Lena is having a terrible, no good, absolutely crap day at the office when her cell phone vibrates twice in rapid succession. July is always her least favorite month; wrapping up the previous fiscal year is difficult to begin with, but this one is doubly so since part of the accounting involves untangling Lex’s less than legal financial activities. And to top it off, she’s currently stuck on the world’s worst conference call. She checks to be sure she’s still on mute and then flips her phone over to see two notifications from Kara Danvers.
Odd, she thinks, frowning slightly.
Maybe Kara needs to cancel the coffee they’d scheduled for this afternoon. Her heart dips a bit at the thought; they’ve only had a handful of friend-dates over the past seven weeks, but Lena finds herself looking forward to each successive one even more than the last. Kara is disarming and funny, and a really good listener. She never expects Lena to pick up the check, despite what has to be a clear imbalance in their respective bank accounts. The idea that this totally shitty day won’t be redeemed at least in part by coffee with Kara is disappointing, to say the least.
Lena swipes on the notifications anyway, she’s never been one to delay bad news.
The first message is a selfie of Kara with her arms wrapped around a golden retriever on the sidewalk. She looks incredibly happy, her eyes bright, face crinkled from the size of her grin. Lena’s smiling reflexively in response before she realizes it.
The second message, below it, is text in all capitals: SORRY THAT WAS FOR ALEX I DIDN’T MEAN TO SEND IT TO U.
Before she can think about it, Lena sends her own text back. Please, this is the only good thing I’ve seen all day. Thank you for the smile.
As an afterthought, she adds, I didn’t realize you had a dog.
Ellipses appear almost immediately.
I dont i met him outside noonans and his owner let me take a pic
Lena has to stifle her laugh. Another text comes through right after, vibrating the phone in her hand.
Im sure ur super busy tho sorry to bug u! ur contact info was first up when i went to send it
Lena wasn’t lying, this is absolutely the only thing that’s brought a smile to her face all day—maybe even all week. And friends text each silly things, right?
Actually, Lena sends back, smiling to herself, I’m a little hurt you didn’t send this on purpose. I’m sure I like puppies as much as your sister.
Kara doesn’t text back immediately, so Lena puts the phone down, feeling a little like she shouldn’t have sent the last message. Maybe a lunch and two coffees aren’t enough for this level of familiarity. She considers sending another message to clarify that she isn’t really hurt, but Lena Luthor has never been a double texter before now and she doesn't intend to do it more than once in a single conversation.
Ten minutes later, her phone buzzes five times in a row.
It’s four pictures, each featuring Kara with a dazzling grin and different dogs, and a text that reads, ur going to regret telling me that.
The profile of Lena that Kara writes comes out two weeks later on the heels of some especially hellish damage control Lena has had to do regarding the ever increasing number of people it seems were involved with Lex’s trades. His charm now appears to have brought down a few of LuthorCorp’s board members, and Lena’s the one suffering for it. The apology fruit basket he’d had his lawyer send didn’t make her any less mad at him.
Kara e-mails her an advanced copy the night before the issue hits stands, and, the moment Lena finishes reading it, she sits back on the couch, legs tucked underneath her, and opens a new browser tab. Kara had been to Lena’s office to drop off pastries two days ago after Lena had cancelled on her, and she’d commented on the flowers Lena had in a large arrangement on the coffee table. She’d looked practically wistful, fingers lingering on the petals as she asked about their varieties and told Lena that she loves fresh flowers.
It’s not that Lena doesn’t have people in her life who love her and believe in her—Jack and Sam are her best friends, after all—but there’s something about Kara that Lena can’t quite put her finger on. Even if she can’t figure it out exactly, she’s grateful all the same. The prose of the finished piece paints a picture of Lena that’s far more complimentary than she thinks is fair—for starters Kara gives her too much credit for the direction she’s trying to steer LuthorCorp in, it’s what anyone in her position would do—and yet the writing doesn’t feel anything but honest and genuine. Kara clearly took the time to really see what Lena’s trying to accomplish in the wake of Lex’s fall from grace, the impact that Lena believes that LuthorCorp can have, and all the work that’s going into making this new vision a reality. So, if Lena is feeling the need to find a way to show Kara just how grateful she is? Surely she can be forgiven.
Satisfied with her order, Lena enters the only delivery address she has for Kara: CatCo. Hopefully there will be enough room for it all.
“Walk me through this again?” Alex eyes the massive floral arrangements in her sister’s arms while holding the front door to Kara’s loft apartment open for her.
Kara’s kitchen island looks like a florist’s shop; it and the rest of her kitchen counters are covered in a fragrant riot of blooms—pink roses and hydrangeas, plumerias and yellow lilies, camellias and delphiniums. Alex has a beer in her hand, and as soon as Kara is inside, she resumes leaning back against the kitchen counter, nestled between handfuls of lisianthus and quicksand roses. Kara shuffles past her to put the last of the vases down on her dining room table, the sills of the enormous glazed windows running the length of the apartment’s outside wall already full.
“She filled your office with flowers?” Alex prompts when Kara doesn’t respond. “I thought you said you weren't dating.”
“I’m not a hundred percent certain these are from Lena,” Kara says over her shoulder as she finishes adjusting a wayward petal. Alex snorts. “The card doesn’t have a name! It just says ‘thank you.’ The article dropped today, though.” She turns around and makes her way over to the fridge to grab a soda, bending over and leaning in a bit to see what she has. “I can’t really imagine who else it could be, but she hasn’t texted or called or anything to ask about them.”
“Oh, it’s her alright.” Alex flaps a hand dismissively. “But Kara, you said she turned you down for a date.”
“That’s not what happened!” Kara bangs the back of her head on the freezer door in her haste to stand up. She rubs the injured spot gingerly, cradling a soda in the crook of her arm as she shuts the fridge door. “Well, not exactly. See I thought I was asking her on a date when I asked her to dinner after our interview, but then she said the whole needing a friend thing, so clearly she didn’t think that’s what it was. And I can be her friend!” Kara steps around Alex and opens a cabinet. “Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking asking her out anyway, that would have been so inappropriate.”
“Right,” Alex says slowly, looking around Kara’s loft and squinting at the bouquets everywhere, “inappropriate.”
“And I’m actually really glad it happened this way.” Kara is too busy finding a clean glass to pour the soda into to catch onto her sister’s tone, just continues her same train of thought. “We’ve had like four friend dates now and there’s just something…” she shrugs, popping the top of the can and emptying it into a plastic novelty cup from the National City Zoo, “comfortable? She’s brilliant, obviously, I feel like we can be talking about anything and she knows something about it. And she’s so generous, I mean, I probably should have expected something like this. She always tries to pay, she’s over the top like that—she’s like the banana meme.”
Alex looks at her blankly.
“You know,” Kara says, lifting her eyebrows, “the ‘how much can a banana cost, ten dollars?’ with that lady from Arrested Development. That meme.”
When Alex continues to look at her blankly, Kara rolls her eyes. “Gosh, you really need to leave the hospital sometime.” She gestures to the couch. “Now, come on, it’s sister night and since you spent the last hour helping me get these home from CatCo, you can pick the movie.” At the grin on Alex’s face, Kara hastens to add, “but no Saw! It was bad enough the first time and I don’t need to see the seventeen sequels. It’s just gross.”
Later, when the dinner delivery has come and Alex is queuing up her selection, Kara grabs her phone and pulls up her message thread with Lena. She knows Alex is right: there’s no one else who could have possibly done this, and she really needs to thank her.
She starts typing and deletes it a couple of times before settling on, So my office was overflowing w/ flowers…
Ellipses pop up immediately. Really? comes the reply, followed quickly by, Was?
Kara snaps a picture of her apartment, the vases and artful arrangements on display, and sends it to Lena. Couldnt leave it all at the office. She bites her lip. U didnt have to do that.
Yes, I did, Lena responds. It makes Kara smile and shake her head.
Kara starts typing as Alex tells her to get her butt into gear and get the popcorn. She takes a deep breath. Brunch this weekend?
I can’t, working through the weekend, Lena responds quickly, and Kara feels her smile fall a bit, disappointment settling in her stomach at the rejection. She bites at the inside of her cheek.
Kara meant what she said to Alex: she wants to be Lena’s friend—although perhaps she left out the intensity of that desire when she told her sister. There’s something absolutely magnetic about Lena Luthor that Kara can’t quite put into words.
Right now, they’re somewhere beyond acquaintances (Kara certainly doesn’t send acquaintances pictures of dogs she meets with the frequency that Lena is starting to get them), but they’re not yet firmly in solid friend territory. It’s probably weird to want to see Lena every day, so she’s trying to temper the desire to ask Lena to do things with her all the time; one invite every week or so feels safe. But it’s reasonable, she thinks, to want to spend time with her, to make sure this fledgling friendship takes off. Lena’s obviously a busy person, and Kara doesn’t want to come off annoying, or too eager...
Her phone vibrates in her hand as she tries to work out an appropriate response. It’s Lena again, and Kara’s smile comes back full force when she reads the message. But I can provide a contra account: breakfast next week, instead?
Yes!!!! Kara types back, not even trying to resist adding what Alex would call a truly horrendous number of emojis. C u then.
