Lena Luthor is in desperate need of some fucking air conditioning. She can already feel her shirt starting to stick to her back, sweat beading under her bra strap and along her spine. The Boston weather is unseasonably hot for June, made worse by an oppressive humidity that gives the air a physical weight even in the shade; east coast summers are not something she’s going to miss at LuthorCorp’s new headquarters in National City.
“I still can’t believe you’re doing this.” Jack eyes Lena like he’s not sure what to do with her as he sets the last bag down heavily on the curb.
“Going to work for Lillian?” Lena asks, not looking up as she rifles through her canvas tote and wishes that it wasn’t so gross out already. “Me, either.” The cobblestone street they’re standing on is a stone's throw from the MIT campus across the Charles. She peers past the brick and stone stoops that line the block she’s lived on for the past two years and scans the cars making their way down the one-way street. “Do you see a gold Toyota Camry? My ride is supposed to be here already.”
“No, I don’t. And working for Lillian I can believe,” Jack says, sounding more than a little judgemental about the whole thing. He folds his arms across his chest. “It’s driving across the country with some stranger you found on the internet—in what is guaranteed to be a vehicle more revolting than anything you’ve seen in your life—that I’m having trouble with.”
“That’s a little bit the point,” Lena says, laughing, and abandoning her bag for a moment to lean down and fix the zipper on one of her suitcases. “I’m about to lose my life to the corporate tech grind. I might as well get a communicable disease on the way there, maybe it’ll delay my start date another week.”
She pulls her cell phone out of the tote finally and checks the screen, but there are no missed calls. Sighing, she slides the phone into the pocket of her shorts, hooks her sunglasses onto one of her belt loops, and drops the tote on the ground next to the rest of her bags.
She has the tote, her backpack, and three enormous black hardshells, courtesy of Lex the previous Christmas. At the time she’d rolled her eyes; they have the LuthorCorp logo done in a heavy metal decal stamped on the center, but he’d laughed and said they’d be required when she travelled on the company dime. Packing up her apartment is the first time she’s been grateful for them since unwrapping them. She’d completely forgotten to buy moving boxes and they’d been sold out at every store when she’d finally remembered—one of the pitfalls of moving from a college town the week of all the undergrad graduations.
“I’m pretty sure you’re joking about communicable diseases, but I might check up on your vaccinations if I were you.” Lena glances up at Jack and he points his chin at a decrepit looking mid-90s sedan pulling up to the curb in front of them. “On the other hand,” he cocks his head as Lena turns back to him, “your chauffeur seems exactly the right type for a proper final fling.” Lena squints at him, the teasing tone of his voice giving her pause, then turns toward the vehicle again.
The car is, as Jack predicted, both hideous and slightly concerning. The color might have been gold once, but now it’s a sad sort of shiny beige. It makes a strange chirping noise as it comes to a stop in front of them, a clicking continuing to emanate from the hood—maybe a timing belt issue, if Lena’s thinking about it, but she’s not really, because the girl behind the wheel is enough to distract her from just about anything else.
The person sitting in the driver’s seat, rolling down the passenger-side window and waving at her like an idiot, is gorgeous. Long blonde hair and slightly tan skin and blue eyes, and she’s smiling at Lena like they’ve known each other for years.
“Are you still breathing?” Jack whispers. Lena elbows him and tugs nervously at the v-neck she’s wearing.
“Lena?” The blonde asks, a hopeful uptick in her voice. At Lena’s nod, she continues, the smile nearly doubling in size, “Hi, I’m Kara Danvers.” She turns off the engine and gets out of the car, walking around to where Lena and Jack are standing, which is somehow worse, since now she’s in front of Lena in a cutoff t-shirt and jean shorts, a pair of dirty white Vans high tops on her feet and absolutely acres of toned leg on display. When Lena doesn’t say anything, Kara nods to the bags in a pile on the sidewalk. “Want a hand with those?”
“Oh, she definitely wants a hand,” chortles Jack. Lena elbows him, again, and clears her throat.
“Um, yes, a hand would be great.”
“Sure, I’ll throw these in back, and, uh, hop in, I guess.”
Kara moves to pick up all three of Lena’s oversized suitcases at once, arms flexing as Jack nearly doubles over behind her with silent laughter. As the blonde hoists the bags and shuffles them to the back of the car, Lena shoves him gently in the chest.
“Not a word,” she hisses, watching as Kara tries to get the trunk open without setting any of the bags down.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, love.” She can hear the twinkle in his voice. “I can’t believe you’re going to be stuck in a car for three days with your wet dream. What did the ad say again, she’s going to start a journalism job? Your mother would love that.”
“Jack, I swear to god. If you don’t shut up…” The trunk slams and Kara walks back around.
“Are you good to go?” Kara wipes her hands off on the shorts and smiles at Lena again, glancing at Jack. “I’ll, just, uh, get back in and let you say goodbye.” She slides back into the driver’s seat and shuts the door, putting the window back up and staring studiously ahead.
“You know, I do believe she’s trying to give us privacy,” Jack says, peering at Kara over Lena’s shoulder. “Fancy a make-out?”
“As if that would do anything for either of us.” Lena laughs and turns to him. “But I do want a hug. I’m going to miss you.” She throws her arms over his shoulders and buries her head in his neck.
“And I, you,” Jack says, scooping her up and lifting her clear off the pavement. He shakes her a bit for good measure. “I’m still gutted that you don’t want to cure cancer with me in the garage. We really could make headway, given the right round of VC funding and another decade.”
“You’ll do it without me, Jack, I have no doubt.” There’s a tightness in her chest as she says it. He sets her down gently and then bends to grab the backpack and the canvas tote, handing them to her while she brushes out the wrinkles he’s left on her t-shirt. “Come visit?”
“As if you could keep me away,” he says, smiling. “Your misanthropy means my status as your best and only friend is safe—be a shame if I let that change simply by not bothering you enough. Now, go make bad decisions for three days and make sure to call and tell me all the dirty details. She’s perfect, meets all your criteria, and just think, after this you never have to see her again, no complications!”
Lena pushes at his chest and he fakes a stumble backwards. “For that, you get nothing,” she says, laughing, backing towards the car.
“Love you, Lena,” he yells out as she opens the door, stuffing his hands into his front pockets and rocking on his heels.
“Love you too, Jack,” she calls back as she opens the door. She swings the tote into the footwell, tosses the backpack into the rear on top of a laundry basket filled with what she hopes is clean clothing, and then bends down to fold herself into the front seat. She shuts the door and buckles in.
“So, Luthor, as in LuthorCorp?” Kara throws on her indicator, looks over her shoulder, and starts slowly making their way toward the traffic on Chestnut St.
“Did you just google me?”
“What? No. I just.” Kara laughs, glancing at Lena before looking back out the windshield. “Your bags had the logo, I can’t believe I didn’t put it together.”
“Some journalist you are.” Lena rolls her eyes, a little annoyed now at the suitcases. So much for anonymity.
“Hey, I don’t start as a journalist until next week.” Kara shrugs, picking up speed as soon as they turn onto Charles St, the wide, green expanse of the Boston Commons visible in front of them. “I just finished my masters. But your family is like, gazillionaires, why on earth did you respond to my craigslist post about a rideshare to National City? Don’t you have private jets?”
Lena nods and hums in assent. “I wanted to piss off my mother.”
