks into the kitchen, setting groceries down on the counter. “Are you trying to reason with a three year old?”

“I’m sure he’ll see the error in his rationale once he thinks it through,” Lena deadpans.

From the grocery bag, Kara fishes out a jar of peanut butter, which she takes over to the toddler.

“Baby, how about we help the banana change his clothes? Can we take off his yellow shirt and put on a brown shirt for him?”

The crying tapers as the boy looks at his mama with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. “I’m not a baby. I’m a big boy.”

“That’s right, you are,” Kara assures him. “Can the big boy help his mommies change the banana’s shirt?”

The boy nods. Then he finally allows Lena to peel the banana. Kara slathers some peanut butter on the banana. Everybody cheers for the banana in his peanut butter ‘brown shirt.’

The boy giggles in delight. “Mommy! Mama! I’m eating banana’s shirt!”

While the toddler is happily chomping away at the brown-shirted banana, Lena whispers to her wife, “Thank you.”

Kara just extends her hand, palm open and up. Lena brushes her palm against it. Teamwork wins the day. Until the next tantrum.

***

8. Red velvet donuts

With their youngest child now on an airplane heading to a college on the other side of the country, their house is devoid of children for the first time in twenty-odd years. It’s eerily quiet, and as Lena moves through the space, the memories come, evoking bittersweet nostalgia.

There, in the hallway, there’s a long scratch on the wall from the time when the kids had decided to hold an indoor skateboarding competition. (Kara had uncovered the scheme first, which explains why Lena came home to find her wife presiding over the competition as Head Judge.)

The living room, the site of so many countless movie nights and game nights and puzzle nights. Lena on the couch, her wife curled up in her arms, their brood bickering amongst themselves from the floor.

And the kitchen, where the whole Danvers-Luthor clan spent a good deal of time, inventing outrageous cookie recipes.

They had bought a plot of land in the suburbs and built a large house, manorly but not ostentatious, designed to be filled with children, pets, family, friends, and joy. That they all had in abundance. No one could have asked for more. But as all things must end, their children are grown and gone, leaving the family home empty and its owners at a slight loss for what follows.

Lena finds Kara in the upstairs study, gazing longingly out the window at their playground set, which has gone unused for many years now as their kids grew older. But Kara had put the whole thing together herself, every screw and every joint, so it remains there as a reminder of a time long gone.

Lena slips in quietly, although she can tell by the slight twist in her wife’s shoulders that Kara knows she’s there. Kara doesn’t turn around. So Lena approaches gingerly, encircling her arms around the blonde’s waist, front pressed up against her back, chin coming to rest on her shoulders.

Kara responds in kind, placing her hands over Lena’s, holding them against her body.

“You all right?” Lena murmurs softly.

“Y- yeah.” Kara nods slightly, still staring at the playground set. “Just… a bit… you know.”

And Lena does know. It isn’t sadness exactly. There’s nothing to be sad about. For all that she’s accomplished, Lena’s proudest achievement will always be her children. Having reared them and now released them to the world, this should be a joyous occasion. But there’s still a sense of loss, a wistfulness for the end of an era. Now a new chapter begins, and the uncertainty over the form and character of that chapter has at times left Lena unsure and apprehensive.

But then that all goes away when she looks at Kara. Then all her worries, her anxieties, her insecurities, they retreat, even if just temporarily. When she looks at Kara, she knows that everything will be okay. Because come what may, come strife, come misery, hell or high water, troubles, problems, through all of life’s endless obstacles, she has her partner at her side. Together, they’ll persevere.

“Hey, tell you what. How would you like to go out on a date with me tonight? To the city?” Lena places a small kiss on her wife’s shoulder. “I know this place in Greenpoint that makes the best red velvet donuts.”

Kara chuckles heartily and squeezes Lena’s hand in fondness. She turns then, draping her arms about Lena’s neck. When she looks upon Lena, it’s still with that same starry-eyed adoration she had when they first met all those years ago.

And she tells Lena, not for the first time and certainly not the last time, that word that Lena never gets tired of hearing from her wife time and again, “Yes.”