The August weather has put Lena in a terrible mood. Why on earth National City is currently doing it’s best impression of the New England summers of her youth is beyond her—it’s probably the result of climate change, but it doesn’t ultimately matter. Regardless of how little time Lena endeavors to spend outdoors, even the few minutes it takes to get from her apartment to the car and the car to the office seem to be enough to frizz her hair and wreak havoc on her skin. She’s feeling frumpy, generally miserable with the mountains of administrative work her new position now requires, and desperately counting the minutes until she can go home, pour a giant glass of wine, and lay prone on the couch until bedtime.
Kara’s voice pulls Lena out of the e-mail she’d been considering. When she glances up from her monitor, Kara herself is peeking around her door.
“Hi, what are you doing here?” Lena scans her desk for her phone but can’t immediately find it. Had Kara tried calling? “Did we have lunch scheduled?”
“No, you’re fine,” Kara says, and Lena looks back up at her. Kara’s wearing light grey chinos and a soft looking oxford in some sort of pastel green. She looks really good. “I was interviewing one of your lab directors for a ‘What’s Next in Science’ piece we’re trying to flesh out and we wrapped up early, so I figured I’d drop by and see if you had time for a lunch break?”
“A lunch break,” Lena repeats, not having quite shifted gears. She looks back down at her computer. A break of any kind right now sounds amazing. A lunch break with Kara sounds perfect. She squints at her computer screen. Where the fuck is her calendar?
“It’s fine if you’re not!” Kara says, coming to stand in front of her desk. “Jess said you might have an hour, but she wasn’t sure if you had a project you needed to follow up on.”
Lena gives up on the calendar immediately. “If Jess said I have an hour, then I’m yours for an hour.”
“Great!” Kara gives her a blinding smile and rocks back and forth on her feet. “Do you feel like a walk today? We ate at Noonan’s last week, so I was thinking maybe we could go to the Vietnamese place you texted me about.”
It’s horrendous outside; it’s a million degrees and it’s sunny and humid and… “Sure,” Lena says, finding that, suddenly, she doesn’t mind quite as much. “A walk sounds great.”
“So that’s two iced coffees with condensed milk, an order of the grilled pork and rice noodles, the lemongrass tofu bánh mì,” the waiter rattles off, “and the fresh spring rolls with shrimp. Is that it?”
“Yes,” says Lena, closing her menu and holding it out for him to take. “Thanks so much.”
He moves to take Kara’s menu, but Kara snatches it back before he can close his grasp on the cover. “Wait!” She looks sheepishly at Lena. “I’m sorry, I just saw those crepe things come out of the kitchen. Can we add two orders of the bánh xèo?”
Lena can’t help laughing when the waiter disappears, having finally, successfully retrieved Kara’s menu, but not before she’d added the shaking beef as well.
“What?” Kara takes a sip of her water while Lena puts her napkin on her lap, and glances around the restaurant. “What’s so funny?”
“You really can’t order everything in one go, can you?” Lena shakes her head, smiling.
Kara sets her water down and takes her own napkin off the table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I am perfectly capable of ordering all at once. I just get food fomo, okay?”
Lena can’t hold the snort in. “Tell that to all the poor drive-through workers you terrorized on our road trip.”
“It’s true!” Kara protests, but she’s smiling too. “I just don’t want to have any meal-related regrets! Whatever. You and my sister would get along.” She cocks her head as if remembering something. “I’m pretty sure I got dumped over it once.”
“Dumped?” Lena can’t help leaning forward, curious. “Over your inability to order in a reasonable fashion? It would take a lot more for me to dump you than just that.”
“I resent the implication that I’m unreasonable.” Kara rolls her eyes. “And, well, no, it wasn’t just that.”
Lena gestures for her to continue.
“Fine. It was in undergrad and I was dating this guy named Adam,” Kara scrunches up her nose. “Ugh I can’t even remember his last name. He hated going out to eat because I could never make up my mind, and also probably because I could outeat him. Why are men such babies about that? He—”
“You can outeat anyone,” Lena can’t resist interjecting, “I can’t believe he didn’t know that going in.”
Kara glares at her, but there isn’t much heat to it. “As I was saying, it drove him nuts,” she pauses and frowns slightly, “...but, now that I’m thinking about it, that wasn’t what made him break up with me.”
“No.” Kara goes a little pink. “You’re going to laugh.”
Lena sits up straight. “I won’t, I promise. Come on, don’t hold out on me.”
“Okay, but I’m holding you to that.” Kara takes a breath. “I had these days of the week underpants.”
Lena immediately bites the inside of her cheek, but can’t stop the grin from forming on her face.
“I can see you trying not to laugh, Lena,” Kara pouts, drawing her eyebrows together, a small crinkle forming between them. “You promised!”
“I’m not laughing, darling.” Lena tries to tamp down her smile. “Days of the week underpants are nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“I thought they were funny when I bought them.” Kara’s blush is steadily getting worse. “Anyway, one day, Adam was like, ‘Hey, how come you never wear Sunday anymore?’ and he got all weird about it and suspicious, like maybe I’d left Sunday with someone and it wasn’t him. And I told him why I didn’t have them, but he didn’t believe me. And then he broke up with me!”
“He sounds like an idiot,” Lena says and Kara nods. “What happened to Sunday?”
“I used a laundromat in college ‘cause our dorm didn’t have a washer-dryer set, and one time the Sunday pair got mangled in one of the dryers! It was totally shredded. I had to throw it out.”
“Huh.” Lena sits back as the waiter brings their coffees and the spring rolls out and sets them on the table. Kara pours the coffee over ice after he leaves, and stirs in the milk. “Well that’s just about the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard for breaking up with someone. He sounds incredibly insecure.”
“It wasn’t really a loss, he chewed with his mouth open.” Kara shrugs as she passes Lena her coffee and takes one of the spring rolls before pushing the plate toward Lena. “I wasn’t about to break up with him over it, but it was gross. Do you have any dumb break up stories?”
Lena scoffs. “That would require me dating anyone long enough to actually have a break up.” She uses her chopsticks to retrieve a roll of her own.
“And you don’t?” Kara frowns, somehow managing to fit half the roll she’s holding into her mouth in one bite.
“I’m not averse to the idea.” Lena hums, taking a sip of the coffee. “I just don’t have the time. When Sam moved to Metropolis to help me get LuthorCorp under control this year, she and Jack were worried I was going to become a hermit entirely.” She points at the peanut dipping sauce and Kara slides it across the table. “They’re big fans of you, actually, for getting me out of the office.”
Kara puffs her chest out, eyes crinkling with the size of her smile. “You can tell them the pleasure is all mine.”
The Tuesday after Labor Day, Kara is sitting in a staff meeting listening to one of the editors drone on interminably as every attendee plays on their phones. Nobody really wants to be back in the office after a long weekend anyway, and, on top of that, there’s a general sense of malaise about the room that Kara associates with the end of summer. To pass the time, Nia has been texting her fun internet memes, but she hasn’t sent any for the last several minutes. Kara looks up from her screen and glances around the room. She spies Nia in the corner, head leaning against the wall, shoulders slumped, clearly asleep.
Faced with having to pay attention or find her own distraction, Kara scrolls through her texts thinking about who might be free. Alex is passed out from working the weekend, Winn’s new tech job confiscates his phone when he arrives for work, and James and Lucy just haven't been as available since they moved away. She comes to a stop at Lena’s name.
There’s a funny calculus to her friendship with Lena so far. The more time they spend together, the more time Kara wants to spend together. When Lena reaches out to ask her to grab lunch, or sends a picture of paperwork in response to one of Kara’s animal selfies, she finds herself feeling, well, giddy seems to be the best way to describe it. And over the course of the summer they’ve grown—close isn’t the right word yet—but closer, for sure. At this point, Kara sees her for lunch or breakfast almost every week and it’s Lena reaching out to ask as often as Kara does.
And they text now, a lot. It started with dog selfies from Kara. She was worried that Lena would think it was silly, or dumb, but Lena’s enthusiastic about it each time. Enthusiastic enough that Kara’s begun to branch out, sending pictures of people at work or the line at Noonan’s or funny jokes Nia passed along to her. And Lena has started to respond in kind. Beyond the pictures of paperwork, she’ll send Kara pictures of food she thinks Kara should try or restaurants she wants to go to. Kara’d be a little embarrassed at how quickly Lena clocked on to her bottomless stomach, but given that the time they spend together is almost always around a meal, it isn’t exactly surprising.
Lena had told her sometime recently that Kara’s texts are often the best part of her day. She was probably exaggerating, but, it’s nice, is the point. Lena is nice.
The upside to all of this is that Kara no longer spends as much time hesitating before texting her. So, even though it’s nine-thirty in the morning and Lena is probably busy, Kara can’t resist. She likely won’t get a reply, but, if she’s lucky, whatever she texts will bring a smile to Lena’s face whenever she does check her messages.
She takes a surreptitious picture of a row of interns in the back of the room sleeping just like Nia and captions it, Leeeenaaaa im bored. There. Perfect.
...and you’re telling me why? The reply comes through immediately and Kara grins down at her phone, shifting slightly in her seat.
Staff mtg. She adds a vomit face emoji for good measure. Help me get unbored
I’m afraid I’m not going to be very entertaining, I’m waiting for my own meeting to begin. Kara can picture the bemused look on Lena’s face, the way she’s sometimes surprised when Kara asks her to schedule another date before they’re even finished with the one they’re on—like Kara’s enthusiasm for her is somehow befuddling, but ultimately pleasant.