“And paying for someone’s gas while driving cross-country is going to piss off your mom?” There’s a skeptical lilt to Kara’s tone.
“She wanted me to start work at the National City office immediately after graduation,” Lena says, as Kara gasses it a little to make the light to turn onto Beacon. “I’ve been putting it off for a month and a half, but I finally had to cave since my brother has to go back to run the Metropolis division. This is my last hurrah.”
“Well then,” Kara says, turning toward Lena and smiling again, “I’ll try to make it a good one.”
Lena can feel herself flush for no reason at all at Kara’s words, and she casts about the car for a distraction. The inside of the car is as much of a disaster as the outside, the back seat taken up by a laundry basket full of folded clothing and half a dozen family size bags of off-brand cheetos and assorted junk foods. She looks back at Kara.
“It doesn’t look like you need it, but the ad said to bring snacks, so I did.”
“Oh awesome! You can never have enough food. What do you have?”
Lena opens the bag at her feet and starts rummaging through it. “Wild salmon skin, dried seaweed, kale chips, and an assortment of low-sodium nuts.” She sits up. “I also have seltzer.”
“I’m sorry, was anything you listed actually edible?”
“Yes!” Lena frowns, looking around at the junk food Kara has piled all over every available surface. “More edible than anything in this car, anyway, all of the ingredients in those cheese puffs other than the corn meal are carcinogens.” She pulls the bag of salmon skin crisps out and opens it, the bag crinkling.
“Oh my god,” Kara suddenly says, “what on earth is that smell?”
“It’s wild salmon skin with sea salt.”
“I thought you were kidding.” Kara mimes throwing up.
“It has ten grams of protein and omega-3s.”
“It smells like the ocean crawled into my car and died.”
“Fine.” Lena huffs. “I’ll roll down a window. Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I’m not being dramatic, that’s disgusting,” Kara says, taking a deep breath as soon as the window is down. Lena barely resists pointing out that Back Bay doesn’t smell any better. “Pass me those cheese puffs, I need to cleanse my soul.” Kara may be gorgeous, but something tells Lena they aren’t going to get along. Which suits her just fine; the last thing she needs is a complication.
She folds up the top of the crisps as Kara merges onto the highway and grabs a clip from her bag before shoving them back inside the tote. Rolling up her window, Lena reaches for the climate control knobs. “Is it okay if I turn the air up a bit? It’s way too hot with the window closed.”
“Oh, hey about that,” Kara sounds sheepish, “sorry, but my AC is busted, so, um, you might wanna keep that window down.”
Lena looks over at Kara and narrows her eyes. “You didn’t mention that in the ad.”
“Well, no, it didn’t really feel like a selling point.” She has the grace to wince a little. “But it’s not like I said there would be AC, so, really, it’s a buyer-beware sort of situation.”
“We’re driving across the country, in June, in a heat wave.”
“If I drive really fast, it’ll feel like there’s AC?”
Lena rolls the window back down. “Please tell me your sound system works.”
“Oh, yeah, for sure.” Kara nods. “I have a cassette adapter cable, too, if you wanna plug your phone in. Just jiggle the connector in the tape deck, it’s a little old.”
“We can listen to your music to start,” Lena offers, eyeing the wire snaking out of the cassette slot. “Driver picks.”
“I feel like you’re going to regret saying that,” Kara says, laughing a little. “I’ve got like, the collected works of NSYNC in my playlists and a bunch of workout mixes saved to my phone.”
“NSYNC is fine.” When Kara raises her eyebrows, Lena rolls her eyes. “Okay, NSYNC is great and I actually really like them, happy?”
“Very,” Kara grins, but makes no move to turn on any music. She drums her fingers along the steering wheel. “So, that guy who dropped you off. Boyfriend?”
Lena laughs. “Oh god no.”
“Shoot! I’m sorry.” Kara looks concerned, as if she’s somehow offended Lena. “I shouldn’t have assumed. You just looked really close, and I thought -”
Lena cuts her off. “He’s as gay as I am. Jack is my best friend.”
“Best friend. Cool, cool, cool.” They’ve started to make their way out of the city, joining the turnpike as it curves away from the Charles. “So, you said you’re going to start work at your family company, huh? Doing what?”
“I’m starting in R&D.” The car is hot despite having the windows open and Lena can feel sweat starting to trickle down her lower back. The air outside is stifling, heavy and humid, even at seventy miles an hour. She leans towards the window a little, trying to capture some of the artificial breeze.
“Neat!” Kara looks over, seeming to look Lena up and down. “Did you just graduate?”
“Mmhmm,” Lena hums.
“I loved college,” Kara says, “I majored in mass comm, but with minors in astronomy and chemistry. I just finished my master’s in science communication.”
Lena can’t help rolling her eyes. Kara thinks she just graduated from college.
“Is that right,” she replies, letting just a touch of boredom into her tone. “My master’s degrees are in business, and mechanical engineering.” She sees Kara choke slightly out of the corner of her eye, it’s satisfying. “And if my lab work at LuthorCorp goes the way it’s supposed to over the next two years, I’ll have my doctorate in microbiology, too.”
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I just, you’re younger than me,” Kara glances over, “right?”
“Probably,” Lena says, closing her eyes again. It’s so fucking hot in this car.
Lena opens her eyes and turns her head. “Did you just say ‘golly’?”
“It’s a legitimate word,” Kara defends.
“If you grew up in the nineteen fifties, maybe. What’s with all the questions? Just put on NSYNC.”
“I wanted to get to know you first.” Kara looks over, a nervous half-smile on her face. “We’re about to be in the car together for thirty-six hours, I think we should be friends.”
Friends? Jesus, who is this person. “Not going to happen.”
“What do you mean?” She looks almost affronted at how quickly Lena shut her down. “I don’t know anyone in National city, besides my sister, and you don’t know anyone there either. Unless you do, wait, do you know people?”
“Kara, we’re not going to be friends.”
“I’m a Luthor.” Lena huffs out a sigh. “We don’t do friends.”
“Jack is your friend.”
Oh my god, thinks Lena, is she really arguing with me? “Jack is gay.”
“I’m gay! Well, I’m bi,” Kara amends, “but still.”
“That makes it worse.” Lena almost regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth, but it’s too late now.
“What?” Kara looks legitimately bewildered. “How?”
Later, Lena will blame the heat, her mounting frustration with Kara for not just dropping it, her own short temper, and, of course, the lingering pain and bitterness surrounding Andrea. “Because you’re stupid hot and apparently queer and one of us will develop feelings and it’ll end poorly, and I’d rather just skip all that okay?”
Kara’s eyes go wide and she turns a little red, but she shuts up and reaches down to the cupholder to hand Lena her phone. Spotify is pulled up, No Strings Attached already in the queue.
Lena hits play and resumes leaning against the door, looking out as the last of the city flies past.
“Has that happened to you?”
Lena blinks awake at Kara’s voice. She yawns. “Has what happened to me?” She glances at the dash, but apparently the clock is another thing that’s broken. The bridge from Just Got Paid is coming through the speakers but Lena’s neck is sore, so this must be at least the second time through the album.
“Falling in love with a best friend?”
Lena sits up and rubs at her neck. She squints at Kara, but Kara is staring attentively at the road. “It happens to every queer woman,” she settles on saying.
“It does not!” Kara’s eyes cut over to her before drifting back to the highway stretching out in front of them. A forest lines both sides of the interstate, no exits visible for miles.