So ur bored too, Kara writes back.
Yes, Kara, I’m bored too
What do u do when ur bored?
You mean when I don’t have somewhere I’m supposed to be?
If I’m at work, I go down to the lab or bother my assistant; in that order
I dont have an assistant
Or a lab
Take a buzzfeed quiz, Kara
I took them all
Well then I’m out of ideas
I CAN TAKE THE QUIZZES AS U
Been wondering what disney princess u r
First q what is ur fav disney movie?
I don’t have one
No u have to wait til i give u the options
It won’t matter, Kara, I haven’t seen any
What do u mean
I mean I haven’t seen any.
What r u doing friday night
Curling up with wine and a book
NO UR NOT PLS COME OVER WE NEED MOVIE NIGHT
The ask is impulsive, but heartfelt. Hanging out, beyond coffee and lunch, is the next step in friendship, after all, and this seems like the perfect opportunity. Kara feels strangely nervous after she hits send though. Was it too forward? Too directive?
There’s an agonizing minute where no response comes, not even an ellipses to indicate that Lena is crafting a reply. Kara is about to rephrase it as a question, to tell Lena no pressure and that it’s fine if she doesn’t want to have a movie night, when her phone vibrates again.
Movie night sounds nice. I’m bringing wine
Lena is still talking to Jack when she arrives at the address that Kara sent, tote bag full of wine and a few bags of gourmet popcorn that Ruby recommended. It’s only seven p.m. in National City, but it’s morning for Jack in London, who has paused his complaining about having to wake up terribly early on a Saturday long enough to ask her how she’s feeling about the evening ahead.
“Do you think I should have picked up more snacks?” Lena asks, stepping into the elevator. “You have no idea how much she can eat, and what if she doesn’t even like any of them? And she said wine is fine, but I’ve never seen her drink!”
“Why are you so worried about this?” He sounds amused and Lena scowls, even though he can’t see her. “She invited you and said you didn’t have to bring anything at all!”
She hits the correct floor with her free hand. “I just want her to like me, Jack, I don’t know how to do this.”
He laughs outright. “You don’t know how to do this?” She can hear the air quotes. “Lena, I know you love to believe you’re terrible with people, but you’re not. You managed to make friends with me just fine, and it’s not as if Kara hasn’t made it perfectly clear she likes you plenty.”
“You don’t count...is it weird that I’m nervous?” She shifts her weight, transfers the phone to her other hand and wipes her palm on her jeans, then tugs at the bottom of her purple long sleeve shirt. “It’s weird that I’m nervous, isn’t it. We eat lunch together all the time.” The elevator dings as she arrives at Kara’s floor and she steps out when the doors open.
“You’re going to be fine, love, although I can’t believe she talked you into a Disney marathon. Can you name a single movie?”
Lena almost doesn’t give him the satisfaction, but it’s Jack. “I had Jess make me a list,” she admits as she makes her way to Kara’s door at the end of the hallway. “So I’m at least a little familiar with the body of work. I had no idea there were so many of them.”
He laughs. “Just relax and have fun.”
Lena’s about to tell him she has to go, that she’s standing in front of Kara’s door, when he starts speaking again. “I’m glad you’re taking a chance on Kara. It’s nice knowing you’re not alone even if Sam and I aren’t around.”
“She’s easy to take a chance on.” It comes out like a reflex. “Okay, I’m here. Love you, Jack. Have fun at your conference in Paris, maybe next time you’ll consider flying in the night before.”
“Love you too, Lena.”
She tucks the phone in her pocket and raises a hand to knock at the door, but before she can make contact with the wood, it swings open to reveal Kara. She’s grinning, the kind of full-face smile that bunches her cheeks and crinkles her eyes, and Lena’s not quite sure anyone has ever looked that happy to see her. Lena’s mirroring the smile before she realizes it, her nerves dissipating as she thinks about what Jack said: Kara asked her to come over, there’s nothing to feel nervous about at all.
“I thought I heard you out here,” Kara says, stepping back from the door and gesturing for Lena to enter. “I’m so glad you came.”
“Thanks for inviting me.” Lena ducks past her, looking into the apartment as she enters.
Her first thought is that it suits Kara. The apartment is an open loft—all high ceilings and exposed brick, but the decorative stye is anything but industrial. The furniture is a warm mismatch of well-loved pieces set on top of comfortable carpets that cover the worn wood floors. There’s a kitchen island set about ten feet back from the front door separating the cooking and dining spaces, and, beyond that, a cozy living room with a variety of chairs and a couch circled around a television.
Any fear that Lena had about things being awkward falls to the wayside as Kara launches into how utterly boring her entire work week has been (apparently the staff meeting really set the tone) while she divests Lena of the bags of popcorn (“oh gosh, these look so good, let me grab a bowl”) and directs her to the wine opener (“first drawer to the left of the fridge, glasses are in the cupboard above”). They make small talk while preparing a mountain of snacks, in spite of Kara’s plans to call for take-out at some point.
“Okay,” Kara finally says, taking two bowls of popcorn from Lena and leading the way out of the kitchen and over to her couch. “Since this is your first time, we’re gonna go old school followed by new school so you really get a sense of Disney’s reach.”
“Old school?” Lena follows, settling in on the couch where Kara points her before accepting a blanket and a bowl. The difference between new and old school hadn’t featured in Jess’s list.
“Old school,” Kara repeats. “The OG, actually, Snow White.” Kara sits down on the opposite end so that Lena is between her and the television at an angle. “It was the first ever feature-length animated film! It’s super old, I always forget when it was made but we’re talking pre-world war two.”
“1937,” Lena offers. That was on the list.
Kara grins at her. “You did research.” It isn’t phrased as a question and Lena feels the tips of her ears get red. “I love that you did research,” Kara continues without waiting for a response. “So we’re starting with that, but we’re pairing it with a modern classic, Wall-E. We can order dinner between them, sound good?”
Snow White is fine. Lena can appreciate the music and the artistry, can understand it’s place in the pantheon and why Kara decided to start them off with it, but it’s the second movie that undoes her. By the time Eve is desperately trying to reboot Wall-E, chasing him out of the container at the end of the movie, Lena is full on crying. Which is absurd. It’s an animated movie about a lonely robot, for christ’s sake, and just because he was lonely for 700 years and managed to melt the heart of another equally lonely robot is no reason to be hugging the pillow that Kara provided and blubbering.
Kara leaves the lights dim until the final credit has rolled, but when she reaches behind herself to click on a floor lamp, Lena doesn’t waste a second.
“Kara Danvers, you did not warn me!” Lena’s still wiping at her face, grateful for the lighter makeup she’d chosen after work. “These are supposed to be children’s movies!”
“Okay, that’s on me, the emotions are all adult,” Kara’s wiping her own eyes too, Lena’s gratified to realize, “but really, that’s Pixar’s sweet spot.” She smiles at Lena. “Wait till we watch Up!”
It’s Lena’s birthday—a week before the end of October—and, under normal circumstances, that would mean treating herself to an absurdly expensive meal, drinking an entire bottle of wine, and going to sleep as soon as possible after talking with Sam and Jack (trying her best to ignore Lillian’s performative text and Lex’s inevitable ‘sorry I can’t be there, ace’ voicemail). But this entire year is turning into nothing but exceptions—her birthday now included.
Kara had spent lunch earlier in the week moaning about how Alex was bailing on their Halloween tradition this year. When Lena inquired as to what the tradition was, Kara lit up and, by the end of lunch, had secured Lena’s promise to take Alex’s place accompanying her to the National City ScareFest, some sort of pop-up horror theme park at the fairgrounds on the edge of the city, complete with what Kara swears is the best haunted house on the whole West Coast.
And if Lena just doesn’t mention that it’s her birthday? She doesn’t want Kara to fuss.
They’ve agreed to meet just off the main entrance, and Lena spots Kara before Kara spots her, standing next to a row of palm trees that separate the asphalt of the drop-off lane from the open concrete esplanade in front of the walls of the park. She’s impossible to miss, dressed in a hideous full body banana suit, and it’s Lena’s unrestrained peal of laughter that alerts Kara to her presence.
“I can’t believe you didn’t dress up!” Kara says, pouting and sounding legitimately put out when she sees Lena walking up to her in jeans and a leather jacket, plain grey t-shirt underneath.
“I thought you were kidding,” Lena replies, trying to tamp down her grin. People are streaming in and out of the gates just behind Kara, and a quick glance reveals that most of the attendees are in some sort of costume—pointy black witches hats and baby yodas in strollers abound. Lena hasn’t worn a Halloween costume since college, and she already felt a little silly going to a haunted house (even if Kara repeatedly swore up and down that “it’s totally legit Lena, they don’t even let kids in without a parent”); she had to draw a line somewhere. Kara’s absolutely devastated expression at her casual clothing makes her regret that decision a tiny bit, but she’s not about to admit that.
“Lena, look at me,” Kara says, eyebrows drawn together in a tight line, mouth flat, “do I seem like I would ever joke about something like this?”
Lena can’t suppress the laugh that prompts, because Kara’s right—nothing about her led Lena to believe she was joking when she sent the text two days ago telling Lena to wear a costume.
“I don’t see why I need to wear a costume when you’re done up enough for the both of us,” Lena responds, gaze drifting over Kara. She raises an eyebrow and shakes her head, giving into the impulse to laugh again. “I’ve never actually seen one of these giant banana costumes in real life. Aren’t you hot?”
“Our group costume for the CatCo party this year is fruit salad,” Kara says, ignoring Lena’s question and grumbling a little, face screwed up in some approximation of regret. It’s more endearing than it has any right to be. “Although I’m realizing that it doesn’t make as much sense without Nia and the rest of the group.”
“There’s certainly something lost without the rest of the fruit,” Lena says, smiling, “but, if it means anything, you’re the best banana I’ve ever seen.”
Kara brightens up. “I’ll bet you say that to all the bananas.”
“I can honestly say that I’ve never said it before to anyone, banana or not.” Lena feels her own face matching Kara’s wide smile. “Now come on, there’s got to be some way I can make this up to you. Candy apple?”
“I won’t say no to that,” Kara starts, looking over Lena’s shoulder, “but I’ve got something else in mind...”
And that’s how Lena ends up getting a spiderweb painted on her face, taking over her entire left cheek. Kara makes them take about a dozen selfies until she’s satisfied, pressing their sides together to get them both in the frame. She immediately sets the result as Lena’s contact picture and looks so pleased with herself that Lena doesn’t even think to protest.
They spend the next forty-five minutes wandering around the fairgrounds and stopping at every food vendor, even after Kara swears she’s done eating. When their ticketed entry time rolls around, Kara drags her over to the entrance to the haunted house by the hand, warning Lena that she’s easily scared and could they please link arms the whole time? But it’s Lena who ends up screaming, clutching at Kara when two teenagers dressed as zombies pop out of the dark halfway through.
They’re walking around the festival afterwards, Kara debating the merits of playing what are sure to be rigged carnival games, when Lena’s phone starts ringing. She pulls it out of her back pocket and glances at the screen. It’s Sam, no doubt calling to sing with Ruby.
Lena looks over at Kara, who is staring with interest at a ring toss booth. If she answers, will Kara figure out that it’s her birthday? It’s a silly thing to keep secret. Does she care if Kara knows?
While she’s debating what to do, her phone goes dark, having rung through to voicemail.
“Who was that?” Kara asks, nodding at the phone.
“Sam,” Lena says. “She’ll leave a message. If it’s important, she’ll call ba—” The phone starts ringing again, Sam’s picture lighting up the screen.
Kara raises an eyebrow. “You gonna get that?”
Lena looks down at the phone and takes a deep breath. She swipes to answer and brings the phone up to her ear. “Hi Sam, I’m still out wi—” But Sam and Ruby have already launched into song. Lena angles herself away from Kara slightly, mouthing sorry as she does, but Kara just waves her off good naturedly and keeps walking them between booths as Lena lets Sam and Ruby wish her a happy birthday. She apologizes to them both for not being able to stay on the phone, and they let her go after she promises to call tomorrow.
“First,” Kara pulls her to a stop as soon as Lena’s tucked her phone back in her pocket, “who are you, a senior citizen? Even old ladies don’t keep the volume on their phones turned up that high, it might as well be on speaker. And, second,” Lena flushes because she knows what’s coming next, “it’s your birthday? Why didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have dragged you to this if I’d known! We could have done something else, anything el—”
“It’s not a big deal,” Lena tries, interrupting her. “It’s not really something I like celebrating. There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now, I promise.”
Kara stops talking, fixing Lena with a thoughtful expression, before her face smooths back into a smile. “Well,” she finally says, “I’m glad you felt like spending your birthday with me. Now come on, I think I’ve finally found us a game that isn’t rigged. Let’s win you a stuffed pumpkin.”
Lena’s phone vibrates while she’s driving home, the lock screen lighting up with Kara’s name. As soon as she’s parked at the garage below her building, she unbuckles and swipes at the notification.
Did streaky make it home ok?
Lena smiles to herself and takes a picture of the enormous plush black cat still strapped into her passenger seat. Safe and sound.
Kara doesn’t reply until Lena is getting ready for bed, but she sees the message when she goes to plug her phone in. It’s simple really, and Lena knows that Kara wasn’t thinking anything special when she sent it, but seeing the words next year i’ll get you a REAL present does something funny to her chest.
Next year, like it’s nothing, like of course Kara will be in her life.
She sends a single heart in response, and turns off the light.
“I thought you said you had work to do,” Lena says after Kara sighs loudly for the third time. Flicking her eyes up from the paperwork piled in front of her, Lena can see Kara is now stretched out on her back along the length of the couch in her office, laptop closed on the coffee table next to her, notebook clearly discarded on the floor. She has one arm thrown over her face and she is clearly not doing any work at all.
“I think I’m still in a food coma from Thanksgiving.”
Lena can’t help snorting as she goes back to writing notes in the margins of the report she’s working on. “Thanksgiving was four days ago.”
“Fine,” Lena can hear as Kara rolls over to face her. “Maybe it’s all the leftovers. Too much tryptophan from the turkey.”
Lena hums. “I’m pretty sure they busted that myth.”
“What?” Kara sits up.
“There are too many other amino-acids trying to traverse the blood-brain barrier after a meal like that for tryptophan to affect serotonin production at the level you’d need it.” Lena looks at the paper in front of her and makes a decision, capping her pen and pushing back from the desk. “It’s more likely the pie, since all that sugar triggers an insulin release that takes care of tryptophan’s competition.”
“It’s weird that you know that. You know it’s weird that you know that, right?” Kara’s smiling when she says it though, her voice warm as she watches Lena get up from her desk.
“Scientific American had an article about it.” Lena shrugs and walks across her office toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Kara asks when Lena grabs her coat from the stand.
“We’re,” Lena gestures between them, “going for a walk. It’ll help with the digestion and hopefully your concentration. Some of us have work to do, and I need you to let me do it if I’m going to leave the office at a reasonable hour tonight.”
“That’s a great idea.” Kara brightens and stands up, pulling her own coat off the arm of the couch. “Can we stop by Noonan’s? I’m really craving a hot chocolate.”
“Come on.” Lena rolls her eyes, knotting the soft belt around her waist and adjusting her collar while Kara buttons herself up. “We can stop on our way back.”
“I’m just saying, how sad is it that I don’t have anything fun to do for New Year’s?”
Lena smiles in commiseration at the disappointment in Kara’s tone. They’re at Kara’s apartment again, about to settle in to watch Cinderella followed by Toy Story. She’s grabbing drinks from the fridge while Kara plates their pizza. Kara holds up a second slice of veggie in question and Lena nods.
“Nobody I know is even throwing a party this year!” Kara frowns and adds two more slices of Hawaiian to her own plate. “It’s just going to be me, a bottle of Martinelli’s, and the Time Square countdown.”
Lena finishes pouring two root beers. “Honestly, Kara,” she says, walking their drinks over to the couch and setting them down on coasters, “Martinelli’s and watching Jonathan Bennett ring in the new year sounds perfect.”
“You have a gala at the Science Foundation!” Kara replies, having followed her. She places Lena’s pizza in front of her and sits back on the blankets she’s laid out.
“I do,” Lena points at the pillow Kara’s dropped to the floor and Kara picks it up, passes it over to her. “And I will be working the entire time and it’s going to be terribly boring and no fun at all.”
“Still.” Kara takes a mouthful of pizza. “You get to dress up and be fancy and drink real champagne.”
“Well, if it sounds like that much fun, you can always be my plus one.” Kara’s face lights up and Lena hastens to add, “but I warn you, I really do have to work most of the night.”
“Yes,” Kara squeals, sitting up and wiggling a little on the couch, “no take backs! Is there a dress code? Will you have food? Should I pick you up?”
Lena can’t help laughing. Kara’s enthusiasm is infectious, and she can’t help thinking that maybe there’s something to look forward to with this event after all. “It’s cocktail attire, but many of the guests will be in formal wear, so whatever you want to wear is fine. There will be heavy hors d'oeuvres, but no sit-down dinner, and no need to pick me up unless you want to get there four hours early, which is when I have to arrive to make sure everything is set up.”
“I’m so excited!” Kara’s whole face is crinkled from the size of her smile. “I’m gonna make sure you have fun.”
The next two weeks fly by and, between the holidays and LuthorCorp business, Lena doesn’t see Kara until New Year’s Eve. She sends Kara the details the day before with an apology for not getting them to her sooner and telling her to text Lena when she arrives. The day of, Lena is too busy with approving last minute additions to the guest list to think much about the evening ahead. In fact, she almost forgets Kara is coming entirely until her assistant for the evening walks up to her to say that Kara Danvers has texted and would Ms. Luthor like Ms. Danvers to wait anywhere in particular for her? If not, she’ll be by the coat check.
Lena smooths out the black satin of the strapless, knee-length dress she’s wearing and looks around the cavernous lobby of the National City Science Foundation, scanning the crowd near the double-doored entrance. Guests are streaming in, and the hall is full of dark suits and bright dresses, flashes of jewelry and patterned ties. When she finds Kara amongst the crowd, Lena does a momentary double take.
Over the past six months, she’s seen Kara in all manner of clothing—button ups and chinos, slacks and blouses, sweatpants and college t-shirts. Kara looks good in everything, and it isn’t as if Lena doesn’t know that. Kara’s attractive. Lots of people are.