“Well, it hasn’t happened to me.” Kara sounds certain and it settles like an irritant on Lena’s skin.
“Just because they don’t tell you they’re in love with you doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened,” she mutters under her breath as she reaches for Kara’s phone to change the music. “Any requests?”
For the next ten minutes, the only sound comes from the murder podcast that Lena has chosen and the wind rippling through the open windows.
“I’m just saying,” Kara starts again, raising her voice a little to talk over the hosts and the open windows, “I’ve had best friends and I’ve never fallen in love with one of them.”
“Kara, it isn’t...” she huffs out a breath, “I’m not saying people fall in love with everyone they know. We can be,” Lena casts her eyes around at the pine trees whipping by, “acquaintances if you’d like.”
“Why is it okay to be acquaintances and not friends?”
“Because then we won’t really know each other and there’s less danger of feelings.”
“What if we were just regular friends and not best friends.”
“I already told you, Kara, I don’t do friends.”
Kara lets out a humph.
“You think I’m stupid hot?” Kara asks when they pull into the motel parking lot just outside Indianapolis. It’s just before midnight and Lena is exhausted. They’ve been swapping the driving responsibilities every four hours and she's ready to be out of the driver’s seat.
“I think you’re stupid annoying right now,” Lena says, flexing her hands on the wheel and hitting the brake a little harder than necessary as she pulls into a spot.
“Well, I think you’re kind of mean.”
“Yep.” Kara nods. “You’re mean, which is just not my type.”
Lena looks over at her. In the neon and fluorescent lighting of the parking lot, she can see that Kara has one of the enormous bags of cheese puffs on her lap, her fingers caked in orange flavoring dust. It’s annoying. Everything about her is annoying. “And what, pray tell, is your type?”
“Nice, for starters.” Kara wipes her fingers on a roll of paper towels she’s shoved next to her feet. “Kind. Interesting. Smart, which you are, but I don’t think that makes up for the mean.”
Lena can’t help laughing.
“Gosh, do you even believe in love?” Kara looks over at her, eyebrows drawn up like she’s just realized how Lena is going to answer and is pre-experiencing horror in anticipation of Lena’s confirming it.
“People always want something from you, I’m not sure truly altruistic, romantic love even exists,” Lena says, and maybe she’s playing into it just a bit. Kara gasps. “Well, not the fairytale happy ending kind, which it’s now clear to me is what you believe in.”
“Don’t sound so scandalized.”
“Don’t you want that, though?” Kara asks as she shoves the puffs into the footwell, the polypropylene bag crinkling. “To fall in love, have a person who loves you back?”
Lena doesn’t respond, just reaches behind the center console for her backpack and gets out. She’s only wanted that kind of love with one person before and she doesn’t feel like having this conversation.
“Okay, okay, love is off limits,” Kara says, jogging through the parking lot to catch up to her. “There’s gotta be something we can find common ground on,” she adds as they approach the lobby. “Ooh I know! Wanna have a sleepover and watch a movie on my laptop? I’ve got all the good Disney and Pixar stuff.”
“Those movies are for children.” Lena turns her attention to the scruffy-looking hotel employee at the front desk. “Separate rooms, please.”
They’re passing the arch in St. Louis the next day when Kara turns down the music, Britney Spears fading into the background. “What if I wanted to get to know you?”
Lena has her feet pulled up on the passenger seat, and is leaning her arms on the window. She manages to keep her groan internal. “Oh my god, you really need to let this go.”
“Nope.” Lena isn’t totally sure why Kara seems so intent on fighting her on this. “I think you might be really cool even if you’re grumpy, and I want to get to know you.”
“Then ask me out on a date and we’ll see where it goes.”
“But you’ve already made it clear you don’t believe in love,” Kara says, then adds, “and I’m not looking for a relationship right now anyway.”
Lena doesn’t move to face Kara in any way, she can imagine the pout on the other girl’s face well enough already. “Well then you understand my position: neither am I.”
“That’s different! I’m not looking for a romantic relationship. You’re apparently not looking for any relationship.”
“Does that make my boundaries any less important than yours?” Lena finally turns her head and fixes her with what she hopes is a withering stare.
“Well, no,” Kara’s face pulls into a frown, maybe because Lena’s got a point, “but we could be really great friends!”
Lena doesn’t dignify that with a response, just untangles herself long enough to turn the music back up, and goes back to leaning her chin on her arms on the door.
“Let’s try this again: that’s now two fives, a number six—hold the lettuce, extra large fries, a six-count nuggets with barbecue, a large coke, a large vanilla shake, a water, and a side salad?” The disembodied voice coming out of the drive-through speaker sounds as exhausted with this process as Lena feels. “You’re sure this time? I can ring you up now?”
“Yes,” Kara nods, yelling into the speaker, “that’s it, I promise.”
“Okay,” the voice says. “That’ll be twenty-six seventy-eight at the wind—”
“Really,” Lena mutters, looking out the passenger-side window, “you don’t want to add another bacon burger to the mix?”
“Shoot, you’re right.” Lena whips around to Kara who looks regretful as she turns back to the microphone. “Wait! I need to add another bacon burger, hold the lettuce!”
Lena isn’t sure who groans louder, her or the guy taking the order.
She’s going to murder Kara. They’re sitting in the motel bar in Amarillo, Texas. It’s more of a pool hall than a bar, the ‘bar’ part consisting only of five sticky stools sat in front of a plywood surface, and there’s a mirror propped up on the wall behind the liquor bottles.
Lena can see their reflections in the mirror, Kara’s eyebrows knit together so tightly that she must have a headache. Four-drink Lena can admit that she looks kind of adorable like that, but Kara also seems like she’s actually trying to continue the same argument they’ve had for two days now, and that’s just absurd.
“Help me understand,” Kara says again, a light slur to her words. “Are you saying everyone falls in love with their best friend?”
“I’m saying that queer women have a special affinity for it,” Lena repeats, fishing the cherry out of the bottom of her drink. “The whole ‘falling for your straight best friend’ is basically a rite of passage.”
“Everyone.” She eyes the cherry, holding the stem between her thumb and forefinger. It’s the bright, garish red of supermarket maraschino, more red dye number forty than actual fruit. “The L Word, although terrible, was built entirely on the premise that a friend group of queer woman in LA dated each other in some sort of ridiculous repeating circle for like, god, however many seasons that went on. And it’s been my experience that when two people are attracted to each other, and they’re close, feelings are likely to develop.” She puts the cherry in her mouth, bites it off the stem.
“That’s just, I mean, come on.” Kara’s cheeks are a little pink. “A trope and a tv show? That’s your evidence?”
“Okay,” Lena drawls out, looking down at her empty glass, “so you’ve never been in love with your best friend?”
“No!” Kara sounds affronted, as if this is the single most outrageous question she’s ever been asked. It’s nice to finally see her as off-balance as she’s made Lena feel. “No, I have never been in love with my best friend.”
“Tell me about her.” Lena looks for the bartender, and lifts her glass. He nods and pulls the bottle of whiskey from behind him, starts pouring another.
“She is a he. And his name is Winn.”
Lena looks at her and bursts out laughing. Kara had been looking down at her drink, the glass nearly empty, but she whips up at that.
“What? I don’t have any close female friends.”
“Right.” Lena shakes her head, then nods at Kara’s drink. “Do you want another?”
“Yes, please. What am I drinking?” Kara looks at her drink, frowning, but knocks the rest of it back without waiting for an answer. She sets the glass down. “See? I have a best friend and there are no feelings involved.”
“Putting aside that this Winn is not a queer woman, which was central to my thesis, is he straight?”
“And does he think you’re attractive?”
The bartender puts Lena’s whiskey neat with a cherry on the bar in front of her and points to Kara’s empty glass. Lena nods and he takes it away to start another amaretto sour.
Kara scrunches up her face and looks at the ceiling. “Sometimes when we’re drunk he calls me beautiful?”
“Yeah,” Lena downs half the whiskey in one gulp. “There are feelings involved.”
“There are not!”
“There are.” Lena shrugs, rolling her glass between her hands on the bar top.
“I have a perfectly platonic relationship with Winn.”
“I believe that you believe that.” Lena can see Kara swivel on the stool towards her in the mirror, hands on her hips, mouth open in frustration. “Do you think he’s attractive?”
“He’s not ugly, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Not what I asked.” She goes back to concentrating on the way the fruit rolls around in the glass as she moves it back and forth. “Are you attracted to him?”
“Poor Winn.” Lena tries poking at the cherry with her cocktail straw.
“Poor...you’re impossible.” Kara throws up her hands and spins her stool back to the bar. “You should know that my sister, who’s a lesbian by the way, had a best friend, Vicki Donahue and…” She trails off.
“And…” Lena prompts. She stops trying to grab her cherry stem and looks over at Kara, who has the smallest frown on her face, like she’s just realizing something.
“Shoot,” Kara says to herself. “Okay, bad example, but this sounds like a you problem, not an everyone problem.”
“A me problem?” Lena arches a brow. “Explain.”
“I think you fell in love with your best friend and it didn’t work out and now you’ve made up a ridiculous rule.”
It’s the four and a half drinks that makes Lena say it, but the next thing that comes out of her mouth is, “I’d fall in love with you, if we were best friends.”
“No you wouldn’t, you find me annoying.” Kara is pouting. Lena doesn’t want her to pout. It’s sad.
“Naive,” she corrects, “not annoying—I’m sorry I called you annoying, and it probably wouldn’t work out.”
“Well I think you’re cynical. It definitely wouldn’t work out.”
“Cynical?” Lena laughs. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
It might be the hangover, but Kara has to admit to herself that it’s absurdly hot already when they pull out of Amarillo just before seven in the morning; I-40 might as well be melting, the blacktop shimmering in the distance before the sun is even fully up. She really should have gotten the AC fixed before she left. If the car doesn’t overheat, or otherwise break down, they’ll reach National City this evening just before midnight, and, although she’s looking forward to getting to see Alex, for some reason Kara feels like she wants another day to try to figure Lena out.
She glances over at the woman in question. Lena is sitting in the driver’s seat, big mirrored aviators jammed closely over her eyes, dark hair pulled into a messy bun, and a worn grey MIT t-shirt that’s two sizes too big tucked into white shorts. She’s been funny, cantankerous, and downright rude to Kara at different points since they left the East Coast, and she might be (really, extraordinarily, breathtakingly) very pretty, but talking with her is like getting whiplash; one minute she’s cracking a joke and the next she’s telling Kara how wrong Kara is about literally everything.
It should be off-putting. It is off-putting, and maybe that’s why all Kara wants to do is solve her like a puzzle. She just wants to stop feeling so off-balance. Heck, at this point, she’s not even sure she wants to be friends with Lena, but Lena’s absolutely bonkers reasoning as to why they can’t be is like a sore in Kara’s mouth: she just can’t leave it alone.
“Let’s say I accept your stupid argument that at least one person in every set of queer female best friends catches feelings, which I don’t, but let’s say I do.” She can practically feel Lena’s groan. “Why is it so bad if someone falls in love with you, anyway?”
“Because it’s never them falling in love with me,” Lena answers her, keeping her face pointed out at the road. “It’s the other way around.”
“Aha!” Kara can’t keep the exclamation in. She wiggles in the seat and sits up straighter. This is the first time Lena’s answered any of her questions in a way that’s remotely personal. “So this is your villain origin story! Did you fall in love with your best friend and it didn’t work out, is that why you’re so sure about this?”
“Yes, actually.” Lena sounds tired, as if maybe she’s only saying this because Kara’s been badgering her for three days.
“Oh.” The flush of victory fades a little at the tone in Lena’s voice. Kara chews on the inside of her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
Kara’s quiet for a moment. “You don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want to, but if you do want to, I mean, we’re stuck in the car until tonight anyway, and I’m a good listener. So, if you want to talk about it, you can.”
“I don’t,” is the clipped reply.
This time, it’s Kara who turns the radio back on.
“Her name is Andrea.”
Kara is staring out the window at the interminable red desert flatness outside, day-dreaming about lunch, when Lena starts talking.
“What?” She turns her head away from the window so she can face Lena, reaches forward to turn down the volume.
“My best friend.”
“You mean the one…”
Kara waits to see if Lena wants to continue.
“We’ve been—” Lena stops herself, seeming to collect her thoughts. “We were best friends from the moment we met in boarding school.” She shakes her head. “I didn’t even know I was gay then, I just knew I liked her so much and that everything, every feeling with her was...intense,” she laughs the word out, but there’s no humor in her tone. “It’s obvious now. We used to make out at parties, only when we were drunk. That’s how I figured it out.”
“Figured out that you were in love with her?”
“Figured out I was into girls.” Lena sighs and rolls her head from side to side, adjusting her grip on the wheel. She doesn’t look at Kara. “The falling in love, I don’t know. Maybe I always had feelings for her, but in college she started dating this guy, Russell. And I got jealous. So jealous.” Lena lets out another hollow laugh. “I thought at first maybe it was just that she was spending time with him instead of with me, but anytime I saw them together I wanted to throw up. And given that we were roommates, that was pretty much all the time. I thought there was something wrong with me, like, medically.”
Lena goes silent, so Kara prompts her. If Lena’s going to talk about this, she doesn’t want to let the opportunity go. “How’d you put it together?”
“How did Jack help you figure that out?”
“We were absolutely trashed one finals week, I think a whole group of us had gone out to celebrate being done.” Lena frowns, then changes lanes and speeds up to get around a line of slow moving semi-trucks. “I guess he’d seen me looking at them, or looking at her, or something. He found me outside crying in the snow, asked me what was wrong, and I said I didn’t know. And instead of letting it go, he just pursed his lips at me, and said, ‘You’re in love with her, aren’t you?’” She looks quickly at Kara and then away again. “He got me blackout drunk that night to stop the sobbing, took me home to his apartment, and in the morning, once he poured about a liter of pedialyte down my throat, he made me talk it out. We’ve been best friends ever since.”
“What about Andrea?” Kara frowns. That can’t be the whole story.
“What about Andrea?”
“Are you still friends?”
“Not really, no.” Lena’s hands flex on the wheel. “We don’t talk anymore.”
“Because I fell in love with her, Kara,” Lena’s voice is sharp. “I fell in love with her and she fell in love with someone else, and seeing her with him felt like dying a slow, painful death. And once I’d named it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I knew I couldn’t be friends with her anymore. It hurt too much.”
“Did you tell her?”
“Of course not, don’t be absurd.”
“So you, what, you just drifted away? Cut her out?”
“It’s called self-preservation.”