But the woman standing just off to the side of the cloakroom is stunning. Kara isn’t wearing glasses and her hair is pulled back into a sleek chignon, a style Lena’s never seen her wear. She has on a slim black suit that fits too well to be anything but tailored, over a white button down which has been left undone to what has to be the third button.
Lena shakes her head and takes a deep breath. It’s Kara. So she’s gorgeous? What of it. This isn’t news. Lena starts across the space, smiling when she gets close enough to make out the way Kara is biting her lower lip and looking down at her phone.
“You certainly clean up nicely,” she says, stopping two feet away.
Kara looks up, her mouth curving into an immediate smile at Lena’s voice. “Lena! I—wow.” Her eyes drop to Lena’s dress. “You look amazing.” Kara’s cheeks go a little pink, and something in Lena’s chest trips over itself.
“I hate to abandon you right after you’ve arrived,” Lena says, feeling it more acutely than she’d planned, “but I need to make the rounds for the next hour or two.”
“You warned me,” Kara says, smiling. “Just point me in the direction of the food.”
A little more than two hours later, Lena thanks her assistant and dismisses them for the evening. The night to this point has felt interminable; it’s nearing eleven, and she just wants to find Kara and get a drink.
“You look like you could use this.”
Lena spins around to find Kara walking up behind her, holding two champagne flutes. She holds one out for Lena.
“Have I ever told you you’re my favorite?” Lena takes the glass gratefully and drains half of it in one go, the bubbles tickling the back of her throat and making her cough lightly.
“Whoa there,” Kara laughs, “You’ve got a whole hour to catch up to the rest of us. But I do need to know: I’ve been listening to this band absolutely kill it all evening, can I talk you into dancing?”
They end up dancing until midnight. It’s easy; Kara dips her and spins her, keeps up an endless stream of jokes and comments about the guests she talked to while Lena was working the room. The band transitions to slower standards as they dance and, at some point, Lena’s surprised to find that she’s not ready for the night to end. She’s content, a little tipsy, and more relaxed than she’s ever been at one of these events—something probably to do with the fact that Kara is humming along to the song under her breath, one hand low on Lena’s waist, the other loosely intertwined with Lena’s as she leads them around the floor.
Kara brings them to a stop when the singer finishes the last piece and announces the countdown, grinning at Lena, her oxfords keeping her perfectly eye level despite Lena’s heels. She’s chanting along with most of the crowd, but when she hits three, her eyes flicker to Lena’s lips and stay there.
It’s unmistakable. They’re standing as close as they had been when they were dancing, and her hand is still resting on Lena’s hip. Kara’s palm is hot through the fabric and Lena can feel her own heart kickstart into a sudden uneven rhythm. They’re friends, good friends. Friends can kiss each other on New Year’s and it doesn’t have to mean anything, right? Does she want to kiss Kara? What if—
She’s startled back to present only when Kara does lean in, brushing her lips to Lena’s cheek, and saying warmly, “Happy New Year, Lena.”
Kara pulls back, smiling softly.
“Happy New Year, Kara.”
“So?” Kara has the phone pressed against her ear. It’s nearly ten p.m. and she’s sitting on her couch, Lena on the other end of the line. “I know we got interrupted by that fire alarm last week and this isn’t the optimal way to watch, but come on, what did you think?”
“I can’t believe I just watched a movie about the dangers of pet adoption, unethical genetics experiments, and social services,” Lena sighs, but Kara can already hear the smile in her voice, “and enjoyed it.”
“Yes!” She fist pumps. “You can’t see me, but I just fist pumped. Nobody doesn’t like Lilo & Stitch.”
“I’m beginning to regret not taking you up on your movie night offer a decade ago.”
“Of all the bad decisions you made during that road trip,” Lena lets out an affronted hey, but Kara continues, “not watching movies with me was definitely the worst.” She stretches her legs out on the couch and pulls a blanket off the back of it, wrapping herself up and leaning her head back against the arm. “Not being friends with me then is a close second though.”
“Mmm, and here I thought you were going to say it was those salmon skin chips.” Lena laughs and Kara feels the size of her own grin stretch across her face.
“Yeah,” she yawns. “Those too. Maybe you’re right. Maybe the friend thing is third.” She hears a scuffling outside her front door and then the lock turning. “Hang on a sec, someone’s here.”
Sitting up again and twisting around, Kara sees Alex letting herself in.
“Hey Kara, sorry to bust in but I’m out of—” her sister starts, but she must see that Kara’s on the phone because she mouths sorry and points to the fridge.
“Is that Alex?” Lena asks. “I can let you go. I have to get up early for a call with one of our Chinese partners.”
“Fine,” Kara draws out the word just a little, turning back to the television and looking around for the remote. “I miss you, stop being so busy so we can have lunch, okay?”
Lena laughs through her nose. “I’ll ask Jess to find some time to protect on my calendar, next week things should be a little better.”
“Tell Jess I’m not above bribery, okay?” She turns off the tv and switches the phone to her other ear.
“I’ll let her know. Night, Kara.”
As Kara hangs up the phone, Alex sits down heavily on the other end of the couch, a bowl of cold leftover lo mein in her lap, and props her feet up on the coffee table.
“Hey! I was saving that.”
“I’ll buy you more,” Alex mumbles through her mouthful, then swallows. “I just got off shift and I’m out of food and you’re only a fifteen minute walk. If I ordered something myself it’d be, like, an hour.”
“I’m holding you to that.” Kara rolls her eyes but pulls her legs up a bit to give Alex more room on the couch. Her sister settles in further.
“So,” Alex nods her chin at the phone Kara’s put on the coffee table. “That was Lena?”
“Yeah, we got two thirds of the way through Lilo & Stitch last week when that fire alarm thing happened, and she had to go before we were allowed back inside. This is the first night she’s had free.”
Alex squints at her for a moment then takes another bite. “You gonna ask her out?”
“Okay first of all, mom taught us not to talk with our mouths full, and second, no. I am not going to ask her out. We’re friends.”
“Tell that to your face,” Alex says, swallowing again. “You get this look when you’re on the phone with her.”
“Well, she’s my friend. I like talking to her.” Kara pulls her knees in all the way to her chest. “And even if there were a world in which I wanted to ask her out, she’s not interested.” Alex frowns as she takes another bite. “I almost kissed her on New Year’s—platonically,” Kara hastens to add, “and she kinda froze up right before, so, yeah. There’s zero chemistry there, I promise.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yeah. I’m sure.” Kara picks at the blanket.
“Great,” Alex says, “because I’m setting you up. One of my co-workers has a sister and she’s apparently super hot, and since I don’t have any time to date, you’re going out with her so I can live vicariously through you. Her name’s Leslie, you’re gonna love her.”
It turns out that not even Jess can find time in Lena’s schedule for lunch right now, so a week later, Lena takes it upon herself to find time to see Kara. When she complains that she doesn’t have any time free until the weekend, Kara volunteers to go with her to her regular spin class on Saturday.
Despite having spent the last several months making fun of Lena for attending religiously and joking that biking to nowhere for an hour sounds like it violates the Geneva Convention, Kara shows up at three in the afternoon, energy drink in hand (“to ensure I survive this”), and wearing more spandex than Lena thinks is fair. The pull of attraction in her gut when she sees Kara in gym clothing solidifies the answer to something that Lena’s spent the five weeks since New Year’s Eve trying to figure out: she definitely has a crush on Kara. Now she’s faced with a bigger question—what should she do about it?
They’re friends, good friends, but Lena can tell that Kara finds her attractive too. Even beyond the almost kiss at the party, there’s been mounting evidence that Kara might be harboring non-platonic feelings. Nobody spends that long looking at Lena’s neckline if they don’t want to sleep with her just a little bit.
She spends the whole session in somewhat of a daze, barely following any of the instructor’s directions, and it isn’t because of the cardio.
They walk out together after they finish in the locker room. Instead of throwing on her usual weekend staple of joggers and a crew neck, Kara has gotten dressed in her work clothing, a white button down, slim olive khakis, and a dark brown belt, in sharp contrast to Lena’s soft leggings and a fleece. Lena almost comments on the reversal of their usual sartorial formalities, but she’s feeling too nervous. She’s going to ask Kara to dinner, and then at dinner she’s going to broach the subject of them potentially going out—on a date.
She waits until they reach the sidewalk, twists the strap of her gym bag where it runs across her chest. “Thanks for coming, I know that’s not your idea of a good time.”
“Anything to spend time with you,” Kara says, grinning at her. It’s exactly the kind of remark that gives Lena the confidence she needs.
Now or never, she thinks. “Kara... would you like to go to dinner, with me, tonight?”
“Lena, I’d love to,” Kara starts, but her tone doesn’t match her words at all and her face falls just a bit. She sounds more like she wishes Lena hadn’t asked. “But I can’t.”
“Oh, sure,” Lena says, tamping down a tiny twinge of panic. She says the first stupid thing that pops into her mind. “Hot date?”
“Actually,” and now the energy coming off of Kara is even stranger, “I do have a date.” She clears her throat but doesn’t add anything and shifts her weight awkwardly.
“Really?” Lena can’t help the vulnerable way it comes out. She scrambles to cover it up. “That’s great! I’m just...You didn’t say anything.”
“I was going to tell you,” Kara twists her mouth and looks down at the ground between them. “I don’t know, I felt weird about it.” She shakes her head like she isn’t sure how to explain.
“Why?” Lena can’t help asking, even as her heart drops precipitously in her chest. They don’t keep secrets, or at least, she doesn’t think they keep secrets from each other.
“I don’t know,” Kara starts, “we’ve been so…”
Lena’s hit with a sudden sense of clarity—Kara has picked up on Lena’s crush and doesn’t feel the same way. Lena’s read her entirely wrong. She hasn’t mentioned having a date because she doesn’t want to hurt Lena’s feelings. That’s...that’s fine, that’s very Kara; she’s not trying to keep secrets, she’s just afraid of hurting Lena.
“Hey,” she interrupts before Kara can finish the sentence, “we’re friends. I’d never want you to feel like you can’t tell me something like that.” And that’s true, because regardless of whether or not a small part of her is sad that Kara isn’t interested in her that way, a much larger part is suddenly relieved that she won’t have the opportunity to mess up their friendship.
In fact, now that she’s faced with evidence that wanting something more with Kara may have impacted their friendship in even this small way, Lena’s sure that it’s a road better not taken at all.
“You’re sure? Because—”
“Really,” Lena says, injecting as much certainty into her tone as possible and forcing a smile. If she’s lucky, Kara will assume the dinner invitation was no different than usual, it was certainly ambiguous enough. “I think it’s great, really. It’s great that you have a date.”
Something flickers across Kara’s face, but Lena is concentrating on keeping her smile as natural as possible.
“So,” Lena swallows, casting about for something to convince Kara that she’s fine with this, “is that what you’re wearing?” It suddenly makes sense as to why Kara hadn’t pulled on sweats like usual. God, she feels so stupid.
“Yes?” Kara looks down at her outfit, then back up at Lena. “Well. I mean, it was. Is it—should I change?”
“You should wear blue.” There’s a small painful twist in her chest when she says it, but Lena’s an expert at moving through discomfort. And this is worth moving through. “You look really good in blue.”
“You think so?”
“I do.” And this time Lena’s smile feels a little more genuine. Kara really does look good in blue.
“You know,” Kara says, after a moment. She adjusts her glasses. “You should get out there too.”
“No,” Lena lets out a soft chuckle, “I don’t have time to date anyone.”
“You make time to see me,” Kara offers, and Lena almost looks at her sharply, but Kara’s smile is soft. “If you met the right person, you’d make time for them.”
“Well right now, no one’s asking.” She shrugs.
“They will,” Kara says, fidgeting with her glasses again. There’s a moment where Lena is certain that she’s going to say something else, but she seems to swallow it down. “Movie night next week, if you’ve got time?”
They part ways soon after, Kara to go back to her apartment to change and Lena to go home to allow herself one glass of wine to wallow. She’ll spend the rest of the day reviewing a set of proposals from one of LuthorCorp’s European divisions and trying not to think about whether Kara’s enjoying her date.
Dropping her bag in the front hall, she tries to parse through the feelings in her chest. She’s disappointed, and that’s worth acknowledging, but there’s a measure of relief that is equally present. Kara’s become an important person to her, too important to risk losing over something as trivial as a crush. And Kara’s right—she should get out there, if only so that Lena can distract herself before these feelings actually take root.
The next time a woman asks her to dinner, Lena resolves, she’s going to say yes.
“No, it has to go the other way, it’s going to look weird,” Kara says. Lena frowns as Kara points to the rug she’s trying to unfurl. They’re at Lena’s apartment and Kara is helping her rearrange some of the furniture in her living room to accommodate a new reading chair. “Sorry, I interrupted you. What were you saying?”
“What?” Lena’s still frowning at the rug. Kara’s right, they need to turn it so it’s facing the other direction. She walks over to the other corner and picks it up as Kara does the same. They start to drag the rug ninety degrees to the left. “Oh, nothing really. It was the most uncomfortable night of my life. Seriously. Up there with the worst first dates of all time.”
“You’ve been out of the game a while,” Kara hums, glancing over at her, “the first date back is always the toughest.”
“Same goes for you!” Lena laughs as they drop the corners and take a step back to evaluate. “How do you know it won’t get worse for both of us?”
Kara looks over at Lena with a somewhat scandalized expression. “How much worse can it get than having her finish dinner, reach over and pull a hair off my shirt, then start flossing with it?” She crosses her arms and grumbles, “I’m never going to forgive Alex.”
“Okay, maybe for you it won’t get worse.” Lena can’t help laughing. “That still kills me. But you’re talking about a dream date compared to mine.”
“It’s gotta go this way, see?” Kara nods at the carpet. “Then you can put the chair by the corner windows and you’ll have great light for reading. What was so bad about it?”
“You’re right.” Lena nods at her. “And it started out fine, we met at that luncheon you couldn’t make, like, a month ago. She dropped by my office last week to ask me to dinner, right?”
Kara picks up the new chair and starts carrying it over to the corner she’d pointed at. “Yeah,” she says over her shoulder, “you said she was nice, right?”
“Nice, and also apparently batshit crazy.” It’s absurd how easily Kara handles the chair. This is exactly why Lena had turned down the decorator’s offer to hire a crew. “Dinner starts out fine, we order drinks—wait, not right there, I need room for a side table—” Kara groans, but readjusts the chair a foot to the right. “Perfect. Anyway, we’ve got wine, but we’re waiting on our food, and she launches into how many kids she wants and the color scheme at her future wedding.”
“I know. I nearly had a panic attack in the bathroom between courses.”
“Yikes.” Kara walks back over to where Lena is standing, next to her couch at the edge of the living room space. “I mean, I get why she might bring it up. With the way things turned out with Mike, I’m not sure I’d want to start dating someone who didn’t want the same things as me long term, you know?”
Lena hums in consideration. “That’s fair, but before entrées? Really?”
“Okay, that’s a bit quick,” Kara frowns. “Look, it might be a while before each of us finds someone we click with. You can’t expect it to happen right away.”
“Yeah,” Lena sighs. They both look at the chair. “I think we need to move the coffee table back over.”
Kara nods and moves towards it. “And even if we find someone we click with,” she says, bending down and lifting it smoothly, “it might be longer until we find anyone we really want to—” She cuts herself off with a blush.
Lena can’t help smiling. “Want to what, Kara?” There’s a teasing edge to her voice.
“You know.” Kara sets the table down and adjusts it. “Sleep with or whatever. You knew what I meant, why'd you have to make me say it?”
“It’s fun to see you blush.” Kara rolls her eyes at Lena and Lena laughs. “But really, I still would have slept with her, I haven’t had sex since before Lex got arrested. If this goes on much longer, I’m going to lose my mind.”
“You would have slept with her, even though she wants totally different things with you?” Kara’s eyebrows are up around her hairline.
“She can’t talk about kids if she’s going down on me.” Kara chokes and Lena softens her expression to let her know she’s about to be serious. “Really, though? I just need someone who is going to be discreet. I have to be able to trust they aren’t going to go to the tabloids.” She shrugs. “The real problem is that most of the people asking me to dinner are people I have to work with, which just feels like a terrible idea.”
“I don’t think I could sleep with someone if I didn’t have feelings for them,” Kara says, chewing on the inside of her cheek like she’s really thinking about it, “but I hear you on the work-thing. There’s this guy, William, who’s pretty new in the culture section? He kind of asked me out. I was going to tell you about it after we finished up with this.” She waves a hand around the room.
“Oh?” Lena asks. This is the first time Kara’s mentioned him, but her body language is relaxed. It doesn’t feel like before, when she was afraid to bring up a date. Thank god.
“It was just to go get coffee this morning.” Kara shakes her head, her expression saying it’s not serious. “I told him I’m not interested right now, but mostly it’s like, we work together! What if it goes terribly, you know? Then I still have to see him all the time. It just feels like a bad idea.”
“Yeah,” Lena agrees, nodding. “Definitely a bad idea.”
“...the Luthor matriarch’s arrest for allegedly violating aspects of SEC rule 10b-5 comes nearly a year after her son was arrested on securities fraud. The charges that Lillian Luthor was herself involved in the enterprise sent shockwaves through the business and technology world today...”
The afternoon anchor’s voice drones on as Lena takes another mouthful of scotch, tipping the heavy glass back. She’s teetering on the edge of drunk, not yet numb enough to pass out, and certainly not in the space to turn this off.
The whole thing is Lena’s fault; the least she can do is watch the wreckage unfold.
She goes to take another sip as the coverage continues and finds that her glass is empty. She reaches for the bottle on the table and sees that’s empty too. Lena frowns, distracted momentarily by hearing her own name on the television.
“Reports indicate that Mrs. Luthor’s alleged activities were discovered by her adopted daughter, current LuthorCorp CEO Lena Luthor, who approached authorities with the information. LuthorCorp issued a statement this afternoon shortly after the arrest, stating that they cannot comment on any ongoing investigation, but that the company and the younger Ms. Luthor are cooperating fully with authorities—”
Loud knocking pulls Lena’s attention away from the report. She turns the volume down, but makes no move to get up.