Kara opens her mouth to protest, but Lena turns the volume on the radio back up, and, for once on this trip, Kara decides to let it go.
They don’t talk the rest of the way, from Albuquerque to National City. Kara doesn’t understand why it stings so much, but she doesn’t know what to say to break the silence. When they finally pull up to Lena’s new apartment building, Kara feels like something more than a road trip is ending. It’s weird.
“Want help with your bags?” she asks, throwing the car into park, as Lena unbuckles and starts the task of grabbing her stuff from where it’s drifted around the inside of the vehicle.
“That’d be great, thanks.”
Kara gets the three massive suitcases and a backpack out of the trunk and onto the sidewalk. A doorman sees her and starts towards them with a luggage trolley.
Lena shuts the door and walks around to where Kara is standing.
“Well,” Lena starts, fidgeting slightly with her tote bag, “thanks for the ride.”
“Right,” Kara says, rubbing at the back of her neck. She sticks her other hand out to Lena. “It was nice knowing you.”
“Likewise.” Lena takes Kara’s hand and pumps it twice.
“Have a nice life, I guess?” Kara says as Lena disengages.
Lena laughs one last time. “You, too, Kara Danvers.”
And then she disappears into the building, the doorman trailing behind with her bags.
Kara gets back into the car and sits there for a moment. These have been the weirdest three days of her life. Lena’s probably right, they shouldn’t be friends—they’re polar opposites in too many ways and it’s hard to be friends when you can’t agree on the fundamentals. Still. It feels odd. Kara’s never met someone whose boundaries she had so much trouble respecting.
She shakes her head and plugs Alex’s address into her phone, clicks it into the holder on the dash, and pulls back into the California traffic.
It’s time for the next chapter of her life.
Four years later, Star City Innovation Conference
It’s Kara’s first business trip. She’s walking out of a panel on nanotechnology when she spots a familiar profile standing to the side of the stage, just off the mass of bodies heading for the exits. It’s been years, but she once spent nearly forty hours trying not to stare at that profile and Kara is a little embarrassed to admit to herself how often she’s wondered about Lena Luthor.
Glancing down at her watch, she considers the time. There’s a fifteen minute break before the next talk she needs to attend. Lena probably won’t have time to talk to her anyway, but Kara feels compelled to walk over and say hello. It’s the polite thing to do.
Lena is standing by herself, a green sheath dress and black pumps on - a far cry from the worn chucks and oversize t-shirts she’d been wearing the last time Kara saw her. She looks great and Kara feels an inexplicable bout of nerves walking up to her. She smooths out the front of her button-up, tucking the press-pass lanyard under her collar.
“Lena?” She asks when she gets close.
The woman in question turns towards her, but her face is furrowed in confusion. “Yes?”
“Hi, I thought it was you,” Kara says, sticking out her hand.
Lena takes it, but her eyes are searching Kara’s face. It’s like she doesn't recognize her.
“I’m sorry,” Kara says, letting go. She reaches up to adjust her glasses. “It’s Kara Danvers, we once—”
“Oh my god, Kara!” Lena’s whole demeanor changes. Her face eases into a warm smile and she shifts towards Kara, her body relaxing. “I didn’t recognize you!”
“It’s the ponytail and glasses, isn’t it?” Kara laughs. “My sister says I look like a whole different person.”
“Must be,” Lena shakes her head, “what are you doing here? Are you in Star City now?”
“Just for the conference, I’m covering it for the National City Tribune. I saw your name on the program, and when I recognized you, I just had to come over and say hello.” Kara’s realizing now that she doesn’t have much of a plan beyond saying hi.
“I’m flattered you’d ever want to be in the same room as me again, after that trip.” Lena raises an eyebrow and chews on her lip. “How’ve you been? Journalism seems to be working out, I see.”
“It’s good, I’m good,” Kara says. The mention of their road trip triggers a synapse in her brain. It reminds her of their three-day argument and suddenly she finds herself confessing something. “You were right, by the way.”
“Unsurprising, but you’ll have to remind me. Right about what?”
“Oh my god, I’d forgotten Winn.” Lena really does have a lovely laugh, Kara had forgotten how nice it was to hear her laugh. “Winn, the best friend who you swore wasn’t in love with you?” She cocks an eyebrow at Kara, clearly biting back a grin.
“Yes.” Kara grimaces a bit. “Turns out he was. He confessed like, two months after I moved, although I still maintain that it’s possible to be friends with someone you’re attracted to.”
“Mmm, I’m coming around on that.”
“You’d be proud.” Lena nods, a cheeky grin on her face. “I’m up to two friends now.”
“A whole two?” Kara can’t help teasing, Lena’s so much more playful than she’d been four years before. “Jack and…”
“Her name is Sam.”
“How’d she convince you to be friends?”
“We work together, or, well, LuthorCorp took over her company last year and I was in charge of the acquisition. She was always there during the transition period, working late.” Lena hums as if trying to recall. “She’s drop dead gorgeous and, at first, I tried avoiding her, but she’s absurdly nice and rather perseverant…” She purses her lips, as if weighing her next words carefully. “She reminds me a little bit of you actually, that whole dogged determination thing.”
“My determination didn’t work on you, remember? We never became friends.” Kara affects a pout and Lena smiles in response. Kara feels her face shift to match.
“Yes, well, you only had three days in a car,” Lena says. “The acquisition took months.”
“And you’re friends now?”
“Oh, we tried something else at first,” Lena’s smirk is back and Kara’s heart skips an uncomfortable beat as she blushes. Yep definitely the same woman I drove cross-country. “Sadly we’re just not compatible.” The smirk settles into something much softer. “But she’s wonderful and she has a daughter whom I adore so, yes. We’re friends now.”
“Does this mean we can be friends?” Kara doesn’t know what compels her to ask, but whatever had been present the first time she and Lena met—some frisson of connection, some strange pull—is still there.
“This again?” Lena purses her lips, but there’s no bite to it.
“Why not?” Kara scrunches up her nose. “You just said you’re friends with this Sam person now!”
“Kara, surely by now you have enough friends in National City…” Jack is waving at Lena near one of the convention center doors. “I’m sorry, I have to run.” She pauses before she turns away. “It really was nice seeing you again, Kara.”
And then she’s gone.
“You were brilliant, Jack,” Lena says when she reaches him. “I’m so glad we’re finally working together again.”
“It’s nice when the biggest tech company in the world is also run by your best friend’s family. I told you Spheerical just needed a good venture capitalist, not that I thought it would be your mother.” He grins at her. “Who did I just tear you away from, love? Anyone I should know?” He wiggles his eyebrows at her. “She was making you smile.”
Lena rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “You remember that girl I drove cross-country with four years ago?” He nods, his expression shifting to confused. “Kara Danvers. She’s the Tribune’s science reporter now.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jack whips his head around to try to catch Kara, squinting through the crowd. “You should have invited her to brunch. You couldn’t stop talking about her for weeks.”
“Clearly you’ve forgotten the reason I couldn’t stop talking about her,” Lena says dryly.
“I have not,” Jack turns his attention back to her, affronted. “You thought she was ridiculous and you absolutely wanted to have sex with her.”
“She was ridiculous, and she wanted to be friends.” She glares at him, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect. “I was twenty-one and unhappy and still in love with Andrea. I told her we couldn’t be friends because one of us would catch feelings and it would all end in tragedy.”
Jack starts laughing. Lena smacks his shoulder. He doesn’t stop.