“Lena?” It’s Kara. Of course it’s Kara. “I know you’re in there. Jess said I’d find you here and I tried calling first, but since you’re not answering your phone you couldn’t tell me not to come over.” She pauses. “Harvey let me up.”
Lena glances over to her phone, turned off and discarded on the counter. Maybe if she doesn’t say anything, Kara will just go away.
“If you don’t say anything, I’m just going to sit out here.” Lena can hear her setting something down. “I have take-out and my plan is just to sit here and eat it all and talk to you through the door until you let me in because you shouldn’t have to be alone right now and I’m guessing you aren’t answering Jack or Sam either…” She keeps talking through the door and Lena stands up a little unsteadily.
She’s not sure when it happened, exactly, but some time over the past couple of months, Kara has slotted into her life right next to Jack and Sam. And even though her own plan had been to drink herself stupid and be alone, because that’s what she deserves right now, maybe she can be alone with Kara instead.
Being alone with Kara sounds bearable.
She pulls open her front door and Kara falls in backwards, clearly having sat down leaning against it. It’s probably funny, but Lena can’t bring herself to laugh.
“Hi.” Kara blinks up at her.
Lena goes to respond, but what comes out instead is a sob. At the sound, Kara scrambles to her feet, wrapping Lena into a tight hug, one hand on the back of her head, tucking Lena into her neck, and the other wrapped around her ribs. Lena just lets her own arms hang uselessly at her sides and feels the first hot tears start to roll down her face.
“Oh, honey,” Kara says, leaning back just a bit and wiping at Lena’s cheek. “Come on. Let’s get you to the couch.”
Lena’s drunker than she realized and she sinks into the feeling as Kara fusses over her, getting her water, coaxing her into eating, and then telling her that she’s going to clean up while Lena sleeps some of this off. Lena starts to lay her head on the couch, but Kara shakes her head, murmurs, no not there, and scoops her up, carrying Lena down the hall and toeing open doors until she finds Lena’s bedroom.
When she goes to leave after tucking Lena in, Lena can’t help tugging on her sleeve and whispering, “Stay.”
Lena wakes up some indeterminate amount of time later. She’s tucked into Kara’s chest and for a moment, she’s disoriented. It's clearly late. The afternoon sun has disappeared and Lena can tell that it’s dark outside. Her head is aching and she blinks herself into consciousness, twisting around to try to see the clock by her bedside.
“Hey, you,” Kara’s voice, soft and scratchy as if she, too, was asleep, pulls Lena back around. She has an arm wrapped around Lena, a hand on her lower back. “How’s your head?”
“Do you wanna take anything for it?” Kara’s thumb absently strokes at Lena’s t-shirt.
Lena takes stock of her body. She’s warm, a little hungover, and somehow exhausted, but the discomfort isn’t overwhelming. “No, thanks.”
“Do you wanna talk about it?”
“What’s to talk about?” Lena can’t help the derisive tone to her voice. She starts the process of separating herself from Kara, sitting up and looking around the room. She reaches over and clicks on the table lamp. “I’m assuming you saw the news or you wouldn’t be here. I sold out my own mother in order to save myself and the company.”
“I know what they reported, but that’s not what I’m asking about.” She can feel Kara sitting up behind her, can hear the concern in her voice as she reaches for something on her side of the bed. “How’re you feeling?”
“Pretty fucking shitty.”
“Here,” Kara taps her on the shoulder and Lena turns to see her holding out a glass of water. “I brought it in earlier just in case.”
Lena takes the glass, looks down at it in her hands, unseeing. She doesn’t want to talk about this, but she also feels like she can’t stop the words that are bubbling up now that Kara has asked. “I found the file by accident. It was on Lex’s old machine and I needed something off his hard drive.” She pauses to take a sip, but Kara doesn’t prompt her. The water is room temperature and it feels good when she swallows. “They’ll still have a hard time proving she did it, but if they can establish she saw the information he sent her, they’ll lock her up. I couldn’t...” Even with the water her mouth feels dry, her tongue too thick. She takes another sip. “It was either hand it over or become an accessory and get charged with obstruction.”
“You found yourself in the worst position imaginable,” Kara says. “You did the right thing, you’re a good person, Lena.”
“Don’t say that.” Lena shakes her head, focuses on the glass, the water inside. She takes a deep breath. “There was a moment…” She can tell her hands are shaking from the way the water moves. She places it on the nightstand, “I almost deleted it.” She looks up at Kara. “I’m so weak that I almost committed a federal crime that could sink the entire company just to save my step-mother, who doesn’t even—” She pulls in a breath, trying to head off the tears.
“Hey, hey,” Kara pulls Lena back into her, wrapping her arms around Lena’s shoulders and folding her into her chest. “You are not weak, you are a brilliant, kind-hearted, beautiful soul. And if I was faced with the same decision...Lena,” she punctuates it by holding her tighter, “I’m so sorry you went through this alone. I don’t ever want you to feel alone.” She’s silent for a long moment. “You’re my best friend, you know that?” Lena can feel Kara press a kiss to the crown of her head when she says it.
“You’re mine too,” she whispers into Kara’s neck. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
They go out to dinner two nights after Lena arrives back in National City from a three week trip through LuthorCorp’s pacific rim holdings. It was a rough trip, and although she got to spend time with Jack and Sam in Singapore for three days, she’s terribly glad to be home. Home, meaning her own bed, a change in wardrobe, and being able to see Kara over something other than FaceTime. The high-end steakhouse she’s chosen is relatively new to the city, and it’s one that Kara’s been bugging her about for weeks now. It’s fun to watch Kara’s eyes light up when she realizes where they’re going, even more so seeing her order a truly absurd cut of meat.
By the time they’re midway through their meal, Lena feels more relaxed than she has in a month.
“So,” Kara clears her throat and looks studiously down at the thick ribeye she’s cutting up. “You haven’t talked about going out with anyone in a while...how’s that, uh, whole finding someone trustworthy thing?”
Lena takes a large sip of her wine and swallows. “Kara, are you trying to ask me if I’ve found someone to have sex with?” She tries not to laugh as Kara’s cheeks bloom red, and doesn’t know why the next words come out of her mouth. “Are you volunteering?”
Kara’s knife skitters across her plate. “Lena! Oh my gosh.” She looks up across the table and rolls her eyes, before softening her expression. “I know you’ve talked about how it’s important, and I was just…” Lena cocks an eyebrow, “hey no, not like that, I just want to make sure you’re doing okay?”
Lena decides to put Kara out of her misery. It’s sweet that she’d be thinking about this. “I did actually find someone.”
“That’s great!” Kara gives her a big smile and goes back to examining her food. “So, like, who? You haven’t told me about anyone lately.”
Lena waves a hand dismissively before reaching for her wine glass. “A woman I went to boarding school with, actually. We reconnected recently.”
“Boarding school?” Kara seems to choke on something, even though Lena hasn’t seen her take a bite. “Are you,” she clears her throat, “is it Andrea?”
“God no,” Lena feels her chest tighten a little reflexively, “her name is Veronica.”
“Veronica, okay.” Kara loses a little of the pinched look she’d affected. “Is it, um, is it serious?”
“Of course not.” Lena can’t help laughing, what an absurd question. This whole conversation feels a little strange, like she can’t quite get a read on Kara—maybe she’s stressed about something at work? Lena should ask, if Kara doesn’t bring it up herself. “First of all, I’d tell you. And second, you know LuthorCorp—even if I had time for a real relationship, where am I going to meet anyone? I’m not looking for anything serious with Veronica, and neither is she. It’s embarrassing to use the term friends-with-benefits when I’m on this side of thirty, but that’s the best way to describe it.”
Kara splutters, giving up on cutting her steak and bringing her knife and fork to rest on either side of her plate. “How do you know she’s not looking for anything serious?”
“I’ve been very upfront about it, and so has she.”
Kara gives her a look, halfway between scandal and disbelief.
“I know you don’t think it can be done,” Lena rolls her eyes, “but it’s easy. You go out on a date, you have a good time. If there’s chemistry, you act on it, and then you clearly communicate what you’re looking for. I feel like we’ve,” Lena gestures between them with her fork, “had this conversation already.”
“What if she’s not on the same page?”
“Then I won’t see her again!”
“Lena, I mean, you’re,” Kara gestures up and down at her, knife still in hand, “...you. And you’re telling me this woman doesn’t want more with you?”
“She doesn’t!” Lena can’t help laughing again. “She wants my connections maybe, to be seen with me. I mean the sex is good too, so there’s that. It's not like she isn’t getting anything out of this.”
“And you don’t think she has any feelings for you?” Kara’s eyebrows are furrowed together and her cheeks are bright pink. She looks legitimately concerned that Veronica Sinclair of all people is harboring secret feelings, and that Lena somehow just doesn’t know.
“No. And if I got the slightest inkling of it, I’d break it off.”
“You think you can tell when people are lying?”
“I do. You’re forgetting I was raised by liars, Kara,” Lena raises an eyebrow, “I can tell when someone is lying to me.”
Satisfied she’s made her point, and not at all inclined to keep talking about Veronica, Lena looks down at her salad, poking at it. The arugula isn’t very good, a little wilted to be honest, and she tries to put together a bite without it. Really, she should call the waiter over, but the rest of the salad is passable and she doesn’t have time to order another...