“And now I certainly can’t be friends with her because there’s no way I’m ever going to live that down. Stop laughing.”
“I can’t, it’s too hysterical.”
“Shut up and take me to brunch like you promised.” No amount of fake seriousness can disguise the affection in her voice and Jack knows her too well to miss it.
“As you wish.” He offers her his arm. “So, is there anyone in your life I should know about?” They start to make their way through the convention center, heading for the Northern California sunshine outside.
“No, Jack,” Lena sighs, leaning into him. “The great love of my life is turning out to be LuthorCorp.”
“There, there, you’re only twenty-five, spinster-hood doesn’t begin until thirty.”
“Shut up, Jack.”
Another four years after that, National City
“Alex, I love you, but you need to get out of bed.” Kara walks over to the window in her sister’s bedroom and pulls open the blinds. National City is sunny most of the year, but there’s a special golden quality to the light in June and, judging by the way her sister practically hisses as Kara pulls at the cord, Alex is trying to avoid it.
“I can’t.” Alex has pulled the covers over her head in response, the blankets muffle her voice. “I‘m depressed. Possibly clinically—I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Kara looks around the room. It’s a veritable disaster—clothing (dirty, from the looks of it) covering the floor, a multitude of water glasses on the nightstand in varying states of fullness. “You’re a doctor! This isn’t healthy.”
“I’m an orthopedic surgeon, Kara, not a psychiatrist,” Alex says, pulling the covers down a few inches until her eyes are visible, “and I have to admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the psych rotation in med school.” She tracks Kara around the room as Kara grabs empty energy drink cans and shoves some of the scrubs into an already overflowing laundry basket. “I googled it. The internet says I might be depressed, or possibly suffering from something called ‘adjustment disorder.’”
“Okay, well, labeling is only important if it helps you treat something. And I’m pretty sure ‘adjustment disorder’ is a fancy way of saying ‘life happened and it really sucked.’” Kara pauses at the door, her arms full of protein bar wrappers and old five-hour energies. “Either way, you have to get out of bed: my last therapist was really big about opposite-to-emotion action.”
The covers come down another couple of inches to reveal Alex’s mouth. She’s frowning. “That sounds fake.”
“I assure you, it works,” Kara says, rolling her eyes. “Now, come on. Get out of bed, get in the shower, and then we’re going to breakfast. You can tell me all about this depressive episode over french toast.”
Alex seems to weigh her options for a moment, but she sits up and peels the sheets back. She swings her legs over the side of the bed and rubs at her face with both hands. “I really love her, Kara, I love her and I walked away and, oh god,” she flops back on the bed, eyes to the ceiling, “what if I’m making the biggest mistake of my life?”
“You’re not, Alex, I promise. Maggie is great, but you want more, and you’re gonna find it.” Kara leans against the doorframe. “But, even if you were making a mistake? I’ll be here with you to pick up the pieces.”
Alex doesn’t move. “Did you feel like this when you broke up with Mike?”
“Not exactly,” Kara feels herself frown as she thinks back to her break up six months earlier. The ache is still there a little, but it doesn’t make her flinch anymore. “I was in love with him, but he was clear that he never wanted to settle down and get married. I thought maybe that was enough for me, until it wasn’t anymore.” She shrugs, the wrappers shifting in her arms. “Did it suck? Yes. Was I really sad? Absolutely. But you were engaged, Alex. It’s okay to feel this way. It won’t go away overnight, but you’re not alone.”
“Stronger together?” Alex asks, sitting up again.
Kara nods. “Stronger together.”
It takes almost an hour, but Kara manages to coax her sister into showering and getting dressed in public-appropriate clothing. She practically shoves Alex out the door with the promise of caffeine and carbohydrates drenched in more carbohydrates, and finally gets her outside to make the walk to Noonan’s. By the time they’re sitting down, black coffee in Alex’s hands and a caramel frappe in hers, Alex admits maybe planning on staying in bed forever wasn’t the great recovery plan she thought it would be.
“Part of it is Maggie—I love her and I’ve broken my own damn heart.” Alex frowns down at her mug. “But part of it is just, what if I never meet anyone again? I mean, I never would have met her if she hadn’t brought that gunshot vic in. And if I never meet anyone and I never have kids, then what was even the point of breaking up with her?”
“First, you don’t need a partner to have kids,” Kara says, and Alex nods, one side of her mouth ticking up as if to say you’re not wrong. “And second, you’d have a much easier time meeting people if you ever went anywhere beyond the hospital and your apartment.”
The waiter interrupts briefly with their food, creme brulee french toast made with challah for Alex and cookie dough stuffed french toast with a side of chicken and waffles for Kara. As he starts walking away, Kara calls him back and adds a side of bacon and an order of hashbrowns; Alex rolls her eyes, used to her sister’s ordering and eating habits.
“I’m an attending, Kara, I don’t get to leave the hospital. The residents might kill everyone.” She grimaces looking at Kara’s plates. “And I still don’t understand how you can eat all of that and never gain weight. It’s not fair. Do you know how many miles I’ll have to run this week to make up for this?”
“It’s a superpower,” Kara says, shrugging and pouring maple syrup all over both of her plates. “Besides, running will help with your adjustment disorder.”
“Yeah yeah,” Alex says, reaching for the syrup. “I do remember endocrinology.” She looks at Kara. “So, it’s Tuesday and I know I have the day off, but aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“I have a big interview this afternoon, so I flexed some hours this weekend doing research for it.”
“Oooh, who with?”
“Lena Luthor,” Kara says, as she takes her first bite, doing her best to talk around the food. “Can you believe it?”
“Wait.” Alex rests her hands on the table, knife and fork poised. “Your assignment is to do a profile on Lena Luthor?” Kara nods. “The same Lena Luthor you were trapped in a car with for three days like, a decade ago? Didn’t you tell me she was the most miserly person on the planet? Doesn’t believe in love, hates everything you hold dear? How are you supposed to be unbiased?”
“Don’t be ridiculous Alex. She wasn’t that bad, maybe I exaggerated a little.” Kara swallows. “You know I saw her a few years back?” Alex blinks in surprise as she starts to cut into her food. Kara nods. “Yeah, the first conference The Tribune ever sent me to cover in Star City.”
“Well?” Alex takes a bite.
Alex rolls her eyes. “Was she the same?”
Kara pauses with her fork in midair, syrup dripping on the plate below. She has to think about it. “Yes, and no,” she finally settles on.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not really sure,” she takes the bite and chews, giving Alex a shrug. “We only talked for a minute, but she seemed happier, I guess? Playful almost.”
Alex’s eyes go wide. “Playful? A twenty-whatever-year old tech exec and the word you feel applies is ‘playful’? Hey,” she adds, frowning, “didn’t her brother just get indicted for insider trading or something?”
“Yeah,” Kara takes a sip of her drink, “that’s part of why I’m interviewing her. She’s the youngest chief executive of any company that size now. And, playful is the right word. It’s hard to explain.” Kara casts her mind back to her run in with Lena four years ago. She shakes her head to clear the memory. “But none of that matters because I’m a journalist and I’m writing about a subject, and we don’t really have a history at all.”
“Yeah,” Alex looks at her skeptically, cutting another piece of her toast, “maybe mention that to your editor at some point.”
“You’re sure you’re going to be ok?”