She looks up. Kara looks inexplicably nervous, has put her silverware down and is twisting her hands together. Lena ducks her head and catches Kara’s eyes. She’s about to ask what’s wrong, but Kara’s next words make her forget how to speak.
“I’m in love with you.”
Lena’s heart stops. This is a joke, surely. Her eyes dart around Kara’s face, but none of the usual tells are there. There’s no crinkle in her brow, no avoidant gaze. Just Kara: eyes wide, lips slightly parted, glasses framing her face with wisps of blond hair coming out of her ponytail.
Lena’s chest feels tight.
“I’m in love with you,” Kara says again. “I don’t know how I didn’t know or why I haven’t told you. You’re funny, and smart, and, even though you never want anyone to know it, you’re one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And you’re absolutely beautiful. Sometimes I look at you and it’s like I can’t breathe.” She swallows and then continues, “I want it all with you, I want to fall asleep with you and wake up with you. You’re perfect for me.” She takes a deep breath. “So, this is me saying it out loud. I’m in love with you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Kara doesn’t break eye contact with her, just keeps her gaze on Lena when she finishes.
This must be a joke, a voice in her head screams, even as her body is clearly taking this another way. Lena’s heart is beating irregularly, and her mouth is dry, and there’s a strange twisting feeling in her stomach. Is this why Kara looked so off when Lena admitted to seeing someone, has she somehow fallen for Lena without Lena even noticing? Lena had thought, for a minute, that maybe they should date, but that was—that was months ago. It’s not as if she doesn’t find Kara attractive. She admitted that to Kara, and to herself, and, okay, maybe she’s thought about what it might be like to sleep with her, but Kara’s made it perfectly clear that she believes in marriage and love and happy endings, and maybe Lena doesn’t hate the very concepts anymore, but she still isn’t sure that she’ll ever have any of those things…and maybe that didn’t matter as much earlier on, but Kara is now as much a part of her life as Jack, or Sam, or Ruby; Lena can’t imagine jeopardizing that.
Kara bursts out laughing and it startles Lena out of her thoughts.
“Oh my god, Lena, you look like you’re having a heart attack,” Kara reaches across the table to put her hand on top of Lena’s. “I just…” She shakes her head and gives Lena a warm smile, “acting isn’t that hard, ok? That’s all I’m saying.”
“Good god, Kara. I think you missed your calling,” Lena says dryly, a little thrown off still and not particularly interested in examining why. She pulls her hand away from Kara’s touch and reaches for her wine.
The waiter interrupts, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “Ma’ams? This is courtesy of the two women at the bar. They send their congratulations.”
“Ooh, champagne!” Kara takes a glass and raises it to the two women behind Lena, giving them a little wave. “Gosh, people are so nice.”
“I’m sorry, you said what to her?” Alex doesn’t sound amused which means she clearly hasn’t been listening to Kara explain how dinner went with Lena. They’re sitting in Kara’s apartment on her couch, Lost reruns on in the background. “I thought we talked about this months ago.”
“This is an objectively funny story, Alex, you’re not listening. Lena practically panicked! And then two ladies thought we were getting engaged or something and they sent over drinks.”
“So you’re saying you don’t have feelings for her, but you confessed that you did in order to…” Alex trails off, squinting at her, forehead scrunched like she has a headache.
“To make the point that she needs to be careful with this Veronica person,” Kara says, picking up where Alex left off. She shakes her head and slumps further against the couch. “I swear, if Lena could just meet someone, someone that she really likes, I wouldn’t be so worried about this. She’s like you though,” Alex raises an eyebrow at that, “she’s always saying she doesn’t have time to meet anyone, or if she does, they work together and something about company ink.”
“Well from what you’ve told me, there’s a pretty small group of women who would qualify.” Alex takes a swig of her beer. “It would have to be someone she didn’t work with, but she never goes anywhere except work and out with you.”
“Exactly,” Kara says, relieved that Alex is beginning to understand. “And they have to be someone she can trust, so it isn’t like she can just download tinder. I mean honestly, between the two of you…”
She sits up.
“I don’t like the look on your face,” Alex says, taking another drink and frowning.
“Hear me out! Alex, you’re my two favorite people in the world, this is brilliant: You should go on a date with her.”
“Kara, that’s weird. You tried to ask her out last year. You totally had a crush on her six months ago. I’m not going out on a date with her.”
“Pssh, Alex, that was like, a baby crush before she became my best friend. I promise. It’s not weird. She’s amazing, you’d totally be into her.”
Alex looks at her sceptically for a long minute.
“Fine, whatever, it's a night out away from the hospital. If—and this is a big ‘if’ Kara—if Lena is interested, I’ll go to dinner with her.”
“You’re going to be in town to prep for your move back anyway, just do this with me?” Lena tries to keep the pleading note out of her voice. She can hear Sam struggling not to laugh on the other end of the line.
“You know it’s weird that you want Kara and me to go on a blind date with you, while you go on one with Alex, right?”
“No it isn’t,” Lena says. Maybe it’s a little weird that she doesn’t want to go to dinner with Alex alone, but somehow it just seems easier to bring Sam, and besides—Sam’s her best friend, Kara’s her best friend—if they hit it off, that’s two birds with one stone. Or something. Sam isn’t even really Kara’s type, not that Lena has thought about it much lately, it’s more about wanting a buffer with Alex. “Look, it isn’t even really a blind date, okay? More of…” she trails off. “More of a soft set up.”
Sam laughs out loud at that.
Lena sighs. “Honestly Sam, I’m only going because Kara is convinced Alex and I will hit it off, and it’s easier to go than to persuade her otherwise. You might really like her, and if you don’t, well, you’ve saved me an awkward evening and gotten a free meal out of it. Please? You’re going to be here anyway.”
“Fine,” Sam finally says. “But I’m only agreeing because it’s criminal that I haven’t gotten to meet Kara yet, not because I’m all that interested in dating her.”
“Thank you,” Lena says as the waiter circles by with another glass of wine for her. She’s not the only one drinking faster than usual; it seems all four of them are using alcohol to help ease the awkward air trapped around the table. Alex, on her right, smiles and declines when he nods at her nearly empty whiskey. Lena turns to her. “So, Kara says you grew up in Midvale?”
“Yep,” Alex says, reaching up and tugging on the top button of her shirt. “Kara mentioned you’re from Metropolis?”
“Yes.” Lena takes a sip. She’s normally better at small talk than this, and she does want to make a good impression with Alex—this is Kara’s favorite person on the planet, after all. But Alex seems determined not to give her much to work with. “I’ve never been to Midvale.”
“It’s nice. Near the water.”
What a disaster. She never should have agreed to this. Lena glances across the table at Sam, who is fiddling with her blouse, and then around to Kara, who appears to be having just as much trouble making small talk, although perhaps for different reasons. She’s watching Lena instead of trying to talk to Sam, and she must see the distress on Lena’s face because she intervenes.
“So, how’s work?” Kara asks, prompting her sister. She leans over to Lena, “Alex is always complaining about her residents.”
“Actually,” Alex takes a drink, “we’ve started using a virtual reality training program called OrthoPaed with the residents for complex knee arthroplasty, it’s totally changing how much babysitting I have to do.”
“I developed that program,” Sam says with surprise, sitting up a little straighter and putting down her wine.
“What?” Alex mirrors Sam, setting her glass down and turning her full attention to the woman.
“You know, Lena’s done work in medical biotech...” Kara breaks in, trying to redirect.
“That’s great,” Alex flashes Lena a smile, then turns her attention back to Sam. “What do you mean you developed that program?”
“I wrote it. It’s housed under one of our subsidiaries at this point, but that’s my patent and it’s still sold under my name: AriasTech.”
“Holy shit, I could marry you.” Sam goes a delightful shade of red. Alex does too, once she realizes what she’s said, but she plows through it. “I just mean, our outcomes are better across the board with it. It makes our training program so much stronger.”
After that it’s impossible to get Alex and Sam to disengage, and, as the meal goes on, it’s increasingly clear to Lena that the chemistry she’s watching between the two of them isn’t anything she wants to get in the way of.
“Wow,” Kara says, watching Alex giggle as Sam pulls her into a cab after they walk outside. “I did not see that coming.” She turns to Lena and makes an unhappy face. “I feel like I messed this all up, I really thought you and Alex would hit it off.”
“I know you did.” Lena steps in towards her and reaches up to fix Kara’s shirt collar where it’s gotten turned up. “And it was a sweet thought, but this is probably for the better.”
Kara’s frown deepens. “If this is where you tell me you’re too busy for love or that you’re no good at relationships so why bother—”
“No,” Lena laughs, “no, more that I’m happy right now and I’m not looking for anything complicated. I appreciate that you tried, though.”
“She is,” Lena agrees. “Between her, and Jack, and you, what do I need a romantic relationship for?”
“Is this you telling me to let it go?”
Lena nods, still smiling.
“Okay,” Kara sighs out. “I’m clearly not cut out for matchmaking anyway.”
“You have lots of other wonderful qualities,” Lena says and Kara grins at her. “What’re you doing for the rest of the night?”
“Movie night?” Kara loops their arms together and they start walking down the sidewalk, heading in the general direction of Lena’s apartment. “I didn’t really plan on us being done so early.”
“Absolutely,” Lena smiles at her, “we’ve been putting off The Princess and the Frog for too long.”