“Sam,” Lena says, looking at the videochat window on her computer screen and frowning, “for the ninetieth time. I’m going to be fine. I’ve got Jess, and, with the shitshow Lex left us, it’s not like I’m going to have time for socializing anyway.” She takes another sip of coffee from her mug and looks around the kitchen island for a stack of financial records she needs to review today. The early morning sun is streaming into her apartment, and if she weren’t quite so stressed out at the moment, Lena might take time to sit on the couch and enjoy the view of downtown National City before she has to get to work. As it is, she’s already dressed and on her third cup, so relaxing isn’t an option.
“I know, I know, but Jack says the last time you were left to your own devices for more than a month, you became a hermit and stayed at work for four days with no sleep. And Jess is wonderful, but even the best assistant in the world isn’t going to be a substitute for friends unless you decide to actually let her in.”
“Jack is a dirty liar.” And a traitor, Lena thinks, ignoring the comment about Jess. “It wasn’t four days, and I don’t think it counts as hermitage if I made it to work.”
“We just worry about you is all,” Sam frowns back. “Ruby’s going to miss seeing you all the time.”
“I’m going to miss her, too,” Lena says, meaning it. She’s not just losing Sam for twelve months, she’s losing Ruby, too. “I still feel awful asking you to relocate for the school year.”
“Don’t worry about it. Eighth grade was rough, as you know. I think she’s looking forward to a fresh start. It’ll be nice to be out there for the summer so she can spend some time at camp before she has to start school.” There’s a clattering in the background. “And here she is, speak of the devil,” Sam says, grinning off camera.
Ruby’s head pops into view. “Hi Aunt Lena!”
“Hi Ruby,” Lena breaks into the first real smile she’s had all morning, possibly all week. “All packed for soccer camp?”
“Yep! And Mom already showed me the new cleats you got me and they are so awesome.” Ruby’s excitement is clear even over the pixelated screen. “Also, Mom says you have to promise to leave your apartment.”
“Et tu, Brute?” Lena asks, laughing. “I’m a twenty-nine year old woman, I think I can be trusted to take care of myself. I go on dates, you know.”
“Mom says they don’t count if you never go on more than three with the same woman,” Ruby starts, as Sam smacks her on the shoulder.
“Ruby, go get changed, our flight leaves in four hours and we need to get going.”
“Love you Aunt Lena, bye!”
Sam comes back on the screen.
“It doesn’t count, huh?” Lena asks, raising her eyebrows.
“Well,” Sam’s tone is bordering on chagrined, “she might have overheard Jack talking about wishing he could move to National City so you’d have someone around to actually talk to.”
“I talk to both of you!” Lena sets the mug down and stops looking around for the papers. “Not everyone needs a lot of friends, Sam.”
“I hear you, Lena, I do. But with me three hours ahead and Jack nine hours ahead, it won’t be the same. We love you, is all.” She gives Lena a remorseful looking smile.
“Fine,” Lena lets her shoulders drop. “If I become a hermit though, can we just blame Lex’s poor life choices instead of my poor social skills? If he hadn’t gone and gotten himself fucking arrested, I wouldn’t be in the position of having to take over as CEO, and you wouldn’t be flying back to Metropolis for the year to help me get all this under control.”
“Yes, well, your brother’s always had a lot of charm and not nearly as much sense as you.” She pauses. “Just promise me you’ll, I don’t know, join a book club or something.”
Lena just stares at her, unimpressed.
“Okay, maybe not a book club.”
Her cell phone chooses that second to start buzzing like mad. Lena looks at the screen, it’s Jess with an S.O.S. text and a note from Legal: the U.S. Attorney’s Office is seeking to interview Lena about her brother.
“Shit, Sam, I love you, but I have to call Jess. I think I’m getting called into another deposition and I do not have time for this today.”
“No worries, and hey,” Sam says, and Lena looks back at her face on the screen, “do something nice for yourself today, ok?”
Lena rolls her eyes. “Yes, Mom, I will.”
“Love you, Lena. I’ll call when we’re settled.”
“Love you, too, Sam.”
Lena closes the application, and then her computer, walking it back over to the workstation in her home office and plugging it in, before returning to the kitchen. In the six weeks since Lex was indicted and arrested for securities violations, Lena’s been forced to take on the mantle of Chief Executive at LuthorCorp and given the unenviable task of steering the company through its largest scandal ever. It’s a job she hoped she’d never have, and, now that she has it, she wishes she could hide back in the lab. Her apartment looks like a hurricane hit a copy center: there are reams of paper on nearly every surface, organized mostly by gravity at this point, rather than any sort of sensical system. This mountain range of paper is the attempt by every single department and subsidiary to get her up to speed.
Lena sighs. There’s more waiting for her at the office.
She grabs her purse and leaves before the urge to set it all on fire becomes too much to resist.
“Yes, Jess?” Lena doesn’t look up from her computer, there’s something about the financial statement that one of their departments has forwarded that doesn’t look right. She squints at the spreadsheet, reaching forward and tilting the monitor to try to see it better; having the windows to her back means the sun glares off the screen. Trust Lex to have set up the CEO’s office in a way absolutely not designed for productivity...she’ll need to have facilities management re-decorate soon if she’s going to be able to get anything done up here.
“Your eleven-thirty is here,” Jess says, and Lena gets the feeling this might be the second time she’s had to say it.
“Shit.” She looks up. Jess is standing just inside the door and at Lena’s exclamation, she reaches behind herself and tugs it closed. “I’d completely forgotten. It’s that CatCo piece, right?”
“I thought you might’ve,” Jess says, nodding, “and yes, the reporter is from CatCo.”
“Jess, if it’s—”
Jess holds up a hand to stop her. “Two buzzes on the intercom and I’ll come in with an emergency that just can’t be handled without you.”
Lena feels her face relax into a smile. “What would I do without you?”
“I’m sure you’d manage,” Jess says, smiling back. “You don’t have anything else on your schedule until three, but Legal asked me to make sure you had a chance to look at those numbers.”
“I’m not through them quite yet.” Lena grimaces and glances at her screen again. “Why the hell did Lex have to play the stock market? Insider trading is so Martha Stewart of him. I miss the lab.”
“And I miss the days when you and I would get to go home at reasonable hours.” Jess raises both eyebrows and thins her lips. “Times change. Shall I send her in?”
“Please,” Lena frowns back at her computer screen, clicking the document closed, “might as well get this over with.”
When Jess steps back out, Lena stands up from the desk and smooths out her red blouse where it’s rumpled from sitting. She pulls at the black pencil skirt she’s wearing and retrieves her blazer from the back of her chair, slipping it over her shoulders and pushing up the sleeves, before making her way over to a sideboard along the wall opposite the door. She hears the door open behind her and casts a glance over her shoulder.
Lena stops in her tracks and blinks. It can’t be.
The reporter walking into her office is Kara Danvers. She’s wearing the same glasses as the last time Lena saw her, but her blonde hair is done in a braid now instead of a ponytail, her cuffed button down swapped for a grey sweater over a white button up and dark green chinos. She looks good.
“Dr. Luthor?” Kara asks, as she steps further into the office.
“Ms. Danvers!” Lena says, surprising herself with the warmth in her own tone. “I never thought I’d be saying this, but it’s good to see you again.” She gestures to the chair across from her desk. “And it’s Lena, please. I don’t let anyone call me Doctor.”
Kara grins and ducks her head, one hand coming up to adjust her glasses. “Well, if I’m calling you Lena…”
“Kara it is.” She smiles. “Can I get you a glass of water? I was just about to pour some for myself.”
“A glass of water would be great,” Kara says, looking back up at Lena and setting her messenger bag on the ground next to the chair.
“Of course.” Lena turns to the pitcher on top of the sideboard. She pours two glasses and walks them back to the desk, setting one in front of Kara, before walking around to retake her seat. “So,” she starts as Kara pulls a notebook from the bag and pats her pockets for a pen, “I didn’t realize you work for CatCo now. I thought they were more, ‘high waisted jeans, yes or no’ than science reporting, or are you branching out?”
“Actually, it’s CatCo that’s branching out,” Kara says, smiling and bending down to rifle through her bag, her pockets having come up empty. “Ms. Grant is starting a series of special interest sections, and Science and Technology is one of them.” She pulls out a pen and uncaps it, scribbling on her pad to make sure it works. “That’s why I’m here, actually. We’d like to run a profile on you and your work at LuthorCorp. You’d be the first in a ‘Women in Science” series.”
“I’m not sure I’m all that interesting…” Lena frowns. “There are some incredible women in some of our labs, I’d be happy to—”
“Lena, with all due respect,” Kara laughs and interrupts her, “you have two PhDs, the work you’ve done in micro-electro mechanical systems in partnership with Spheerical Industries is revolutionizing the medical field, you hold seventeen patents related to biofuels and alternative energy technology…”
Lena can feel herself blush as Kara rattles off some of her achievements over the past eight years. It’s not that she doesn’t know all of this, and she knows it seems impressive at face value, but she’s used to being behind the scenes. Lex was the face of the company.
“...and as of a month ago, you’re the only CEO of a company this size under the age of forty,” Kara finishes. “I think that qualifies you as interesting.” There’s a challenge in her smile, and Lena can’t resist rising to it.
“Well, then, Kara. I suppose all press is good press. Where would you like to start?”
They end up talking for nearly two hours, covering everything from Lena’s thesis to her time in Research and Development, and then on to her transition to the helm of LuthorCorp in the wake of Lex’s arrest. Kara is a pleasure to talk to, clearly well prepared with thoughtful questions that go beyond what Lena has been coming to expect from most reporters. Kara doesn’t seem interested in writing something that could be copied from Lena’s wikipedia page—she wants to know what challenges Lena has faced, what her personal triumphs have been. And she’s clearly smart, so smart that she makes it easy for Lena to get lost in some of the minutiae of the work, but Kara doesn’t seem to have any trouble following.
Perhaps that’s why Lena’s startled when she hears Jess’s voice.
“Ms. Luthor?” Jess pokes her head through the office door. “I’m so sorry to interrupt. It’s one-thirty, should I order lunch for you now or will Ms. Danvers be staying longer?”
“Oh my goodness,” Lena says, letting out a small laugh. “I didn’t realize the time.” She looks at Kara. “Have you eaten?”
“No, but I don’t mean to trou—”
“It’s no trouble at all, unless you have somewhere you need to be?” Kara shakes her head, so Lena takes a chance, remembering their road trip and the fights about where to stop to eat. “Do you still eat burgers?” She smirks at Kara. “I’m not sure I remember you eating anything else beyond bacon burgers and those terrible cheese puffs, but I don’t think Big Belly Burger has the puffs on the menu.”
“You willingly eat fast food now?” Kara’s eyebrows shoot up. “What happened to Ms. I only eat weird health food?”
“This is a special occasion,” Lena says, nodding at Jess, who smiles back and ducks out.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Off the record?” Lena pushes her chair back slightly from the desk.
“Off the record,” Kara repeats, making a big show of closing her notepad and tucking it and the pen back into her bag.
Lena eyes Kara for a moment, considering. She has no real reason to trust her, but Kara’s been a journalist for years and there’s never been a blind item about how terrible Lena is to share a car with...
“The truth is, I’ve always had a weakness for their fries. And with the month I’m having, well,” Lena shrugs, “sometimes junk food is self care.”
“I think I should be concerned that self-care constitutes a special occasion.” There’s a teasing rhythm to Kara’s voice. “But somehow I’m not surprised.”
Lena gets up from her chair and walks around her desk, gesturing for Kara to follow her to the small sitting area, two chairs facing a low table with a couch along the back wall, to wait for their food. “You know, when we first met, I really didn’t like you that much—”
“I thought you were mean,” Kara interrupts her, laughing to take the sting out of it. “I liked you anyway.”
“I was a little mean.” Lena gives her a rueful smile. She takes a seat on the couch, catching her left thumb between her fingers and twisting it. “I seem to recall being nothing but grumpy and rude, and you were nothing but nice to me for three days.”
“Well,” Kara reaches up to adjust her glasses, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch, “I’m not sure ‘nice’ is entirely accurate. I remember spending a lot of the time trying to badger you into explaining yourself, when I probably should have just let it go.”
“I didn’t make it easy for you.” Lena laughs lightly. She looks down at her hands and then back at Kara. “What’s the statute of limitations on apologies?”
“Um,” Kara grins, “ten years?”
“Oh good, there’s still time to make amends then.” They smile at each other for a moment. It shouldn’t be this comfortable to just talk with her, Lena thinks, but it is.
“It’s funny.” Kara breaks the silence. “Every time I see you, I’m compelled to tell you that you were right about something.”
“Do tell,” Lena sits back on the couch. She leans one arm on the back of it and props her head up with her hand. “What is it this time?”
“I did finally catch feelings for one of my friends.”
“Her name is Lucy.”
“And are you and Lucy…?”
“No,” Kara quirks one side of her mouth up, looks down at her lap. “She was more interested in our friend James. But, you weren’t entirely right.” She flashes Lena a grin, the same effortless charm Lena remembers finding so irritating in the car. It isn’t irritating here. “We’re still friends. It didn’t end in tragedy.”
Lena can’t help laughing. “I’ll never live that down, will I?”
“Nope.” Kara shakes her head. “Burned into my memory.”
Jess delivers the food shortly after and the afternoon flies by. Before she knows it, Jess has returned to let her know she only has ten minutes until her three p.m. meeting.
“I can’t imagine there’s anything you need for your article that we didn’t cover,” Lena says when she gets up to walk Kara out.
“Oh gosh, no, I mean, I’ve got everything.” Kara stops just short of the door, swings her bag over her shoulder. “And that last hour is completely off the record, promise.”
“I should hope so.” Lena gives Kara a warm smile and reaches for the handle. She finds herself making an unexpected joke, “I suppose I’ll see you again in another four years?”
“Lena, I was thinking,” Kara fidgets with the strap on her bag, but she keeps her eyes on Lena’s, “would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”
“Are you asking if we can be friends, again?”
“Well, I…” Kara pauses, eyes widening for a second before she breaks into a big smile, “it’s tradition, right?”
“I’d say no, but…” Lena trails off, her fingers on the door handle. She’s a little surprised to find her usual impulse to keep someone at arm's length is dulled. Sam’s words from this morning echo in her head; Kara isn’t a book club, but that was never going to happen anyway. She lets go of the knob. “Actually? I could use a friendly face whose motivations I don’t have to question. And you have been trying for the last eight years.” She raises an eyebrow at Kara. “If I can’t trust your intentions, whose can I?”
“Right.” Kara adjusts her glasses. “Purely platonic! What are friends for?”